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Week 3 Farm Report: Ronald Acuña does it all in Gwinnett and the M-Braves bats come alive

Week 3 Farm Report: Ronald Acuña does it all in Gwinnett and the M-Braves bats come alive

Week 3 of the minor leagues puts us in the 15-20 games territory, where hitters are beginning to find their groove and pitchers are starting to get stretched out. For the Braves, Week 3 also featured a little over a dozen at-bats for its most prized superstar, Ronald Acuña Jr., who showed out during his first week of rehab down in Triple-A Gwinnett.

Just like every Monday, here is a recap of the previous week’s worth of action down on the Braves farm.

AAA – Gwinnett Stripers (6-12)

Ronald Acuña Jr.: 5 for 14 (.357 AVG), 2B, RBI, 4 R, 6 BB, 3 SB

Braden Shewmake: 6 for 20 (.300 AVG), 2 2B, RBI, R

Kyle Muller: ND, 4 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 8 K

Touki Toussaint: 4 IP, H, 4 K

Brad Brach: 1-0, 3 2/3 IP, 2 H, 3 K

William Woods: 2 ⅔ IP, 7 K

Dylan Lee: 1 ⅓ IP, 2 H, ER, BB, 3 K

It was a successful week’s worth of rehab games for Ronald Acuña Jr., as he looks ready to return to Atlanta. Per reports, it’s looking like May 6 is a realistic date for the outfielder’s big league return, which means potentially another 7-8 games with Gwinnett. This past week was basically The RAJ Show, for the star did it all with the Stripers.

While the positive news regarding Acuña should excite Braves Country, another series without Drew Waters is less reassuring. The prospect outfielder is currently on the 7-day injured list, retroactive to April 5, so at least we know for sure that it is in fact an injury keeping him off the field. Can you imagine how frustrated Waters must be? This was supposed to be his big year, especially now that former teammate Cristian Pache is no longer hogging the spotlight. All we can do at this point is hope that the 23-year-old recovers quickly; the rumor is that he’s dealing with a hamstring issue.

As far as the top performers for the Stripers in Week 3, the offense was led by Acuña and prospect Braden Shewmake. Regarding the latter, the former 21st-overall pick has now surpassed the .300 mark in terms of AVG (.302) for 2022, and the two doubles in this past series went down as his first of the season. Shewmake appears to be carrying over what he did during the second-half of 2021, when he followed a horrid start to the campaign by absolutely raking down in Double-A. Right now the Gwinnett shortstop is pulling fly balls at a higher rate than he ever has as a pro (47.2 Pull% / 40 FB%), which could be a great sign for his power potential.

Gwinnett’s pitching once again mostly struggled this past week, with Kyle Muller putting together really the only solid start of the series, and even he walked four batters in his one outing. The bullpen was hit or miss, but guys like Brad Brach and William Woods were consistent arms for Gwinnett, and Touki Toussaint also pitched a lengthy appearance out of the ‘pen. At times, Muller has been dominant, but it’s evident he hasn’t found his groove yet. Regardless, though, his current average of 12.8 strikeouts per nine is a career-best, so I suspect the ace-like pitching lines will start coming soon.

AA – Mississippi Braves (4-11)

Michael Harris II: 5 for 23 (.217 AVG), HR, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 5 R, 3 SB

Drew Lugbauer: 6 for 18 (.333 AVG), HR, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 6 R, 8 BB

Jesse Franklin V: 6 for 21 (.285 AVG), 2 HR, 3B, 8 RBI, 4 R

Luke Waddell: 7 for 18 (.388 AVG), 3 2B, 2 RBI, 3 R, SB

Darius Vines: 1-0, 6 1/3 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, BB, 5 K

Jared Shuster: 0-1, 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, BB, 4 K, HR

Indigo Diaz: 3 IP, 2 BB, 4 K

Mississippi suffered perhaps the craziest loss in some time back on Saturday, when the M-Braves came back from being down by 10 runs… only to lose when Chattanooga scored eight in the final inning for an 18-11 win. I’m sure the loss stung, but as a team Mississippi tallied 14 hits, featuring a 3 for 4 performance for Jesse Franklin V (including 4 RBI), a 4 for 5 night for Luke Waddell and multi-hit finishes for Michael Harris II, Drew Lugbauer and CJ Alexander.

And speaking of Harris. As you can see, he only managed five hits last week, but my goodness he made them count, slugging his first home run at the Double-A level to go with a pair of doubles and two singles. For the season, the 21-year-old outfielder is slashing .317/.379/.500 with seven XBH, and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down any, after starting off the campaign with a 10-game hitting streak. Look out, Harris will likely be in Gwinnett soon – maybe as early as mid-season. It’s also nice to see Franklin coming around, as the 23-year-old raised his season AVG by 30 points in Week 3, from .206 to .236. With his whiffs, it’s probably not fair to expect him to hit .300 like Harris, but a .250ish AVG is a solid mark for him, given he wields plenty of power with the bat.

The M-Braves got a few solid outings from its starters, including a decent one from Freddy Tarnok in Tuesday’s series opener, in which the prospect righty struck out six in 4 2/3 innings while allowing two runs from four hits. Tarnok got hit around in the finale on Sunday, but I don’t expect that 4.76 ERA will remain that high very long. Also, both Darius Vines and Jared Shuster kept up the good work in Week 3, as the former was the first Mississippi starter this season to get through six innings in Thursday’s win, before the latter surpassed that mark with a career-high seven innings on Friday. Vines will enter next week with a 2.51 ERA for 2022, while Shuster sports an even better 1.59 (the best ERA for a minor league starter in the Braves system right now).

