Braves 2022 Minor League Recap

DSL 34-26, 2nd in division

Let’s cut to the chase: I know virtually nothing about these kids and neither do you. What I do know is which ones got paid, so we will concentrate on them. Remember these are tiny sample sizes so scouts’ opinions are far more important than results at this point.

Diego Benitez was our big money signing ($2.5M) out of Venezuela. A shortstop, he is expected to outgrow the position. He did OK, hitting for a 90 ops+ with plus fielding. He was among the youngest players in the league.

Douglas Glod was the “other” big money Venezuelan at $1.3. He’s an outfielder who will likely develop as a right fielder although he was in center this season. He put up an average ops while striking out 28% of the time. Scouts still rave about the power and wonder about the hit tool.

Other guys: Maximo Ramirez is a rangy kid who got to more balls than Glod while hitting at a 110 ops+ clip. Didier Fuentes is a righty who put up a 5.0 k/bb ratio and kept his whip around 1.

Florida Rookie League 20-35

Once again, small sample sizes rule. Under first Coppy and now AA, the braves have had an organizational philosophy to quickly push prospects to Low A rather than leave them in Rookie-ball for very long. As a result, the players who actually have enough appearances to draw any conclusions are usually marginal at best. This also means the team is usually one of the worst in the league. First the actual prospects.

Ambioris Tavarez is a rail thin shortstop with a cannon arm. His defensive numbers are excellent. On the other side of the ball he somehow put up a 97 ops+ despite striking out over 40% of the time. Scouts still like him anyway. On the plus side he was 2 years younger than average for the league. Still in my top 30!

Jair Casanova is another 18-year old beanpole who is a plus centerfielder. Offensively his wagon is hitched to a 15% bb rate. He will need to show more power going forward.

On the pitching side, none of the prospects threw many innings as the ones who were good quickly moved up the ladder.

One non-prospect of note who did spend substantial time in Florida was undrafted free agent Ethan Workinger. He was a victim of the 5 round 2020 draft where he otherwise would have been the platonic ideal of an 11th round pick (high school guy, some plus tools, has leverage because he is a good student and can go the college route). He has a quick bat and decent pop but currently hits everything on the ground. Had his arm been as good as, say, Marcel Ozuna’s… he would have been a 3rd rounder. He was moved to Augusta mid year and excelled there too.

Low A Augusta 69-62, 3rd in Carolina League South Division

One of the better teams in the league during the first half, call ups and injuries made for a disappointing finish. On to the interesting guys.

Ignacio Alvarez started at rookie level and came up midseason. Officially a shortstop, he converted to (bad) third base on the fly. Fortunately, he gets to hit too! He ran a 22/15 bb/so while hitting about 300. The kid can fly so maybe a change to cf is in order. Now the warts: he has no power at all and scouts are unanimous that it will be subpar if it ever develops.

At 23 years old, Brandon Parker is too old for the league but went ham on the league and needs appreciation. While limited to left, he managed to put up a 10% extra base hit rate which is really good for this league.

Brandol Mezquita put on a first half show by batting close to .400 through mid June. He came back to earth and finished at .281. As a small bat-to-ball type he likely has a AA ceiling but I will be rooting for him.

Cal Conley was our 2021 4th rounder out of Texas Tech. He had a miserable first half on both sides of the ball but put up a 900 ops in the second half with good D at second base. Coaches rave about the work ethic and he might grow into a good super utility guy.

J.J. Niekro is an old pitcher at 24 but that never stopped anyone in his family (he is Joe’s son). Being an undrafted free agent explains the age thing. He put together an incredible first half stretch despite a pedestrian fastball and (gasp!) no change of pace to speak of. He got hammered after moving to Rome although that was expected given his heavy workload. We’ll see going forward!

Scouts see A.J. Smith Shawver as the organization’s next great pitching prospect. When the walks were under control he was well neigh unhittable, when they weren’t, well… Scouts compare his mechanics to Smoltz who I recall took a few years to get it all together as well. BTW I have no idea how it is pronounced either so don’t ask.

