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MiLB Daily Recap: Cal Conley homers twice in GreenJackets rout, M-Braves ‘pen spoils gem by Darius Vines

MiLB Daily Recap: Cal Conley homers twice in GreenJackets rout, M-Braves ‘pen spoils gem by Darius Vines

Saturday night was a successful one for the Braves, as Kyle Wright and the big league team won its second in a row over the Reds, beating Cincy 2-1 thanks to a team-wide two-hitter from Atlanta’s group of pitchers (including an impressive line from Wright, who made his first start of the 2022 season: 6 IP, 2 H, BB, 6 K).

There was also plenty going on down on the farm last night. Here’s a recap…

AAA – Gwinnett Stripers (2-3)

L, 8-7 vs. Memphis

  • (P) Jasseel De La Cruz – 4 IP, 2 H, ER, 3 K, HR
  • (RF) Travis Demeritte – 3 for 4, HR, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB, SB
  • (LF) Preston Tucker – 2 for 3, 2B, RBI, R

Gwinnett’s loss to Memphis last night was a bit of a crazy one, especially considering through five innings the Stripers led 4-1. However, a bullpen featuring Thomas Burrows and Brandyn Sittinger combined to surrender seven runs (two HR) from four hits in the sixth and seventh. And despite an eighth-inning, three-run homer from a scorching-hot Travis Demeritte, Gwinnett couldn’t hold on to the win.

The Stripers offense also received contributions last night from 31-year-old Preston Tucker, who was part of the Braves-Reds trade that netted Adam Duvall back in 2018. Tucker’s lead-off double in the second for Gwinnett quickly turned into the team’s second run of the game, when Ryan Goins knocked him in with an RBI single.

Other than Demeritte and Tucker, notable Stripers hitters included Ryan Casteel (who homered in the fourth), Pat Valaika (who tallied three walks in the contest) and Yariel Gonzalez (who finished with a pair of hits, including a double). For the 27-year-old Demeritte, the former first-round pick is now 7 for 20 (.350 AVG) to start 2022, as he already has six XBH in five games so far this season.

I have to say, I was a bit surprised to see Jasseel De La Cruz getting the start on Saturday, although the 24-year-old pitched rather well against the Redbirds (a team I watched crush him last summer in Memphis). I didn’t get a chance to see his outing last night, but looking at the numbers it appears he did a nice job of pitching to contact. His groundball / flyout ratio (3 / 6) wasn’t quite ideal, but evidently he was doing something right to only allow two hits in four innings of work. A hanging breaking ball – that resulted in a solo-homer off the bat of Memphis’ Kramer Robertson – was JDLC’s only real mistake in the outing.

Delino DeShields, who the Braves signed on Friday, started at center field and led off for Gwinnett yesterday. It was a rough Stripers debut for the 29-year-old, as DeShields finished 0 for 4 with four strikeouts in the loss.

AA – Mississippi Braves (0-2)

L, 5-4 vs. Montgomery

  • (P) Darius Vines – 5 IP, H, ER, 2 BB, 6 K
  • (LF) Trey Harris – 2 for 4, HR, RBI, R
  • (2B) Jordan Cowan – 1 for 4, 2B, RBI, R

A implosion by the M-Braves bullpen on Saturday ruined what was an impressive start for righty Darius Vines (ranked 16th on my Braves Top 35), as Mississippi starts 2022 with back to back losses.

The hot-hitting Drew Lugbauer kicked off the scoring for the M-Braves in the first by knocking in a run via an RBI single. The one-run lead evidently gave Vines plenty of confidence on the mound, because the 23-year-old set down the first nine-straight Biscuits batters he faced, before walking both Kameron Misner and Curtis Mead (back to back) in the fourth. As they usually do, the two free passes came back to bite Vines, as a batter later Austin Shenton popped a fly ball to left for an RBI single, and just like that the game was tied at one.

It wouldn’t stay tied very long, though. In the M-Braves half of the fourth, outfielder Trey Harris slugged a 1-1 pitch over the center field wall to put Mississippi up 2-1.

Vines came back out for the fifth and set down all three Montgomery batters in 1-2-3 fashion, inducing back to back flyouts to go with an inning-ending groundout. However, at 76 pitches through five, manager Bruce Crabbe replaced Vines with A.J. Puckett. It was a solid season-opening outing for Vines, who, as a former seventh-round pick (from back in 2019), has become quite the starting pitching prospect in the system.

