Offseason Prospect Review: Jasseel De La Cruz

Sunday, November 28, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)
  • Daysbel Hernandez, RHP (link)
  • Trey Harris, OF (link)
  • Indigo Diaz, RHP (link)
  • Victor Vodnik, RHP (link)
  • Spencer Schwellenbach (link)

#16. JASSEEL DE LA CRUZ, RHP

24-years-old

2021 stats (AAA):  56.1 IP, 7.03 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 5.2 BB/9, 8 HR

Trend:  Down

Calling De La Cruz’s 2021 performance a down year is probably putting it a bit too mildly. After entering the season as a top 10 prospect in the Braves system (according to me), the righty struggled mightily during his first Triple-A assignment, doing himself no favors when it comes to the argument of whether or not he’s a reliever in the long term. In fact, despite finishing the year with a 7.19 ERA in Gwinnett, there were moments when De La Cruz actually handled himself pretty well out of the bullpen, including the very first handful of games he pitched in 2021 when he allowed just one run in 8.2 innings (1.04 ERA) over four relief appearances. I was probably one of the only ones left that still believed De La Cruz could make it as a big league starter, however, after this past season, I’m not so sure.

I had the opportunity to watch one of De La Cruz’s starts in 2021, a late-July outing in Memphis. The righty struggled to get much swing and miss. And though it was an extremely muggy and uncomfortable evening, it seemed like De La Cruz was laboring more than normal as he allowed five runs in five innings of work. There’s no doubt his fastball/slider combination is sharp, but without a third pitch to really keep batters guessing, it’s as if De La Cruz is forced to work more than he probably should.

2022 outlook

Like in 2020, De La Cruz was called up to the majors this past season but never debuted. However, as part of several roster moves on Tuesday, the Braves removed the 24-year-old from the 40-man roster. De La Cruz will turn 25 next June so it’s imperative he makes some strides in Triple-A in 2022. Given it was his first assignment in Gwinnett, it’s likely he gets another chance to prove he can start, however, his leash is probably beginning to run out.

Although, whether he starts or pitches out of the bullpen, De La Cruz can still be an impactful player for the Braves. Homegrown, high-leverage relievers are needed as well, and his two-pitch approach could work well in Atlanta. But I’m sure, like any pitching prospect, De La Cruz would rather make it as a starter. There were some very high expectations for this kid after he broke out in 2019, and it does feel like he’s so close to putting it all together. But we’ll see how he handles another ride with the Stripers this coming season. For now, De La Cruz is minor league bullpen depth for the Braves. However that role could change with a strong showing to begin 2022.

Offseason Prospect Review: Daysbel Hernández

Monday, November 22, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)

#21. DAYSBEL HERNANDEZ, RHP

25-years-old

2021 stats (AA/AAA):  42.1 IP, 3.83 ERA, 12.3 K/9, 4.9 BB/9, 4 HR

Trend:  Up

The Braves got a helluva deal when they signed Hernández for $190,000 back in September of 2017 as the 25-year-old continues to perform well in the minors. The righty got his first taste of Triple-A ball in 2021, and though it didn’t go as well as he probably would’ve liked (7.45 ERA), Hernández no doubt gained some much-needed experience. As one of the top prospect relievers in the system, it’s likely he’s called upon by the Braves at some point in 2022, IF he isn’t taken by another team in the Rule 5 Draft.

The problem for Hernández has always been control, shown by his career average of 4.4 walks per nine in the minors. In fact, this past season was perhaps one of his worst regarding free passes as the Cuban pitcher finished with 6.5 walks per nine with Gwinnett (along with 4.4 per nine with the M-Braves). A fastball/slider guy — who consistently reaches the high-90s MPH with the former offering — how far Hernández goes will most likely depend on his ability to remain in control on the mound. There’s no doubt, when this kid is on, he’s one of the best young relievers in the organization.

2022 outlook

Given Hernández’s poor showing with the Stripers this past year, I’m sure he’s looking to rebound in 2022. And it’s likely, given he dominated the level and because of his age, that he gets his chance right out of the gate as I don’t see the Braves making him repeat Double-A. Hopefully Hernández learned something from his brief ten-game stint with Gwinnett in 2021.

