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Week 2 Farm Report: The pitching is beginning to heat up

Week 2 Farm Report: The pitching is beginning to heat up

The 2022 minor league season is two weeks in, and recently it appears the pitching has begun to caught up with the hitting. Last week featured several gems thrown by a few different Braves minor league pitchers, coming from both prospects and guys many have never considered potential future MLB talent. One of the best aspects of a given MiLB campaign is witnessing under-the-radar guys evolve into household names down on the farm.

But anyways, here’s a recap of what went down for the Braves minor leagues in Week 2…

AAA – Gwinnett Stripers (5-7)

Week 2 W/L record: 3-4 vs. Nashville (MIL)

For a second-straight week, prospect Drew Waters was no where to be found in the Stripers lineup. I have probed the internet as much as possible, and as of Sunday afternoon, I’ve seen absolutely no update regarding the outfielder. As far as I know, it’s a hamstring issue, and with that being such a finicky soft tissue-type muscle, I’m assuming the Braves are just being cautious. As far as the actual Gwinnett offense goes, though, Week 2 wasn’t necessarily a bad week, but some of the hot hitters have begun to cool a bit. Both Travis Demeritte and Pat Valaika – two batters that ranked within the top 10 among all Braves minor leaguers in wRC+ entering Sunday – are still hitting over .300 for the season, but each did take there lumps this past week, with Demeritte going 5 for 20 (.250 AVG) and Valaika finishing the series just 4 for 24 (.166 AVG). Albeit, the power was still there for the former, as the Stripers outfielder slugged a home run, a double and a triple, to go with three RBI overall against the Sounds. I have to say, I was probably most impressed with Greyson Jenista this time around. The 25-year-old had a huge game last Tuesday in the series opener, going 2 for 3 with a pair of homers and three RBI, and he managed to tally two more hits the rest of the way to finish the week above .300 (.307 AVG). That’s a strong man with the bat, and Jenista seems to be holding his own versus Triple-A pitching.

I’m also liking what prospect Braden Shewmake is doing so far in Gwinnett. He had a rough week at the plate, going 2 for 11 (.181 AVG), but he’s still hanging in there, slashing .304/.304/.435 in seven games this season. Talk about a guy who knows how to barrel the ball, I think once Shewmake gets going he’ll put up some huge numbers with the Stripers.

Whew boy, the starting rotation was pretty bad for Gwinnett this past week. In fact, prospect Kyle Muller was the one and only Stripers starter to provide a quality outing in Week 2, when he tossed a two-hitter over six innings on Sunday, striking out seven, walking one and allowing a pair of runs (one HR), and still took the loss. Touki Toussaint threw the ball pretty well last Tuesday, punching out eight and allowing one run from four hits in four innings, but other than that it was pretty bad.

Game 3 (Thursday): Jasseel De La Cruz – IP, 4 H, 4 ER, K

Game 5 (Saturday): Tucker Davidson – 4 1/3 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 2 HR

The Stripers bullpen was given plenty of work, due to JDLC’s early exit shown above and the scheduled opener with Nick Vincent starting Game 4 on Friday, and overall the group of relievers did fairly well. Righty Nolan Kingham, who looked to be an up-and-coming starter as recently as last year, has been tough as nails out of the ‘pen so far in 2022 as he has started the campaign with 7 2/3 scoreless innings of work. The 25-year-old pitched a pair of multi-inning appearances in Week 2 and looked sharp in both. Brandyn Sittinger also worked two games in scoreless fashion, striking out five in four innings overall.

Week 2 MVP: LHP Kyle Muller

No one really stood out for Gwinnett in Week 2, but given how poor the starting staff looked, Muller’s two-hitter on Sunday deserves to be highlighted. It was a pitcher’s duel in the series finale, as both Muller and Nashville’s Caleb Boushley went toe to toe during the game’s first six innings, with Boushley earning the win thanks to only a pair of hits allowed and six strikeouts through five. Muller will enter Week 3 with a strong 2.87 ERA so far in 2022. Not too shabby.

