Grading The Atlanta Braves’ 2016 Top Prospects, Part 3 – The B Students

Don't panic: It's not terrible Swanson and Newcomb land here

Dansby Swanson was the No. 1 pick in the 2016 amateur draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks

Someday, the Arizona Diamondbacks will look back on this picture and laugh and laugh.

Welcome to the third installment what is now our four-part series grading the Atlanta Braves organization’s top 30 prospects based on their play in 2016. These are the B students, who have performed admirably but, in some cases, perhaps not as well as the team would have hoped (*cough* Sean Newcomb *cough*).

Part 1, consisting of the barely passing to outfight failing, can be found here, while Part 2, made up of the solid C students, is here. 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. 7 Austin Riley, 3B

Age: 19
Good stats: 22 home runs in 598 pro at bats. 29 doubles this season for low Single-A Rome. Very good career OPS of .811.
Bad stats: 117 strikeouts already in 381 at bats this year. .312 OBP. Defense is a disaster, with 20 errors and a .920 fielding percentage.
Summary: Yet another first-round pick, 41st overall in 2015, Riley is one of the very few power bats in the system. Absolutely destroyed short-season rookie ball competition after signing in 2015, hitting .351 with a 1.028 OPS in 111 at bats, but has unsurprisingly struggled with contact against better pitchers. When he has hit the ball, however, there has been pop, and the strikeouts aren’t a concern for yet another Braves’ farmhand who is young for his league. Poor defense may be, though. Won’t help in Atlanta for a while, but living up to expectations early on.
Grade: B-

No. 2 Sean Newcomb, LHP

Age: 23
Good stats: More than a strikeout per inning (108 K, 105.1 IP) against Double-A competition. Less than a hit allowed per inning (93). Holding batters to a .244 average.
Bad stats: Average ERA (4.44) and worse WHIP (1.44). 5.0 walk rate is prime culprit. Also, while 9.2 strikeout rate is excellent, it’s also a career low.
Summary: Newcomb started the season in Double-A Mississippi after throwing the final 36 innings of his 2015 season at that level in the Angels organization after he came over as the jewel of the Andrelton Simmons trade. Selected in the first round of the 2014 draft (15th overall), Newcomb is the most prized arm in a system in desperate need of front-line stuff, and hopes are he can become a No. 1 or No. 2 starter. Newcomb is a long way from that, and control issues may keep him from making his debut with the opening of SunTrust Park next April as the Braves has also hoped.
Grade: B-

No. 12 Chris Ellis, RHP

Age: 23
Good stats: 10-6 record over 22 starts between Double-A and Triple-A. Given up only 96 hits in 114.1 innings while holding batters to .235 average.
Bad stats: Switched spots with Lucas Sims on June 17 but hasn’t performed much better than Sims did in Triple-A Gwinnett as ERA exploded from 2.75 to 7.57 with a ghastly 7.6 walk rate and unsightly 2.02 WHIP.
Summary: The other guy in the Simmons trade, Ellis made a case to be taken seriously in his own right after a great showing in Mississippi, where he went 8-2 with a 2.75 ERA over 78.2 innings in which hitters only managed a .201 average against him. But he’s been getting clobbered in Triple-A thanks what has always been shaky control becoming  unmanageable to the tune of 30 walks in 35.2 innings. Like Sims, however, Ellis is still young for the International League, and, like Sims, he’ll get plenty of chances to show he can clear this hurdle.
Grade: B

No. 4 Kolby Allard, LHP

Age: 18
Good stats: More strikeouts than innings pitched (65 in 56.2) while allowing only 46 hits over 11 starts split evenly between rookie league Danville and Single-A Rome. Fantastic 1.08 WHIP and walk rate (2.4 per nine IP).
Bad stats: Much rougher go of it since being promoted to low single-A Rome, with a 5.22 ERA and 1-3 record in five starts. South Atlantic League batters have hit .256 against him after Danville batters managed only .186
Summary: Arguably now Newcomb’s equal as Atlanta’s top pitching prospect, Allard was taken 14th overall in the 2015 draft and threw only six innings of rookie ball after being signed, so the sample size is still quite small. Dominated short-season rookie competition over nine starts in 2016 but has given up 28 hits and 17 earned runs in 29.1 innings with Rome. The Braves have been pushing their top talents hard, and Allard is no exception – he’s one of the five youngest players in the South Atlantic League. Still a long way from Atlanta but has met expectations so far.
Grade: B

No. 1 Dansby Swanson, SS

Age: 22
Good stats: 24 doubles, .354 OBP, 12 stolen bases, .786 OPS between advanced Single-A Carolina and Double-A Mississippi. Lifetime .976 field percentage with only 14 errors in 114 games.
Bad stats: A whopping 230-point drop in OPS since being promoted (.967 to .738) and 80-point drop in batting average (.333 to .255).
Summary: The Double-A jump separates the men from the boys, so it’s not surprising to see Swanson come back to earth a little – especially considering he had only 161 career pro at bats at two lower levels and Mississippi is where offense goes to die. His OPS is solid, and a two-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio is above average. Still, being a No. 1 overall draft pick – as Swanson was by the Diamondbacks out of Vanderbilt in 2015 before being traded in December’s blockbuster deal for Shelby Miller (which you could recently hear explode in Arizona’s face from Georgia) – creates expectations of greatness, and there’s doubt Swanson has the physical tools to be the kind of transcendent talent a franchise can build around. At this point, however, the Braves will be happy with an above-average big leaguer, which he shows every sign of being – though probably not in time for the opening of the new park next season.
Grade: B

No. 9 Max Fried, LHP

Age: 22
Good stats: 7-5 record. Excellent strikeout (84 in 82.1 innings) and hit (67) rates. Batters have a .233 average against him.
Bad stats: 4.3 walks her nine IP is high.
Summary: The prize of the trade that sent Justin Upton to the Padres, Fried was taken seventh overall in 2012 and showed electric stuff before blowing out his elbow and missing most of 2014 and all of 2015. He has come back strong this year, however, and so far has been one of the best of the four top prospects in Rome.
Grade: B+

 No. 10 Lucas Sims, RHP

Age: 22
Good stats: Tremendous 10.7 strikeout rate over 110 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A. Holding batters to a .225 average.
Bad stats: Different player against Triple-A competition, and not in a good way, before being sent down on June 17. Posted brutal 7.56 ERA in 50 Gwinnett innings, with a 10.1 hit rate and terrible 6.7 walk rate. Triple-A batters hit nearly a hundred points higher than Double-A batters.
Summary: Picked 21st overall in 2012 by the Braves, Sims has always had big-time stuff, racking up 511 strikeouts in 510 innings while allowing only 422 hits. His command, however, has remained a problem, and Triple-A hitters made him pay. Sims has been overwhelming in Mississippi, whiffing 73 in 60 innings while giving up just 34 hits and holding batters to a remarkable .170 average. He was one of the five youngest players in the International League, so perhaps Sims wasn’t quite ready. His future still looks very bright.
Grade: B+

Coming tomorrow: The straight A’s