Welcome to the second installment of my series Diamonds in the Rough. In this article, I will breakdown four prospects from the Atlanta Braves farm system.
Last time out, I took a look at some of the Arizona Diamondbacks prospects.
In deep dynasty leagues, the ability to spot high-upside lower-ranked prospects before they become household names in the fantasy baseball community can make a big difference to the long-term success of your team.
To qualify as a diamond in the rough for this series, a player must be currently ranked lower than No. 15 on their team's latest MLB.com Prospect Rankings.
Below I discuss two hitting and two pitching prospects.
Check out our 2021 Fantasy Baseball Dynasty Rankings to help you dominate your leagues.
2021 Atlanta Braves Diamonds in the Rough
Mahki Backstrom, 1B (Unranked)
Bats: L | Throws: L
Tools: 45 Hit | 55 Power | 45 Run | 45 Field | 45 Arm
Highest Level: Rookie
The Braves drafted Mahki Backstrom out of High School in the 18th round (547 overall) of the 2019 MLB draft.
Standing at 6'5 220lbs, Backstrom is a pure first base prospect with a hulking frame and good athleticism. Backstrom pairs a smooth left-handed stroke with astonishing raw power and bat speed, which produce sky-high exit velocities and loud contact.
According to Backstrom’s Perfect Game profile, out of all 2019 high school draftees, Backstrom placed in the 99.74% percentile for exit velocity (with a max exit velocity of 101 MPH), 98.80% for max barrel speed, 99.6% for impact momentum, and 92.91% for max acceleration. Backstrom, who ran a 6.90 60-yard dash, also has surprising speed for his build.
In 23 games in Backstrom's pro debut in Rookie ball in 2019, a 17-year old Backstrom compiled an impressive slash line of .300/.402/.457, with 2 HR, 8 R, 8 RBI and 1 SB. Though this is a very small sample size, it is tough to ignore Backstrom’s .860 OPS and .413 wOBA. For reference, according to the FanGraphs "wOBA Rules of Thumb", a wOBA of .370 is considered "great" and a wOBA of .400 is considered "excellent" (the highest possible rating).
Despite posting impressive numbers at the plate in his 2019 debut, Backstrom also posted a 32.9% K% and a 26.3% SwStr%. Moreover, Backstrom has a tendency to get uphill with his swift left-handed stroke. Backstrom will need to overcome these swing and miss issues to make the most of his powerful bat.
Being a pure first base prospect, Backstrom is blocked by Freddie Freeman and fellow stud prospect Bryce Ball. However, that is not a reason to avoid a player of Backstrom’s caliber and upside. In addition, Backstrom may also benefit from the seemingly inevitable implementation of the universal DH.
Though Backstrom is not even ranked by MLB.com on its 2020 top 30 Braves prospect rankings, he has the tools to be on the top half of that list by the end of the season. With more playing time, Backstrom is likely to turn heads and rocket up rankings. There may not be a better buying opportunity in deep dynasty leagues.
I think this kid is going to be a star at the major league level.
...and still 17 pic.twitter.com/pD1rI4Cme2
— Mahki Backstrom (@CMCMACB) August 25, 2019
Yoansy Moreno, OF (Unranked)
Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 40 Hit | 55 Power | 45 Run | 40 Field | 55 Arm
Highest Level: Rookie
In November 2017, the MLB punished the Braves for violating international signing rules from 2015-2017. As part of the sanctions, the Braves lost 13 prospects, with whom they had either signed or reached verbal agreements. Notable among these prospects were Robert Puason (ranked #2 on MLB.com’s Oakland Athletics 2020 Top 30 Prospect List) and Kevin Maitan (ranked #23 on MLB.com’s Los Angeles Angels 2020 Top 30 Prospect List). The Braves were also prohibited from signing any international player for more than $10,000 during the 2019-2020 signing period.
Despite these restrictions, the Braves were able to find a diamond in the rough during the 2019 international signing period. The Braves signed Yoansy Moreno for their maximum permitted $10,000 during the 2019 international signing period.
Similar to Backstrom, Moreno is a massive, 6’3 225lbs 17-year-old man-child with easy plus raw power. Moreno has a muscular, broad-shouldered build with a solid lower half, which generates leverage in his swing. To that effect, Baseball America has described Moreno has a “physical specimen.”
Also similar to Backstrom, Moreno has a knack for barreling balls and generating high exit velocities. According to Moreno's Perfect Game profile, Moreno’s max exit velocity of 97 MPH put him in the 97.20% percentile out of 2019 high school draftees. In addition, Moreno displays high energy in the outfield and has a howitzer of an arm.
However, Moreno will need to improve upon his hit tool and pitch recognition skills to develop into more than just a three-outcome power bat. Fortunately, Moreno is only 17 years old and has plenty of time to refine his skills in the Braves system.
Moreno is a promising young prospect with big-time power potential. Though Moreno is unlikely to debut until 2026, prudent managers in deep dynasty leagues will monitor his progress closely.
The Braves may have found an interesting $10,000 sign in Yoansy Moreno.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound outfielder has considerable power.
Learn more: https://t.co/Tt6P26LGll pic.twitter.com/Ew6YQVBjq3
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) December 20, 2019
Philip Pfeifer, LHP (#26)
Bats: L | Throws: L
Tools: 50 FB | 40 CH | 60 CB | 45 CNTRL
Highest Level: AAA
It has been a long and winding road to the show for Philip Pfeifer. Pfeifer, a big name prospect out of high school, won a Tennessee state record 46 games in high school.