UPDATE: according to the AJC, star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Gwinnett, starting Tuesday. Many are hoping RAJ will be ready and back with the Braves in time for the upcoming Mets series at the first of May. I’ll be following Acuna’s ABs closely this week, of course.

AA – Mississippi Braves (2-7)

Week 2 W/L record: 1-5

While the team has struggled mightily so far in 2022, prospect Michael Harris has not, as he continues to rake in Double-A. Harris finished up Week 2 with a two-hit, three-RBI performance on Sunday, pushing his current hitting streak to nine games. The kid has done exactly what he’s supposed to do since earning a well deserved promotion this season. Harris will enter Week 3 with a .378 AVG and .951 OPS.

As evident by Mississippi’s record above, other than Harris there really hasn’t been many guys in the lineup that have stood out. Slugger Drew Lugbauer has cooled off quite a bit, and outfielder Jesse Franklin V hasn’t fully gotten going at this point (though he did slap his first XBH on Sunday) . However, third baseman CJ Alexander had a solid stretch in Week 2, finishing the Biloxi series 5 for 18 (.277 AVG) at the plate to keep his 2022 AVG at .286 so far. Remember when we were all so excited about Alexander? Also, after essentially being nonexistent on offense during the first seven games of the season, outfielder Jefrey Ramos ended this past week with a double on Saturday and a home run on Sunday, suggesting he could be heating up with the bat.

At this point in the season, the M-Braves have really only been able to count on lefty-starter Jared Shuster and bullpen arm Hayden Deal, and in Week 2 that trend continued. Shuster made headlines on Saturday when he tied a Southern League record with eight-straight strikeouts in an outing in which he finished with a dozen punch outs total. Through two starts so far in 2022, Shuster carries a 0.90 ERA, to go with 17 K in ten innings. Deal worked a pair of multi-inning appearances this past week, as he’s extended his scoreless streak to eight innings so far. This is Deal’s fifth season in the Braves system, and at 27-years-old he’s never seemed to be challenged, shown by his career 3.05 ERA in 325 frames overall. Prospects William Woods (10.80 ERA) and Indigo Diaz (15.43 ERA) still need to get going.

Week 2 MVP: LHP Jared Shuster

Yeah I love Harris, and what he’s doing is amazing. But Shuster’s 12 K’s this past weekend has been one of the Braves best pitching performances of the season so far, along with another that happened on Saturday (that we’ll get to in a minute). This is great for Shuster, who many didn’t view as a first-rounder when the Braves selected him there in 2020. As more of a “crafty lefty-type”, the Wake Forest product isn’t going to blow away batters with velo, even though he sits mid to high-90s MPH with his fastball. That changeup is Shuster’s go-to, and while I didn’t get to see his most recent gem, I’m sure the offspeed played a big part.

A+ – Rome Braves (6-3)

Week 2 W/L record: 4-3 vs. Hudson Valley (NYY)

At one time, for about a half-season last year, I was probably the only one on the internet that had second baseman Cody Milligan as a ranked prospect in the Braves system. As a 23-year-old, former ninth-rounder, who’s never hit for any kind of power, not many evaluators view him as a future big leaguer, which is most likely correct. But this season Milligan is scorching hot as Rome’s primary lead-off hitter, sporting a .417/.600/.500 slash line in 2022. And in Week 2 he went 7 for 17 (.411 AVG) with a pair of doubles and an RBI. He’s a repeater in High-A this year, but Milligan is still young enough that a big season on the farm will still matter for his stock.

Prospect Vaughn Grissom cooled a bit in Week 2, going 4 for 20 (.200 AVG) with a double and an RBI – numbers that essentially came from one single performance, when he went 3 for 5 back on Wednesday. Everything seems to be going nicely so far for the star shortstop, as he appears determined to push for another promotion. There’s a spot ready for him in Mississippi, as M-Braves shortstop Luke Waddell isn’t expected to challenge Grissom on the organizational depth chart. Another player I was impressed with this past week was catcher Tyler Tolve, who hit .600 with a home run, a triple and a double during the series against Hudson Valley. Tolve was a 17th round pick last year and has legit potential to evolve into a top-tier prospect behind the plate. The lefty-hitting 21-year-old is sporting a solid .288 AVG in five games this season. And then of course there’s Landon Stephens, who simply continues to mash for Rome. The first baseman slugged three home runs last week, all in consecutive nights (Wed, Thu, Fri), on his way to a 6 for 20 (.300 AVG) performance during the series. And remember, folks… Stephens is a former UDFA.

