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.

Previewing this week’s upcoming Braves minor league slate

Monday, August 16, 2021

-Clint Manry

We’re down to the final 30-game stretch of the 2021 minor league season, although there’s still plenty of schedule left for those that still need to finish digging out of a hole this year. Because of that, this week’s preview focuses more on the Braves prospects in need of a strong finish this season.

GWINNETT STRIPERS (50-40 / 3RD PLACE)

@ Louisville Bats (CIN)

Hitter in need of a big week: Cristian Pache has had a 2021 campaign to forget as he not only lost his job in the Atlanta outfield and missed time due to an injury, but he simply hasn’t hit while in the minors. In the majors, Pache posted a minus-7 wRC+ in 22 games, and up until this month his performance in Triple-A was nothing to celebrate either as he managed an 87 wRC+ in that span. However, the month of August has been a nice turnaround for the prospect outfielder. In 11 games this month with Gwinnett, Pache has hit .359 with seven XBH – good for a 190 wRC+. I still have this kid listed as the top prospect in the system, but it would be really nice to see him end the year on a positive note.

Pitcher in need of a big week:  Jasseel De La Cruz dropped seven places and out of the top 10 of my Midseason Braves Top 30 earlier this month, and overall it’s been a pretty dreadful year for the prospect righty. Even worse, I’m not even sure De La Cruz is 100% healthy, considering he left his most-recent start with Gwinnett after just 14 pitches and without even getting an out. The 24-year-old is up to a 6.59 ERA in 15 starts in 2021. IF he starts this week… a quality-start would be appreciated for those of us De La Cruz fans.

MISSISSIPPI BRAVES (53-37 / 1ST PLACE)

@ Montgomery Biscuits (TBR)

Hitter in need of a big week:  This may be my last time ranking outfielder Greyson Jenista as a Top 30 prospect in the Braves system as he recently fell three more spots to no. 25. At nearly 25-years-old, Jenista has barely hit Double-A pitching, saved only by the fact that he’s managed some nice pop with 13 homers in 72 games so far. The swing and miss has hurt him this year, and it’s making that strong 2018 campaign seem like forever ago. A big finish would be ideal… and a requirement for him to maintain his prospect status.

Pitcher in need of a big week:  Last week we witnessed the real Victor Vodnik as he tossed five innings of no-hit ball and struck out nine against Biloxi. Per Game Score (75) it was his best start of the season, beating out two solid outings he made back in May. That it’s been that long since Vodnik has been at the top of his game has a lot to do with why he dropped a few spots on the Top 30, falling from 13th to no. 18 in my midseason update. Vodnik still sports a 5.35 ERA with the M-Braves this season. A solid start this week could get him below 5.00 and make his numbers look much better.

ROME BRAVES (40-49 / 5th PLACE)

vs. Greenville Drive (BOS)

Hitter in need of a big week:  I’m thinking outside the box with this one and going with recently-drafted Luke Waddell, the fifth-round pick by the Braves. At 23-years-old and from a major college (Georgia Tech), Waddell earned himself a rather challenging assignment by being placed at High-A Rome to begin his pro career. So far he has held his own, but his .200 AVG and .550 OPS is still lacking. I’m not looking for a Bryce Ball-type breakout with the R-Braves, but it would be awesome if he showed a real ability to hit pro pitching during these final 30ish games, especially with how thin the Braves system is in terms of talent at the middle-infield positions. Cody Milligan is another Rome hitter who needs to put a nice bow on his 2021 season. Milligan cracked the Top 30 in my updated list as an infielder currently hitting .246 with 12 XBH in 73 games with the R-Braves

Pitcher in need of a big week:  Darius Vines has really improved his stock this season, even making my Top 30 recently as he mastered the Single-A level this season as a 23-year-old. However, now in Rome, August hasn’t been his best month as, despite a solid outing last time out, Vines carries a 4.63 ERA this month (his worst monthly ERA so far in 2021). A rather substantial drop in K rate has hurt him over these last two starts, but hopefully Vines can get back to racking up the punch outs this week against Greenville. Last time he faced the Drive, Vines allowed four runs in 5.2 innings and took the loss.

AUGUSTA GREENJACKETS (40-50 / LAST PLACE)

@ Carolina Mudcats (MIL)

Batter in need of a big week:  With the influx of all the new 2021 picks by the Braves, the 2021 season is probably a lost cause for 23-year-old Cam Shepherd, and it’s quite the disappointment. Shepherd wasn’t necessarily supposed to be a big time prospect, but four solid years at the University of Georgia, featuring a .768 OPS, made it look as if he was on his way to becoming relevant in the Braves system. However, that has not been the case. The middle-infielder is hitting just .180 with nine XBH in 73 games this season, and his spot in the lineup has essentially been taken over by 2021 draftee Cal Conley. Maybe Shepherd has one last hoorah in him down the stretch.

Pitcher in need of a big week:  Roddery Munoz began 2021 with plenty of attention, thanks to a wicked, high-90s MPH fastball and plenty of power-stuff. However, once opposing batters timed his heater, the ERA skyrocketed and eventually Munoz spent some time on the IL. Now apparently healthy, Augusta has been working him in short spurts out of the bullpen… and so far he has looked sharp. To give him some momentum heading into next season, I want to see Munoz make a few starts during these final 30-40 games, and pitch well.

FCL BRAVES (16-15)

Mon, Aug. 16: W, 6-1 vs. Pirates Black / L, 3-1 vs. Pirates Black

Tue, Aug. 17: vs. Orioles Orange

Wed, Aug. 18: OFF

Thu, Aug. 19: @ Orioles Orange

Fri, Aug. 20: vs. Rays

Sat, Aug. 21: @ Rays

This week is an opportune time for the Braves to get back on top

Monday, August 9, 2021

-Clint Manry

Here’s a look at what’s ahead for the Braves this week, now just two games behind the first-place Phillies. If the offense will hit and the pitching remain hot, perhaps by week’s end Atlanta will be back where they belong: on top of the division.

