The 2010 Mississippi Braves is going to be a strange assortment of players. The pitching staff looks to be the teams biggest strength with talented guys in just about every rotation and bullpen spot. The infield has been filled with a bunch of minor league journeymen and Donell Linares and Travis Jones. The outfield will feature 3 guys with a lot of potential to boom or bust and one former top prospect turned journeyman. This should be an interesting team to say the least.
I have a hard time deciding what the biggest strength of this team will be: the starters or the relievers. The starters will be Mike Minor, Kyle Cofield, Eric Cordier, Richard Sullivan and Scott Diamond (with maybe a little Jacob Thompson on the side). Mike Minor should be the best pitcher on the team. The 7th overall pick from last year's draft performed well in his short stint in Rome and then in the AFL. Minor is a control specialist possessing a fastball with excellent movement that he can place anywhere, anytime. He throws both a curve and a slider to go along with a solid changeup. The knock on Minor is he is just Jeremy Sowers 2.0 and once he gets to the majors he will get knocked around, but I believe he will succeed in the Southern League and be in Gwinnett before the year is out.
Kyle Cofield and Scott Diamond both spent the entire year at Mississippi in 2009 and were good enough to get a promotion, but the logjam of pitchers in the system meant they get to start 2010 in Pearl again. Cofield has been getting a bit of publicity lately as the big boys in camp liked him a lot and he has put up three consecutive solid seasons. The reports on Cofield say he has good stuff with a plus curve and developing change, he just has terrible command as he walked 89 men in 140 innings last year. Cofield's components aren't that strong for a guy with his stuff. 2010 could be a good consolidation season for him and he could take a big step forward. Scott Diamond is a classic soft tossing lefty who gets by with a heavy fastball and plus curve. He does collect his share of Ks ranking 5th in the SL last year and I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a shot in the show this season.
Eric Cordier is a live armed righty we picked up from the Royals in 2007. He missed all of 2004 with a knee injury and most of the 2007 and 2008 with an arm injury. 2009 was his first full season back from injury and he was just OK. His control wasn't completely back (though it was never exceptional) and his fast is down to low the 90s from the mid 90s heat he used to bring. The Southern League will be a real test to see if he can be a useful piece for the Braves. Richard Sullivan is another Georgia native out of the Savannah College of Art and Design. He features a heavy sinker that generates lots of groundballs. He pitched in Rome, Myrtle Beach and Mississippi last year with varying degrees of success. He will round out the Braves formidable rotation. Jacob Thompson made 25 starts last season but I'm not sold that he will get that many this year simply because of the depth in the Mississippi pitching staff. He profiles similarly to Sullivan as he possesses a heavy fastball but he compliments it with a curve, slider and change that all grade as average. If he has a solid defense behind him he could be useful.
The Mississippi bullpen will also be stacked with several dedicated relievers in Lee Hyde, Brett Butts, Brandon Beachey, Tommy Palica, Mike Broadway, Stephen Marek and possibly Jacob Thompson. Hyde will be the closer after an excellent season in 2009 spent between Myrtle Beach and Mississippi (and two games in the GCL). He struck out 45 batters in 35 innings while walking 14. Hyde has always had injury issues and 35 innings isn't really inspiring but its a start. Hyde has the stuff to be a major league reliever and had a chance to make it out of spring training. Don't expect him to be in Mississippi all year. Thomas Palica will most likely be Hyde's top setup man. He appeared in 49 games between Myrtle Beach and Mississippi last year and struck out 68 men in 61.1 innings. He did a good job of limiting hits but walks a few too many men. Palica has flown under the radar so far but he will help anchor a solid bullpen and could close if Hyde goes down.
Brett Butts spent all of last season in Mississippi posting a 2.48 ERA and striking out 68 in 73 innings. While he did post 8.8 K/9 he walked 4.4 per 9. Butts is another solid reliever who could close or set up for the Braves. Brandon Beachey is a RH who split time between Myrtle Beach and Rome. He was pretty bad at Rome but was bumped up to The Beach and performed quite well posting a 3.41 ERA in 58 innings. He did make 8 starts with the Pelicans and acquitted himself well so we may be seeing him in the rotation to get extra innings like Kris Medlen tried a couple years ago.
