It’s been a long wait, but baseball is back this week. Even better, Triple-A baseball starts tonight, as the Gwinnett Stripers play its season opener in Memphis. Throughout the year, I’ll be previewing each week of the 2022 minor league campaign, to go with daily Braves farm reports. Atlanta released its opening day rosters four all four of its affiliates on Monday, so now let’s look ahead at each of those club’s matchups this week.
Gwinnett Stripers (AAA)
at Memphis Redbirds (STL)
|Tue, April 5||7:05 PM|
|Wed, April 6||12:05 PM|
|Thu, April 7||6:45 PM|
|Fri, April 8||7:05 PM|
|Sat, April 9||3:05 PM|
|Sun, April 10||2:05 PM|
The 2022 Stripers admittedly look a lot like last year’s club, though deserving promotions for prospect shortstop Braden Shewmake and OF/1B Greyson Jenista give this season’s team a bit more to be excited about. I’m very interested to see a fresh start for Shewmake, who following an absolutely dreadful start to 2021 with Mississippi, wound up having a strong second-half in Double-A last year. The obvious leaders in Triple-A in 2022 should be prospect outfielder Drew Waters, as well as two prospect pitchers – Kyle Muller and Bryce Elder. Waters’ numbers last season may not jump off the page, but his strides in the power department, to go with much better plate discipline, suggests he really is right on the cusp. We saw what Muller could do, when he posted a 4.17 ERA in eight starts for the Braves in 2021. He’ll likely be called upon at some point, as Atlanta attempts to navigate through a long season. Elder is a guy on the rise after two promotions in his first pro season. He, along with non-prospect Nolan Kingham, should round out a damn good front-half of the starting rotation for Gwinnett in 2022.
At the time of this writing, it doesn’t appear that the Redbirds have officially released its Opening Day roster, so it’s hard to tell what the Stripers will be facing this week. However, there are three potential players that should draw your attention. Third baseman Nolan Gorman ranked 53rd on FanGraphs most recent Top 100 prospect list, and after hitting .274 with 14 homers in 76 games in Triple-A last year, you can bet he’ll once again be a big part of this Memphis lineup. Pitcher Matthew Liberatore (#65 on FG’s top 100) and catcher Ivan Herrera (#75) are two others to look for. Liberatore put together a 4.04 ERA and struck out 123 batters in 124 ⅔ innings for the Redbirds in 2021, and at 22-years-old, he’s looking for a big league opportunity. As a catcher last season, Herrera slugged 17 homers last season (all in Double-A), so 2022 should be his first taste of Triple-A ball. On paper, this looks like a pretty talented Redbirds team, so this week should feature some great baseball.
Mississippi Braves (AA)
vs. Montgomery Biscuits (TBR)
|Fri, April 8||6:35 PM|
|Sat, April 9||6:05 PM|
|Sun, April 10||2:05 PM|
One of the most fun teams to watch last season (in all of the minors), and Double-A South’s defending champion, the M-Braves look even more exciting now that prospect outfielder Michael Harris II is officially part of the team. Harris did it all with Rome in 2021, hitting for both contact (.294 AVG) and power (36 XBH) to go with 27 stolen bases. As likely Mississippi’s starting center fielder in 2022, all eyes will be on Harris as he continues to trend as one of the top prospects in the system.
Along with Harris, fellow prospect and outfield mate Jesse Franklin V will start the year in Pearl, and he too is coming off a big year with Rome in 2021, in which he hit .244 with 24 homers and knocked in 61 runs in 101 games in High-A (while also stealing 19 bases). At the time he was drafted, many looked at the lefty-hitting Franklin as more than likely a platoon-type batter, but the former third-round pick actually posted a higher OPS versus southpaws last season (compared to righties), showing that he very well could be a future every-day player in the big leagues. A few returnees worth mentioning for the M-Braves include utility-infielder Luke Waddell and outfielder Jefrey Ramos, as well as pitchers Jared Shuster, Freddy Tarnok, Darius Vines, Odalvi Javier and Indigo Diaz. All are currently, or have been, known as talented players in the Braves system, and are worth paying close attention to in 2022.
Like the Redbirds, the Montgomery Biscuits don’t seem to have an official Opening Day roster out at the moment, so this is simply speculation. It looks like outfielder Greg Jones (#77 on FG’s top 100) should play at Double-A in 2022, after he spent a brief time there at the tail-end of the campaign last year. In 2021, Jones hit .291 in 56 games in High-A, to go with 23 XBH (13 HR) and 27 stolen bases. Second baseman Xavier Edwards is another player to look for with the Biscuits, although given he hit over .300 in 81 games in Montgomery in 2021, the Rays may go ahead and move him up to Triple-A to start off the year. The thing about Tampa Bay’s farm is that most of its top-tier pitchers are now either in Triple-A or getting their first shot at the big leagues. In fact, among the Rays prospect list at FG, there aren’t any top-20 prospect pitchers expected to pitch at Double-A in 2022. Taj Bradley is a highly-regarded pitcher, but given he just made it to High-A last season it’s likely he returns there, at least for a few months this season.
