7/26/2013 11:00 A.M. ET
Pitchers dominate Braves' prospect rankings
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
When Alex Wood returned to the Major League level on Thursday, he became the third homegrown member of Atlanta's starting rotation that is 25 or younger. Earlier this season, the talented left-hander was part of a Braves bullpen, whose top two relievers -- Craig Kimbrel and Luis Avilan -- still have not celebrated their 26th birthdays.
While some organizations might evaluate their future by primarily focusing on the Minor League level, much of the optimism surrounding the Braves' future is currently being displayed on a daily basis at the Major League level. Four key pieces of Atlanta's everyday lineup -- Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons -- are 25 years old or younger, and Upton is the only member of this group that was not homegrown.
Still, even with this abundance of young talent already at the big league level, the Braves are excited about the plethora of pitching talent in their Minor League system. Eight of the club's top-10 prospects in MLB.com's updated rankings are pitchers.
With Julio Teheran having graduated from prospect status, J.R. Graham now owns the distinction of being Atlanta's top prospect. The 22-year-old right-handed pitcher, who possesses an electric fastball and a high-energy personality, has gained this honor despite being sidelined since the middle of May with a strained right shoulder. It is still unclear when he might be cleared to begin pitching again.
Right-hander Lucas Sims occupies the next spot on the Braves' list of top prospects. The Braves have not been disappointed by selecting Sims and Wood with their first two selections in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
A couple of recent first-round selections -- Sean Gilmartin and Jason Hursh -- rank fourth and fifth, respectively, among the club's top prospects. Gilmartin was acquired with the 27th overall selection in 2011 and Hursh has made a solid impression since the Braves took him with the 31st overall pick in this year's Draft.
Christian Bethancourt, who will be a candidate to serve as Atlanta's starting catcher next year, ranks third on this updated list. The only other position players ranked among the club's top 10 prospects are outfielders Todd Cunningham and Matt Lipka.
Teheran began this season ranked as the game's 31st-best overall prospect, and if he extends the success he has produced over the past few months, the 22-year-old hurler will end the season as a top National League Rookie of the Year candidate. He has found much greater consistency with his slider this year and lived up to the expectations produced two years ago when he ranked as the game's fourth-best overall prospect.
When Evan Gattis entered this season ranked as the club's 19th-best prospect, there were questions about where he could play in the field. Along with showing his incredible raw power and ability to deliver in key situations, he has also erased some doubts about his ability to handle catching.
Wood just surpassed the rookie eligibility limit with his recent callup, graduating from the list just prior to it being re-ranked.
Much of the optimism surrounding Carlos Franco entering this season has evaporated as he has struggled offensively for Class A Rome. The 21-year-old third baseman showed some promise when he produced a .408 on-base percentage for Rookie Level Danville.
After posting a 1.93 ERA in 20 appearances for Rome last year, David Peterson entered this season with the hope that he could continue this success in his second professional season. But injuries have limited 23-year-old right-hander to five appearances with Class A Advanced Lynchburg.
Hursh has impressed, while not allowing a run in the 9 2/3 innings he has completed through his first four professional appearances with Rome. The hard-throwing right-hander out of Oklahoma State has simply gotten stronger since undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery two years ago.
Victor Caratini, the club's second selection in this year's Draft, has hit .314 with a .890 OPS in his first 29 games with Rome. While he was drafted as a catcher, he has not spent any time behind the plate. He's primarily played third base.
Other newcomers to the club's top 20 prospects list are third baseman Kyle Kubitza, who has shown some promise at the plate for Lynchburg, and right-handed reliever Mark Lamm, who has struggled since recently being promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett.
braves' top prospects
Cody Martin began this season ranked as the club's 18th-best prospect and now ranks seventh. While he is not blessed with incredible stuff or a power arm, he has done nothing but impress while posting a 2.86 ERA in 22 appearances (16 starts) with Double-A Mississippi and Gwinnett.
Juan Jaime's inability to stay healthy has led him to drop from 10th to 17th on the club's prospect list. The hard-throwing right-hander's fastball has topped out at 102 mph. But he has posted a 4.00 ERA while making just 19 appearances so far for Mississippi.
Top 100 representation
The Braves had five players -- Teheran, Bethancourt, Simmons, Randall Delgado and Arodys Vizcaino and ranked among the game's top 100 prospects before the start of the 2012 season. But they now stand as the only Major League club that does not have a player on this list.
While Teheran and Simmons have since graduated from prospect status, Delgado was part of the package used to acquire Justin Upton from Arizona. Vizcaino was sent to the Cubs before last year's Trade Deadline in exchange for Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson.
If Graham had stayed healthy this year, he certainly might have gained a spot on this list. Bethancourt remains one of the game's top defensive catching prospects. But his lack of plate discipline has created some doubts about his ability to hit at the big league level.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.