Spring training is coming to a close and most of the rosters are set throughout the majors and minors meaning that regular season baseball is almost here. With the minor league season set to start this Thursday (April 8th) we here at Talking Chop (cbwilk and myself) will be bringing you team by team previews of each of the Braves full season minor league teams starting with Rome today and culminating in Gwinnett's preview being posted on Opening Day.
We start off our previews with the Rome Braves, taking a look at each part of the roster.
Without a doubt the strength of the 2010 Rome team will be their starting pitching. Headlined by Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, Robinson Lopez, Chris Masters, David Hale and Bret Oberholtzer this staff could be one of the best ever assembled in Rome. Vizcaino and Teheran give the Braves two young RHP that can both touch the mid 90s with their fastballs but differ a bit from there. Teheran, while throwing hard, generates more grounders and walks less batters than Vizcaino who posted an 11.1 K/9 last season. They will provide a solid 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation and could move quickly if they dominate.There have been questions about Vizcaino's maturity since coming over from the Yankees but he was seen trailing Teheran everywhere in spring training with Teheran constantly in his ear explaining how the Braves do things.
Robinson Lopez is another teenage fireballer who had a dominant year in 2009 posting a 1.29 in the GCL in 48.2IP with strong component ratios across the board. The Braves like him enough to skip him past the traditional Appalachian League season and send him to Rome (both Teheran and Vizcaino spent time in short season A ball). This time next year the pundits could be talking about him the same way they are talking about the guys in the first paragraph. A lot of people probably see David Hale up there and are thinking "Wait isn't he a closer?" Well the Braves have said since they drafted him that they want him to try his hand at starting considering his electric arm. Many scouts believe that Hale just needs time to focus on baseball and everything could click for him. Either way, as in the case of Kris Medlen, more innings is never a bad thing for a pitcher in the minors.
Bret Oberholtzer and Chris Masters are a pair of LHPs the Braves took in the 2009 draft. They both dominated the Appy League and now look to carry that success to the Sally League in 2010. Masters is (as John Sickels put it) "short and fat" but he generates a solid fastball and an above average curve. In his Junior season at Western Carolina he struggled with his control but after some tinkering with Braves instructors he walked just 8 batters in 70 innings. Oberholtzer is more of a finesse pitcher and may struggle earlier than Masters does because he relies almost solely on good command to get batters out. He is younger however (21 this July vs 23 for Masters in October) and will probably still do well in the Sally League.
One caveat in projecting minor league rotations and bullpens (especially in the lower rungs) is that at the beginning of the season they will tandem start pitchers, meaning one guy will start the game and go 4 or 5 innings and another guy will be scheduled to relieve him for the rest of the game. So going into the season know that most of the guys on this staff will probably start more than 1 game but these are my best guesses as to who will be spent mostly in relief rolls.
Paul Clemens spent all of 2009 with Rome but met with little success so he will be returning in 2010. Clemens has one of the best arms in the system and throws a fastball that gets up to 97 at times. His problem is he has poor control and command of it and no reliable secondary pitch to fall back on. Hopefully he worked hard in offseason to sharpen his curveball and changeup. Cory Rasmus, brother of Cardinals CF Colby, was once touted as the best arm in the system but eventually lost almost two years to arm injuries. He finally returned to full time action in the Appy League last year and looked solid and even spectacular at times (he threw a 7 innings no hitter) but he had not regained the velocity that once made him a very intriguing prospect. Look for him to start some during the year, especially if promotions come early.
Ty'Relle Harris has the inside track at being the closer for Rome. He posted excellent numbers in limited innings between Danville and Rome last season after being drafted out of the University of Tennessee. Thomas Berryhill could also close as he sports a solid fastball that he can get up to 95 MPH. He posted a solid ERA in Danville last season though his components weren't great.
Rounding out the rest of the Rome bullpen will be Steve Kent, Luis Avilan, Julio Surinach and Ryab Weber. Some may remember Kent who received some fanfare when the Braves signed him out of Australia in 2004. He missed all of last season due to arm injuries but he was looking promising in 2008 before he went down. He is still just 20 years old so he has some time. Out of the other 3 I honestly don't know much other than the stats they have posted. Weber is skipping Danville after dominating in relief in the GCL so he could be a definite surprise.
Rome has three catchers on the roster in Christian Bethancourt, Osman Marval and Braeden Schlehuber. Bethancourt is just 18 years old and is already considered the Braves best catching prospect. He showed surprising polish at the plate last season and above average arm strength. At age 18 there is really no telling what he can do yet, but with his body and raw ability there is a pretty high ceiling.
