By Grant McAuley

My updated list of the Top 30 Atlanta Braves Prospects features several new faces and a brand new No. 1 overall prospect. Ronald Acuña has been one of the fastest rising stars in the minor leagues, vaulting to the dozens of spots on Top 100 lists for multiple publications. Acuña’s onslaught made him the undeniable choice to top the latest version of my list as well. For each prospect, you’ll find accompanying notes on his progress this season.

  • New to the list: Kyle Wright, Drew Waters, Abraham Gutierrez, Yunior Severino
  • Gone from the list: Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb, Jeremy Walker, Braxton Davidson
  • Biggest riser (position player): Ronald Acuña, up 11 spots from No. 12 to No. 1
  • Biggest riser (pitcher): Bryse Wilson, up seven spots from No. 26 to No. 19

As always, prospect hot sheets are a fluid situation and stock rises and falls for a variety of reasons. Performance, injuries and attrition shapes and reshapes the rankings throughout the year. Ultimately, these lists are an indicator of where these players stand at this particular time. Factoring the numbers along with individual tools and skill sets as well as scouting reports helps determine how projectable they are, but the human element is very much in play here. That includes the evaluators and list makers who judge the players based on the aforementioned variety of criteria in order to stack them in some order. Thanks to a talent pool that seems to get deeper by the year, the Atlanta farm system makes this no easy task.

Let’s wrap up the list in Part 3 with the top 10 prospects in the Atlanta Braves system.

1.) Ronald Acuña | OF | Age: 19 | Previous Rank: 12

After an injury-plagued 2016 campaign, Ronald Acuña has been making up for lost time and then some this season. Rocketing through the Braves system at break neck speed, Acuña is leading the organization in batting average, hits and stolen bases and ranks in the top five in virtually every other offensive category in 2017. He opened some eyes across baseball with a trip to the All-Star Futures Game in July. That was followed by a promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett, where he becomes the youngest player in the International League. Like many budding power hitters in today’s game, strikeouts sometimes come in bunches. However, that is the only real area of concern for Acuña. He will be challenged by advanced pitching in the International League, but has already proven himself to be up the task with aggressive promotions. With all five tools on display and his star on the rise, Acuña could reach SunTrust Park sooner than later.

2.) Ozzie Albies | 2B | Age: 20 | Previous Rank: 2

Shaking off a slow start only to catch fire in the month of May, Ozzie Albies is knocking on the door for Atlanta as the second half begins. The speedy middle infielder has taken to second base and is poised to join Dansby Swanson as Atlanta’s middle infield duo of the future.  A switch-hitter with an advanced hit tool and surprising power, Albies has routinely been among the youngest players at each level on his way through the system. In fact, Albies has yet to face a pitcher that is younger than him – something that is true for Acuña as well. A broken elbow suffered on a swing last September sidetracked Albies over the winter, but he’s found his way back to the form that allowed him to win the Southern League batting title at the age of 19 last season. A natural right-handed hitter, Albies has worn out lefties in 2017 while finding the sledding a bit tougher against right-handers. Regardless, he’s been swinging the bat well for the past two months and just represented Gwinnett in the Triple-A All-Star Game. Albies has little left to prove in the minor leagues and awaits an opportunity to get his feet wet in Atlanta.

3.) Kolby Allard | LHP | Age: 19 | Previous Rank: 3

The Braves aggressively promoted Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka from Low-A Rome to Double-A Mississippi this season. The team’s faith in the two highly-touted 19-year-olds was rewarded. Allard was Atlanta’s first round pick in 2015 and has put all thoughts of the back injury that dented his draft stock in the rearview mirror. Were it not for the injury concerns, Allard was in the running to be the top pick. Instead, Atlanta got him at No. 14 overall. The lefty has excelled this season with Mississippi, posting a sub-3.00 ERA and averaging nearly 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in the first half. He’s used a strong three-pitch mix to have success in the Southern League despite being at least five years younger than the average age for the level. Allard’s trajectory was sped up when he bypassed High-A, which means he could get the call the big leagues at some point in late next season. The best bet remains a 2019 ETA.

4.) Kevin Maitan | SS | Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 5

The crown jewel of Atlanta’s international signings in 2016, Kevin Maitan has all the makings of a star prospect. And he comes with substantial hype and even greater expectations. A switch-hitter with projectable power and an advanced approach at the plate, Maitan was linked to the Braves for over a year before signing with the club for $4.25 million last summer. Drawing comparisons to Miguel Cabrera (a fellow Venezuelan) and Braves great Chipper Jones, the aforementioned expectations are building for Maitan. He made his stateside debut with the Gulf Coast League this summer and the early returns indicate that Maitan is fitting right in. He was slowed by a minor hamstring injury and has split time between shortstop and designated hitter. After just a couple of weeks in the GCL, the Braves believed Maitan was ready for a promotion to Danville. Putting the comparisons to star players aside, it should be great fun to watch Maitan develop as he climbs the ladder in the Atlanta system.

