Sims, Wood highlight Braves All-Stars

Two 2012 Draft picks excel in first full professional campaigns

By Jake Seiner / | October 2, 2013 6:00 AM

This offseason, is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

Atlanta is already bursting at the seams with young talent with players such as Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward and Julio Teheran all playing major roles despite being 23 or younger for most of 2013.

Few teams have had more unique scouting success stories than the Braves, with Simmons and Brandon Beachy among the most exceptional finds in recent years. The team's scouts have a knack for uncovering underhyped talents, and true to form, many of their top Minor League performers are players who have raised their stock -- often tremendously -- since they were first acquired.

That list is headlined by the likes of Lucas Sims and Alex Wood, 2012 draftees who were exceptional in their first full pro seasons. That duo's emergence, paired with bounceback campaigns by Christian Bethancourt and Joey Terdoslavich and breakout seasons by Jose Peraza, Victor Caratini and Kyle Wren, have created the promise that Braves Country may soon be greeting more prodigious youngsters to Turner Field.

Braves Organizational All-Stars

Catcher -- Christian Bethancourt, Mississippi (90 games), Atlanta (one game): Long touted for his defensive prowess, the Braves' No. 3 prospect broke out with a .277 average, 33 extra-base hits and a .741 OPS in 2013. The offensive turnaround, paired with his unique defensive talents, earned the 22-year-old a callup to Atlanta in September.

"He worked hard all offseason and went down to the Dominican Winter League to continue his development," Braves director of Minor League operations Ronnie Richardson said. "He did a good job of showing progress at that level.

"We're happy with the progress he's made and think he has a great future. He got up to Atlanta and it was great for him to experience part of what goes on with the big club."

First base -- Ernesto Mejia, Gwinnett (134 games): Mejia has emerged as one of the best power hitters in the Braves' upper Minor League levels and again showcased his aptitude for the long ball in 2013. The 27-year-old mashed a career-high 28 home runs -- good for third in the International League -- with a solid .820.

"Ernesto has big-time right-handed power, and he has the ability to compete with that right-handed power," Richardson said. "He's been the MVP in the Venezuelan Winter League two of the past three seasons. The way he goes about the game, we're excited about his ability to hit at the highest level. He has big-time power. He's shown his ability to make quality adjustments day in and day out in Triple-A and in Venezuela."

Second base -- Tommy La Stella, Lynchburg (seven games), Mississippi (81 games): Ranked 14th in the Braves system, La Stella boasts one of the Minor Leagues' sharpest plate approaches, walking more than he's struck out at nearly every level. That was again the case at Double-A, where he hit .343 with a .422 on-base percentage and an .896 OPS.

"He's a selective hitter, selectively aggressive," Richardson said. "Obviously, you can see that in his walk totals. He has more walks than strikeouts. He knows the strike zone very well. He competes, he's selective and he has an understanding of which pitches he can drive. It's shown in his production through the course of the year. We're really excited about him and excited about him going to the Arizona Fall League this season."

Shortstop -- Jose Peraza, Rome (114 games): The 19-year-old hit .288 in Class A as one of the South Atlantic League's youngest players. His 64 stolen bases were second in the league. Peraza is an outstanding athlete who also contributed heavily with his glove at short.

"With his numbers, his progress and his production, he did a lot of special things," Richardson said. "He really, really has impact speed, and that allows him to get on base and make a difference. He's a threat on the basepaths and knows how to drive the ball to all fields. … His impact speed makes him probably the best base stealer in our system."

Third base -- Kyle Kubitza, Lynchburg (132 games): Drafted in the third round out of Texas State University in 2011, Kubitza spent all of 2013 in the Carolina League, where he was one of the circuit's best hitters. The left-handed hitter batted .260 with 12 homers and an .814 OPS, including an impressive .380 on-base percentage.

"He's also one of those hitters with an advanced approach," Richardson said. "You look at his [on-base percentage], and he's selective.

"He has tools across the board. He has the ability to hit with power from the left side. He's going to the Arizona Fall League, and he's going to continue to develop. He's shown the ability to drive the ball and be patient with his approach."


Joey Terdoslavich, Gwinnett (85 games): The Long Beach State product solved Triple-A pitching in 2013, managing a .318 average and .926 OPS while transitioning to full-time outfield duty. The switch-hitter cut his Triple-A strikeout rate from 23.3 percent in 2012 to 18.5 percent in 2013, and 43 of his 102 hits went for extra bases.