ATLANTA BRAVES (57-55 / 2nd place)

Mon, August 9 – OFF

Tue, August 10 – vs. Reds (7:20 PM) / Drew Smyly, LHP

Wed, August 11 – vs. Reds (7:20 PM) / Touki Toussaint, RHP

Thu, August 12 – vs. Reds (5:10 PM) / Kyle Muller, LHP

Fri, August 13 – @ Nationals (7:05 PM) / Charlie Morton, RHP

Sat, August 14 – @ Nationals (6:05 PM) / TBD

Sun, August 15 – @ Nationals (1:05 PM) / TBD

The Braves were off today and then will finish up its current homestand with a three-game series versus the surging Reds — winners of their last five in a row and eight of their last ten. Starting on Friday the 13th (eww… scary), Atlanta will travel to D.C. to play a weekend set with the Nationals, and from there, they’ll play nine games total on the road before coming back home to begin a two-gamer versus the Yankees on August 23 and 24.

According to FanGraphs, recently-acquired outfielder Adam Duvall is the Braves hottest bat coming into Tuesday’s opener with the Reds. Over the last week of play, Duvall is hitting .263 with a pair of homers and seven RBI (167 wRC+) — good for 0.3 WAR. That’s not too shabby for a new player, especially one that was producing at a similar rate for a fellow division foe just a few weeks ago in the Marlins.

In the pitching department, Atlanta will have to wait until probably Friday (Game 1 vs. WAS) to get its current ace on the mound. Charlie Morton’s 2.8 WAR this season is tied for the 12th-most by a pitcher in the majors, and over his last three starts he sports a 2.65 ERA to go with 9.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. Max Fried, who’ll most likely start against the Nats at some point this coming weekend, is another hot hand the Braves will look to ride. Fried’s 0.7 WAR over the last 14 days is tied with six other pitchers for the second-most in baseball, and he already showed on Sunday that he’s overcome his career-long demons against Washington.

All-in-all, this is an opportune time to make up some more ground on the Phillies. Philly is also off today, with only the Marlins playing from the NL East. With the Phillies beginning a series with the Dodgers tomorrow, perhaps Atlanta can steal at least two of three from Cincy over the next several days, while LA takes care of business. Who knows… by this weekend the Braves could be back on top!

CURRENT INJURIES

Ronald Acuna Jr., OF – 60-day IL (knee surgery)

Tucker Davidson, LHP – 60-day IL (forearm)

Grant Dayton, LHP – 60-day IL (shoulder)

Mike Soroka, RHP – 60-day IL (Achilles)

Huascar Ynoa, RHP – 60-day IL (hand) rehab assignment

Travis d’Arnaud, C – 60-day IL (thumb) rehab assignment

Ian Anderson, RHP – 10-day IL (shoulder) rehab assignment

Eddie Rosario, OF – 10-day IL (abdominal) TBD

Marcell Ozuna, OF – 10-day IL (finger) TBD

NL EAST STANDINGS (8/9/21)

  1. Phillies – 59-53
  2. Braves – 57-55 (2 GB)
  3. Mets – 56-55 (2 ½ GB)
  4. Nationals – 50-62 (9 GB)
  5. Marlins – 47-65 (12 GB)

Week 14 Organizational Preview: All but Gwinnett hit the road

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

-Clint Manry

It’s getting difficult to keep count, but we’ve now made it to Week 14 of the 2021 minor league season. With football games cranking up this coming weekend, it feels as if baseball season has flown by; just goes to show how much work the Braves have ahead of them if they want to make the postseason.

But as usual on Tuesdays, I’ve looked at this week’s slate of games, this time also including the big league team given just how critical the final two-month stretch is for Atlanta. I spend a lot of time following the minor leagues and the organization’s prospects, but at this point in the season, everyone’s attention should be pointed towards the Braves playoff chase. So let’s get to it…

Atlanta Braves (52-54 / 3rd place)

@ Cardinals / vs. Nationals

Tue, August 3 – @ STL (8:15 PM)

Wed, August 4 – @ STL (8:15 PM)

Thu, August 5 – @ STL (8:15 PM)

Fri, August 6 – vs. WAS (7:20 PM)

Sat, August 7 – vs. WAS (7:20 PM)

Sun, August 8 – vs. WAS (1:20 PM)

Can the Braves ever get out of its win-loss-win-loss funk? We’ll see as the team plays three games apiece against both the Cardinals and Nationals this week, a six-game stretch that should be favorable. Fortunately, Atlanta’s next 18 games consist of just one opponent currently sporting a winning record, which will be the Reds next week, so there’s a path for them to get over the .500 hump in the next 7-10 days.

I’m excited to see the Braves newly-built outfield for a full week’s worth of games, not to mention the several injured players set to come off the IL soon. August will be an extremely crucial month for Atlanta, and it all starts with this week’s slate. Hopefully it’s a productive next few days. Today, though, Max Fried will face Washington’s Jon Lester in what should be a helluva pitching matchup. Drew Smyly and Touki Toussaint should wrap up the Nationals series and handle Game 2 and 3, respectively.

Gwinnett Stripers (41-37 / 4th place)

vs. Charlotte (CHW)

Tue, August 3 – 7:05 PM

Wed, August 4 – 7:05 PM

Thu, August 5 – 7:05 PM

Fri, August 6 – 7:05 PM

Sat, August 7 – 6:05 PM

Sun, August 8 – 1:05 PM

Among all minor leaguer hitters with at least 150 PA this season, Gwinnett’s Travis Demeritte currently sports the second-best wRC+ with a 188. And he’s not the only Striper that’s destroying Triple-A pitching — seemingly the entire Gwinnett lineup is scorching-hot at the plate, hence the team’s present three-game winning streak and recent series win over Memphis last week. Johan Camargo (150 wRC+), Orlando Arcia (144), Alex Jackson before he was traded last week (167), Jason Kipnis (121) and Drew Waters (106) are all producing at an above-average rate with the bat as the Stripers head into Week 14 four games above .500.

On the pitching side, it’s essentially Kyle Wright… and no one else in Gwinnett’s starting rotation. The 25-year-old Wright seemed like a prime candidate to be traded at last week’s deadline, especially given how well he’s performed lately. The former first-round pick currently boasts Triple-A’s eighth-highest strikeout-rate (23.7%) and each of his last three starts has featured two earned-runs or less, including 21 punch outs in that 20-innings span. Guys like Dylan Lee (2.01 ERA), Chasen Bradford (3.96 ERA) and Tanner Roark (3.03 ERA) have mostly led the way so far in the Stripers’ bullpen. Hopefully starters, and no. 30 and no. 9 prospects on my Braves Top 30 list, respectively, Nolan Kingham and Jasseel De La Cruz, can start turning their seasons around. Kingham has gotten knocked around ever since coming up from Double-A, shown by his 8.44 ERA in five starts, and Cruz is still sitting at a 5.89 ERA in his 12 outings. The latter’s improvement is especially important to the Braves.