Mississippi took a 4-1 lead in its half of the sixth. CJ Alexander led off the frame with a single, and then was followed with an RBI double by Jordan Cowan. A second run scored immediately after, as Trey Harris slapped a line drive single to right and Montgomery’s right fielder misplayed it, allowing Cowan to cross home plate.

With the M-Braves group of arms in the bullpen, a three-run lead heading into the seventh seemed like a large enough cushion to pull out the win. However, that wasn’t the case. The Biscuits cut the lead to just two when Hill Alexander popped up a sac-fly to center field, scoring Jordan Qsar. Then, after a nice showing by M-Braves reliever Trey Riley in the eighth (featuring one walk, no hits and one strikeout), 2021 star reliever Indigo Diaz – ranked 10th on my Braves Top 35 – entered the game in the ninth and wasn’t his usual self. Diaz walked the first three batters he faced in the final inning, and then Alexander (who finished with 4 RBI in the game) came to the plate and smashed a three-run double to put the Biscuits ahead 5-4. Diaz bounced back to get a much-needed strikeout, but he was then replaced by Tyler Ferguson, who proceeded to end the inning by getting Brett Wisely to fly out and Kameron Misner to line out. Mississippi’s lineup nearly made a come back in the bottom-half of the ninth. Prospect Michael Harris II (ranked third on my Braves Top 35) slapped a one-out single and then Jesse Franklin V (ranked 9th on my Braves Top 35) reached on a fielding error by Montgomery’s first baseman. But the game ended when Lugbauer flew out to right, stranding both Harris and Franklin.

Saturday’s start for Vines was the first of his pro career at the Double-A level. This is a guy that has sort of flew under the radar, as his name doesn’t usually come up when discussing top-tier prospect pitchers in the Braves system. After mostly struggling in rookie ball in Year 1 in 2019, Vines posted a 2.92 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Augusta and High-Rome last season. The kid averaged 10.5 strikeouts per nine in 2021, so this could definitely be a prospect to keep an eye on in 2022.

A+ – Rome Braves (2-0)

W, 5-4 vs. Greensboro

  • (P) Andrew Hoffmann – 4 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, BB, 5 K, HR
  • (P) Lisandro Santos – (H), 2 IP, BB, 6 K
  • (SS) Vaughn Grissom – 2 for 5, 2 RBI, R

Prospect shortstop Vaughn Grissom (ranked 11th on my Braves Top 35) continues to swing a hot bat so far this season, and the 21-year-old put Rome up early on Saturday with a one-out, RBI single to right field.

The Greensboro offense answered with three runs combined in the first and second, as R-Braves starter Andrew Hoffmann took a few frames to settle down. But in the third, that exciting Rome lineup struck again, this time scoring four runs, thanks to a lead-off single by Christian Robinson to start the rally. Following Robinson’s base-hit, Cody Milligan drew a walk, though Cade Bunnell hit into a double-play to nearly spoil the momentum. Fortunately for Rome, however, Grissom came up again and slapped a softly-hit line drive to left, knocking in Robinson. Justyn-Henry Mallow (ranked 19th on my Braves Top 35) kept the inning alive by singling to right, and then three-straight R-Braves batters reached base as Montgomery’s pitcher Domingo Gonzalez walked Drew Campbell and hit both Landon Stephens and Bryson Horne. The pitching woes continued for Gonzalez when he threw a wild-pitch to Javier Valdes (scoring Campbell), before finally striking him out to get out of the jam. But the damage had been done. Just like that, after seven of nine Rome batters reached base in the inning, the R-Braves led 5-3.

It wasn’t a very clean outing for Hoffmann (who was drafted in the 12th round by the Braves last year). The 26th prospect in my Braves Top 35, the Rome starter allowed three runs (two earned) in the first two innings of yesterday’s start (his first at the High-A level), and in innings three and four he labored around three hits and a walk, but the 22-year-old showed some poise by getting it together and finishing strong. To end his outing, Hoffmann struck out back to back Grasshoppers batters, getting both Maikol Escotto and Sammy Siani to strikeout off foul tips. It was a decent 75-pitch effort by a kid who only made seven starts at the Single-A level last year.

The second-half of the Rome-Greensboro game yesterday was pretty noneventful, thanks to some strong work by both team’s bullpens. The R-Braves turned to Alec Barger for both the fifth and sixth innings, and the 24-year-old worked both frames in hitless fashion. Then Lisasndro Santos, a 23-year-old lefty from the Dominican Republic, flew through the seventh and eighth innings, striking out a whopping six and walking one. And finally, 22-year-old Austin Smith handled the ninth for Rome and picked up the save. Smith did get into a bit of trouble in that final frame, walking the lead-off batter and then allowing a two-out RBI double. But he bounced back and got Greensboro’s Henry Davis to ground out to shortstop to end the game and secure the win for Rome.

