Wednesday, June 23, 2021
The FCL (Florida Complex League), formerly known as the GCL (Gulf Coast League) will start its 2021 season on Monday, July 28, therefore now’s a good time to preview this year’s Braves team.
The FCL Braves are part of an eight-team South division and will play every day this summer except for Sunday’s and Wednesday’s. The Braves will open its season versus the Red Sox next Monday and end the campaign against the Rays on Saturday, September 18. All games are played at each MLB club’s spring training facility, which for the Braves will be CoolToday Park in North Port, Fla. You can find a calendar-style schedule for the upcoming 2021 season here, provided by Baseball America‘s Josh Norris.
One thing to keep in mind when it comes to this year’s summer leagues is that the Braves have decided NOT to field a DSL team in 2021 (the only team to do so), and will instead “have a group of players at their complex in the DR”, according to a recent report by Baseball America. Official rosters have not yet been announced by the organization, and only 12 of 35 available players are currently listed for the FCL Braves at MiLB.com’s website (including mostly returning players and recently signed undrafted free agents), so assignments should start coming very soon for players still at extended spring training. The active player limit for FCL rosters is set at 35.
Given of course that all four of the full-season affiliates are active with its seasons, simply by process of elimination we can mostly determine who will be starting the season with the FCL Braves.
Here are a few of the most notable players to keep an eye on…
Mahki Backstrom (1B/OF)
Considered by some Braves followers to be a bona-fide prospect (he made my Honorable Mentions list at SportsTalkATL earlier this month), the 19-year-old Backstrom enters his third year with the Braves organization with just 23 pro games under his belt, which all came with the GCL team back in 2019.
A former 18th round pick out of a California high school, the then-17-year-old hit .300 with seven XBH in 82 plate appearances in that debut season, and this year Backstrom has reportedly added some muscle to his already “lumbering” 6-foot-5 frame. The kid played all his games two years ago at first base, but his athleticism enables him to also handle the corner outfield, and the DH is certainly a possibility for his future as well. Backstrom should be the FCL Braves’ leader in the lineup this season.
Kadon Morton (OF)
Just one round after Backstrom, the then-18-year-old Morton was selected by the Braves back in 2019, coming out of a Texas high school, and just like his draft-mate above, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Morton has a ton of potential.
In 32 games two seasons ago, primarily playing in center field, the teenage phenom managed just a .152 AVG and struck out way too much, with 45 Ks in 113 PA. But despite the swing and miss, Morton still tallied eight XBH, including a pair of homers, so there’s definitely plenty of raw power to tap into.
Brandol Mezquita (OF)
Of the nine international signees the Braves lost from the cheating scandal, spanning the 2015-16 class, Mezquita was the only player the organization re-signed, coming back in November of 2017.
Mezquita, still just 19 (though turns 20 in mid-July), has 86 career rookie-ball games under his belt across both the DSL and GCL, and though he began his pro career with the former primarily as a center fielder, in his most-recent campaign (2019) he played more in left. His career numbers are held down a bit by his struggles during his debut season, but with the GCL club in 2019, Mezquita hit a respectable .246 with a pair of XBH, 11 RBI and six stolen bases in 34 games. There’s still not a lot known about this kid, so this season could be a nice opportunity to learn more.
Raulín Celedonio (RHP)
At 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, Celedonio has the size to be an absolute force out of the bullpen, and he was a solid international signing by the Braves out of the Domincan Republic back in February of 2018.
Celedonio is a little old for rookie ball at 21, and his pro career in the DSL started out horrendously as he posted a 12.15 ERA in his first 26 ⅔ innings in 2018. But the 2019 campaign featured drastic improvements in terms of his control on the mound, and between a repeat at the DSL and some time with the GCL team, Celedonio brought that ERA down to a much more palatable 3.81. His walks are still concerning, but this kid has allowed just two homers in 55 career innings as a pro.
Antonio Barranca (C)
Following the tremendously shortened draft last year, the Braves immediately signed four players as undrafted free agents (most notable, shortstop Cam Shepherd & Landon Stephens who’re both currently playing at Single-A Augusta), one of them being the teenage Barranca from a Maryland high school.
As a 6-foot-3, 215-pound catcher with raw power, a lot of excitement towards Barranca is based on pure projection given he has yet to debut as a professional. The kid turns just 20-years-old in July, and he has the pedigree as his dad played four MLB seasons (1979-82). We’ll see what he’s got.
Ethan Workinger (OF)
Another UDFA signing by the Braves from last June, Workinger (or “EQ”) was a star hitter at San Diego City College, and according to a profile published by Encinitas Advocate, registered some of the top exit-velocities at a Perfect Game showcase in Irvine, Cal. during the summer.
With San Diego City last season (before it was cut short after 19 games), Workinger led the team with 29 hits as a DH and outfielder. This is considered a toolsy player, and even as a college pick he won’t turn 20-years-old until after the 2021 season.
Along with the four full-season Braves affiliates, I’ll be following the FCL Braves to my daily reports this season. Be sure to check back next week to read about the team’s 2021 opener.