I still believe this is a top-25 prospect in the Braves system, and over at FanGraphs, Hernández is right there in that range at no. 19. Even though it’s inevitable that many of the current prospect starters don’t work out, Atlanta doesn’t have too many traditional relievers in its system, which bodes well for Hernández’s chances at one day pitching out of the Braves bullpen. If he can get a bit better at consistently being in control, the sky’s the limit for him.

Gwinnett nearly no-hit in season finale; Tucker Davidson starts for the first time in months

Monday, October 4, 2021

-Clint Manry

Braves regular season baseball is officially over. A few hours before Atlanta played its final game versus the Mets on Sunday (in which they won 5-0), Triple-A Gwinnett also concluded its 2021 regular season campaign in a matchup against Jacksonville. Unfortunately, though, the Stripers didn’t end the year as well as the major league Braves.

The Jumbo Shrimp of Jacksonville (the Marlins Triple-A affiliate) went with lefty starter Daniel Castano yesterday, and let me tell you, Gwinnett had no answer for the former 19th-round pick. Castano was perfect for the first seven innings on Sunday as the 27-year-old southpaw flew through the Stripers lineup. Finally, to begin the eighth, recently-claimed catcher Chadwick Tromp provided Gwinnett with its first hit of the game when he singled to left. Ryan Casteel followed with a single as well, and Philip Ervin loaded the bases with a fielder’s choice. However, even then the Stripers offense still couldn’t muster up a run as they lost 4-0.

Sunday’s outcome certainly wasn’t the most significant storyline of the day, though. Everyone was way more focused on the fact that prospect Tucker Davidson was scheduled to take the mound. The 25-year-old Davidson – currently sixth on my Braves Top 30 list – started yesterday’s season finale, returning to the bump for the first time since leaving prematurely in an outing with the Braves back on June 15. Tuck hadn’t pitched for the Stripers since late May, but he was sharp in his Triple-A return. Coming back from a forearm injury, Davidson threw 40 pitches on Sunday, working three innings of three-hit ball, allowing one run and striking out five. His only real trouble was in the second inning, when Jacksonville got to him with back-to-back singles, which were followed up with a sac-fly. The talented prospect ended up missing a lot of time in 2021, but Davidson ends his campaign with four starts apiece at both the major and minor league level, posting a 3.60 ERA and 1.17 ERA, respectively. Too bad he can’t help out the Braves in its upcoming NLDS versus the Brewers.

At 71-58 overall, Gwinnett put together another solid season in 2021. Nearly all year long the Stripers were among the top teams in the Triple-A Southeast division, but a poor second-half really cost them in the final standings, leaving them in third-place and 14.5 games back from the top team (Durham). Now that the season has concluded, I’ll soon begin recapping each of the Braves five minor league affiliates.

Shea Langeliers doubles twice in Gwinnett’s win on Friday; Kyle Wright to start today’s game

Saturday, October 2, 2021

-Clint Manry

Triple-A Gwinnett got back in the win column on Friday as they beat Jacksonville 7-2.

With one out in the fourth inning, Travis Demeritte started the rally when he doubled to right. Two batters later, Demeritte scored when Maikel Franco reached on a throwing error by the Jumbo Shrimp. Franco advanced to second shortly after, thanks to a balk, which set up a perfect opportunity for catcher Shea Langeliers. With two outs, Langeliers barreled up the first pitch he saw for an RBI double, giving him both his first Triple-A RBI and XBH.

Two batters later… Yolmer Sanchez gave Gwinnett a 4-0 lead when he tripled home Langeliers and Ryan Goins.

Unfortunately, Stripers starter Kyle Muller never got to enjoy the big lead created by the offense. After throwing 71 pitches in three innings, his day was done. However, Muller still managed eight strikeouts in the outing, to go with just one earned run from four hits. The lefty prospect walked three.

The Stripers scored three more runs in the sixth, first starting with Johan Camargo’s solo-homer to lead off the frame.

The longball by Camargo was his 19th of the 2021 season as the infielder has been one of the better players in all of Triple-A this year. Following a walk by Franco and another double by Langeliers, Goins provided the sixth run of the game for Gwinnett when he popped up a sac-fly. The Stripers finished the game outhitting the Jumbo Shrimp 8-6, and was assisted by Jacksonville’s three errors.

