Gondeee got an early scoop on the Braves inking some Minor League free agents this week, but it was unconfirmed. Well, it's now official and Gondeee did indeed have himself a scoop. The Braves have brought back LHP Mariano Gomez and have added 1B Gerardo Avila, 1B Mauro Gomez, 2B Luis Bolivar, 2B Juan Gonzalez, 3B Eric Duncan, and OF Brent Clevlen.
Gomez spent all of 2009 with Gwinnett and had the best season of his career, posting a 8-4 record, 8 saves, 1.99 ERA, and 1.10 WHIP in 72.1 innings covering 47 appearances. He is tall (6'6") and lanky, creating some unusual angles and difficulties for hitters. He'll be 27 during the 2010 season and will likely be invited to Major League Spring Training with the Braves and be given a chance to fight for one of the last spots in the bullpen.
Clevlen is the best of these signings; he is an top notch defensive outfielder, capable of playing all three outfield positions along with possessing a strong, accurate arm. The 26 year old has played in 55 Major League games with the Tigers, hitting just .233 in 80 plate appearances from 2006 to 2008, shining in 06 with when he hit .282 with a 958 OPS in 42 plate appearances, hitting 3 home runs. He's spent most of the last three years with AAA Toledo and hit .261 with a .768 OPS, 26 doubles, 16 homers, 64 RBIS, and 10 stolent bases there this season. Aside from his defense, his biggest upside may be as a right handed hitter able to mash lefties, as he hit .331 with a 1.002 OPS and 8 home runs against lefties this season in just 151 at bats.The 23 year old Avlies comes to the Braves from the Mariners' system where he spent last year playing for their short season Everett affiliate (basically the same level as Danville), hitting .333 with a .950 OPS, 13 home runs, and 54 RBI in just 231 plate appearances. In a five year caree he has only played 211 games and has yet to make it out of A ball. While he played some outfield early in his career, he's now limited to first base and isn't the best defender. His numbers and age don't suggest much future success so a Braves scout must have seen something he like and convinced the organization to sign him for lower level depth.
The other M. Gomez is a 25 year old first baseman who has spent the last two years playing for High A Bakersfield in the Rangers' organization. He had a monster season, hitting .285 with a .868 OPS to go with 35 doubles, 38 home runs and 94 RBIs. He also managed to strike out a whopping 141 times, good for 26% of his plate appearances. He's played a little bit of third base in his career but doesn't seem to be very good there; conversely, he appears to be a solid, if unimpressive first baseman.
Bolivar, who will be 29 at the start of the 2010 season, could be a candidate to sever as a utility player on Atlanta's bench. Primarily and middle infielder, he's played every position except catcher during his 8 year career in the Reds' system. He's best suited for second base where his skill set fits the needs of the position, but he has a strong enough arm and is athletic enough to be more than adequate around the field. His versatility is key since his bat isn't strong; he hit just .232 with a .620 OPS in 380 plate appearances for AAA Louisville this season. And, he strikes out a lot for a player without power, wiffing 70 times this year. He did steal 28 bases, his highest total in 5 season. At worst, he'll provide versatile depth for Gwinnett.
Atlanta will be the 6th organization for Gonzalez, who will be 28 at the start of the 2010 season. Mostly a shortstop early in his career, he's played more second and third base in recent years. Like Bolivar, he's athletic enough and has a strong enough arm to play around the infield and, also like Bolivar, his skill set makes him most suited for second base. The similarities don't stop there as his bat is also weak; splitting his season between AA Chattanooga and AAA Albuquerque he hit just .229 with a .637 OPS in 288 plate appearances. Unfortunately though, he doesn't have much speed anymore. He probably won't get much of a shot to make an impact on the Major League team an actually seems destined to provide depth for AA Mississippi.
Duncan, who has played a fair amount of first base in his career, and a little bit of outfield, in addition to his natural third base, isn't related to Shelley Duncan, though the two have been teammates for several years. This Duncan was actually the 27th overall pick by the Yankees in the 2003 draft, though he's never lived up to expectations, failing to ever make it to the Majors with New York. Through the 2006 season he seemed to be progressing well, even if he wasn't living up to his lofty draft status expectations, but since then he has stalled out in AAA for three seasons, with his percentage stats falling each year until this season when he managed to hit just .242 with a .527 OPS in 345 plate appearances for Scranton-Wilkes Barre. A change of scenery may be what he needs to turn things around, as it was no secret that he became disenfranchised with the Yankees' organization, seeing little chance of moving up given their preference to trade for veterans and sign free agents instead of promoting from within.
It was reported that the Braves had also signed 1B-OF Mitch Jones but that has yet to be confirmed. If true it would be a great signing as the 32 year old is coming off an oustanding 2009 season that saw him make his Major League debut with the Dodgers and hit .297 with a 1.015 OPS, 26 doubles, 35 homers, and 103 RBIS in 434 plate appearances for AAA Albuquerque.
The Braves also lost one of their own Minor League free agents as 2B Chris Burke signed with the Reds. Burke played well for Gwinnett, hitting .285 with a .752 OPS in 309 plate appearances. One of Burke's Gwinnett teammates, LHP John Halama wasn't technically a Braves' free agent, since he was released just after the season to allow him to pitch in the playoffs for the independent Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, the same team the Braves signed him from during the year, was signed by Milwaukee. Halama was also decent for the G-Braves, collecting a 4-7 record, 4.48 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 90.1 innings covering 16 appearances (13 starts).
There will surely be more Minor Leaguers joining and leaving the Braves and, as always, we'll keep you up to date here at Talking Chop.
CB Wilkins is the author of the baseball novel Four-A. The story follows a relief pitcher over the course of a year as he bounces between AAA and the Majors, attempting to balance his dreams and his reality. It can be purchased here: https://www.createspace.com/3407939