It’s Time To Hand Out Grades For The Atlanta Braves’ 2016 Top Prospects

Part 1: The candidates for summer school

Atlanta Braves pitcher Tyrell Jenkins

Tyrell Jenkins was never the point of the Jason Heyward trade. Thank goodness.

The Atlanta Braves are even worse than promised, but help is on the way in the form of the second-best collection of talent in baseball entering the season. Or is it? With August here, more than enough games have been played in 2016 to grade the organization’s top 30 prospects before the draft, which is exactly what we’ve done.

Here’s the first of our three-part series, starting with the overrated, the under-performing and the injury-riddled based solely on their 2016 performance. What they have in common is a rapidly dimming future and danger of being cast aside in favor of other talented young players. The number before each player’s name was his prospect ranking by MLB.com before the June draft, and they’re listed in ascending order of worst grades to best.

No. 28 Wes Parsons, RHP

Age: 23
Good stats: 3.18 ERA over 5.2 innings with the Gulf Coast League Braves.
Bad stats: 1.58 WHIP and 11.1 hit rate at Carolina before being sent down to rookie league.
Summary: Parsons was signed as a free agent after a Braves scout saw him in a collegiate summer league game following his only college season at Jackson State Community College, and he shockingly dominated Single-A competition in Rome in 2013, allowing only 91 hits with 101 strikeouts in 109.2 innings, and was nearly as good in 2014 in Advanced-A Carolina. Injuries have derailed what was once a remarkable story, however, and it’s too soon to say if he’ll be able to regain his form.
Grade: Incomplete

No. 15 Zack Bird, RHP

Age: 22
Good stats: None.
Bad stats: All of them.
Summary: Thrown in by the Dodgers in the trade that brought Alex Wood to Los Angeles, Bird was a raw talent drafted in the ninth round in 2012 because of the mid-90s fastball he flashed, but that potential has remained nothing but as Bird has never succeeded at any pro level. Atlanta tried pushing him to Double-A last year before sending him down to advanced Single-A Carolina in 2016, where he has been a disaster. Bird has an 8.66 ERA and 2.13 WHIP over 44.2 innings, with more walks (36) than strikeouts (34) primarily as a reliever. Batters are lighting up him up to the tune of a .324 average. His career 8.5 strikeout rate is good, but his lifetime 5.16 ERA and 1.53 WHIP are very bad. Very, very bad.
Grade: F

No. 16 Andrew Thurman, RHP

Age: 24
Good stats: 7.5 strikeout rate for Double-A Mississippi isn’t quite good, but it’s not awful.
Bad stats: 6.89 ERA and 1.78 WHIP with 1-7 record with 47 walks and only 52 strikeouts in 62.2 innings for Mississippi before being mercifully demoted to Carolina. Even worse there, with a 12.71 ERA in 11.1 innings over three starts.
Summary: Acquired from the Astros in the Evan Gattis trade, Thurman did OK in his first stint with Carolina in 2015, but the wheels have since come off. A second-round draft pick, Thurman has always given up a lot of hits (334 in 318.2 innings) and a lot of runs (5.39 ERA) while not striking very many people out (278). Forget helping the Braves any time soon – those are the kind of numbers that have you dominating the local city league sooner rather than later.
Grade: F

No. 18 Lucas Herbert, C

Age: 19
Good stats: Has 11 doubles in first pro season. Thrown out a remarkable 50 percent of potential basestealers.
Bad stats: Hitting .189 with .285 slugging percentage in 295 at bats. 76 strikeouts and just 15 walks.
Summary: No position is more barren than catcher in the Braves’ organization, so this 2015 second-round draft pick has a clear path to Atlanta in front of him at the moment – assuming he can get out of his own way. Herbert was Kolby Allard’s battery mate in high school, and the Braves liked him so much while scouting Allard, whom the team would make its first-round pick that year, they snatched Herbert up one round later. He’s considered an exceptional defensive player with power potential that belies his relatively small six-foot, 200-pound frame, though early returns aren’t promising as Herbert looks completely overmatched in Single-A. That’s a tough jump for a hitter with no college experience, and he could probably benefit from a little time in rookie ball.
Grade: D

 No. 8 Manny Banuelos, LHP

Age: 25
Good stats: None.
Bad stats: All of them.
Summary: Quietly acquired from the Yankees in a trade for David Carpenter, Banuelos was long a highly regarded player with elbow problems. Well, now he mostly just has elbow problems. Banuelos was ranked as the sport’s 13th-best prospect entering 2012, but he missed most of that season and all of 2013 following Tommy John surgery. He bounced back to be named an International League all-star for Gwinnett in 2015 and made his big-league debut later that season for the Braves before the elbow flared up again, prompting another procedure to remove bone spurs in September. The recovery hasn’t been pretty. Seeing time in Rome, Mississippi and Gwinnett, Banuelos has been roughed up to the tune of a 5.33 ERA and 0-5 record over 14 starts in which he’s managed to pitch just 50.2 innings. His 1.80 WHIP is abysmal as batters are hitting .295 against him to go with 32 walks. He’s always been a high-WHIP guy, and now the 6.2 strikeout rate is the worst of his career thanks to a fastball that once touched 97 sitting in the low-90s.
Grade: D+

 No. 7 Tyrell Jenkins, RHP

Age: 24
Good stats: 6-3 record and 2.91 ERA over 65 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett. Nice 3.3 walk rate per nine IP.
Bad stats: Batters hit .282 against him in Gwinnett, leading to 1.45 WHIP. Only 45 strikeouts. 4.91 ERA in 29.1 innings (four starts) with the major league team with more walks (20) than strikeouts (15). Brutal 1.77 WHIP.
Summary: The highest-rated prospect to reach the bigs so far in 2016, Braves fans have to hope he’s not representative of the rest of what’s coming. Taken 50th overall in the supplemental first round of the 2010 draft by the Cardinals, Jenkins was a highly regarded quarterback with major college offers who was one of the first bricks in the Braves’ rebuilding process when he was part of the Jason Heyward deal. Reaching the top of the minor league ladder is always impressive, but there’s little reason to believe Jenkins is ever going more than a journeyman. Despite being named the organization’s 2015 minor league player of the year, he has never shown impressive stuff – just 351 strikeouts and 484 hits allowed over 478 minor league innings and a lifetime 1.40 WHIP – and it’s hard to see why the Braves called him up at all after his scuffles in Gwinnett.
Grade: D+

Coming tomorrow: The passing grades.