High A Rome 74-54, First Half Champions, lost playoff

Rome came out flying thanks to the bats of Vaughn Grissom (you’ve heard of him), Justyn Henry Malloy (you will!), Cody Milligan and Landon Stephens along with the deepest rotation in the Sally League. Deserved promotions made for a weaker team in the second half and playoff disappointment.

Cody Milligan is an older 2nd baseman with a plus hit tool but little power and a noodle arm. AA is his likely ceiling. A 131 ops+ for Rome (89 ops+ at Mississippi) is likely as good as it gets for him.

Landon Stephens is another older guy with a AA ceiling, but his 17 first half homers went a long way towards winning the title. If he could just make contact above the belt he could have a career.

The entire Rome rotation are good prospects but the best two are Roddery Munoz and Royber Salinas. Munoz is a well built kid whose fastball is electric up in the zone and possesses a slider that tantalizes with its potential. Likely a bullpen arm in the future. Salinas has perhaps the best fastball in the minor league system striking out over 14 guys per 9 innings. He will likely stay a starter as his offspeed pitches are coming along.

Double A Mississippi 62-74, last in Southern League South

A tale of 2 halves for Mississippi. In the first half, first Michael Harris II and later Vaughn Grissom powered the team to .500 despite having no other hitters of note on the roster. After their promotions the team scuffled to score runs and faded. The pitching was solid but not good enough to overcome the lack of run support.

The only position prospects of note at the end of the season are the previously mentioned Malloy and Cade Bunnell. Malloy was a bad 3rd baseman who was moved to left field where he was passable for a third baseman playing left field. While he has decent power (and scouts say there is plenty more to come) his calling card is a high on base %. In baseball obp is life and Malloy displays it everywhere he plays. He will appear in the majors next season so be prepared to amaze your friends with your knowledge.

Bunnell is a pretty good, older (25) 2nd baseman who the scouts hate as his one big flaw is a slow turn on the deuce. He split time at first this season sort of like Max Muncy during his high minor league years. The good news is he also hits like Max Muncy so everything parallels, including the age.

On the pitching side, TrustmarkPark is one of the 3 best MiLB parks for pitchers as it ups strikeouts and is where homers go to die. Still, some of these guys can play.

Jered Schuster was our 2020 first rounder back when he was hitting 97 with his fastball. This season he sat 89-92 with a great change which was good enough for 10+ k’s per nine and a stingy 6.5 hits per. He will need to either get some velocity back or get better command to justify his draft pick.

Darius Vines is an undersized control artist who reminds me of Oil Can Boyd. He has the same jerky almost over the top motion from a string bean frame. He got good results this year with a 94mph fastball, a sneaky change, and a decent breaker.

AAA Gwinnett, 69-79, 8th (of 10) West Division, International League

The Braves do not keep position player prospects at AAA any more. As a result, the roster is littered with older AAAA types who make sporadic appearances for the MLB team and then claimed off waivers after being outrighted back to Gwinnett. The result is a bad team with a terrific pitching staff. We shall eschew position player prospects because they don’t exist.

I would like to highlight 2 pitchers who weren’t on the major league shuttle but have serious potential. Firstly, Nolan Kingham doesn’t strike out many guys but also has among the lowest walk % in all baseball. He has a great sinker that generates ridiculous ground ball rates and can work at any level providing he has good infield defense behind him: he has not had those defenders during his Braves career! I can see Kingham as our garbage time reliever for several years, much like the Lisp or the late Anthony Varvarro.

The other, Freddie Tarnok has a great fastball (96-98 with plus plus movement) and workable offspeed stuff. Thus far the Braves are wasting his time as a starter while I believe he could be a late inning reliever as soon as now. Do it AA!

Overall System 328 – 330
This is the closest to .500 the Braves system has managed in many years. The team does not prioritize winning in the minors because they understand the point of the system is to produce players for the big league team. The Braves go even further than most teams and prioritize the development of stars and the hell with depth pieces. Given that the best system wide winning percentage of the last decade belongs to the Pirates and the Marlins I believe we are doing it right. (Yes, I know the Dodgers and Redbirds are 3 and 4 on the list but they don’t support my point, now, do they!)