Mike Broadway is another groundball specialist though he has some control issues that need to be ironed out. He has never had a fantastic season but he hasn't really been terrible either. He struck out 57 batters in 67 innings in Myrtle Beach last season and he allowed a few too many hits for my liking. He could benefit from a good defense behind him but I don't know if he will get that in Mississippi. Stephen Marek came over in the Casey Kotchman trade and showed some early promise but was just terrible last season. He posted a 7.0 K/9 and a 7.2 BB/9. The only thing he did really well was limit HRs even though he didn't really generate a lot of groundballs. Marek has good stuff but he needs to get it under control to be effective again.
Infield & Catchers
Mississippi's infield will be made up of mostly minor league journeymen. Cbwilk did a write up on some of our FA signings back in December and here he covers 1B Mauro Gomez, 3B Eric Duncan and INFs Juan Gonzalez and Luiz Bolivar. I won't go over these guys in depth since CB already did a nice job of that, but I will touch on it a bit. They will be joined by 2B Travis Jones and 3B Donell Linares. Gomez did have a pretty awesome season last year but with a couple of caveats. First he was in the California League (probably the best hitting environment in all of baseball) as a 24 year old and second he walked just 31 times vs 141 K. He does have some power but I am not expecting great things to be honest.
Donell Linares is a former Cuban defector who was 25 last season in High A. Despite that I like his game and I wouldn't be surprised if he caught some people off guard this year. He didn't show much power all year until the last month of the season when he hit 6 of his 15 homers and sported a .908 OPS. If he could add some walks he would be a dangerous hitter. The only question is whether he will start with Eric Duncan hanging around. Granted, Duncan has been getting worse and worse as the years wear on. Travis Jones is one of my favorite players and I believe he is a bit underrated. He is a 2B that walked 50 times in 260 ABs and stole 23 bases and posted a not-terrible-given-the-context .701 OPS. He did strike out 93 times and the power we saw in 2008 (16 HR for Myrtle Beach) just disappeared in AA. He has the raw tools to be an effective player but he needs to refine the more subtle aspects of his game.
Benji Johnson and Orlando Mercado will split the catching duties for Mississippi. Mercado is a journeyman with a solid defensive reputation and the ability to take a walk. He has almost no power but has a career .364 OBP in the minors. Benji Johnson is also a good fielding catcher but with a weak bat. He hit 8 HR last season but managed just a .213 AVG between three levels.
The most well known hitter on the team is undoubtedly Cody Johnson. The former first round pick is best known for his prodigious power (51 XBH in 518 AB) and equally prodigious strike out totals (180 last season). Johnson may be one of the most polarizing hitters in the minors as there are constant worries over his insanely high K totals even though he has a career OPS of .825 and ever increasing walk totals when he has always been young for his league. Last season he posted an OPS over 1.000 until Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman were promoted and then the pressure of being the only bat in the lineup brought him down to earth. AA will be a huge test for the big guy.
Willie Cabrera and Concepcion Rodriguez are pretty similar players. Neither guy has any standout skill but they don't do anything terrible either. They both had breakout seasons in Myrtle Beach in 2008 and I expected big things out of both of them last season in Mississippi. Rodriguez struggled all year long posting a sub .700 OPS. Cabrera was even worse the first two months of the season but rebounded with two good months and then a red hot August. Both guys will be just 24 at the start of the season and I still hold hope for one of the two to surprise some people. Alex Romero was a big deal at one time but his star has faded a bit. He hits for a good average and has excellent doubles power and takes his share of walks he just won't hit many homers. He destroyed AAA last year but flunked out of the majors. It will be interesting to see what he does in AA.
The 2010 Mississippi Braves will be carried by their pitching staff. The starters have experience (and success) in the Southern League and bullpen is at least 5 deep. The offense has some question marks but there is some good potential. I think this team has a chance to make some noise but will come up short in a playoff push.
- CF Alex Romero
- 2B Travis Jones
- 3B Donell Linares
- 1B Mauro Gomez
- LF Cody Johnson
- RF Willie Cabrera
- DH Concepcion Rodriguez
- C Orlando Mercado
- SS Juan Gonzalez
- Mike Minor
- Scott Diamond
- Kyle Cofield
- Richard Sullivan
- Eric Cordier/Jacob Thompson
And finally my choice for breakout performer: Richard Sullivan. Sullivan has an excellent sinker and if he can get a solid defense behind him (I really don't know how this team will defend) it could be a really dangerous weapon.