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The talent is there but will Teheran ever live up to the expectations? (Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports)

Top-5 Check-In: Atlanta Braves

Now that we’re a month in to the 2013 minor league season, it’s a good time to check in on how the top prospects in each of the organizations are faring. It is way too early to get overly excited or overly depressed about anyone’s performance thus far, but it’s never too early to dig into the data and results that each prospect has added to their resume. For the purposes of these check-ins we will be using Baseball America’s rankings unless otherwise noted.

We start things off with the Atlanta Braves, an organization that is top-heavy in pitching with seven of their ten best prospects hailing from the mound. The Braves system current ranks in the bottom third among the 30 organizations and lacks upper echelon talent (beyond the enigma wrapped in a mystery that is their top prospect). However given the state of the major league roster it’s certainly something fans can live with.

#1: RHP – Julio Teheran (22)

Atlanta: 5.08 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 39 H, 8 BB and 2o SO in 28.1 IP (5 GS)

Teheran stood out during spring training with a 1.04 ERA, 0.62 WHIP and fantastic 35-9 SO-to-BB in 26.0 innings. His first five starts in the regular season have been a much different story and anyone who has been on the Teheran roller-coaster shouldn’t be surprised.

He’s getting knocked around more now than he has at any point in his career carrying a bloated 12.4 H/9 and 1.6 HR/9 in the early going. Opponents currently have a 0.904 OPS when facing Teheran and each of the four offerings in his arsenal (fastball, slider, curveball, changeup) have been below average.

In his last two starts combined he’s gone 12.1 innings with 8 strikeouts, 1 walk and 3 runs allowed and while those are encouraging numbers they are offset by the 18 hits he allowed in that same span. Despite the rocky start it’s easy to give Teheran a pass. He’s still just 22 with only 54.1 innings on his major league resume after all.

#2: RHP – J.R. Graham (23)

Mississippi (AA): 3.45 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 30 H, 8 BB and 25 SO in 28.2 IP (6 GS)

Graham reached Double-A last season and made 9 starts in the Southern League that resulted in a 3.18 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 42-17 SO-to-BB over 45.1 IP. There was some expectation that the Braves would bump him up to Triple-A to start things off in 2013 but giving him more time in Mississippi’s rotation was probably the prudent thing to do. In each of his last two starts he’s thrown 5.1 innings with 3 ER while allowing a combined 19 baserunners (15 H, 4 BB). To be fair his third and fourth starts resulted in a stat line of 13.1 IP, 10 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, and 9 SO.

#3: C – Christian Bethancourt (21)

Mississippi (AA): 0.341/.356/.500, 4 2B, 1 HR, 3 SB, 1 BB and 6 SO in 46 PA

Entering the 2012 season, Bethancourt had cracked Baseball America’s Top-100 at #91 but then struggled to make the jump to Double-A. In 71 games with Mississippi last year he hit a meager 0.243/.275/.291 in 288 PA. It was a season marred not only by his lack of production at the plate but by injuries (strained hamstring and a broken hand) as well. Back in the Southern League to kick off 2013, Bethancourt came out of the gates quickly and managed at least one hit in all but one of his first 11 starts. Unfortunately he hasn’t played since April 20th thanks to another hamstring injury. On Wednesday he was placed on the 7-day disabled list retroactive to April 25th.

#4: LHP – Sean Gilmartin (22 – turns 23 in 4 days)

Gwinnett (AAA): 2.70 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 34 H, 15 BB and 20 SO in 36.2 IP (6 GS)

The Braves 1st round pick (28th overall) in 2011, Gilmartin needed just 26 professional starts before he found himself pitching in Triple-A. Once there he made seven starts that led to a 4.78 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 1.92 SO/BB in 2012. There’s no question the International League batters have slowed his ascension and that’s not surprising given that he fits the mold of a finesse lefty. Gilmartin has been rather effective in four of his six starts to start off 2013 but his walk rate is elevated and his strikeout rate, which wasn’t strong to begin with, has slipped. The 2.70 ERA is great and all but a 1.33 SO/BB in Triple-A does not suggest a pitcher that is ready to pitch in the majors just yet.

#5: RHP – Lucas Sims (18 – turns 19 in 6 days)

Rome (A): 5.02 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 8 H, 12 BB and 10 SO in 14.1 IP (7 relief appearances)

Setting the results aside, the Braves are doing right by their 2012 1st round pick thus far. After he signed last summer, Atlanta protected his arm and limited his innings (34 IP in 11 GS). This year they aggressively started him out in full season ball but did so by slotting him in the bullpen where he can more readily acclimate to A ball and continue to control his workload with less pressure placed on his shoulders. It’s the perfect sink or swim situation. If he swims, the organization can let him keep pitching in the SAL for the remainder of the season and slide him into the rotation when they feel he’s ready. If he sinks, they can bide their time with him until the Appalachian League starts up in June and then send him down to work as a starter with Danville. While the overall numbers may not suggest as much, the young man appears to be swimming thus far in 2013. In his first appearance of the season he allowed 4 runs on 2 hits and 4 walks in 1.2 innings of work. Take away that first outing and his stat line is a more attention grabbing with a 2.84 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. Sims has also continued to improve allowing just 2 hits and no earned runs in his last 5.0 innings pitched.

Tags: Atlanta Braves Christian Bethancourt J.R. Graham Julio Teheran Lucas Sims Sean Gilmartin

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