27. What's the state of the farm system?

Here are some names to keep in mind for the future.

We've already discussed the potential impact and timetable of Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman. But there are other players in the farm system that could make a real difference in the next decade of Braves baseball.

The Braves have built a very solid and deep starting rotation, and it seems like it could be crowded for the next several seasons. But there are two pitchers in particular that could push the issue.

Mike Minor was the first round pick back in June, and the Braves are thrilled with his progress. With Atlanta not having a lefty in the rotation right now, Minor is going to look even more attractive. He could be knocking on the door in another year, so you could expect his arrival sometime in 2011.

And Julio Teheran was extremely effective last season. He started out in Danville, and after a 2.68 ERA in seven games the Braves sent Teheran to Rome. The 17-year-old held his own in the Sally League this summer, and you can expect him back in Rome to start 2010. He's still a pitcher who could make it to the big leagues by the time he's 21, so Teheran's development next year will be important to watch.

The Braves have a number of pitchers that have the potential to develop into true major league starting pitching prospects. They have a lot of arms that aren't highly rated right now, but still have a chance to pitch in the big leagues down the road.

A number of pitchers slated for Double-A need to have good seasons in 2010. Kyle Cofield will go back to Mississippi. He's got a great curveball, but Cofield's control must get better. He had more walks (89) than strikeouts (87) last season.

The Braves seem to really like Jose Ortegano, a soft-tossing lefty who was terrific in Double-A Mississippi. He had eight starts in the Southern League and struck out 42 in 47.2 innings, with only 15 walks. Ortegano will probably start back out in Pearl next season.

Richard Sullivan, Jacob Thompson, and Erik Cordier all had decent seasons in 2009, but they'll need to separate themselves from the rest of the pack next year, especially if they go up to Double-A. And the Braves really need to see a resurgence from Cole Rohrbough, who had a disappointing 2009 season.

The Delgado boys, Randall and DiMaster, will be fun to watch in Myrtle Beach next season. They are not related, but both are very, very good. Some scouts like Randall as much as Teheran. Randall Delgado is the right-hander, who will be 20 next February. Randall struck out 141 in 124 innings with Rome last year.

DiMaster Delgado is a lefty, and a bit older than Randall. DiMaster will turn 21 in March, and he'll likely head to Myrtle Beach after 17 starts in Rome. He struck out 104 batters in 99.2 innings. Both Delgado's have super stuff, and in another year we could be tracking their pending arrival in Atlanta.

The Braves are going to have several pitchers in Rome who excelled with the Danville team last summer. They will be long-term prospects, but we'll need to keep our eye on guys like Brett Oberholtzer, Matt Crim, Chris Masters, David Hale, and Cory Rasmus.

The catcher to watch will be Christian Bethancourt, an 18-year-old from Panama who was sensational in the Gulf Coast League and Danville last summer. Overall, Bethancourt hit .277 with 4 home runs and 27 RBI in 166 at bats. That's not bad for someone who was only 17 at the time. He also showed flashes of great defensive skill. Bethancourt will start out in Rome, and a good season could have him as the top prospect in the organization a year from now.

After Freddie Freeman, the Braves have a few first basemen to watch. Gerardo Rodriguez is a hitter. He'll probably be back in Myrtle Beach to start 2010. And while scouts aren't sure how good he is, Riann Spanjer-Furstenburg was the Appy League Player of the Year with Danville. He'll move up to Rome in 2010.

Second base is a little weak, and the Braves may address that in next June's draft. The best shortstop is Brandon Hicks, who is outstanding with the glove and improving at the plate. Hicks still strikes out too much, but the Braves feel he's got great potential to get better in that category. Hicks may not move Yunel Escobar off shortstop, but with a lack of third base prospects you wonder if Hicks could one day replace Chipper Jones.

And the lack of prospects at third is a concern with Jones' career coming to an end in a few years. This is another area that could be focused on with the new scouting director, Tony DeMacio, next June.

There are several outfielders that could be in Atlanta in the next few years. Cody Johnson is a home run hitting machine, and he'll move up to Double-A and be tested in 2010. The Braves know Johnson can hit home runs, so now he needs to get better at the other areas of his game to be a more complete player. The Braves like his effort doing that so far.

Adam Milligan is a legit power hitting prospect. Between Danville, Rome, and Myrtle Beach, Milligan hit .344 with 13 home runs and 49 RBI in 262 at bats. He'll probably return to the Carolina League to start out 2010, but Milligan could be pushed to Double-A sometime next summer.

The Braves like what they saw last summer from Kyle Rose, who stole 27 bases in 48 games. Rose is an outfield who will probably be in Rome this season.

The farm system will be depleted a bit from the big names once Heyward graduates. But the Braves still believe the farm system is in good shape, with the chance to get help at most positions when needed over the next few years.

And the potential impact players (Heyward, Freeman, Minor, Teherhan) could be major faces for this franchise as the new decade begins.



Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.


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