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Week 8 MiLB preview: Braden Shewmake is on the rebound

Week 8 MiLB preview: Braden Shewmake is on the rebound

Tueaday, June 22, 2021

-Clint Manry

Now at Week 8, roughly one-third of the 120-game minor league regular season is complete, and today begins the final full week of June. Hopefully this series features better weather!

Here’s a preview of this week’s slate of games for the Braves system…

Drew Waters

Gwinnett Stripers (21-20 / 4th place)

@ Norfolk Tides

June 22Tuesday7:05 PM
June 23Wednesday7:05 PM
June 24Thursday7:05 PM
June 25Friday7:05 PM
June 26Saturday7:05 PM
June 28Sunday2:05 PM
Gwinnett’s Week 8 schedule

Gwinnett won three of five last week against a strong Nashville team and is now seven games behind the leader (Durham Bulls) in Triple-A’s Southeast division. This will be the first time the Stripers face the Tides this season, who at 15-24, are in sixth-place and just a half-game ahead of last-place Memphis.

Norfolk wields a rather light-hitting offense that has been led by former Braves second-round pick and catcher/DH Brett Cumberland, who entering Tuesday sports a 127 wRC+ thanks to five homers and a .239 AVG. If you recall, the now-25-year-old was traded to Baltimore in the six-player deal that netted Atlanta big league pitchers Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day back at the trade deadline of the 2018 campaign. Leading the Tide’s lineup in homers right now with eight long balls is first baseman Tyler Nevin — the organization’s 17th ranked prospect, according to FanGraphs.

On the pitching end, Norfolk has been a bit better as 24-year-old lefty-starter and no. 32 prospect Alexander Wells ranks 18th in the East league in total strikeouts, although his ERA is currently at 5.63. Of the Tide’s regular starters, 25-year-old lefty Zac Lowther is the only current arm that appears to have a solid track record when it comes to run prevention. Lowther paces the group with a 3.98 ERA in 20 1/3 innings in 2021.

Bryse Wilson started last week’s series opener versus Nashville, but with him starting Game 1 of Atlanta’s doubleheader against St. Louis this past Sunday, he won’t be available for today’s contest. Of the Stripers regular starters with the most rest right now, Kyle Wright looks like a possible candidate. The 25-year-old Wright is coming off a decent outing from last Thursday when he allowed just one run versus the Sounds (but walked four) to go with six hits in five innings. Especially now that we’re approaching the MLB trade deadline, he could really use a strong showing as he may wind up as a change-of-scenery candidate. So far in Gwinnett, Wright has been hit pretty hard, even more so by lefty-batters who currently boast a .527 SLG.

Who to watch: With him missing so much time lately, the guy to keep a close eye this week with the Stripers is prospect outfielder Drew Waters. The young Waters was inactive for roughly 10 days recently, and his thumb soreness couldn’t have come a worse time, considering he was on fire at the plate leading up to his absence. The kid has made some nice strides this season and appears to have a better approach at the plate. However, I want to see if he can improve even more against same-handed pitching. Compared to his .988 OPS versus lefty-pitching, Waters carries a .608 OPS against righties so far this season. But regardless, I’m just glad to see him healthy.

Braden Shewmake

Mississippi Braves (25-17 / 2nd place)

vs. Tennessee Smokies

June 22Tuesday7:35 PM
June 23Wednesday7:35 PM
June 24Thursday7:35 PM
June 25Friday7:35 PM
June 26Saturday7:05 PM
June 27Sunday3:05 PM
Mississippi’s Week 8 schedule

The M-Braves are currently riding a five-game winning streak and so far are scorching-hot in June as they’ve won 13 of 18 games this month. Mississippi trails first-place Pensacola by just one game, and with the way the offense is playing right now, it won’t be long before the M-Braves are pacing the South division.

This will be the first meeting of the season between Mississippi and its North division foe Tennessee. The Smokies are not a very good team this year, currently at 14-26 and in last-place. The offense is primarily led by 23-year-old outfielder Darius Hill, who entering today’s game, is tied for fourth in the South League with 41 hits so far in 2021. Hill, a former 20th round selection by the Cubs, is hitting .306 this season but has provided very little power. Speaking of power, though, Tennessee’s thump has mostly come from the organization’s 12th ranked prospect, infielder Christopher Morel, who has five homers and 23 RBI, but is running just a .201 AVG.

24-year-old Cam Sanders is a starting pitcher to look for coming from the Smokies. Sanders 46 strikeouts so far this season ties him for sixth-most in the league and he’s allowing just a .226 AVG from opposing batters. Righty Javier Assad is another staff leader for Tennessee, and has been one of the better ones at preventing runs. The 23-year-old sports a 4.32 ERA through 33 1/3 innings so far in 2021, with only three homers allowed.

Former second-round pick, righty A.J. Puckett will start today’s game for Mississippi, and he’ll look to continue his stingy work this season. Puckett is coming off four consecutive starts in which he has allowed no more than one run, and during that stretch he has pitched to a 1.02 ERA, thanks to an opposing AVG of just .183. Facing a weaker offense, this is a good opportunity for Puckett to again reach the 6th inning, something he has only managed to do once so far in 2021.