The quartet of Chasen Bradford, Touki Toussaint, Jesse Biddle and Yoan López worked the final six innings of last night’s game. The Gwinnett bullpen was sharp as all four relievers combined to strike out seven and only allow one run from two hits. Neither of the Stripers bullpen arms walked a single batter on Friday.

Gwinnett is now down to its final two games of the 2021 season. Today the Stripers will once again take on the Jumbo Shrimp, with righty Kyle Wright earning the start. First pitch on Saturday is scheduled for 6:05 PM (ET).

Cristian Pache and Johan Camargo homer in Gwinnett loss, while Drew Waters makes incredible play on defense

Friday, October 1, 2021

-Clint Manry

As the Braves were busy securing its fourth-straight division title on Thursday night, Triple-A Gwinnett was taking on Jacksonville in what wound up as a near-epic comeback for the Stripers.

With the score still tied at zero, outfielder Drew Waters made perhaps the play of the season when he robbed a homer in the second.

However, the Jumbo Shrimp still managed to jump out to a big lead. In the third, the first two batters reached base and were picked up when Jacksonville’s Lorenzo Quintana went deep with a three-run homer.

Stripers starter Jose Rodriguez surrendered another long ball in the fifth, this time off the bat of Isan Diaz who made it a 5-0 deficit.

As you can see, it definitely wasn’t Rodriguez’s best night. The righty allowed five runs (four earned) from 10 hits, including a walk, to go with just two strikeouts in five innings. He’ll finish his 2021 season with a 5.29 ERA with Gwinnett.

The Stripers did at least attempt a comeback. In the sixth, Johan Camargo homered for the 18th time this year and Cristian Pache went deep in the ninth as part of a three-run final frame.

Unfortunately, though, Jacksonville’s two-run eighth spoiled any chance for a Gwinnett win, and the Stripers dropped its final game of September.

With just three games remaining this season, Gwinnett will wrap up its 2021 campaign this weekend. The Stripers and Jumbo Shrimp will play again tonight, with first pitch scheduled for 7:05 PM (ET).

Shea Langeliers and Spencer Strider debut for Triple-A Gwinnett in final homestand

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

-Clint Manry

Gwinnett won its series opener versus Jacksonville on Wednesday by a score of 6-1, although all the attention was focused on two prospects who recently made their Triple-A debuts. Both Shea Langeliers and Spencer Strider got in on the action today for the first time, with the former starting at catcher and batting sixth and the latter coming in as a reliever.

Langeliers put the bat on the ball in his very first try, lining out softly to shortstop in the first inning. After striking out in each of the fourth and the sixth, the prospect catcher drew a walk in the eighth to finish his day 0 for 3. 

Following four innings of two-hit ball by starter Bryce Elder, and a hitless inning by Trevor Kelley in the fifth, Strider appeared in the sixth and was sharp from the get go. 

Strider struck out the first two batters of the frame, allowed a ground-ball single, and then ended the inning with another swinging strikeout. The prospect pitcher threw 12 of his 14 pitches for strikes as he looks plenty ready for the Triple-A level.

Overall, Gwinnett’s offense looked great. Prospect outfielder Cristian Pache finished the day 2 for 4 with three RBI, while Yolmer Sanchez, Johan Camargo and Maikel Franco all three contributed with two hits apiece as well. Travis Demeritte also homered for the 21st time this season, going deep off a breaking ball in the opening inning.

There was also a Touki Toussaint sighting as the righty worked both the seventh and eighth innings, allowing a hit, a walk and striking out two. 

The Stripers will finish out its final homestand with four more games against Jacksonville over the next four days. With all other Braves affiliates now done for the year, Gwinnett is the last minor league team left playing.

Spencer Strider promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett 

Monday, September 27, 2021

-Clint Manry

Go ahead and add another big Braves prospect promotion to the list for this season. According to Talking Chop’s Eric Cole on Monday morning, right-handed pitcher Spencer Strider is headed to Triple-A Gwinnett. 