Mississippi Braves (44-34 / 1st place)

@ Birmingham Barons (CHW)

Tue, August 3 – 8:05 PM

Wed, August 4 – 8:05 PM

Thu, August 5 – 8:05 PM

Fri, August 6 – 8:05 PM

Sat, August 7 – 7:30 PM

Sun, August 8 – 5:00 PM

If you’ve even remotely kept up with the Braves minor league system in 2021 than I’m sure you have already seen what the M-Braves have done this season on offense. Last weekend the team already matched its team record for home runs in a single season by slugging homer no. 98 in Saturday’s 8-1 win versus Pensacola. The outbreak from the lineup has resulted in a battle for first-place practically all year for Mississippi, although its 4-2 series win over the Blue Wahoos last week gave them some separation as the M-Braves now pace its division by one game, and they currently sport the best overall record in the eight-team Double-A South league.

We already know how great prospect catcher Shea Langeliers has been this year, but even more exciting is the complete transformation first baseman Drew Lugbauer has gone through at the plate. Lugbauer is currently a top-25 player in all of Double-A in terms of his 142 wRC+, which is incredible when you consider he posted just an 82 wRC+ in 127 games at the High-A level back in 2019. The strikeout-rate is still far from ideal as Lugbauer is punching out at a 35.2% clip at the moment, however all of those whiffs has also come with twice as many walks than he managed two seasons ago. I’m seriously considering including Lugbauer in my next Top 30 list coming soon.

Prospect righty Bryce Elder (tenth on my Top 30) is listed as the M-Braves probable for Tuesday’s matchup with the Barons, and he’s a good one to mention in today’s preview. I’ve been super impressed with Elder’s performance at the Double-A level as he currently owns a 3.41 ERA in 37 innings (six starts) with Mississippi so far. Remember, he started the year in Rome, so at 22-years-old he’s developing nicely within the Braves system. Really, the entire M-Braves rotation has performed well in 2021. Guys like Odalvi Javier (3.23 ERA), Hayden Deal (3.82) and currently in Rome, A.J. Puckett (3.15), have been solid on the mound; and though prospect Victor Vodnik (7.30) has regressed some since returning from his injury, he’ll likely get back to his dominant self. Reliever Matt Withrow (2.32 ERA) and Brooks Wilson (1.99) have both been beasts out of the bullpen. Withrow currently leads the Mississippi ‘pen in innings and Wilson is striking out 13.9 batters per nine. Also, watch out for former Rome reliever Indigo Diaz, who recently earned a deserved promotion to Mississippi after he made High-A batters look like little league players.

Rome Braves (37-41 / 4th place)

@ Greenville Drive (BOS)

Tue, August 3 – 7:05 PM

Wed, August 4 – 7:05 PM

Thu, August 5 – 7:05 PM

Fri, August 6 – 7:05 PM

Sat, August 7 – 7:05 PM

Sun, August 8 – 3:05 PM

Rome split it’s six-game series against Asheville last week as the team continues to play roughly .500 ball this season. The offense has been led by Jesse Franklin V and Michael Harris II, although the latter has had a bit of a rough stretch recently. Franklin, who currently boasts the second-most homers (19) in the High-A East, leads the R-Braves in not only long balls but also in wRC+ (124). The former University of Michigan star has evolved from a guy who looked like he’d require a platoon-mate, to an all-around dangerous professional hitter. Harris is still among the league’s top-10 in line drive rate (27.2%), while also ranking among the best in both doubles (16) and triples (3). Keep an eye on 22-year-old Cody Milligan as well, for he’s hitting a solid .278 with 12 XBH in 54 games this season.

Alan Rangel has been the dominant starter for Rome so far. Rangel leads the East in strikeouts (95) and is second with 12.1 strikeouts per nine. He also paces the team with 14 starts and has been a consistent workhorse each and every week. Darius Vines, who won Pitcher of the Week for High-A last week, is also a leader within the R-Braves rotation. Vines began 2021 in Augusta but rose quickly. The former seventh-round pick is big riser this season and could wind up within the Top 30 in my update. Coleman Huntley and Zach Daniels are Rome’s main relievers, with Kasey Kalich now gone.

Augusta GreenJackets (34-44 / last place)

@ Charleston RiverDogs (TBR)

Tue, August 3 – 7:05 PM

Wed, August 4 – 7:05 PM

Thu, August 5 – 7:05 PM

Fri, August 6 – 7:05 PM

Sat, August 7 – 6:05 PM

Sun, August 8 – 5:05 PM

Augusta split its series against Myrtle Beach last week and head into this week’s slate with a well-oiled machine on offense as the GreenJackets averaged six runs per game in its matchup with the Pelicans. A quartet of batters have led the way essentially all season for Augusta: Vaughn Grissom (138), Cade Bunnell (128), Willie Carter (118) and Landon Stephens (114) rank nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the lineup, respectively, in wRC+, with Bunnell and Stephens leading the way with 11 home runs apiece (tied for third-most in the league). Those last two are interesting, as the former was a 40th-round pick and the latter was signed by the Braves as an UDFA last June.

The starting pitching in Augusta is still all about prospect Joey Estes (ranked 23rd on my Braves Top 30), who leads Single-A’s South league in strikeouts (94) and currently sports the second-best ERA (2.58). The bullpen has really been a sore spot for the GreenJackets, though. The relievers who lead the team in innings so far – Alec Barger (4.68 ERA), Estarlin Rodriguez (6.88), Ben Thompson (5.40) and Miguel Pena (6.55) – have all dealt with run-prevention issues. Roddery Munoz and James Acuna are two young arms that we should pay attention to. Munoz was all over Twitter to begin the year as he was hitting the high-90s MPH, and Acuna (no relation to Ronald Acuna) is a guy that earned a deserved promotion after pitching well in the DSL back in 2019 and the FCL this season.

