Hitter of the year: C Alex Jackson
2017 stats: .272/.333/.502 14 HR and 143 wRC+ in 66 games
Plate discipline: 4.6% BB rate, 26.2% K rate
The Braves acquired Jackson (and a PTBNL… see below) in a trade with the Mariners last November that sent pitchers Max Povse and Rob Whalen to Seattle. Jackson was the 6th overall pick in the 2014 draft and had struggled with consistency in his three seasons in the Seattle organization. The talent was there, and the Braves were hoping he’d find success with a fresh start somewhere else. On top of that, Jackson would be moving back behind the dish (where he played in high school) instead of working in the outfield as he did with Seattle. The Braves were able to ease Jackson back behind the plate as he platooned with Jonathan Morales for the 1st half of the 2017 season. Jackson appeared in 33 games behind the plate while starting as the DH for another 33 games. Jackson’s .502 SLG was 2nd in the league, and his 14 HR were tied for 6th in the league despite only playing in 66 games. Despite a slow start in Mississippi after his midseason promotion, Jackson would hit .310/.341/.517 over the final 4 weeks of the 2017 season. The bat is very real, but Jackson’s path to Atlanta now appears to depend largely on his defense. Can he stick behind the plate, or will he end up back in the outfield?
Pitcher of the year: LHP Tyler Pike
2017 stats: 2.20 ERA, 2.94 FIP over 69.2 IP and 12 starts
K/BB rates: 8.78 K/9, 3.49 BB/9
The PTBNL in the Jackson trade turned out to be Pike, and he very easily could turn into one of those rare PTBNL’s that actually turns into a big league player. Pike was a 3rd round pick by the Mariners out of high school in 2012, but struggles with command started to move Pike down the Mariners’ prospects lists in recent years. Pike’s fastball generally sits in the high 80’s to low 90’s to go along with an average breaking ball. Pike’s top pitch is his changeup (which current Braves’ scout Kiley McDaniel rated as a grade 65 when Pike was coming out of HS). Pike has a fairly smooth delivery, which makes the control issues somewhat puzzling. Despite the solid 3.49 BB/9 rate in Florida, Pike posted a 7.59 BB/9 rate in Mississippi. Expect Pike to open 2018 in Mississippi again where he once again will try to find some consistency with his control.
Name to watch: RHP Touki Toussaint
2017 stats: 5.04 ERA; 3.39 FIP over 19 starts and 105.1 IP
K/BB rates: 10.51 K/9, 3.59 BB/9
If you are an old school stats guy, the 5.04 ERA may scare you off, but if you take a deeper look at the numbers, Toussaint had a very strong year for Florida. Toussaint definitely had some issues in the early part of the season (4 ER or more in 4 of his first 6 starts), but from June to the end of July he would post a 3.33 ERA and a 3.01 FIP over his final 9 starts in Florida. This was all the Braves needed to see before sending him to AA Mississippi to finish out the season. Over 7 starts with the M-Braves, Touki continued his strong work by posting a 3.18 ERA and nearly 10 K/9. He possesses a mid 90’s fastball, but the headliner here is his curveball. Many grade it as a 60, but I’d give it a 70 when he’s on. Touki kind of reminds me of a right handed Sean Newcomb. If the command is on, he’s nearly unhittable, but you never when he’ll have his command working. It’s possible that Touki moves on up to Gwinnett to open 2018, but depending on the numbers, he could very easily open the season back with Mississippi.
Others of note:
-OF Tyler Neslony: Hit .309/.378/.442 before a midseason promotion to Mississippi. Potentially a 4th OF at some point.
-LHP Chase Johnson-Mullins: 6’8 270 LHP with 50 K/16 BB in 44 IP. Could join Atlanta bullpen at some point in 2018. Two-seam fastball sits in 91-94 range with a sharp curve.
-LHP Adam McCreery: Another tall lefty (6’8) that was strong all year. 2.64 ERA in 18 appearances with Florida after spending 1st half with Rome. Mid 90’s fastball with solid slider and curve.
-LHP Corbin Clouse: 2.31 ERA over 25 appearances before a midseason promotion to Mississippi. Solid combination of sinker/slider.