Braeden Schlehuber is a guy I was really behind last year and I expected big things from. He did not deliver, posting an OPS of .573 in 351 PAs. The only bright spot was his XBH rate was actually solid, he just couldn't hit singles. I still have a sliver of hope for Braeden but after last season I am not holding my breath. Osman Marval posted a solid season in the Appy League last year based mostly on his ability to control the strike zone. He has almost no home run power but he has consistently put up solid K/BB rates in other leagues. He could be a good backup for Bethancourt in the long season ahead.
Riaan Spanjer-Furstenburg (who will henceforth be known to all as RSF) won the Appy League's 2009 Best Hitter Award and will man 1B for Rome. RSF started the year hot with a 1.430 OPS in June but cooling down significantly in August with 'just' and .811 OPS for the month of August. Still, he put together a fantastic season and will be expected to hold down the lineup in Rome. Mycal Jones is a toolsy SS a lot of people are expecting big things from this year. He has a somewhat disappointing season in 2009 though there were a lot of things to like. He flashed good power for a middle infielder with .174 ISO and stole 19 bases while only being caught 4 times. His plate discipline is a little weak though not terrible and he was a little old for the league, but I like to say a players first year in pro ball is generally a wash and not truly indicative of a players ability, especially when it comes in short season play. There is a lot to like about Jones and if his walks go up a bit he could be a very valuable player.
Matt Weaver was drafted in 2009 out of a NJ junior college and made his debut in the GCL and the Appy with underwhelming results. The scouting reports say he has good pull power and speed and could be an above average defender in the middle infield. Most of that didn't show up in his debut last year but the Braves are showing confidence in him and jumping him to Rome to presumably be the 2B or utility INF. Jordan Kreke is another 2009 college draftee who played solid-but-not-spectacular ball for Danville. He will probably be the starting 3B for the Braves and will hit in the lower half of the order.
Ryan Barba and Samuel Sime both spent all of 2009 in Rome and neither one was very good. Both guys can play all over the field but I expect Sime to get a little more playing time and maybe split starting time with Kreke at 3B. They will serve mostly as utility INFs but will probably still see decent playing time.
I am a big fan of this crop of outfielders, even without Robert Hefflinger who is recovering from injury. LV Ware, Cory Harrilchak, Kyle Rose and Ramon Flores will be patrolling the OF for Rome to start the season. The first thing to note here is these guys sport very little power. Ware, Harrilchak and Rose combined for 4 homers in 664 ABs last season. What they do have is TONS of speed however: 72 SBs with just 11 CS between the three starters.
Kyle Rose will be 20 when the season starts and is the most promising player in the group. He will essentially be skipping Danville altogether (save for a 5 AB cameo last season) and I expect him to be the main leadoff hitter for the Braves this season as he possesses the best speed in the system (26/4 SB/CS) and excellent plate discipline (20/21 BB/K). Cory Harrilchak possesses similar skills to Rose though he probably isn't quite as fast, but replaces that with better plate discipline and bat control and the best power in the OF. He put up an .842 OPS last year in Danville and I expect to slot nicely into the 2 hole and play LF for Rome.
Ware put together his best season last year in Danville after not doing well in limited playing time in Rome. This will probably be a make or break year for him to put some of his tools together into a solid campaign in full season ball. Ramon Flores had an excellent year in the DSL last season, but if you have been around here since last season you know I don't really care about DSL stats. He is 23 years old and skipping both rookie levels and I expect him to be a backup unless he really surprises everyone.
Well that was a bit longer than expected but there is a lot to like about this year's Rome Braves. The pitching will lead the way but the offense will have some punch as well with a couple of dynamic bats at the top of the order. There will also be some players waiting in the wings for promotions or injuries. I still believe Edward Salcedo will debut with Rome, Brett DeVall is working his way back from injury and the draft could always infuse some more players midseason. I wouldn't be surprised to see this team win the first half championship with this roster.
- Kyle Rose CF
- Cory Harrilchak LF
- Mycal Jones SS
- RSF 1B
- Christian Bethancourt C
- Jordan Kreke 3B
- Braeden Schlehuber DH
- LV Ware RF
- Matt Weaver 2B
- Julio Teheran
- Arodys Vizcaino
- Chris Masters
- Bret Oberholtzer
- Robinson Lopez
And finally I will choose my breakout pick for the season. There are a lot of guys to like on the team and I won't pick anyone who is currently considered a top 15 prospect for the Braves. The debate for me is between the two OFs Harrilchak and Rose. My gut says Harrilchak is going to have a great season but my brain can't ignore that blazing speed and fantastic plate discipline of Rose. I will settle on Kyle Rose being the breakout player on this team.