Braves Have 16 Minor League Free Agents

After an outstanding 2008 for Myrtle Beach, Ernesto Mejia missed the majority of 2009.

The list of Six-Year Minor League Free Agents has been released and the Braves have 12 players on that list:

Pitchers: RH Bobby Brownlie, RH Jerome Gamble, LH Mariano Gomez, RH Moises Hernandez, RH Lance Niekro, LH Juan Perez

Catchers: Jose Camarena, Alvin Colina

Infielders: 2B/SS Chris Burke, SS/3B Kody Kirkland, 1B Ernesto Mejia, 3B Antonio Perez

In addition to these players, RHP Jorge Campillo, RHP Buddy Carlyle, RHP Vladimir Nunez, and OF Reid Gorecki were previously announced as Minor League free agents after being removed from the Braves' 40-man roster.

Brownlie was one of the top amateur talents when he was drafted in the first round by the Cubs in 2002 but his career has been sidetracked by a series of injuries. He joined Gwinnett in the middle of the season and had a fairly effective run as a swingman, going 5-2 with a 4.13 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 56.2 innings. If the Braves find they need more depth at the upper level he could be re-signed.

Like Brownlie, Gamble has missed large parts of him Minor League career to injuries, but he's been effective playing for Mississippi and Gwinnett the last two seasons. He spent the majority of 2009 with Mississippi, mostly as a reliever, going 2-1 with a 3.05 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 44.1 innings. Gamble is a good influence on younger players, so it's possible he could return.

More analysis after the jump...

Gomez has the rare distinction of being the first player ever signed out of his native Honduras, inking with the Indians in 1999. 2009 was his first season with the Atlanta organization, the 10th of his career, and the best of his career, as the big lefty was great out of the bullpen for Gwinnett, going 8-4 with a 1.99 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 72.1 innings. The Braves like him and if they can beat out the competition he's very likely to return.

Hernandez was aquired from the Orioles in exchange for allowing Leo Mazzone to become their pitching coach. He missed the entire 2008 season to Tommy John surgery and only pitched 35 innings in 2009. He'll be 26 going into 2010 with only 10 games above A ball in his career, so he seems unlikley to return.

The son of former Brave Joe Niekro and nephew of Braves legend Phil Niekro, the former infielder Lance took his first fulltime try at pitching, employing the family knuckleball, in 2009. He remained in the low level GCL, working a 1-3 record and a 5.61 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP in 33.2 innings. If the Braves liked the progress he made, regarless of the results, they could bring him back and give him a chance to try the knuckler at a higher level.

Perez missed the second half of 2008 for Pittsburgh's AAA team and got a late start in 2009 for Gwinnett, but pitched well in 57 innings, compiling a 2-4 record, 3.47 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. He could be brought back to add AAA depth.

Camarena has been a backup for the majority of his career with Atlanta, playing just 32 games with Mississippi this year, ending with a woeful .424 OPS. But, with the Braves lack of upper level catching depth, he could find himself re-signed.

Colina lent a strong, veteran presence to Gwinnett, sharing time with Clint Sammons at catcher. in 256 plate appearances, he hit .262 with 8 home runs, 42 RBI, and a .766 OPS. Again, with the lack of upper level catching depth, but even more because of the intangibles he brings, he seems very likely to return in 2010.

After being picked up in June, Burke was a solid veteran presence for Gwinnett, playing SS, 2B, and LF for the team while hitting .285 with 3 HR, 32 RBI, 13 SB and a .752 OPS in 309 plate appearances. He showed that isn't washed up, so there could be several teams vying for his services this offseason.

Kirkland was signed to be a backup at Mississippi and despite poor hitting, a .201 average and .572 OPS, he excelled in this role, playing every position on the field except C and LF. He was actually very good in 44 plate appearances for Gwinnett, hitting .289 with a .807 OPS. If the Braves need a backup for the upper levels he could be brought back.

Mejia had one of the best seasons in the Braves' system in 2008, hitting .274 with 47 doubles, 21 home runs, 93 RBI and a .829 OPS. But, after tearing his ACL in Spring Training, he missed most of 2009, collecting just 139 plate appearances. Given his talent, the Braves will be very likely to re-sign him and, due to his recent injury, there probably won't be much competition for his services.

Perez, who was once traded for Lou Pinella, was signed as a backup and didn't show much with the bat in 147 plate appearances for Gwinnett, hitting .190 with a .553 OPS. He seems unlikely to return.

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