Who to watch: prospect shortstop Braden Shewmake has had a 2021 season to forget so far, but recently there are some signs of improvement. The former first-round pick went 6 for 21 (.286 AVG) during last week’s slate of games, including three XBH and six RBI. The season AVG still looks rough, but hopefully Shewmake can keep the hits coming in Week 8 and start turning his 2021 campaign around. 

Michael Harris

Rome Braves (20-20 / 3rd place)

@ Aberdeen IronBirds

June 22Tuesday7:05 PM
June 23Wednesday7:05 PM
June 24Thursday7:05 PM
June 25Friday7:05 PM
June 26Saturday6:05 PM
June 27Sunday2:05 PM
Rome’s Week 8 schedule

Due to rain, Rome only managed to play four of it’s six scheduled games last week against Bowling Green, winning just one. The R-Braves were one of the better teams in the organization back in May, but June has been a much different month as they enter today’s series opener versus Aberdeen on a two-game losing streak to go with losses in 10 of their last 16.

The IronBirds are also in the midst of a rough stretch at the moment, having lost seven of their last 10, but overall they are 23-17 in 2021 and in second-place in High-A’s North division. Aberdeen’s lineup is currently led by a pair of prospect outfielders in Kyle Stowers and Zach Watson, who’re both tied for first on the team with seven home runs apiece. Stowers possesses 55-grade raw power at the plate as the Orioles 12th ranked prospect, while Watson’s speed has allowed him to so far tally the fourth-most stolen bases in the league, with 12. 

Kyle Brnovich and Drew Rom are the two starting pitchers that could give Rome’s offense fits this week. Brnovich — who’s tied with the R-Braves Bryce Elder for the third-most strikeouts in the league — is a non-prospect that has absolutely dominated this season, to the tune of a 2.36 ERA and 12.5 strikeouts per nine in 34 ⅓ innings. Rom is a 21-year-old southpaw that enters the series with a 3.93 ERA to go with 9.8 K/9. 

I believe Rome could start either Jared Shuster or Alan Rangel for today’s series opener, given those two have had the most rest and the fact that there are reports Spencer Strider is headed to Mississippi. There’s also Freddy Tarnok, who appeared out of the bullpen last week but didn’t get a start… so basically I have no idea. We’ll find out later today. 

Who to watch: it’s about time for Bryce Ball to get things going at the plate as the 6-foot-6 DH is currently slashing just .202/.336/.358 through his first 34 games this season. That’s a far cry from what he managed to do during his pro debut back in 2019. Despite his struggles in 2021, Ball has come up with the big hit when it has mattered most — with two outs and RISP he’s posted an .881 OPS, compared to the .694 he’s managed overall. Hopefully this week Ball starts hitting his way out of this slump. 

SRP Park

Augusta GreenJackets (19-22 / 3rd place)

@ Charleston RiverDogs

June 22Tuesday7:05 PM
June 23Wednesday7:05 PM
June 24Thursday7:05 PM
June 25Friday7:05 PM
June 26Saturday6:05 PM
June 27Sunday5:05 PM
Augusta’s Week 8 schedule

The GreenJackets lost its series versus Columbia last week and will begin play today 7 ½ games back from the division’s leader, who just so happens to be this week’s opponent, the Charleston RiverDogs. Augusta has been up and down all season, in which they’ll win a few, only to lose several in a row immediately after. The RiverDogs come into the series 8-2 in their last 10 games with a 26-14 record (the best record in the league).

Third baseman — and the Rays no. 33 prospect — Curtis Mead, leads this Charleston offense with a 152 wRC+, good for fifth-best in the league. The 20-year-old enters today with a .333 AVG, 18 XBH and six stolen bases this season. Outfielder Diego Infante is also another RiverDogs bat that the GreenJackets will need to be aware of. Infante isn’t a ranked prospect but he’s a guy that can make contact (.278 AVG) and pose a threat on the base paths (nine stolen bases). 

Charleston is chalked-full of pitchers, most notably righties Taj Bradley and Cole Wilcox — a pair of top-25 prospects in the Rays system. Bradley is currently third in the league in strikeouts and comes in with a 2.93 ERA in 29 ⅔ innings; while Wilcox hasn’t allowed a single homer in 37 innings in 2021, sporting a 1.46 ERA. 

I would imagine today’s starter for Augusta should come down to either Joey Estes or Tanner Gordon, given Jake McSteen was recently promoted to Rome and Darius Vines just pitched this past Saturday. For the 19-year-old Estes, this could be a chance for him to right the ship after pitching his worst outing of the season last Tuesday, in which he allowed four runs (albeit from only three hits). We’ll see who the team announces later today.

Who to watch: speaking of Estes, I believe all eyes will be on him today (if he starts) as this could be his last start in Single-A. The righty has overpowered the league all season, currently ranking fourth in strikeouts and second in ERA. There’s definitely no need for the Braves to rush Estes, especially given his age, but I also believe he should be pitching at a level where he’s forced to use his entire aresenal. We’ll see how the organization handles it, but if I had to guess, this should be the last time we see Estes in a GreenJackets uniform.

Pretty soon my minor league coverage will expand a bit. Starting on June 28, the Gulf Coast Braves (rookie ball) will begun its 2021 season, a campaign that this year will run until September 18. Usually the GCL Braves are joined by the Domincan Summer League Braves (DSL Braves), but per a recent report by Baseball America, the Braves chose not to participate in the Domincan league this season.

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