The promotion comes with only five regular season games remaining for the Stripers, so it’s obviously less exciting than a midseason or even August assignment. However, Strider should have plenty of time to acquire some innings at the highest level of the minors. Per the report from Cole, Strider is expected to pitch out of Gwinnett’s bullpen.

Strider, taken in the fourth round by the Braves in the shortened 2020 MLB Draft, is a former Clemson star who, at the time of the draft last year, had recently undergone Tommy John surgery, causing many to question just how quickly he would progress as a pro. Although, the now-typical operation hasn’t appeared to slow him down.

Surging fast on my Braves Top 30 list this year, Strider currently ranks seventh on my latest ranking, just behind lefty Tucker Davidson. The 22-year-old Strider began 2021 with Single-A Augusta, but after averaging more than 18 strikeouts per nine and pitching to a 0.59 ERA in 15.1 innings, he was quickly moved up to High-A Rome. With the R-Braves, Strider’s stint was even shorter, thanks to 14.7 K/9 and a 2.45 ERA in 14.2 frames. His second promotion of the season, a late-June call-up to Double-A Mississippi, gave Strider his first taste of adversity, though he wound up becoming one of the top starters in the rotation. In 63 innings with the M-Braves, the talented prospect pitcher put together a 4.71 ERA despite allowing only a .211 AVG from opposing batters. 

Any time a player is on his third promotion in one year in the minors it means he’s doing something right. Along with his 2020 draft mate, Bryce Elder, Strider’s move to Triple-A sets him up nicely to possibly debut in the majors as soon as 2022. MLB debut or not, though, this kid is the real deal. 

Braves 2021 Minor League Team Awards: Cy Young

Thursday, September 21, 2021

-Clint Manry

The 2021 regular season is coming to an end, both at the major and minor league level. Last week I began a team awards series for the Braves, in which I named Charlie Morton as Atlanta’s Cy Young pitcher for this year. Today I will do the same for the Braves minor league system.

Who has been the best minor league pitcher for the Braves organization?

Braves 2021 Minor League Team Awards: Cy Young

Bryce Elder

Like the major league version of this award, this wasn’t all that close. No other prospect starting pitcher has accomplished what Bryce Elder – ranked no. 8 on my Midseason Braves Top 30 list — has in 2021, and other than perhaps reliever Indigo Diaz, none have flown through the minor league system with such dominance. Last year’s fifth-round pick is looking at a potential 2022 MLB debut, and for a system already rich with talented arms, Elder’s ascent within the minors this season has been one of the most-exciting storylines to follow.

Elder’s 2021 stats (all levels combined)

23 starts, 128.2 IP, 2.80 ERA, 10.2 K/9, 3.5 BB/9

For Elder, 2021 started with a quick and easy assignment at High-A Rome. There, the righty averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings and posted a 2.60 ERA in 45 innings (nine starts). It was evident from his very first outing, though, that the 22-year-old was much too advanced for lower-minors competition.

On June 29 Elder made his first Double-A start with the M-Braves. At the time, it was his worst performance of the season as he allowed four runs from seven hits in just four innings. His debut in the upper-minors was far from ideal, but Elder made up for that one poor outing by quickly becoming one of Mississippi’s staff aces. Over his next eight Double-A starts, Elder pitched to a 2.77 ERA and struck out nearly 30% of the batters he faced. By the middle of August, following a five-start stretch in which he lasted exactly seven innings in each outing and allowed just two earned runs over his final 12 frames with the M-Braves, it was time for another challenge. Surprisingly, the Braves promoted Elder to Triple-A Gwinnett.

On August 20 the Braves rising prospect debuted for the Stripers, striking out six in five innings to go with two runs from three hits. Elder has been with Gwinnett ever since, and to this day – now with just a handful of games remaining – the righty hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a single start. Heading into a new minor league week (Tuesday), Elder’s Triple-A ERA sits at a cool 2.28 and his K rate is holding steady at just over 10 strikeouts per nine. At each and every level, this kid continues to impress.

So for the 2021 minor league season, there’s no other Braves pitcher more deserving than Elder. For him to not just dominate the High-A ranks, but to also maintain that performance all the way up the ladder to Triple-A is incredible all by itself; him doing so while only in his first full pro season is basically unheard of. There have been several strong performances by Braves prospect pitchers in 2021. But in terms of the system’s Cy Young… that honor has to go to Bryce Elder.

