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Jonathan Mayo

Inbox: Breaking down Braves pitching prospects

Jonathan Mayo answers fans' questions about baseball's future stars

Inbox: Breaking down Braves pitching prospects

It's ranking season! Be very, very quiet. We're ranking prospects.

That's best said in an Elmer Fudd voice, of course. Needless to say, we're very excited to start rolling out the rankings. This week, we debuted our top 10 by positions list, one a day. On Thursday, for instance, it was the 2017 Top 10 Catching Prospects list. All of this is a build-up to the big reveal: Our Top 100 list. That comes out on Saturday, Jan. 28, with a one-hour show on MLB Network at 8 p.m. ET.

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One of the best things about these lists are the debates they stir. That, of course, leads to terrific fodder for the Pipeline Inbox. Hope you enjoy! And keep the questions coming.

Oh, Braves fans, how I love your passion for your farm system. And it's understandable. It's pretty exciting. After the 2017 Top 10 LHP Prospects list came out, I received many questions about the Braves lefties who didn't make the list (Kolby Allard and Sean Newcomb did). Most were about Max Fried.

I get it. Fried still has a tremendous amount of upside. And yes, he had a tremendous second half, punctuated by a great playoff run as part of that very deep Rome rotation that led that team to the South Atlantic League title. Rest assured, Fried will work his way onto that list at some point in 2017. But keep in mind that last year was the first time he had pitched in two years and he's yet to pitch above A ball. Again, not taking anything away from the former first-rounder. I'm a believer. I think we all just want to see what he does as he moves up.

As for the other lefties in the Braves system, they're not quite in this conversation yet. Wentz is just getting started (as is Kyle Muller -- let's not forget about him) as a 2016 draftee. Gohara, recently acquired from the Mariners, has tremendous stuff and showed some signs of steps forward in 2016, but will need to continue to watch his conditioning as he progresses. If it all clicks for all of them, that's a good problem to have, isn't it?

Actually, we haven't given it much thought. Perhaps it's unfair, but Minor League relieves do tend to be under-appreciated. Some of that stems from the belief that many relievers began as starters and couldn't stick in a rotation. I don't think that's as true as it used to be. Just look at the last four National League Rolaids Relief Award winners (now the Trevor Hoffman award). Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon and Craig Kimbrel (won it two years in a row) never started a game.

We will take it under advisement for a future list. For now, though, us folks at MLB Pipeline put our heads together to whip together a quick top five. Far from scientific, it might look something like:

1. Joe Jimenez, Tigers
2. Zack Burdi, White Sox
3. J.T. Chargois, Twins
4. James Hoyt, Astros
5. Jimmie Sherfy, D-backs

All signs do point in that direction, don't they? The 2014 second-round pick continues to get better as he moves steadily up the Blue Jays' organizational ladder. It's always a good sign when a prospect gets promoted midseason and then continues to dominate. Reid-Foley missed more bats, walked fewer hitters and gave up fewer hits after he moved up to the Florida State League (after first getting there as a teenager in 2015). He's always had good stuff -- three pitches that will be at least Major League average (his fastball and slider are above-average and then some) -- but the biggest step forward was with his command of that arsenal. He walked more than six per nine in 2015; in 2016, he gave up just three free passes per nine innings. Just 21 for the 2017 season, a move to Double-A will be a good test, but I foresee him continuing to move up prospect rankings as he progresses to Toronto. 

Jose De Leon, No. 8 on the newly released 2017 Top 10 RHP Prospects list, is the name most often mentioned when talk of Brian Dozier being traded to the Dodgers picks up. Over the last two years, De Leon has developed into one of the better pitching prospects in baseball, one who misses bats and walks few, always a tremendous combination. And he's ready to contribute in the big leagues now, which is a bonus for a team looking to trade a veteran for younger players. That said, De Leon alone is not enough as a one-for-one return for Dozier, a former All-Star who has hit 70 home runs over the last two years. I'm not saying Dozier is the best second baseman in baseball, but he is one with legitimate power and a track record, and one with two years left on a very affordable contract. It's clear the Twins are looking for more than just De Leon, and reports were that who the complements would be in that trade is a reason why those talks may have stalled. De Leon would work as a centerpiece in a trade like that, but the Twins will want more than just the right-hander to get something done.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.