However, Pfeifer was suspended at Vanderbilt for the 2014 season after a failed drug test and "failing to meet team standards". According to Pfeifer, he had been suffering with substance abuse issues since his senior year of high school. Pfeifer later credited the suspension and discussions with Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin for saving his life.
In his 2015 return, Pfeifer had a successful season as a swingman with Vanderbilt, racking up 118 strikeouts in 96.1 IP. Later in 2015, Pfeifer was drafted in the 3rd round (101 overall) by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Then in 2016, the Dodgers traded Pfeifer to the Braves as part of a package for RHP Bud Norris.
Though Pfeifer made it to AAA as a reliever in late 2017, he seemed to plateau at that level. In 2019, the Braves sent Pfeifer back down to the Florida State League to try his hand at starting. The rest is history.
Pfeifer struggled as a reliever in 2019 across AA and AAA, posting a 5.73 ERA over 55 IP (despite posting a 3.49 ERA in 2017 over 59.1IP). Moreover, as a reliever during 2017 and 2018, Pfeifer threw a combined 114.1 IP with 129 Ks and a troublesome 82 BBs. However, after converting to a starter in 2019, Pfeifer posted a neat 2.97 ERA over 133.1 IP with 159 Ks and only 42 BBs, including an 8 IP 17 K scoreless gem on July 18, 2019.
As a starter in 2019, Pfeifer was able to significantly reduce his walk rate while maintaining his favorable strikeout rate. Pfeifer continued his dominance in the Australian Winter League in 2019, compiling 60 Ks and a 1.34 WHIP over 52.1 IP. In 2020, the Braves added Pfeifer to their 40-man roster to protect him from Rule 5 draft eligibility.
Though Pfeifer has a solid fastball that sits in the low 90s (max 95 MPH), his true standout pitch is his 60-grade breaking ball. Pfeifer's breaking ball is a legitimate put-out pitch with an elite spin rate. In addition, though Pfeifer's weakest offering is his changeup, he has been working to incorporate a slider into his repertoire The development of a slider would give Pfeifer another high-spin pitch to tunnel effectively with his fastball and devastating breaking ball.
Given the depth of the Braves starting rotation and higher ranking pitching prospects in the system, if Pfeifer makes his major league debut in 2021, it will likely be out of the Braves bullpen. Pfeifer has the polish and pitch-mix, especially with the addition of a slider, to be an effective major league reliever. However, if the Braves give Pfeifer a chance as a starter in their major league rotation at some point, he could be a late-blooming breakout and valuable producer for deep dynasty rosters.
Spencer Strider, RHP (#30)
Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 65 FB | 50 CH | 45 SL | 45 CNTRL
Highest Level: A
Spencer Strider was an elite high school prospect originally drafted out of high school by the Cleveland Indians in the 35th round of the 2017 MLB draft. However, Strider opted to head to Clemson for the 2018 season.
In 2018, during Strider's Freshman season at Clemson, Strider showed a lively arm but was inconsistent, compiling 70 Ks and 35 BB over 51 IP. Unfortunately, Strider missed the entirety of his Sophomore season in 2019 with Tommy John Surgery. In 2020, during Strider's Junior season, Strider exhibited maintained velocity and a more palatable 19 Ks and 3 BB over only 12 IP.
Though Strider only managed 63 IP since 2018 at Clemson, the Braves took a chance on him in the 4th round (126 overall) of the 2020 MLB draft.
Strider's best pitch is his electric fastball. Strider's fastball has impressive movement and sits in the mid-90s, reportedly touching 99 MPH at instructs. Further, Strider sports a plus changeup and a developing slider, which play well off of his blazing fastball. Though, currently, his third pitch, Strider's slider averages an elite spin rate of 2,596 RPM. If Strider can add velocity to his slider, which currently sits around 79 MPH, the pitch could develop into a plus offering.
Strider has high strikeout upside, but his profile also carries a fair amount of risk. First, Strider has a relatively smaller frame at 6'0 195 lbs and only has 63 IP since 2018. Second, Strider is only two years removed from Tommy John Surgery. Third, Strider has displayed control issues in the past, posting a 5.9 BB/9 over his 63 IP at Clemson. However, Strider has demonstrated better control during his brief Junior season and instructs. If Strider cannot make significant strides with respect to his secondaries and strike-throwing, he may project as a bullpen arm.
However, according to Braves VP of Scouting Dana Brown, "[Strider] had a little health issue with the arm and then it got fixed, but we feel now that he’s through it. He’s out of the woods and we feel like he’s going to be a starter. Fastball is up to 96 with good rise and a really good breaking ball that he can get out left-handed hitters with. At the end of the day, we feel like we got a good package. He’s on the rebound and we feel like the arrow is pointing in the right direction."
Those words provide reassurance that the Braves see Strider as a starter for now.
In any role, the 22-year-old Strider could be a quick riser through the Braves system. Before pitching an inning in the minors, Strider already possesses an elite fastball, a plus changeup, and a potential major league slider. Strider also has a ton of confidence on the mound and a nasty strikeout strut to boot.
If Strider can solidify his three-pitch mix and improve upon his control, he could develop into a high-upside option for the Braves rotation.
The Braves select Spencer Strider (RHP, Clemson) in the fourth round
-Mid 90’s FB with a + CH
-Missed 2019 season recovering from Tommy John
Check this 🔥 out!! ⬇️
— Tomahawk Talk (@ChopTalk2) June 12, 2020
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