Rome Braves (A+)
at Greensboro Grasshoppers (PIT)
|Fri, April 8||5:30 PM|
|Sat, April 9||5:30 PM|
|Sun, April 10||1:00 PM|
Rome is probably the team I’m most interested to watch this season. Recently-drafted guys like pitcher Andrew Hoffmann, third baseman Justyn-Henry Malloy and catcher Tyler Tolve are all young players that we’ve yet to see much from, though all of that will change in 2022. Of that group I just mentioned, I believe it’s Malloy (ranked 19th on Braves 2022 Top 35) that we should perhaps be the most excited about. Last year’s sixth-round pick was strong in his pro debut with Single-A Augusta last season, hitting .271 with 10 XBH (5 HR) in just 37 games. As a guy that can also play the outfield, Malloy could turn out to be a top 15 prospect in the system by season’s end.
Then of course there’s prospect shortstop Vaughn Grissom (ranked 11th on my top 35), who broke out in 2021 to the tune of a .311 AVG in Augusta (in 75 games) and a .378 AVG in Rome (12). This will be the 21-year-old’s first full season at the High-A level, and if his performance there in 50ish PA last year is any indication, Grissom will be playing short for the Mississippi Braves in no time. Pitchers Tanner Gordon and Roddery Munoz are two arms worth following closely as well. Gordon already spent half of 2021 in Rome, so I expect him to earn a rather quick promotion this season. And Munoz, well, let’s just hope he can remain healthy in 2022, because he could be a diamond in the rough.
If you like to follow prospects, then be sure to check out the Rome-Greensboro series this week, and not just for the Braves many talented players. Grasshoppers catcher Henry Davis is a top 25 prospect in all of baseball (second in the Pirates system), and after destroying college competition at the University of Louisville in 2021 (.370 AVG / 15 HR), he’ll likely be a dangerous hitter as a pro. Davis only spent a small bit of time in High-A last season, so I’m pretty confident we’ll see him this weekend against the R-Braves. Another potential Greensboro player to keep an eye on, and one Rome batters will surely hate facing, is righty Quinn Priester (#5 prospect in PIT’s system). There’s a chance Priester starts 2022 in Double-A, given he made 20 starts with the Grasshoppers last year, but at just 21-years-old, the Pirates may give him another look since the club is nowhere close to being a contender in the majors. Second baseman Nick Gonzales (#6) is yet another top 10 prospect that could be in Greensboro when Rome comes to town. The former first-round pick crushed High-A last year, on his way to a .303 AVG, 18 homers and seven stolen bases in 80 games. Overall, this looks like a talented Grasshoppers team. In fact, of Pittsburgh’s ten best prospects at FanGraphs, six either made it to the High-A level in 2021 or could potentially play there at some point this season.
Augusta GreenJackets (A)
at Columbia Fireflies (KC)
|Fri, April 8||6:05 PM|
|Sat, April 9||5:05 PM|
|Sun, April 10||4:05 PM|
It’s a bit of a depleted roster compared to last season, and I’m sure the ones that are there will be using Augusta as a jumping pad in 2022 – however, there are still plenty GreenJackets to watch for on Opening Day. A duo I’ll be sure to keep track of is Brandol Mezquita and Kadon Morton (rank #25 and #31, respectively, on my Braves 2022 Top 35), who should each be manning an outfield spot for Augusta this season. Mezquita seems to be a bit more polished with the bat so far (career .212 AVG as a pro, compared to Morton’s .178 AVG), but both are extremely athletic as each finished with double-digit stolen base totals in 2021. Neither 21-year-old has played a game at the full-season level, so I’m ready to see what these two can do in Augusta.
Other notable players opening the season with Augusta in 2022 include pitchers AJ Smith-Shawver (#30 on my Top 35) and Tyler Owens, as well as infielders Cal Conley (#15) and Stephen Paolini. Smith-Shawver had some serious control issues during his few outings in rookie ball last year, but impressively, he managed to strike out 16 batters in just 8 1/3 innings of work. Owens dealt with some unfortunate luck in his Single-A debut in 2021, allowing a .417 BABIP that resulted in a 7.07 ERA. I’m excited to see what he can do with a fresh start this season. And while Conley and Paolini might be on different trajectories in terms of prospect stock, they both are talented young players that are looking to bounce back this time around. Conley struggled a bit in his pro debut with the GreenJackets in 2021, posting a 73 wRC+ in 35 games, while Paolini mostly did the same, though in his second year in the Braves system. Look for better results out of these two guys in 2022.
A lot of the Royals prospect talent is currently located at or near the upper-minors, so this Columbia roster may not wield a ton of household names. However there are a few to look for this week when Augusta comes to town. Righty Ben Hernandez is probably the Fireflies best starting pitcher at the moment, having just completed his first taste of Single-A last season and turning in a 4.31 ERA in nine outings. Hernandez, 20-years-old, was KC’s second-round pick back in 2020. Eighteen-year-old catcher Carter Jensen is another player to pay attention to. He’s obviously young, but Jensen hit .281 in rookie ball last year and was considered one of the top bats in the 2021 MLB Draft, where he was taken by the Royals in the third round.
Be sure to check back each and every day during the minor league season in 2022, for I’ll be putting out daily reports on the Braves farm system. Also check back each Monday for a weekly preview looking at the upcoming games for each Braves affiliate.