We are breaking down the top five prospects for each organization for 2009, taking into consideration: games, at-bats, innings and major-league service time. We expect these players to have rookie status remaining heading into next year.
According to MLB rules: "A player shall be considered a rookie unless, during a previous season or seasons, he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the major leagues; or (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a major league club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit (excluding time in the military service and time on the disabled list)."
Note: Statistics are those at each stop in the minors this season and age represents how old they will be on opening day 2009.
This organization is perennially one of baseball's best and it will continue to prove so in 2009. The Braves relied on too many young players last season to mixed results, but this year's crop of rookies should prove to be stronger if not deeper. They have a couple of Double-A starters who could step into the rotation out of spring training, if they don't fill it up with free agents or re-signings and they have some nice depth at key positions.
1. SP Tommy Hanson, 22
In a year, Hanson has surged through the Braves system and the prospects ranks in all of baseball. He now qualifies as one of the best arms in all of the minors. His breakthrough season in high Class A and Double-A was enough, but he was absolutely unhittable in the Arizona Fall League, which is notoriously hitter-friendly. The Braves have a slew of rotation spots open and Hanson looks capable of stepping in and filling one out of spring training. He has the chance to post a Jurrjens-like rookie season and might even have a higher ceiling at this point.
2. OF Jason Heyward, 19
This teenager was one of the most clamored for names in the CBSSports.com database last spring. We didn't see a real rush to add him, since it would be a few years before he would be ready for the major leagues. The talent is pretty obvious for the 6-foot-4 man-child. He should open the season in high Class A, but he is so talented, he could impress in spring training and be in the majors by September at the age of 20. It is real hard to project a prospect so young, but 30-30 looks possible. The Baseball America comparisons call him the next Frank Thomas, but that is more due to his physical stature. He projects to be far more athletic.
3. SP Todd Redmond, 23
The Braves pulled off a fleecing last spring when reliever Tyler Yates wasn't going to make the team and was out of options. They dealt the journeyman for Redmond and wound up getting a future major league starter. With the Braves current lack of a starting rotation, Redmond could get a look in spring training to be their No. 5 starter. Consider him a sleeper in NL-only leagues on Draft Day, but we wouldn't be surprised to see him make a Jorge Campillo-like impact.
4. C Tyler Flowers, 23
Flowers is a good receiver, according to Baseball America, so his run production cannot be ignored at the position he plays. Ordinarily, someone who hits like this is destined to play another position to keep his bat in the lineup more. Flowers has played first base, but that was due more to health than actual catching skills. Brian McCann isn't going anywhere, so we don't expect to see Flowers contribute this upcoming season, but he could be a bargaining chip in deals.
5. 3B Eric Campbell, 23
Campbell had a bounce-back year after a disappointing 2007. We have watched him for years saying he is the heir apparent to Chipper Jones. Clearly, he doesn't have that kind of ceiling now, but there is a chance he could be ready to contribute in 2009 if anything happens to Chipper again. At Chipper's age and with his history of injury, you have to expect something to.
Best of the rest: OF Jordan Schafer, SS Brent Lillibridge, 1B Kala Ka'ahiue, 1B Freddie Freeman, OF Cody Johnson, SP Cole Rohrbough, SP Jeff Locke, OF Gorkys Hernandez, SP Kyle Cofield, SP Deunte Heath, SP Brett DeVall, OF Matt Young, SP Julio Teheran, SP Kris Medlen, RP Stephen Marek, SP Randall Delgado, 3B Jon Gilmore, SP Craig Kimbrel, SP Paul Clemens, SP Zeke Sprull, SP Scott Diamond, SP Ryne Reynoso, SP Bryan Dumesnil, SS Brandon Hicks, Sp Steve Evarts, SP Chad Rodgers, 3B Van Pope, SP Erik Cordier, OF Jason Perry, SP Anthony Lerew, SP Matt DeSalvo, RP James R. Parr, 2B Travis Jones, 1B Ernesto Mejia, 1B Gerardo Rodriguez, 3B Donell Linares, C Braeden Schlehuber, C Christian Bethancourt, SS Victor Cadette, RP Matthew Small, SP Jacob Thompson, SP Edgar Osuna, C Clint Sammons, RP Jeff Ridgway, RP Phil Stockman, SP Eric Barrett, 2B Diory Hernandez, SP Cory Rasmus, C Phillip Britton, SP Jairo Cuevas and RP Francisley Bueno.
Last year's top five here: OF Jones, OF Schafer, SS Lillibridge, 3B Campbell and 1B Ka'ahiue.
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