Braves drop fourth in a row while farm gets swept

Sunday, September 19, 2021

-Clint Manry

Saturday was a rough day for the Braves organization as not only did Atlanta lose but so did each of the three minor league affiliates that played.

I’m out of town for a family vacation, so today’s report is short and sweet. But I’ll definitely have some material to write regarding the conclusion of the minor league campaign. I’ve also started a team award series at SportsTalkATL, with the first post covering the Braves Cy Young pitcher for this season… so be sure to check that out.

Here are your scores and stats from Saturday’s Braves action…

(76-70) Atlanta Braves

L, 2-0 vs. Giants

SP, C. Morton – (L), 5 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 K

RP, A. Minter – IP, 2 K

RF, J. Soler – 1 for 3, 2B, BB

1B, F. Freeman – 1 for 4

(67-51) Gwinnett Stripers

L, 6-4 vs. Nashville

SP, K. Muller – (L), 2.1 IP, 4 H, 4 R, ER, 4 BB, 2 K

1B, J. Camargo – 2 for 2, HR, 2B, 2 RBI

RF, D. Waters – 2 for 4, 2B, 2 R, BB, SB

CF, C. Pache – 1 for 5, RBI

(67-44) Mississippi Braves

Cancelled vs. Chattanooga (Rain

(56-60) Rome Braves

Cancelled vs. Hickory (Wet Grounds)

(53-66) Augusta GreenJackets

L, 12-2 vs. Myrtle Beach

SP, R. Rodriguez – (L), 3.1 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, HR

C, T. Tolve – 3 for 4, HR, 2 RBI

2B, C. Conley – 1 for 2, R

(25-31) FCL Braves

L, 5-4 (F/7) vs. Rays

SP, J. Bautista – 2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 K

RP, S. Strickland – 2 IP, 3 K

LF, J. Palma – 1 for 4, 2 RBI, R

3B, J. Dilone – 2 for 3, 2B, BB

2B, E. Stevens – 2 for 3, 2B, R

SS, F. Floyd – 1 for 1, 2 BB, SB

Daysbel Hernández and Brooks Wilson promoted to Gwinnett

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

-Clint Manry

The 2021 minor league regular season may soon draw to a close, but the Braves aren’t done making moves down on the farm. On Tuesday, both righties Daysbel Hernández and Brooks Wilson were moved from Double-A Mississippi to Triple-A Gwinnett.

Hernandez – currently ranked no. 21 on my midseason Braves Top 30 list – has already had one opportunity with the Stripers. To start the 2021 campaign, the righty spent most of the month of May in Gwinnett, but after posting a 9.64 ERA in five relief appearances he was sent down to Mississippi. Beginning the year in Triple-A was always a rather aggressive assignment for Hernandez, given his most-recent completed level prior to 2021 was High-A Rome two seasons ago; however, considering just how much he dominated that year, many believed he could handle the competition. Regardless, Hernandez is obviously deserving of another shot. Ever since his demotion, the righty has been a consistent weapon out of the M-Braves bullpen, averaging 12.6 strikeouts per nine to go with a solid 2.76 ERA in 32.2 innings in 2021. At 25-years-old, and with a nice track record in the Braves system thus far, a good showing with Gwinnett to end 2021 could give Hernandez some much-needed momentum to potentially make an MLB debut next season.

Wilson – also 25 — is another interesting arm to pay attention to. A former seventh-round pick, the 6-2, 205-pound righty has absolutely exploded this season with Mississippi, becoming one of the most dominating relievers in the league. In 44 innings in 2021, Wilson has averaged 14.9 strikeouts per nine and has posted a 2.45 ERA. He also advanced from the High-A level in 2019, where Wilson was just as strong run-prevention wise, but nowhere near as dominate in terms of strikeouts. He’s another righty that, if all goes well, could be right on the cusp of a big league debut in 2022.

Congrats to both Hernandez and Wilson as they try and master the final level of the minors. The Braves look to be set up nicely with bullpen depth pieces, and these two should get their shot to contribute as soon as next spring.