1. Andy Marte 21 years old RHH 3B
2004 Statistics: - .269 average with 23 home runs and 68 RBI - .364 OBP – 17 errors at third baseComment: Andy Marte gets the nod over Jeff Francoeur for a couple of reasons. First, he might be a tad closer to the big leagues than Francoeur. Second, his ability to play a premium position in third base makes him a more attractive all-around player. At 20 years old, Marte was not overmatched at all in AA in 2004, despite missing almost a full month with injuries. Marte showed good power with 23 homers. His defense continues to be outstanding. The Braves have to see what Chipper's plans are before knowing how long it might be before Marte takes over third base.
2. Jeff Francoeur 21 years old RHH RF
2004 Statistics: - .278 average with 18 home runs and 61 RBI - .324 OBP – 11 stolen basesComment: Jeff Francoeur is going to be the next Chipper Jones and Dale Murphy all wrapped into one. He's got great power, great speed, strong base running skills, a good arm, and good instincts in the outfield. Francoeur is having a strong Arizona Fall League, and that may have the Braves wondering how much more time he's going to need in the minors. Jeff wants to be next year's David Wright. He's talented enough to do it.
3. Brian McCann 21 years old LHH C
2004 Statistics: - .277 average with 15 home runs and 65 RBI – 35 doublesComment: Brian McCann continued his ascent up the minor league ladder with a great season in Myrtle Beach. He continued to show great power, and even better power potential with those 35 doubles. Defensively, the pitchers love pitching to him and his arm was solid. His best comparison is Free Agent Jason Varitek. In five years, Francoeur and Marte will be our stars, but just like Varitek in Boston, this will be Brian McCann's team. Mac is a great leader on the field.
4. Wilson Betemit 24 years old SWITCH SS-3B2004 Statistics: - .277 average with 13 home runs and 57 RBI – 23 doubles – .335 OBP Comment: He's higher on this list that you might imagine but that's because it's his last time on here. Betemit is ready. The Braves either have to trade him or practically give him a reserve infielder role this winter. He had a great year in AAA and proved he does not need another season in AAA. The question is where will he play. Chipper's back at third, Marte's knocking on Chipper's door, and Furcal is entrenched at shortstop. So then what for Betemit? If he's with us, he'll be a reserve. If not, another team needs to give this guy a full chance.
5. Ryan Langerhans 25 years old LHH OF
2004 Statistics: - .298 with 20 home runs and 72 RBI - 34 doubles, 103 runsComment: Speaking of a kid who is finished with the minors and ready for the big leagues, Ryan Langerhans is another one. He showed improved power, an ability to get on base, and a knack for driving in the big run. Like Betemit, if the Braves don't give Langerhans a job, he needs to be traded. There is no way he can go back to the minor leagues. Expect a solid 4th outfield with solid defense and a great arm.
6. Kelly Johnson 23 years old LHH SS-3B-OF
2004 Statistics: - .282 average with 16 home runs and 50 RBI – 35 doubles - .350 OBPComment: Kelly went back to AA and did exactly what the Braves want a player to do if they repeat a level. Kelly Johnson got better. His power improved, as did his average. His 35 doubles give hope for even better power. Johnson handled his move to the outfield perfectly. He played well, and now has great versatility, which might help him when he competes for a roster spot. Johnson could start out in AAA, but he'll be in Atlanta sometime in 2005. Don't underestimate Johnson. He's still the great prospect that put up solid numbers in Macon in 2001.
7. Scott Thorman 23 years old LHH 1B
2004 Statistics: - .267 average with 15 home runs and 80 RBI – 25 doublesComment: Talk about improvement. Scott Thorman improved dramatically in 2004. He started out in Myrtle Beach and did well, and then got his desired promotion to AA Greenville. Thorman continues to make steady progress. He'll probably start the year out at AA Mississippi, and then if he does well he'll probably end the year in Atlanta. Thorman's still a poor man's Ryan Klesko. Not a bad guy to be compared to.
8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia 19 years old SWITCH C2004 Statistics: - .272 average with 10 home runs and 51 RBI – 19 doubles in only 323 at bats Comment: Forget the pending turmoil in three years when both McCann and "Salty Dog" are batting it out for the Atlanta starting job. Salty is a switch-hitter, so he'll get a lot of attention. There are not many switch-hitting catchers around with this kid's ability. Salty had a great season for an 18 year old in the Sally League. The Braves can't even imagine how good a prospect this kid might be in two years. He might be number one on this list in November of 2006.
9. Josh Burrus 21 years old RHH OF
2004 Statistics: - .272 average with 11 home runs, 46 RBI - 30 doubles, and 30 stolen basesComment: Arguably the most improved player in the Braves system in 2004. This is what the Braves believed he could do when they made him a first round pick in 2001. The doubles are going to eventually turn into home runs, but next season he'll have a huge test in Myrtle Beach. The athleticism is tremendous. He could be a leadoff man in 4 years. Let's hope it's with us!
10. Luis Hernandez 20 years old SWITCH SS
2004 Statistics: - .271 average with 6 home runs and 45 RBI – 12 errors at short for Myrtle BeachComment: Pure and simply the best defensive player to ever come out of the Braves system. Hernandez is spectacular. He's got a great glove, great hands, and great everything when it comes to his defense. Offensively, if he can hit .271 with 6 home runs and 45 RBI, Hernandez will be a starter in this game for many years to come.
11. James Jurries – Can't catch a cold, but has a great bat; May be trade-bait
12. Billy McCarthy – Just a hitter. Might go to Spring Training as non-roster invitee.
13. Pete Orr – Will battle Nick Green for a reserve spot next spring.
14. Adam Stern – Stayed healthy and progressed nicely; good 4th outfielder?
15. Martin Prado – Here's the best 2B prospect in the system. A hitter & good glove
16. Tony Pena, Jr. – If he learns to take a pitch, he'll make them trade Furcal.
17. Onil Joseph – A favorite of Bobby Cox; needs to get stronger physically.
18. Matt Esquivel – Another athlete; Good power.
19. Aaron Herr – Needs to stay healthy; some say he can be another Bret Boone.
20. Brayan Pena – If he gets better as a catcher, he'll be a big leaguer. He can hit.
21. Wes Timmons – Could be another Mark DeRosa in 2006 or 2007.
22. Gregor Blanco – Now up to AA. Needs to show consistency.
23. Miguel Bernard – Hit better in Rome; Finally moves up; The Next Eddie Perez?
24. Mark Jurich – College power hitter did great playing in Danville; Powerful.
25. J.C. Holt – A great college draft pick that could come in two years.
**Ages as of April 1, 2005**
Bill Shanks can be reached at email@example.com