5.) Kyle Wright | RHP | Age: 21 | Previous Rank: NR

Atlanta added another top-end starting pitcher to its stable by selecting Kyle Wright out of Vanderbilt with the fifth pick in the 2017 Draft. Wright will debut with the GCL this summer, but should shoot through the system as a high-upside college arm with polish. Wright possesses the talent to have been the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, but fell to Atlanta and received a sizeable, over-slot deal. He boasts four pitches, including a pair of breaking balls. While the Braves have focused on prep arms in recent years, they saw the opportunity to add an experienced pitching prospect to the system with their top pick this summer and rewarded Wright handsomely to the tune of a $7 million signing bonus. The Braves made that investment in hopes that Wright may be able to impact the big league club within the next two seasons. As it turns out, Wright may reach Atlanta alongside many of the aforementioned young arms in the Braves’ youth movement.

6.) Mike Soroka | RHP | Age: 19 | Previous Rank: 8

When it comes to prep prospects, Mike Soroka has spent roughly two seasons establishing himself as one of the very best in minor league baseball. Not only does he have the physical tools to compete as a 19-year-old in Double-A, but Soroka has shown the aptitude and pitchability that could make him a front of the rotation starter. The Braves found a gem when they selected the Canadian right-hander in the first round of the 2015 draft. Soroka limits base-runners and keeps the ball in the park. He’s allowed just 10 home runs in nearly 270 career innings. At the half-way point, Soroka is at or near the top of the Atlanta organization in wins, ERA, WHIP and opponents’ batting average. Like fellow 2015 draftee Kolby Allard, Soroka skipped High-A and picked up speed on his way through the Braves system. Soroka also represented Atlanta in the All-Star Futures Game along with Ronald Acuña this summer. Though he may debut at some point next season, Soroka appears poised to be rotation-ready in 2019.

7.) Ian Anderson | RHP | Age: 19 | Previous Rank: 6

Prep arms were once again the highlight of the early rounds for the Braves last summer, with Ian Anderson representing the club’s highest draft pick in 25 years when he went third overall in 2016. Anderson’s innings have been managed during his first two seasons, but he’s made the most of his opportunity to pile up strikeouts. The righty posted over 11 K/9 with Rome thus far, though he is averaging just 4-1/3 innings per start thus far. Another starting pitcher who does a nice job of keeping the ball in the ballpark, Anderson has yet to allow a home run through 14 starting assignments and surrendered just one homer over the first 105 innings of his career. Signed to an under-slot deal that allowed Atlanta to creatively spread its money through the 2016 draft class, Anderson has drawn a Mike Mussina comparison from some and is filling out his 6’3” frame in the South Atlantic League during his first full season. His workload may be lighter than some this year, but that should begin to change in 2018.

8.) Luiz Gohara | LHP | Age: 20 | Previous Rank (NR)

One of two top prospects on this list that was gleaned from the Seattle Mariners over the off-season, Luiz Gohara has electric stuff and has put it to good use in two stops in the Atlanta system this season. Gohara blitzed through the Florida State League with a 1.98 ERA over seven starts before getting the bump to Double-A Mississippi. He’s continued his fine work there, averaging 10 K/9 across his first 16 starts. There was some concern over Gohara’s shoulder prior to his acquisition, but the Braves felt confident that the medicals checked out and pulled the trigger on a January trade. Gohara’s high-90s fastball was on display in the Arizona Fall League, where he struck out 19 men in 11-2/3 innings. That proved to be a sign of things to come this season. He has climbed into Top 100 prospects lists after enjoying success at two levels. Gohara will likely finish this season in Double-A, with a chance to jump to Gwinnett for a late season look. He’ll join a host of talented pitching prospects that could fill out the Triple-A rotation in 2018.

9.) Austin Riley | 3B | Age: 20 | Previous Rank: 9

One of the top power hitters in the system, Austin Riley earned a midseason promotion to Mississippi. He finished strong to post a 20-homer campaign and was the driving offensive force for Rome’s South Atlantic League championship in 2016. Between Rome and Florida, Riley has belted 27 home runs in his last 139 games, which amounts to a full minor league season. He does not walk much, but Riley has improved his strikeout rate this year with the Fire Frogs. The promotion for Riley continues the trend of younger players advancing through the system and being among the youngest at that level. Riley continues to hone his craft at third base, where he is making great strides this season. After committing 30 errors in 2016, Riley made just seven over his first 80 games this year. The Braves would love to have a power bat who could offer a long term solution at the hot corner. Riley may be that guy.

10.) Max Fried | LHP | Age: 23 | Previous Rank: 7

The first trip through Double-A has not been kind to Max Fried, who entered spring training as one of the most talked about prospects in the organization. His command has simply not been there consistently, evidenced by 4.5 BB/9 through 16 outings. His ERA is approaching 7.00, but his FIP is nearly two and a half runs lower. That aside, it’s been a challenging season for Fried, who owns one of the sharpest curveballs in the system when he’s at his best. The problem has been that neither his stuff nor his command have been consistent from start to start. His fastball, which can reach the mid-90s, has not shown the same life either. Fried had to put various injuries behind him to reclaim top prospect status over the past three seasons. He dealt with a back ailment in April and has battled a blister problem as well. Fried has been given a mid-season break and will have to get healthy and battle through some inconsistency in hopes of finishing his season in similar fashion to last.

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. Follow Grant on Twitter.

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