FCL Braves (10-13)

Tue, August 3 – *doubleheader vs. Pirates Gold postponed

Wed, August 4 – OFF

Thu, August 5 – doubleheader vs. Pirates Gold

Fri, August 6 – vs. Rays

Sat, August 7 – @ Rays

Sun, August 8 – OFF

I’m so excited about several of the FCL Braves current hitters. Brandol Mezquita and Kadon Morton are the two hit leaders right now down in Florida, though Mezquita is on an entirely different level as he’s at a .950 OPS with nine XBH and seven stolen bases in 22 games. The kid is only 19, folks. Outfielder Charles Reyes is also having a strong start to the year, hitting .293 with five XBH in 12 games so far. The most well-known player on the Florida Coast team, Mahki Backstrom, is in the midst of a slow start. Backstrom is hitting just .179 and striking out nearly 33% of the time right now.

Rainiery Rodríguez was by far the top arm on the FCL team as the 20-year-old turned in a sparkling 1.42 ERA in 19 innings before earning a promotion to Augusta. With Rodríguez now up with the full-season club, it appears the starter to watch could now be 19-year-old righty Reibyn Corona, who, through 17 innings with the FCL Braves, has struck out 18 batters. Lefty Corbin Clouse is also down in Florida trying to get himself back to top form, having made three outings so far. If you recall, Clouse underwent shoulder surgery last year, an unfortunately timed ailment given how dominant he was in 2018.

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.

Week 10 MiLB Preview: Mississippi and Rome both face division-leaders this week

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

-Clint Manry

It’s already Week 10 in the minor leagues, with most clubs having completed nearly roughly 55 games of the scheduled 120. Here’s what’s on tap for this week…

*FYI: Thursday morning I’m traveling to Rome, GA to watch the R-Braves play. So my reporting may be a bit light on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, though hopefully I’ll get some better insight since I’ll get to see the team play in person. 

Gwinnett Stripers (23-30 / 5th)

vs. Nashville Sounds (MIL)

Well… I claimed Week 8 was possibly Gwinnett’s worst stretch of play so far this season, but I believe they played even worse last week. Against an admittedly loaded Durham Bulls club (the top team in Triple-A’s Southeast league), the Stripers only won one of six games during Week 9… and dropped the last four in a row. At seven games under .500 this season, Gwinnett enters its new series today 13 games behind the first-place Bulls in the East division and have lost eight of 10 recently. The schedule this week versus Nashville features traditional start times, although on Thursday the two teams will play a doubleheader, beginning with Game 1 at 5:05 pm (ET).

Who’s hot? Two players stand out for Gwinnett — infielder Johan Camargo and outfielder Drew Waters. The former has been raking in Triple-A essentially all season, but lately he’s turned it up a notch to the tune of a .354 AVG and .965 OPS since June 10, which is a span of 21 games and a stretch that features eight multi-hit performances. Whether Camargo is hitting from the left or right side, he’s been a force in the Stripers lineup in 2021. Meanwhile, Waters’ run isn’t quite as impressive, though he has had to deal with an ill-timed thumb injury that hampered him back in June. Over his last three games, Waters is 5 for 12 (.416 AVG) with three XBH and a pair of stolen bases. It would be great if he could get back on a roll. I must also add righty Bryse Wilson here for his three-hitter thrown against Durham last Wednesday. The outing was Wilson’s best of the 2021 season AND earned him Pitcher of the Week for Triple-A’s East League.

Notable transactions: Sean Newcomb and Kyle Muller were recently optioned to Gwinnett; Orlando Arcia was promoted to Atlanta; reliever Trevor Kelley was placed on 7-day IL.

Mississippi Braves (32-22 / 2nd)

vs. Pensacola Blue Wahoos (MIA)

While the M-Braves have cooled just a tad lately, the team has still won six of its last 10, including a series split in Montgomery last week. This new home series against Pensacola (33-21 overall) comes at a great time as the Blue Wahoos are currently one game ahead of Mississippi in the South division standings. Of the two team’s 11 matchups so far this season, the M-Braves are 5-6, so this should be a great series competition-wise. Mississippi will play in the evenings during the week, save for Wednesday’s 1:05 pm (ET) day game. Sunday’s series finale will start at 3:05 pm (ET). 

Who’s hot? Braden Shewmake began his 2021 campaign with a 7 for 71 (.099 AVG) skid in May, and I won’t lie, I was starting to get pretty concerned. However, the month of June featured a huge improvement, and in 22 games the prospect shortstop turned in a .264 AVG with nine XBH to bump up his season numbers to much more palatable marks. Now… just three games into July and it appears this is more than just a hot streak — Shewmake looks primed to completely transform his season as he’s currently 5 for 13 (.385 AVG) so far this month. It’s easy to simply follow box scores and get excited about his improved results, but this is more than that. Shewmake is squaring the ball up on a regular basis and looks a lot more comfortable in the box. We’ll see how long he’ll keep this up. 

Notable transactions: This past Saturday, reliever Josh Graham was transferred to 60-day IL.

Rome Braves (29-23 / 3rd)

vs. Bowling Green Hot Rods (TBR)

Taking the M-Braves spot as the system’s hottest affiliate, Rome has now won 8 of its last 10 as they’re now five games behind Bowling Green for first-place in the South division. The R-Braves won five of six against Wilmington last week and outscored the Blue Rocks by a margin of 45-19. This week’s series with the Hot Rods should be another one to look forward to down on the farm as Rome could possibly pace the division by Sunday. The R-Braves and Bowling Green will play a doubleheader on both Thursday and Saturday, with Game 1 each day beginning at 5:00 pm (ET). 

Who’s hot? All-world prospect Michael Harris is a weekly name here, but I can’t just ignore Jesse Franklin’s run… even if I’ve mentioned him a ton already this season. Franklin has been solid at the plate all year… but June 1 is when he started hitting at an entirely different level.

Jesse Franklin (since June 1)

  • 26 G, .360 AVG, 1.274 OPS
  • 11 HR, 8 2B, 27 RBI, 6 SB
  • 10.7 BB%, 26.4 K%

Those numbers above illustrate a guy seeing the ball about as good as you can. I mean, the kid is getting on base at a .431 clip and slugging .843! Along with Harris, look for Franklin to get a promotion to Mississippi soon. I just hope BOTH players remain in Rome long enough for me to see them in person later this week. 

Notable transactions: None.