Prospect Tanner Gordon caused quite the buzz last week when he absolutely dominated on the mound this past Saturday, striking out 14 batters in six innings on the same night that Shuster tossed his gem with Mississippi. For Gordon, who was a sixth-round pick back in 2019, this breakout-type performance has been a long time coming, as the 24-year-old righty was forced to sit idle during what could of been a crucial 2020 season for him. It looks like he’s trying to make up for the lost year of development. I know Gordon is nearly half a foot taller than Spencer Strider, but don’t the two have similar styles on the mound?

Gordon set the bar rather high, but a few other Rome pitchers did well in Week 2. The bullpen was a bit of a mixed bag, although Luis De Avila finished up the series by striking out five in 4 1/3 scoreless innings on Sunday, which was a nice improvement given his struggles in the opener on Tuesday. Prospect Andrew Hoffmann pitched much better than his line showed on Friday, as he punched out six and allowed a pair of runs from five hits in five innings. And the young Roddery Munoz labored through a respectable start on Wednesday that featured five K’s in 3 2/3 scoreless frames (1 unearned run allowed). All in all, the pitching definitely improved for Rome relative to the first week of the season.

Week 2 MVP: RHP Tanner Gordon

Yah… 14 strikeouts earns an MVP every week, so Gordon was no doubt the most valuable Rome player in its series versus Hudson Valley.

A – Augusta GreenJackets (4-5)

Week 2 W/L record: 2-4 vs. Myrtle Beach (CHC)

The GreenJackets suffered a whopping three walk-off losses in Week 2 to Myrtle Beach. That has to be some kind of record for the most, at least since the minors shifted to this six-game series format. Regardless, the Augusta offense hit rather well, though the offense lacked in power. Catcher Adam Zebrowski and outfielder Brandol Mezquita stood out the most this past week, as Zebrowski went 5 for 15 (.333 AVG) with three doubles and five RBI (three of those RBI coming Friday) and Mezquita going a solid 6 for 20 (.300 AVG) with four RBI. Both players have been leaders since Day 1 this season. Infielders Caleb Durbin and Cal Conley also played well, with the former picking up six hits, including a homer and three RBI.

Augusta received a ton of strong pitching in Week 1, from both the starting rotation and the bullpen. Landon Leach earned a two-start week, and while he struggled a bit in the series finale on Sunday, the 22-year-old pitched well in the opener last Tuesday, striking out seven in five innings of three-hit ball. The next game, on Wednesday, featured another strong start, this time from Tyler Owens, who tossed a one-hitter in five innings, to go with five strikeouts. Owens’ outing was followed up with some impressive relief work by Estarlin Rodriguez (3 IP, H, 3 K), who joined James Acuna (2 1/3 IP, 4 K), Kris Anglin (3 IP, BB, 5 K) and J.J. Niekro (4 1/3 IP, 3 H, BB, 6 K) as Augusta’s top performing bullpen arms in Week 2. The surprising phenom Royber Salinas also racked up the punch outs in the series, with yet another double-digit total this week. Salinas allowed just one hit in a five-inning outing on Thursday, to go with 13 K’s and no walks, giving him 24 in just 9 1/3 overall innings in 2022 (or 23.1 K/9 lol).

Week 2 MVP: RHP Royber Salinas

That’s back-to-back double-digit strikeout totals for Salinas, as his two starts this season have featured 11 and 13 punch outs, respectively. Opposing batters are only hitting .129 against the 21-year-old, and his 0.96 ERA thus far is among the best among all Braves minor league pitchers. All of that equals another weekly MVP award for Salinas.

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