Breaking Down the 2012 Atlanta Braves Prospects

I’ve never been much of a football fan. Until I came to the University of Georgia, the thought of devoting my Saturdays to college football never crossed my mind. I played soccer through high school, but it’s hard to really cheer for a sport that exists 95% outside the United States. Being 5’3” and lacking in hand-eye coordination, basketball really never caught my attention.

I don’t know if it was the crack of the bat hitting a leather ball, or the roar of the crowd when “Crazy Train” played over the loudspeaker when #10 walked up to bat, but I’ve been in love with baseball since a very early age. While my skills are certainly lacking (i.e. the lack of hand-eye coordination as I have previously mentioned), my love has never changed. Through years of postseason disappointments and even losing seasons, my devotion has never waivered.

Following the 2010 disappointment of the Atlanta Braves losing in the NLDS after a gut-wrenching 3-2 loss at home against the San Francisco Giants in Game 4, every fan looked to the success in Bobby Cox’s final season as a glimmer of hope from what had been five years without a postseason appearance. However, 2011 proved to be nothing but the same old song on repeat, even with a new skipper, former Braves third base coach Fredi Gonzalez. Finishing 9-18 in the month of September, the Braves total collapse was nothing short of heartbreaking.

Welcome to Atlanta. Another year, another season of professional sports disappointments. I’m certain the phrase “maybe next season” is always on the tip of every Atlanta resident and sports fan’s tongue (“Atlanta’s Sad Sports History: One Lousy Title in 148 Pro Seasons”)

Yet, here I am- 66 days until Opening Day- singing the same old song. “This could be the year.” Coming from a town with a Braves affiliate farm team, the low-A Rome Braves, I’ve seen firsthand the amazing, young talent recruited by the Braves organization.

The Braves farm system has neverdisappointed in producing great young talent, and 2012 is no exception. When the MLB Top 100 minor league prospects list was released last week, the Braves had five players on the list, including three players with previous appearances in the big leagues.

The list, which expanded from 50 to 100 players this year, is based on analysis of players’ skill sets and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list,

which is one of several prospect rankings on MLB.com’s Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2012. To be considered a rookie, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the 25-player limit period, excluding time on the disabled list.

Led by a stellar pitching rotation, highlighted by 2011 Rookie of the Year Craig Kimbrel, it’s not surprising to see that the Braves’ top minor league prospects include many promising young pitchers, most impressively right-handed starter Julio Teheran.

Teheran, who started in several major league games in 2011, is certainly the Braves most exciting prospect. Possessing a repertoire of pitches that almost all rate as above-average or better, including a fastball that touches 97 mph, this 21 year-old is certain to have a spot in the Braves starting rotation for many seasons to come. Along with Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado are stellar starting pitchers who will be seeing more playing time with the Braves this year.

As many speculate that the remarkable career of longtime third baseman Chipper Jones may come to a close in 2012, the Braves are searching for up-and-coming players with power to fill in a roster lacking in power hitters.  Twenty-year-old Edward Salcedo, signed by the Braves two years ago at the age of 18, is certainly the best candidate for replacing Jones at third.

“The combination of his fielding and hitting ability make him one of the top international players that we’ve seen in a while,” said Johnny Almaraz, Directorof International Scouting and Operations for the Braves.

Though Tyler Pastornicky is likely starting at shortstop for the Braves on Opening Day, the Braves minor league prospects also include shortstop Andrelton Simmons, considered by many scouts to be the game’s best defensive shortstop prospect. However, Simmons will start at Double-A Mississippi this year, and likely won’t see Major League playing time until 2013.

Catcher Christian Bethancourt (pictured right) also ranks in the Top 100, but it will likely be some time before he sees any much playing time in the big leagues, considering the Braves already have the best catching tandem in the league with All-Star Brian McCann and backup David Ross.

Overall, the Braves have a lot to look forward to this upcoming season— a host of promising, upcoming talent and plenty of young talent already on the roster including first baseman Freddie Freeman and left fielder Jason Heyward. As players such as Dan Uggla and Martin Prado hope to improve on their less-than-stellar 2011 performances, the Braves certainly have all the necessary tools to make a strong postseason run.

Click Here for a complete list of the MLB’s Top 100 Prospects

For more about the Braves Top 5 prospects and full breakdown on each player, visit here.

Just for a laugh, here’s Rob Parker’s opinion on Atlanta sports fans.

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