Augusta GreenJackets (24-29 / 3rd)

vs. Myrtle Beach Pelicans (CHC)

Anecdotally at least, it seems like Augusta has performed better offensively, which this season has been the team’s biggest issue. The GreenJackets surge in scoring runs has led to a 5-5 record over the last 10 games, including a series win over Columbia last week at home. Today the homestand at PRC Park continues with yet another series versus Myrtle Beach, a team they’ve gone 6-5 against so far in 2021.

Who’s hot? Signed for $20,000 last year as an undrafted free agent, Bryson Horne really hasn’t been used as a full-time player with Augusta this season… until recently. Although since he began receiving more everyday opportunities in early June, the 22-year-old has flourished. Since June 11 (a span of 15 games), Horne is slashing .309/.344/.673 and has belted all five of his homers for the year. He wasn’t a very sought-after prospect last year, but Horne is a player to keep an eye on from here on out. 

Notable transactions: I was hoping shortstop Vaughn Grissom would return last week, but that may happen in the coming days; both outfielder Brandon Parker and righty Chad Bryant were activated from the IL last week and each played in one game; righty Malcom Van Buren was placed on the 7-day IL.

FCL Braves (2-2 / 5th)

Tue, July 6 – vs. Pirates Gold (PPD)

Wed, July 7 – OFF

Thu, July 8, 12:00 PM — @ Pirates Gold

Fri, July 9, 12:00 PM — vs. Rays

Sat, July 10, 10:00 AM — @ Rays

Sun, July 11 — OFF

The FCL Braves opened its season last Monday and have played only four games so far due to rain. In fact, the Braves second game against the Orioles Black on Monday was suspended in the eighth inning because of weather, although they were able to complete Game 1 — a 1-0 win for the Braves. As you can see from the schedule above for this upcoming week, there’s a good chance the Braves only play one or two games if there’s any rain in the forecast.

Who’s hot? So far the players we expected to lead this Braves team… have. Outfielder Brandol Mezquita and first baseman Mason Berne are both leading the way each with a .333 AVG this season, and infielder Geraldo Quintero isn’t far behind, hitting .286. And despite a bit of a slow start (just 3 for 13 so far), first baseman Mahki Backstrom also belted his first home run of the year for the Braves on Monday. Meanwhile, because of the suspended games and postponements, the FCL Braves pitching hasn’t really been able to log many innings consistently. However, Rolddy Munoz started Monday’s suspended game and pitched really well, working four hitless innings and striking out five. Of the Braves four games so far, I believe that’s the best starting pitching performance yet. Hopefully the Braves will get to play all four games this week.

Notable transactions: None.

Week 9 MiLB Preview: Cristian Pache and Gwinnett are due, while Augusta is lone affiliate to host series this week 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

-Clint Manry

It’s another week for Braves minor league baseball…

Gwinnett Stripers (22-25 / 4th)

@ Durham Bulls (TBR)

The Stripers just finished what was probably the worst week of its season so far in Week 8, losing five of six versus Norfolk to fall nine games back in its division. Today Gwinnett begins its new series with Durham, who at 31-16, is first in the Southeast division and owns the third-best record in the league. At least the Stripers won’t have to try and contain all-world prospect Wander Franco as he’s now in the majors with the Rays. Though Franco wasn’t the only top-tier prospect playing with the Bulls; this team also features recently-promoted — and last week’s Pitcher of the Week — Shane Baz, as well as righty Drew Strotman and outfielder Josh Lowe. In a nutshell, this is a pretty loaded Durham team.

Gwinnett player to watch: Last week I was anxious to see what prospect Drew Waters would do since he was finally healthy from a recent thumb ailment that forced him to miss several games, but he didn’t really contribute last week and ended up going just 1 for 21 in the series. It may take him some time to get going again, so my focus now turns to the system’s top prospect, outfielder Cristian Pache. The 22-year-old Pache has essentially been nonexistent at both the MLB and minor league level in 2021 (though some of that is due to an injury). With Gwinnett this year he owns just a .211 AVG and has six XBH in 17 games. Hopefully THIS is the week that Pache starts heating up at the plate. 

Today’s starter: as of Tuesday morning… who knows? I could see Kyle Wright or Tanner Roark getting the nod today in Game 1, given both were optioned to Gwinnett late last week and probably should continue receiving some innings. For the life of me, I can’t understand why Roark hasn’t been making at least semi-regular starts for the Stripers this season as I thought using him as a potential spot-starter was the whole reason the Braves grabbed him to begin with. The 34-year-old righty hasn’t logged an inning with Atlanta yet and has pitched 17 ⅔ frames in Triple-A, all as a reliever. 

Mississippi Braves (29-19 / 1st)

@ Montgomery Biscuits (TBR)

I was so thrilled to finally see the M-Braves in person this past weekend as they won four of six against Tennessee at home to become the best team in Double-A’s East League. From starting pitching, to the bullpen, to the lineup, this is the most fun Braves affiliate to watch this season, and I had a blast at a VERY hot and humid Trustmark Park on both Friday and Saturday.

Mississippi player to watch: Spencer Strider debuted for the M-Braves last Thursday, coming up from High-A Rome, and boy did he impress. Even at his second promotion this season, the 22-year-old Strider continued his wrath of punch outs as he struck out eight batters and allowed only three hits in 4 ⅔ innings. I can’t wait to see what he does in his next start. 

I’ll also add Greyson Jenista here. Watching lineup-mate Braden Shewmake start to turn things around lately, including barreling several balls this past weekend, I’m hoping maybe Jenista starts squaring some pitches up as well. Until I saw him in person, I didn’t realize just how big this dude really is, but he mostly struggled at the plate last week, going just 2 for 13 in the series. 

Today’s starter: as of early this morning, no starter has been announced for the series opener (per MiLB.com), though if the rotation continues as it has recently, it should be Nolan Kingham’s turn on the bump. The 24-year-old Kingham is having perhaps the best stretch of his pro career as last Wednesday gave him his third-straight shutout outing (as part of 25 consecutive scoreless innings). As a right-handed pitcher, the former 12th round pick out of the University of Texas has been hell on opposing batters this season, especially lefties, shown by just two XBH allowed in 89 PA versus that particular handedness. Let’s see if Kingham can keep the momentum going.