A – Augusta GreenJackets (1-1)

W, 17-6 vs. Columbia

  • (P) AJ Smith-Shawer – 3 2/3 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K
  • (SS) Cal Conley – 2 for 6, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R
  • (1B) Braulio Vasquez – 3 for 4, 2 3B, 2B, RBI, 3 R, BB
  • (C) Antonio Barranca – 1 for 5, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB
  • (RF) Brandol Mezquita – 3 for 4, 2B, RBI, R, BB
  • (CF) Stephen Paolini – 2 for 5, 2 RBI, 2 R, BB, SB

I made the mistake of turning off the Augusta game in the early innings on Saturday. Evidently the GreenJackets offense exploded literally right after I switched over to another game yesterday. As you can see from the leaders above, plenty of guys contributed to Augusta’s rout on Saturday, a victory led by Cal Conley (ranked 15th on my Braves Top 35) who slugged two home runs in the game.

The GreenJackets also received some power from former NDFA Antonio Barranca, who started the team-wide offensive outburst when he went deep in the second inning to put Augusta up 3-0.

The GreenJackets scored in every inning, save for the first, fourth, fifth and ninth, and the onslaught was at its pick in the eighth, when the team plated six runs thanks to 8 of 11 Augusta batters reaching base, including, at one point, seven in a row. Basically, AJ Smith-Shawver (Augusta’s starter yesterday) just needed to be decent in this one, which he was, but unfortunately Smith-Shawver didn’t stay in the game long enough to earn the easy win. After needing a whopping 70 pitches to get the first 11 outs of the game, GreenJackets manager Michael Saunders (yes, that Michael Saunders) went to the bullpen, where both Kris Anglin and Rob Griswold combined to strikeout eight during the remaining 8 1/3 innings, to go with one earned run from just two hits.

The breakout by Conley is exciting to see. Coming into this season, I was a bit worried that I may have ranked last year’s fourth-round pick too high, for his struggles at Single-A in 2021 – albeit in an incredibly small sample – made me wonder if his bat was good enough to really be a true top-15 prospect in the Braves system. A two-homer game doesn’t usually just happen because of luck, so I’d say Conley has the skills at the plate to deserve the high ranking.

This Augusta offense should be fun to watch in 2022. Yesterday the GreenJackets tallied 15 hits as a team and finished 8 for 18 with RISP. The three errors by the defense was a bit sloppy, but that’s now 23 runs combined in the team’s first two games, so if the offense can keep producing like it is, the defense will have plenty of margin for error.

All four Braves affiliates will back at it on Sunday. Lefty prospect Kyle Muller will take the hill for Gwinnett (first pitch slated for 2:05 PM), Jared Shuster for Mississippi (2:05 PM) and Tanner Gordon for Rome (1:00 PM). At the time of this writing, Augusta – who plays at 4:05 PM – has yet to announce a starter for today.

Checking in on Pache, Langeliers, Estes and Cusick

I’m not going to do this all season, but at least to start off I think it would be cool to keep tabs on the four top-15 prospects the Braves traded to Oakland as part of the Matt Olson deal. I know… MOVE ON. But these are guys that I was really excited about, so how they are doing is still pretty important to me.

Cristian Pache (OF): As I’m sure you all know, Pache is currently the starting center fielder for the A’s, and will probably continue to be even once the team’s original starter returns from injury. So far in 2022, the former Braves top prospect is hitting .167 in just six ABs for Oakland, though he made several nice plays on defense with the team during Spring Training. On Saturday, in a 4-2 loss to the Phillies, Pache finished 0 for 3 with a strikeout as the no. 9 hitter for the A’s.

Shea Langeliers (C): Langleliers seems to be picking up just where he left off from 2021, as the catcher is currently hitting .333 with two homers and four RBI so far for Triple-A Las Vegas. Last night he blasted a long ball in a game versus Reno, as part of a 1 for 4 performance. In fact, Langeliers is in the midst of a three-game hitting streak.

Joey Estes (P): Estes is currently at High-A Lansing, but he hasn’t pitched in a game as of yet.

Ryan Cusick (P): Cusick is currently at Double-A Midland, but like Estes, he hasn’t seen any game action this season.

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