The Arizona Fall League, baseball's premiere finishing school for top prospects, begins tomorrow, and the Atlanta Braves will send seven prospects out west to suit up for the Surprise Saguaros, highlighted by their organizational player of the year, Joey Terdoslavich, and their 2011 first round draft pick, Sean Gilmartin.
Terdoslavich had a phenomenal 2011 season with High A Lynchburg, hitting .286 with a .867 OPS, 20 home runs and 82 RBI. He also broke a 65 year old Carolina League record by rapping out 52 doubles. The 23 year old has two main goals in the AFL, to prove he can hit with the same kind of pop against more advance pitching, and to prove he can be an adequate defender at first base. If he can do both, he'll firmly establish himself as one of Atlanta's best offensive prospects.
Gilmartin's AFL agenda is to get more professional innings under his belt and to prove that he's as advanced a pitching prospect as the Braves believe he is. The 21 year old lefty was great for Low-A Rome, with a 2.53 ERA, a 0.94 WHIP, and 12.7 K/9 in 21.1 innings, and if he can put on a good show with Surprise he'll likely follow the same career path as Mike Minor, beginning the 2012 season with AA Mississippi.
We'll preview the rest of the Braves AFL prospects after the jump:
Christian Bethancourt is arguably the Braves' top positional prospect, and he'll be the Saguaros youngest player at just 20 years old. He started this season at Rome, posting a .303 average and a .753 OPS, but struggled after a promotion to Lynchburg, hitting .271 with a .603 OPS. The AFL will be a chance for the Panamanian catcher to see if he can shine against much more advanced competition, and for him to continue to refine his approach, both at and behind the plate.
Outfielder Todd Cunningham will look to make up for lost time in Arizona, after an injury-shortened 87-game season for Lynchburg, hitting .257 with a .701 OPS and 14 stolen bases. In addition to getting much needed at bats, the 22 year old switch hitter will look to prove that he can drive the ball with authority and establish himself as the kind of solid hitting prospect the Braves envisioned when they picked him in the 2nd round in 2010.
JJ Hoover was a AA Southern League All-Star as a starter for Mississippi, but finished the year with 13.2 shutout relief innings for AAA Gwinnett, striking out 26 batters in the process. Despite having to learn how to be a reliever on the fly, the 24 year old righty had a great season, with a 2.64 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and 10 K/9 in 105.2 innings. Even though he was a solid-as-a-rock workhorse starter over the last two and a half season, the Braves decided his future in the Majors would be in the bullpen, and he made them look like they made the right move with his dominant work out of the pen. He'll use his time in the AFL to continue to learn the finer points of pitching in relief, and a good showing could put him in a prime position to earn a spot in Atlanta's bullpen out of Spring Training in 2012.
2011 was Erik Cordier's 8th professional season, though he's missed roughly 3 full seasons with various arm injuries, including getting a late start to this season with some elbow issues. The 25 year old righty's numbers with Gwinnett were not pretty, a 5.13 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP in 86 innings, and late in the year he was a baseball magnet, taking a number of line drives off his body, but as the year ended he felt like his arm had never been stronger and his stuff had never been better. He'll look to prove that in the AFL, and with a high 90s fastball he has a chance at any moment to make a Jonny Venters-like ascent to Major League dominance.
At the end of Spring Training, the Braves acquired Billy Bullock from the Twins in exchange for Rule 5 pick Scott Diamond. While Diamond made 7 starts for Minnesota, Bullock had an inconsistent season for Mississippi, with a 4.53 ERA, a 1.39 WHIP, 11 saves, and 11.8 K/9 in 49.2 innings, as well as a .193 batting average against. The 23 year old righty has a massive 6'6" frame and an explosive fastball, but he needs to work on his control to turn his potential into production. Hopefully facing more advanced competition will force him to step up his game, and lead to better consistency.
The Braves prospects will be monitored in the AFL by Surprise pitching coach Derrick Lewis, who has been a member of the Braves organization since 1997. He pitched until 2003, reaching as high as AAA Richmond, then spent 4 seasons as the GCL pitching coach, 3 years with Danville, and this year with Rome.