MiLB preview: Spencer Strider and Luke Waddell headline another week of Braves minor league baseball

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

-Clint Manry

Down to the final day of August, it’s another week for the Braves five minor league affiliates. Hopefully the weather cooperates (as well as COVID), but below is a preview of each team’s schedule, as well as some players to keep an eye on.

Gwinnett Stripers (58-44 / 2nd place)

vs. Memphis Redbirds (STL)

The Stripers will face the Redbirds at home this week, with lefty Kyle Muller taking the mound for Game 1 on Tuesday. Since being optioned to Triple-A earlier this month, Muller has been especially good, tallying 12 scoreless innings in two outings so far. Today will be another opportunity for the 23-year-old to impress as he’s had some solid success against Memphis in 2021. In two starts so far versus the Cardinals’ Triple-A club, Muller has only allowed a pair of runs from four hits to go along with 14 strikeouts. With Ian Anderson now back in the fold and Touki Toussaint looking much better in his recent outings with Atlanta, the Braves are pretty well-stocked in the starting rotation department. However, it seems reasonable to believe that Muller will be part of the September major league roster.

Speaking of September rosters: will Johan Camargo make the cut? As we enter a new week of minor league baseball, Camargo sports the third-highest AVG (.304) in Triple-A’s East League, to go with a 135 wRC+ (ranks ninth). And those numbers haven’t just popped up of late, either, as the 27-year-old has been raking in the minors all season long. But given his 0 for 16 performance in the majors in 2021, would Atlanta consider bringing up Camargo for the final month of the major league season? I guess we’ll see.

Prospect Cristian Pache seems like a viable choice too, though the Braves outfield is pretty full at the moment (especially following all the additions at the trade deadline). Pache has hit a lot better with Gwinnett lately, but is there room for him on the big league roster? It’s likely only a handful of players will be recalled for the September playoff push, and most of those slots will be filled by pitchers. Can the Braves fit both Camargo and Pache on the roster… or will only one make the cut?

Mississippi Braves (58-39 / 1st place)

@ Biloxi (MIL)

Due to COVID-19, the M-Braves only played one game last week – a 1-0 defeat to Pensacola at Trustmark. However, this week the Double-A club will travel to Biloxi to take on the Shuckers with a scorching-hot Spencer Strider raring to go. Strider made Baseball America’s weekly Hot Sheet column for his performance last Tuesday against the Blue Wahoos, in which the prospect pitcher struck out 10 in five innings of dominant work. The 22-year-old righty took a tough loss that night, but the outing now gives him 16 punch outs over his last 10.2 frames – a two-start stretch that features a 3.37 ERA. Strider appears determined to finish strong in his first pro season.

It’s another week and another potential breakout for M-Braves catcher Shea Langeliers – leader of the team on offense and one of the seven-best hitters in the Double-A South League so far this season. His 131 wRC+ in 2021 has been much better than expected, and even more surprising has been Langeliers’ power (which has resulted in 19 home runs at this point). Can the former top pick hit no. 20 this week? Either way, this kid is on a path to become Atlanta’s next star behind the plate.

Rome Braves (46-55 / 4th place)

vs. Winston-Salem (CWS)

It’s been a bit of an up and down season for Rome, but the R-Braves are currently on a three-game win streak and will look for righty Tanner Gordon to keep the momentum going today versus Winston-Salem. Gordon has also experienced quite a roller coaster of a 2021 season, but so far during the month of August he’s been at his best, pitching to a 2.52 ERA with 10.8 strikeouts per nine in his last four outings.

The other Brave to make BA’s Hot List column for last week’s play was Rome’s Luke Waddell. The Braves selected Waddell in the fifth-round of the 2021 MLB Draft, and following a bit of a slow start, the young shortstop has taken High-A by storm. I already wrote about Waddell this week, and it’s doubtful he continues to hit this well, but I’m curious to see where his numbers end up by season’s end.

Augusta GreenJackets (42-60 / Last place)

@ Fayetteville (HOU)

The GreenJackets are one of the league’s worst teams this year in terms of record, but like every week, prospect Joey Estes is the guy everyone wants to see. Ranked 15th on my Midseason Top 30, the 19-year-old righty currently leads Single-A’s East League in essentially every pitching category, including strikeouts (126) and ERA (2.76). There are also a few 2021 draftees to pay attention to. Recently the trio of Ryan Cusick (first round), Dylan Dodd (third round) and Andrew Hoffmann (12th round) have made their pro debuts for Augusta.

Prospect infielder Vaughn Grissom has been on a tear lately and he’s had a solid month of August so far, hitting .315 with seven XBH and five stolen bases in 23 games. This year’s strides by him have been nice to see, and at this rate he’ll likely see a High-A assignment to begin 2022. Grissom’s plate discipline is incredible, and though he hasn’t yet displayed much power, his overall abilities as a middle-infielder make him a potential top-10 prospect in the Braves system in the near future. Cal Conley is another 2021 draftee that has impressed. The former fourth-round pick is hitting a solid .247 in his first 18 pro games so far, and I’ve seen him put together some really good at-bats in the few games I’ve watched.

FCL Braves (22-20)

Tue – in progress vs. Pirates Gold

Wed – OFF

Thu – @ Pirates Gold

Fri – vs. Rays

Sat – @ Rays

Sun – OFF

Outfielder Brandol Mezquita (now ranked 29th on my Midseason Top 30) has been one of the ten-best hitters in the FCL so far this season, currently sporting a 132 wRC+ (ninth) in 32 games with the Braves. His .312 AVG ranks third among all batters, and it appears – at just 19-years-old – that he’s every bit of what we thought he’d be when Atlanta signed him several years ago. The kid is raw at the plate, but he’s a line drive machine. I can’t wait to see him in full-season ball next season.

The Braves rookie club is pretty thin when it comes to pitchers but there are a few arms too keep an eye on. Atlanta’s seventh-round pick this year, 18-year-old righty AJ Smith-Shawver, just made his pro debut on Monday for the FCL team, striking out five batters in just two innings of work. He’ll likely get a 3-4 inning start at some point this week. Then there’s also 20-year-old Darling Florentino, who has maintained a 4.19 ERA in nine games this season. Florentino isn’t really a potential prospect, but he’s been around in the Braves system for a while. He’s also a former third baseman who this year has transitioned into a pitcher, so it’ll be interesting to see what he does on the mound from here on out.

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