Rome Braves (24-22 / 3rd)

@ Wilmington Blue Rocks (WAS)

After a hot start, Rome cooled off in June but wrapped up its series in Week 8 with an impressive comeback win over Aberdeen on Sunday. At two games over .500 this season, the R-Braves are seven games behind the leader in the division and are set to take on Wilmington (22-24) for the first time in 2021. 

Rome player to watch: prospect Michael Harris had another strong series in Week 8, hitting .292 with three XBH and a pair of stolen bases in six games versus Aberdeen. The 20-year-old enters today’s series opener with both the third-best AVG (.321) and third-highest line drive rate (29.8%) in High-A’s East League as Rome’s most consistent performer at the plate so far this season. And though the Braves really have no reason to rush him, I keep thinking that any day now could be Harris’ last in High-A. There are several exciting players in this R-Braves lineup, but Harris is a nightly must-watch. 

Today’s starter: righty Freddy Tarnok will pitch Game 1 for Rome, making just his second start of the season after being assigned to the R-Braves from extended spring training just earlier this month. The 22-year-old prospect understandably wasn’t allowed to go too far in his outing last week, leaving with two outs in the 4th inning at 69 pitches, but Tarnok threw the ball well nonetheless as he struck out eight and allowed just one hit. I don’t imagine his pitch-count will be too awfully high tonight either, but we could see him go a little further. 

Augusta GreenJackets (20-27 / last)

vs. Columbia Fireflies (NYM)

Augusta had a tough matchup with the league’s best team — Charleston — last week and managed to win just one of six, falling 11 ½ games back from first-place in the division’s cellar. However, the GreenJackets should enjoy this week’s slate of games if for no other reason than that they’re the only Braves affiliate to play at home in Week 9, which given the upcoming 4th of July weekend, is a pretty big deal for minor league teams. Augusta is extremely familiar with Columbia this season, having already faced the Fireflies 17 times in 2021; although of those matchups, the Jackets have only won seven. 

Augusta player to watch: look, Cade Bunnell wasn’t a well-known player coming out of college, sporting a career .200 AVG and just four XBH in 84 games spanning three seasons with both Kansas State and Indiana, which is why he wasn’t selected by the Braves until the 40th round of the 2019 MLB Draft. And it didn’t really help his stock when, as a 22-year-old that year, he hit only .141 with the GCL team. However, as Augusta’s primary lead-off hitter, Bunnell currently trails only Willie Carter for the highest wRC+ on the team, at 140, as he’s getting on base at a .398 clip and slugging .498 in 45 games this season. Obviously I’m not claiming Bunnell is a potential prospect or anything, but the kid went from displaying absolutely no power over the last five seasons (including college ball) to now having 19 XBH (six HR) in just his first 191 PA in full-season ball. It’s at least a cool story to follow. 

Today’s starter: Jake McSteen will start today’s series opener versus Columbia. This will be McSteen’s third start in Single-A, after he posted a 4.66 ERA in his first 9 ⅔ innings with Rome to start the season. So far the Nebraska product has enjoyed his time with the GreenJackets. In his pair of outings, the 25-year-old has struck out 11 in 9 ⅔ frames to go with just two earned runs (1.86 ERA). 

FCL Braves (1-0)

Tue, June 29 – @ Red Sox

Thu, July 1 – @ Orioles (Black)

Fri, July 2 – @ Rays

Sat, July 3 – vs. Rays

A look at the 2021 FCL Braves club 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

-Clint Manry

The FCL (Florida Complex League), formerly known as the GCL (Gulf Coast League) will start its 2021 season on Monday, July 28, therefore now’s a good time to preview this year’s Braves team.

The FCL Braves are part of an eight-team South division and will play every day this summer except for Sunday’s and Wednesday’s. The Braves will open its season versus the Red Sox next Monday and end the campaign against the Rays on Saturday, September 18. All games are played at each MLB club’s spring training facility, which for the Braves will be CoolToday Park in North Port, Fla. You can find a calendar-style schedule for the upcoming 2021 season here, provided by Baseball America‘s Josh Norris. 

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to this year’s summer leagues is that the Braves have decided NOT to field a DSL team in 2021 (the only team to do so), and will instead “have a group of players at their complex in the DR”, according to a recent report by Baseball America. Official rosters have not yet been announced by the organization, and only 12 of 35 available players are currently listed for the FCL Braves at MiLB.com’s website (including mostly returning players and recently signed undrafted free agents), so assignments should start coming very soon for players still at extended spring training. The active player limit for FCL rosters is set at 35. 

Given of course that all four of the full-season affiliates are active with its seasons, simply by process of elimination we can mostly determine who will be starting the season with the FCL Braves. 

Here are a few of the most notable players to keep an eye on…

Mahki Backstrom (1B/OF)

Considered by some Braves followers to be a bona-fide prospect (he made my Honorable Mentions list at SportsTalkATL earlier this month), the 19-year-old Backstrom enters his third year with the Braves organization with just 23 pro games under his belt, which all came with the GCL team back in 2019. 

A former 18th round pick out of a California high school, the then-17-year-old hit .300 with seven XBH in 82 plate appearances in that debut season, and this year Backstrom has reportedly added some muscle to his already “lumbering” 6-foot-5 frame. The kid played all his games two years ago at first base, but his athleticism enables him to also handle the corner outfield, and the DH is certainly a possibility for his future as well. Backstrom should be the FCL Braves’ leader in the lineup this season. 

Kadon Morton (OF)

Just one round after Backstrom, the then-18-year-old Morton was selected by the Braves back in 2019, coming out of a Texas high school, and just like his draft-mate above, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Morton has a ton of potential.

In 32 games two seasons ago, primarily playing in center field, the teenage phenom managed just a .152 AVG and struck out way too much, with 45 Ks in 113 PA. But despite the swing and miss, Morton still tallied eight XBH, including a pair of homers, so there’s definitely plenty of raw power to tap into. 

Brandol Mezquita (OF)

Of the nine international signees the Braves lost from the cheating scandal, spanning the 2015-16 class, Mezquita was the only player the organization re-signed, coming back in November of 2017. 

