Weekly Braves MiLB Preview: Gwinnett’s offense looks to keep mashing while M-Braves hope to snap season-worst losing streak

Monday, July 26, 2021

-Clint Manry

We’re on to the final week of July as the 2021 minor league season keeps rolling. Because of a new job and the traveling it has required lately, I haven’t had a chance to do one of these weekly previews in a while, so I’m excited to dig back into the Braves system. Fortunately, I’m in Memphis this week so I’ll definitely be catching a Stripers/Redbirds game at some point in the coming days. I don’t want to miss out on this incredibly-hot Gwinnett offense right now.

But let’s get right down to it. There’s lots to cover for this week…

Gwinnett Stripers (37-35 / 4th place)

@ Memphis Redbirds (STL)

  • Tue, July 27 – 8:10 PM
  • Wed, July 28 – 8:10 PM
  • Thu, July 29 – 8:10 PM
  • Fri, July 30 – 8:10 PM
  • Sat, July 31 – 7:35 PM
  • Sun, August 1 – 3:05 PM

The Stripers have now won five-straight, featuring an absolute demolishing of Norfolk last week in which Gwinnett outscored the Tide 42-17. The offense is as hot as it can be. Just check out some of the Stripers’ stars from the last several days:

Drew Waters last five games:  1.068 OPS, 4 XBH

Cristian Pache last six games:  1.090 OPS, 2 HR

William Contreras last five games:  1.294 OPS, 4 HR

Alex Jackson last four games:  1.038 OPS, XBH

Travis Demeritte last five games:  1.074 OPS, 3 XBH

Former Striper — and now the Braves starting left fielder — Orlando Arcia still paces the lineup with 13 home runs in Triple-A this season, but this is no longer a one-man wrecking crew on offense. Johan Camargo has also been a beast in the minors this year, and during his current stint with the Stripers (starting back on July 17) the third baseman is posting a solid .393 AVG and 1.006 OPS in eight games so far. I definitely wouldn’t want to be the opposing team right now, because Gwinnett is raking.

On the pitching side, the guy I’m paying attention to is righty Kyle Wright, who currently leads the Stripers with 59 strikeouts this season. Other than one outing with the Braves in April and one in June, Wright has essentially spent his entire 2021 campaign trying to again master the Triple-A level and having mixed results, shown by his 4.18 ERA / 4.35 FIP with Gwinnett in 60.1 innings so far (12 starts). The fact of the matter is, Wright – who turns 26-years-old in October of this year – should be looked at as potential trade bait for Atlanta at this season’s MLB trade deadline. If he can put together a strong start this week, maybe it helps his stock some and assists in netting the Braves some big league help.

Mississippi Braves (40-32 / t-1st place)

@ Pensacola Blue Wahoos (MIA)

  • Tue, July 27 – 7:35 PM
  • Wed, July 28 – 7:35 PM
  • Thu, July 29 – 7:35 PM
  • Fri, July 30 – 7:35 PM
  • Sat, July 31 – 7:05 PM
  • Sun, August 1 – 5:00 PM

The usually-hot M-Braves took it on the chin last week and got swept by Biloxi, dropping all six games to the Shuckers. However, even after losing eight in a row (they lost the final two games of its series with Tennessee the previous week), Mississippi still finds itself tied for first-place in its division at eight games over .500. Even at its worst, this is still one of the better teams in the minor leagues.

One of the reasons for the M-Braves incredible season is first baseman/DH Drew Lugbauer and catcher Shea Langeliers, a pair of hitters who rank within the top-10 in the Double-A South League in several offensive categories. Lugbauer, who’s having himself a breakout campaign and should probably be looked at as a bonafide prospect within the Braves system by now, ranks third in the league with a 132 wRC+ as well as ninth with a 25.2% line-drive rate. Langeliers has been just as dangerous at the plate and is now tied for third in the league with 15 home runs so far this season, to go with an eighth-best 123 wRC+. Both of these guys are big thumpers in the M-Braves lineup and are always bound to have huge weeks with the bat.

OK, so who saw this coming from Odalvi Javier? I admit… I certainly did not. The Braves’ 2014 international signee has busted onto the minor league scene this year in his age-24 season and is a big part of Mississippi’s pitching success. Javier is third in the South in ERA (3.14), tied for first in homers allowed (three), ranks seventh in K-rate (9.14 K/9) and currently boasts the third-lowest AVG allowed this season (.199). If he keeps this up, he’ll be in Gwinnett real soon.

Freddy Tarnok is another Mississippi starter to watch this week. The 22-year-old prospect will make his second Double-A start of the season after tossing 5.1 strong innings last week. Like several Braves prospect pitchers, this is a big year for Tarnok.