 "It was his first time in the outfield, and he did a good job," Richardson said. "We brought him in to instructs, and the staff there did a heck of a job preparing him to go out and play this year. His offense didn't suffer.

"We're excited with where his offense is and the defensive strides he made in both outfield corners. His versatility is going to allow him to be a great asset."

Kyle Wren, Danville (five games), Rome (47 games), Lynchburg (one game): The son of Braves general manager Frank Wren, this Georgia Tech product spent the bulk of his time at Class A, where he hit .335 with an .863 OPS and 35 steals in 42 attempts. The 2013 eighth-round pick also stood out for his defensive work in center.

"He has impact speed, and that allows him to do a lot of things on the field," Richardson said. "He comes from a baseball background, and you can see it in his ability to bunt, steal a base, play great defense, those kinds of things. He's a top-of-the-order hitter.

"We saw in the numbers in Danville and Rome his ability to compete at a high level and impact the game with his speed and defense."

Josh Elander, Rome (74 games), Lynchburg (61 games): Elander dominated Class A with a .916 OPS to begin the year, and after struggling initially at Lynchburg, he made adjustments and hit .316 with an .823 OPS in August. His performance in the Carolina League -- as well as his transition from catching to outfield -- are major reasons Atlanta tabbed Elander as their MiLB Player of the Year.

"It was his first full season in the outfield after he made the transition in instructs last year," Richardson said. "He picked up the outfield well, and the coaches did a great job of preparing him.

"You look at his year as a whole, his ability to be a middle-of-the-order bat, hit for average, home runs, RBIs and [on-base percentage] -- he does everything you look for when you evaluate a hitter."

Utility player -- Victor Caratini, Danville (58 games): Caratini, an alum of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, was the Braves' 2013 second-round pick out of Miami Dade Junior College. The 20-year-old hit .290 with a .415 on-base percentage in the Appalachian League after signing, and he will be an interesting player to watch as Atlanta tries him at catcher in its instructional league this fall.

"He's shown a lot of ability at both positions from a tools standpoint," Richardson said. "At third base, he did a good job there after the Draft. He's going to get exposure at both heading forward.

"He has ability at the plate and was one of the top performers in the [Appalachian League]. … We're going to continue to evaluate him and see what's best for his future."

Right-handed starter -- Lucas Sims, Rome (28 games): Drafted by Atlanta with the 21st pick in 2012, Sims was a monster in the South Atlantic League and emerged as the top prospect in the Braves system. The right-hander from Snellville, Ga., went 12-4 with a 2.62 ERA. He struck out 134 in 116 2/3 innings, walking 46 and allowing just three home runs.

"He developed a strong routine and put together a quality outing every time he went out there," Richardson said. "He made adjustments well and did a good job of processing all of the information we were giving him.

"The future is bright for him based on what he's done and his work ethic and ability to understand and accept information."

Left-handed starter -- Alex Wood, Mississippi (10 games), Gwinnett (one game), Atlanta (29 games): The thinking here is not to punish Wood for exceeding expectations so tremendously and arriving in Atlanta ahead of schedule. The 2012 second-round pick reached the Majors in July after posting a 1.31 ERA in 11 Minor League starts. He was aided by a spike curveball picked up from Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters in Spring Training, and he paired that pitch with his fastball and changeup to emerge as a legitimate Major League starter.

"He added the spike curve with his ability to command his changeup and his fastball and his makeup to compete every day," Richardson said. "He adjusted well at Double-A and took what he learned there and really impacted the MLB club, where you saw him make several starts for a first-place team."

Relief pitcher -- Shae Simmons, Rome (39 games), Mississippi (11 games): Simmons, a 2012 second-round Draft pick, struck out 14.2 batters per nine innings while making 24 saves for Rome. He also dominated in Double-A, posting a 2.45 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 11 innings. He finished the year with a 1.69 ERA.

 "He has a plus fastball and a plus breaking ball, and we're excited about him," Richardson said. "He's a quiet competitor. He goes out and wants the ball. He gives everything he has every time out. We're happy with his progress and think he has a chance to continue to develop in our system. ... He's going to go to the Fall League and we'll evaluate his progress and see where he ends up next year."

Jake Seiner is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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