Mezquita, still just 19 (though turns 20 in mid-July), has 86 career rookie-ball games under his belt across both the DSL and GCL, and though he began his pro career with the former primarily as a center fielder, in his most-recent campaign (2019) he played more in left. His career numbers are held down a bit by his struggles during his debut season, but with the GCL club in 2019, Mezquita hit a respectable .246 with a pair of XBH, 11 RBI and six stolen bases in 34 games. There’s still not a lot known about this kid, so this season could be a nice opportunity to learn more.

Raulín Celedonio (RHP)

At 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, Celedonio has the size to be an absolute force out of the bullpen, and he was a solid international signing by the Braves out of the Domincan Republic back in February of 2018.

Celedonio is a little old for rookie ball at 21, and his pro career in the DSL started out horrendously as he posted a 12.15 ERA in his first 26 ⅔ innings in 2018. But the 2019 campaign featured drastic improvements in terms of his control on the mound, and between a repeat at the DSL and some time with the GCL team, Celedonio brought that ERA down to a much more palatable 3.81. His walks are still concerning, but this kid has allowed just two homers in 55 career innings as a pro. 

Antonio Barranca (C)

Following the tremendously shortened draft last year, the Braves immediately signed four players as undrafted free agents (most notable, shortstop Cam Shepherd & Landon Stephens who’re both currently playing at Single-A Augusta), one of them being the teenage Barranca from a Maryland high school. 

As a 6-foot-3, 215-pound catcher with raw power, a lot of excitement towards Barranca is based on pure projection given he has yet to debut as a professional. The kid turns just 20-years-old in July, and he has the pedigree as his dad played four MLB seasons (1979-82). We’ll see what he’s got. 

Ethan Workinger (OF)

Another UDFA signing by the Braves from last June, Workinger (or “EQ”) was a star hitter at San Diego City College, and according to a profile published by Encinitas Advocate, registered some of the top exit-velocities at a Perfect Game showcase in Irvine, Cal. during the summer. 

With San Diego City last season (before it was cut short after 19 games), Workinger led the team with 29 hits as a DH and outfielder. This is considered a toolsy player, and even as a college pick he won’t turn 20-years-old until after the 2021 season. 

Along with the four full-season Braves affiliates, I’ll be following the FCL Braves to my daily reports this season. Be sure to check back next week to read about the team’s 2021 opener. 

Week 8 MiLB preview: Braden Shewmake is on the rebound

Tueaday, June 22, 2021

-Clint Manry

Now at Week 8, roughly one-third of the 120-game minor league regular season is complete, and today begins the final full week of June. Hopefully this series features better weather!

Here’s a preview of this week’s slate of games for the Braves system…


Drew Waters

Gwinnett Stripers (21-20 / 4th place)

@ Norfolk Tides

June 22Tuesday7:05 PM
June 23Wednesday7:05 PM
June 24Thursday7:05 PM
June 25Friday7:05 PM
June 26Saturday7:05 PM
June 28Sunday2:05 PM
Gwinnett’s Week 8 schedule

Gwinnett won three of five last week against a strong Nashville team and is now seven games behind the leader (Durham Bulls) in Triple-A’s Southeast division. This will be the first time the Stripers face the Tides this season, who at 15-24, are in sixth-place and just a half-game ahead of last-place Memphis.

Norfolk wields a rather light-hitting offense that has been led by former Braves second-round pick and catcher/DH Brett Cumberland, who entering Tuesday sports a 127 wRC+ thanks to five homers and a .239 AVG. If you recall, the now-25-year-old was traded to Baltimore in the six-player deal that netted Atlanta big league pitchers Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day back at the trade deadline of the 2018 campaign. Leading the Tide’s lineup in homers right now with eight long balls is first baseman Tyler Nevin — the organization’s 17th ranked prospect, according to FanGraphs.

On the pitching end, Norfolk has been a bit better as 24-year-old lefty-starter and no. 32 prospect Alexander Wells ranks 18th in the East league in total strikeouts, although his ERA is currently at 5.63. Of the Tide’s regular starters, 25-year-old lefty Zac Lowther is the only current arm that appears to have a solid track record when it comes to run prevention. Lowther paces the group with a 3.98 ERA in 20 1/3 innings in 2021.

Bryse Wilson started last week’s series opener versus Nashville, but with him starting Game 1 of Atlanta’s doubleheader against St. Louis this past Sunday, he won’t be available for today’s contest. Of the Stripers regular starters with the most rest right now, Kyle Wright looks like a possible candidate. The 25-year-old Wright is coming off a decent outing from last Thursday when he allowed just one run versus the Sounds (but walked four) to go with six hits in five innings. Especially now that we’re approaching the MLB trade deadline, he could really use a strong showing as he may wind up as a change-of-scenery candidate. So far in Gwinnett, Wright has been hit pretty hard, even more so by lefty-batters who currently boast a .527 SLG.

Who to watch: With him missing so much time lately, the guy to keep a close eye this week with the Stripers is prospect outfielder Drew Waters. The young Waters was inactive for roughly 10 days recently, and his thumb soreness couldn’t have come a worse time, considering he was on fire at the plate leading up to his absence. The kid has made some nice strides this season and appears to have a better approach at the plate. However, I want to see if he can improve even more against same-handed pitching. Compared to his .988 OPS versus lefty-pitching, Waters carries a .608 OPS against righties so far this season. But regardless, I’m just glad to see him healthy.

Braden Shewmake

Mississippi Braves (25-17 / 2nd place)

vs. Tennessee Smokies

June 22Tuesday7:35 PM
June 23Wednesday7:35 PM
June 24Thursday7:35 PM
June 25Friday7:35 PM
June 26Saturday7:05 PM
June 27Sunday3:05 PM
Mississippi’s Week 8 schedule

The M-Braves are currently riding a five-game winning streak and so far are scorching-hot in June as they’ve won 13 of 18 games this month. Mississippi trails first-place Pensacola by just one game, and with the way the offense is playing right now, it won’t be long before the M-Braves are pacing the South division.

This will be the first meeting of the season between Mississippi and its North division foe Tennessee. The Smokies are not a very good team this year, currently at 14-26 and in last-place. The offense is primarily led by 23-year-old outfielder Darius Hill, who entering today’s game, is tied for fourth in the South League with 41 hits so far in 2021. Hill, a former 20th round selection by the Cubs, is hitting .306 this season but has provided very little power. Speaking of power, though, Tennessee’s thump has mostly come from the organization’s 12th ranked prospect, infielder Christopher Morel, who has five homers and 23 RBI, but is running just a .201 AVG.