After a rough start to the season, it appears dominant bullpen arm Indigo Diaz has began to come around. Diaz worked a pair of appearances last week – both in hitless fashion.

A+ – Rome Braves (9-6)

Justyn-Henry Malloy – 7 for 23 (.304 AVG), HR, 2B, 4 RBI, 4 R

Beau Philip – 7 for 18 (.388 AVG), HR, 2B, 4 RBI, 3 R, SB

Christian Robinson – 6 for 17 (.352 AVG), HR, 3 2B, 5 RBI, R

Tyler Tolve – 4 for 12 (.333 AVG), HR, 2B, 3B, 4 RBI, R, SB

Andrew Hoffmann – 1-0, 6 IP, 3 H, ER, 11 K, HR

Dylan Dodd – 1-0, 5 1/3 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 6 K

Tanner Gordon – 1-0, 6 IP, 5 H, ER, 6 K

Luis De Avila – ND, 6 IP, 2 H, 5 K

Rome split its series against Bowling Green, but once again the team played well as a whole. As you can see from the rather long list of players above, several R-Braves finished Week 3 with strong performances.

A pair of 2021 draftees got the starting pitching on track for Rome last week, when Dylan Dodd tossed a solid outing on Wednesday and Andrew Hoffmann pitched a gem on Thursday. For the former, the strong performance was needed as he struggled his last time out. For the latter, well, it appears he could be the staff’s ace, as that’s now 22 strikeouts in his first 15 innings this season, to go with a 3.00 ERA. Hoffmann’s six innings in this series was a season-high for him as well. The great work on the mound continued throughout the week for Rome. Both Tanner Gordon and Luis De Avila combined to allow just one run from seven hits in their starts on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Unfortunately for De Avila, his six shutout innings of pitching was spoiled when the R-Braves bullpen allowed five runs in the eighth to suffer the loss.

The talent from the 2021 class was on full display in regards to the Rome offense as well. Last week, Justyn-Henry Malloy (6th RD pick), Christian Robinson (15th RD) and Tyler Tolve (17th RD) all hit over .300, as the young core continues to thrive in High-A. That goes especially for Tolve, who as a 21-year-old catcher, is slashing .310/.355/.586 with five XBH so far this season. He’s not much of steal-preventer (12 SB / 3 CS in ’22), but the lefty-hitting Tolve appears to be a well above average guy on offense.

A – Augusta GreenJackets (7-8)

Caleb Durbin – 6 for 18 (.333 AVG), 3 2B, 6 RBI, 4 R, 3 SB

Brandol Mezquita – 6 for 17 (.352 AVG), 3 RBI, 5 R, 5 BB

Landon Leach – ND, 6 IP, H, BB, 8 K

Royber Salinas – 0-1, 5 1/3 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 7 K

Benjamin Dum – 3 IP, 2 H, 4 K

J.J. Niekro – 3 1/3 IP, H, BB, 5 K

The GreenJackets offense cooled off rather drastically in Week 3, and as a result, the team had to settle for a series split against Fayetteville. However, the series finale on Sunday – a 6-5 loss – wasn’t all bad, as infielder Caleb Durbin continues to rake, finishing the day 3 for 5 with two doubles, three RBI and two runs scored. The final game versus the Woodpeckers pushes last year’s 14th-round pick up to a .333 AVG so far this season, as the 22-year-old Durbin already has five XBH and nine RBI in 12 games in 2022. Pretty impressive for a latter-round draft pick out of a small college in Missouri (Washington-St. Louis).

Outfielder Brandol Mezquita also keeps on hitting down in Single-A. The 20-year-old is hitting even better than Durbin, slashing .347/.452/.367 in 13 games so far. The athletic Mezquita hasn’t hit for hardly any power yet (only one XBH), but it’s probably safe to assume that the SLG% will rise as the 2022 season progresses. You can also expect 15-20 stolen bases from this kid by season’s end.

Augusta had a bit of a scare last week when southpaw Adam Shoemaker left his start on Friday before ever getting an out. I don’t know any of the details, but fortunately, as of today Shoemaker hasn’t been placed on the injured list, so maybe he’s fine. However, after looking sharp in his season debut back on April 13 (5 IP, H, BB, 5 K), Tyler Owens turned in back to back poor outings in Week 3, allowing four runs in just two innings on Tuesday, before giving up three runs in only an inning on Sunday. The quick hooks have caused Owens’ ERA to grow to 7.88 so far this season, and we know he’s a better pitcher than that.

Even in a loss, Royber Salinas continued his strong pitching last week, and reliever J.J. Niekro kept his scoreless streak intact by tossing 3 1/3 innings on Thursday. Also, righty Landon Leach has sort of flew under the radar so far this season, heading into Week 4 with a 2.57 ERA in three starts. He pitched a gem on Saturday, allowing just one hit in six innings of work, to go with a season-high eight strikeouts. Leach was a second-round pick by the Twins out of high school back in 2017, and signed with the Braves this past February. At just 22-years-old, this could be a kid to watch for in 2022 as opposing batters are currently hitting just .140 versus the Augusta starter.

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