Rome Braves (34-38 / 4th place)

vs. Asheville Tourists (HOU)

  • Tue, July 27 – 7:00 PM
  • Wed, July 28 – 7:00 PM
  • Thu, July 29 – 7:00 PM
  • Fri, July 30 – 7:00 PM
  • Sat, July 31 – 7:00 PM
  • Sun, August 1 – 2:00 PM

Rome played ‘em close all last week but wound up dropping all but one of its six games versus Bowling Green, who the R-Braves are plenty familiar with this season. Despite all the close losses against the Hot Rods and Rome’s fall to below .500 for the year, there’s still a lot to love about this lineup. He only went 3 for 24 (two of those hits were homers) last week, but prospect outfielder Jesse Franklin V has been one of the most prolific sluggers in High-A as he ranks third in the league with 17 home runs in 2021. Franklin isn’t having the best month contact-wise, and he’s striking out at a season-high clip (34.7%); however, Franklin’s nine long balls in July so far is a monthly high for him as he provides the power for Rome’s lineup. Like this home run ball below… Franklin loves pulling bombs over that right field wall at Trustmark…

On the other end of the spectrum, hopefully star prospect and Franklin’s outfield-mate, Michael Harris III, can get things going again. The young hitter is in the midst of his worst month of the season (by far) as he’s hitting just .206 with five XBH in 18 games in July.

So he has certainly shown signs of strong stuff on the mound during his five years in the Braves minor league system, but like Javier above with Mississippi, I’m not sure any of us saw this kind of performance coming from 23-year-old righty Alan Rangel. The former UDFA from back in 2014 (as a 17-year-old), Rangel is posting a masterful 2021 campaign in High-A and currently leads the East League with 86 strikeouts in 63.2 innings – a rate of 12.2 strikeouts per nine. In eight consecutive starts now, Rangel hasn’t allowed more than two runs in a given outing, posting a strong 2.45 ERA during that span. The man is hot!

Augusta GreenJackets (31-41 / last place)

vs. Myrtle Beach Pelicans (CHC)

  • Tue, July 27 – 7:05 PM
  • Wed, July 28 – 7:05 PM
  • Thu, July 29 – 7:05 PM
  • Fri, July 30 – 7:05 PM
  • Sat, July 31 – 6:05 PM
  • Sun, August 1 – 5:05 PM

The GreenJackets finally return to the beautiful SRP Park after being on the road for the last two weeks. Let’s just say the road trip was not kind as Augusta went just 3-10 while away, now falling 10 games below .500 for the season and in last-place in the South division of Single-A’s East League.

This GreenJackets offense has been sort of sore spot for the team all season, but there are three bats that have provided most of the spark for the lineup. Cade Bunnell, Willie Carter, and when healthy, prospect shortstop/third baseman Vaughn Grissom. Each of those three currently sport a 100+ wRC+ this season, with Carter and Grissom both flirting with a .300 AVG nearly all year. Hopefully Augusta can score some runs this week.

Joey Estes might’ve allowed four runs his last time out (just the second time this season he’s allowed that many runs in an outing), but the 19-year-old has been one of the best starters in Single-A in 2021, leading the East League with 79 strikeouts in 63.1 innings so far. His 7.4% HR/FB ratio also leads the way. Having allowed just a .576 OPS this year, it’s evident that Estes is ready for more of a challenge. Hopefully soon that promotion will come, but the Braves are in absolutely no rush with this talented teenager.

Also look out for pitcher Rainiery Rodríguez, who debuted with Augusta last week after performing really well down in Florida with the FCL Braves.

FCL Braves (9-10)

Tue, July 27 – vs. Red Sox

Thu, July 29 – vs. Orioles Black

Fri, July 30 — @ Rays

Sat, July 31 – vs. Rays

It’s been all Brandol Mezquita and Kadon Morton so far this season, two outfielders many expected to lead this year’s FCL Braves team… at least as long as they remain with the Braves rookie club. The 20-year-old Mezquita, in his third year with the org, is currently hitting .373 with eight XBH and five stolen bases in 17 games so far; while Morton is hitting just .234 but has seven XBH and nine stolen bases in 19 games. Second baseman Joseph Fernando has also been a strong bat in the FCL Braves lineup as a first-year 24-year-old.

After Rodríguez mentioned above in the GreenJackets blurb, the pitching for the FCL Braves is pretty thin. Now that he’s gone on to pitch in full-season ball, someone else will need to step up for the rookie club. Reibyn Corona, a 19-year-old in his second season with the Braves org, is a fine candidate. Corona has pitched decent so far this season, striking out 16 batters in 15 innings while sporting a 4.20 ERA.

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