24-year-old Cam Sanders is a starting pitcher to look for coming from the Smokies. Sanders 46 strikeouts so far this season ties him for sixth-most in the league and he’s allowing just a .226 AVG from opposing batters. Righty Javier Assad is another staff leader for Tennessee, and has been one of the better ones at preventing runs. The 23-year-old sports a 4.32 ERA through 33 1/3 innings so far in 2021, with only three homers allowed.

Former second-round pick, righty A.J. Puckett will start today’s game for Mississippi, and he’ll look to continue his stingy work this season. Puckett is coming off four consecutive starts in which he has allowed no more than one run, and during that stretch he has pitched to a 1.02 ERA, thanks to an opposing AVG of just .183. Facing a weaker offense, this is a good opportunity for Puckett to again reach the 6th inning, something he has only managed to do once so far in 2021.

Who to watch: prospect shortstop Braden Shewmake has had a 2021 season to forget so far, but recently there are some signs of improvement. The former first-round pick went 6 for 21 (.286 AVG) during last week’s slate of games, including three XBH and six RBI. The season AVG still looks rough, but hopefully Shewmake can keep the hits coming in Week 8 and start turning his 2021 campaign around. 

Michael Harris

Rome Braves (20-20 / 3rd place)

@ Aberdeen IronBirds

June 22Tuesday7:05 PM
June 23Wednesday7:05 PM
June 24Thursday7:05 PM
June 25Friday7:05 PM
June 26Saturday6:05 PM
June 27Sunday2:05 PM
Rome’s Week 8 schedule

Due to rain, Rome only managed to play four of it’s six scheduled games last week against Bowling Green, winning just one. The R-Braves were one of the better teams in the organization back in May, but June has been a much different month as they enter today’s series opener versus Aberdeen on a two-game losing streak to go with losses in 10 of their last 16.

The IronBirds are also in the midst of a rough stretch at the moment, having lost seven of their last 10, but overall they are 23-17 in 2021 and in second-place in High-A’s North division. Aberdeen’s lineup is currently led by a pair of prospect outfielders in Kyle Stowers and Zach Watson, who’re both tied for first on the team with seven home runs apiece. Stowers possesses 55-grade raw power at the plate as the Orioles 12th ranked prospect, while Watson’s speed has allowed him to so far tally the fourth-most stolen bases in the league, with 12. 

Kyle Brnovich and Drew Rom are the two starting pitchers that could give Rome’s offense fits this week. Brnovich — who’s tied with the R-Braves Bryce Elder for the third-most strikeouts in the league — is a non-prospect that has absolutely dominated this season, to the tune of a 2.36 ERA and 12.5 strikeouts per nine in 34 ⅓ innings. Rom is a 21-year-old southpaw that enters the series with a 3.93 ERA to go with 9.8 K/9. 

I believe Rome could start either Jared Shuster or Alan Rangel for today’s series opener, given those two have had the most rest and the fact that there are reports Spencer Strider is headed to Mississippi. There’s also Freddy Tarnok, who appeared out of the bullpen last week but didn’t get a start… so basically I have no idea. We’ll find out later today. 

Who to watch: it’s about time for Bryce Ball to get things going at the plate as the 6-foot-6 DH is currently slashing just .202/.336/.358 through his first 34 games this season. That’s a far cry from what he managed to do during his pro debut back in 2019. Despite his struggles in 2021, Ball has come up with the big hit when it has mattered most — with two outs and RISP he’s posted an .881 OPS, compared to the .694 he’s managed overall. Hopefully this week Ball starts hitting his way out of this slump. 

SRP Park

Augusta GreenJackets (19-22 / 3rd place)

@ Charleston RiverDogs

June 22Tuesday7:05 PM
June 23Wednesday7:05 PM
June 24Thursday7:05 PM
June 25Friday7:05 PM
June 26Saturday6:05 PM
June 27Sunday5:05 PM
Augusta’s Week 8 schedule

The GreenJackets lost its series versus Columbia last week and will begin play today 7 ½ games back from the division’s leader, who just so happens to be this week’s opponent, the Charleston RiverDogs. Augusta has been up and down all season, in which they’ll win a few, only to lose several in a row immediately after. The RiverDogs come into the series 8-2 in their last 10 games with a 26-14 record (the best record in the league).

Third baseman — and the Rays no. 33 prospect — Curtis Mead, leads this Charleston offense with a 152 wRC+, good for fifth-best in the league. The 20-year-old enters today with a .333 AVG, 18 XBH and six stolen bases this season. Outfielder Diego Infante is also another RiverDogs bat that the GreenJackets will need to be aware of. Infante isn’t a ranked prospect but he’s a guy that can make contact (.278 AVG) and pose a threat on the base paths (nine stolen bases). 

Charleston is chalked-full of pitchers, most notably righties Taj Bradley and Cole Wilcox — a pair of top-25 prospects in the Rays system. Bradley is currently third in the league in strikeouts and comes in with a 2.93 ERA in 29 ⅔ innings; while Wilcox hasn’t allowed a single homer in 37 innings in 2021, sporting a 1.46 ERA. 

I would imagine today’s starter for Augusta should come down to either Joey Estes or Tanner Gordon, given Jake McSteen was recently promoted to Rome and Darius Vines just pitched this past Saturday. For the 19-year-old Estes, this could be a chance for him to right the ship after pitching his worst outing of the season last Tuesday, in which he allowed four runs (albeit from only three hits). We’ll see who the team announces later today.

Who to watch: speaking of Estes, I believe all eyes will be on him today (if he starts) as this could be his last start in Single-A. The righty has overpowered the league all season, currently ranking fourth in strikeouts and second in ERA. There’s definitely no need for the Braves to rush Estes, especially given his age, but I also believe he should be pitching at a level where he’s forced to use his entire aresenal. We’ll see how the organization handles it, but if I had to guess, this should be the last time we see Estes in a GreenJackets uniform.


Pretty soon my minor league coverage will expand a bit. Starting on June 28, the Gulf Coast Braves (rookie ball) will begun its 2021 season, a campaign that this year will run until September 18. Usually the GCL Braves are joined by the Domincan Summer League Braves (DSL Braves), but per a recent report by Baseball America, the Braves chose not to participate in the Domincan league this season.