Rome Braves 2011 Season Preview

After having his 2010 season cut short by a shoulder injury, top prospect Carlos Perez will return to Rome in 2011.

The Rome Braves, Atlanta's Low A affiliate, begin their season Thursday at home against the Hagerstown and manager Matt Walbeck will have plenty of talent, with 6 of Talking Chop's Top 25 Prospects on the opening day roster.

Starting Pitching
Rome's rotation will be led by 19 year old Dominican lefty Carlos Perez. He dominated Danville to start the year, with a 1.12 ERA and a .1.06 WHIP in 32 innings and was named the top prospect in the Appalachian League after the season by Baseball America. He earned a promotion to Rome but his season was cut short by a fracture in his right, non-throwing, shoulder. He's fully healthy and could have the kind of breakout year that Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado had in Rome before him.

Last year's fourth round pick, David Filak, will join Perez in the rotation. The 21 year old righty's innings were limited last season by a sore arm, but he still pitched well, with a 2.42 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in 26 innings for Danville. He has an explosive arm and with his injury concerns behind him he should be able to put on some innings this season. Steve Kent missed all of 2009 recovering from Tommy John surgery, but rebounded fantastically in 2010 in limited action for Rome, with a 0.69 ERA, a 0.89 WHIP, and 12.4 strikeouts per 9 innings in just 39.1 innings pitched. The 21 year old Australian lefty is finally healthy and he could jump several levels this season.

Diminutive righty Ryan Weber didn't fare that well for Rome last season, with a 5.13 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP in 59.2 innings, but the 20 year old was great for Danville, with a 2.81 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP in 41.2 innings. Hopefully a second crack at the Sally League is just what he needs to keep getting better. Rounding out the rotation will be long and lean lefy Ronan Pacheco. The 22 year old didn't dominate at Danville, with a 5.62 ERA and a1.56 WHIP in 572 innings, but he did manage to strike out 9.2 hitters per 9 innings. He's oozing with talent and hopefully another year under pitching coach Derrick Lewis will help him continue to harness his potential.

Bullpen
Rome's bullpen is highlighted by 2008 second round pick Tyler Stovall. The lefty has electric stuff but major control issues, which have severely limited his development. Still, he's only 21 and even though his stint with Rome last season was less than stellar, a 9.00 ERA and a 2.00 WHIP in 8 innings, he was successful in Danville, with a 2.70 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP in 23.1 innings. Caleb Brewer started in all 9 of his appearances for Rome last season, with a 4.65 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP in 40.2 innings, so the 22 year old may start some games this season, but he'll begin the year in the bullpen.

Chasen Shreve was highly effective for Danville after the Braves picked him in the eleventh round of the 2010 draft. The 20 year old had a 2.25 ERA and a 1.19 WHP in 16 innings. After being drafted in the twenty-eighth round, righty Kyle Mertins split his year between the GCL, Danville, and Rome, finishing with a 4.21 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in 36.1 innings. In 19.1 innings for Danville, 22 year old lefty Blaine Sims had a 4.19 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. Tyler Hess split his 2010 between the GCL and Danville and the 22 year old righty complied a 4.73 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP in 32.1 innings. Nicaraguan righty Danilo Alvarez pitched 20.1 innings for the GCL Braves, with a 2.21 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP. The 21 year old could be a sleeper prospect out of the bullpen. Righty Wes Alsup was signed out of the independent Northern League. Last season the 24 year old had a 2.05 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP in 26.1 innings for Joilet.

Catcher
After putting up a weak offensive showing as one of the youngest players in the league, hitting .251 with a lowly .607 OPS, 19 year old Christian Bethancourt will return to Rome to start the season. The Panamanian is one of the Braves' top prospects, though at this point he's more projection than production. A return to the league should benefit him greatly and it's easy to expect massive improvement both offensively and defensively. Backing up Bethancourt will be 23 year old Jace Whitmer, who hit .273 with a .708 OPS in 160 plate appearances for Rome last season. Whitmer is a massive physical specimen with huge power potential, so he may see time at first base and DH as well.

Infield
The infield will be highlighted by a pair of talented shortstops, 2010 first round pick Matt Lipka, and top international signee
Edward Salcedo. Walbeck, who joins the organization after being named the AA Manager of the Year in 2010, will have his hands full trying to find at bats for the 19 year olds. The DH is used in every game in Low A, so both are likely to get into the lineup that way, and Salcedo might see time at third base in addition to shortstop, while Lipka may see time at second and possibly even in centerfield. Salcedo, a five tool talent, had a rough transition to pro ball last season, hitting just 197 with a .534 OPS in 209 plate appearances for Rome, while making 28 errors in the field, and will look to rebound and prove the Braves scouting department right. Lipka, a leadoff type talent, oozing with speed, had a sterling debut, hitting .302 with a .758 OPS, and 20 steals in 210 plate appearances for the GCL team, and will look to build on that success as he makes his full season debut.

Joining the shortstops will be 20 year old Nicaraguan second baseman Elmer Reyes, who put his name on the map with a strong showing last season between the GCL and Danville, hitting .301 with a .835 OPS and 6 homers in 240 plate appearances. Jakob Dalfonso, who also split his 2010 between the GCL and Danville,hitting .281 with a .711 OPS in 329 plate appearances, will see most of his time at first base, while also playing a bit at third and in the outfield. Barrett Kleinknect will be the team's primary third baseman, returning to Rome where he played a handful of games last year after starring for Danville, hitting .301 with a .771 OPS in 229 plate appearances. Chris Ahearn, who is primarily a shortstop, will be the team's backup infielder. The 24 year old joins the organization after sitting out last season, last playing for the Arizona League Padres in 2009.

Outfield
Rome's outfield will be led by 21 year old rightfielder
David Rohm. The righty slugger had a nice debut season, hitting .319 with a .784 OPS in 158 plate appearances between the GCL and Danville. He's a capable outfielder with a ton of power potential. After a 2010 marred by a hamstring injury where he hit .259 with a .630 OPS in 321 plate appearances, centerfielder Kyle Rose will return to Rome this season. He stole 26 bases but was also caught 23 times, and with healthy legs those caught stealing numbers should decrease dramatically. Ramon Flores will see most of the at bats in leftfield, and the 24 year old Nicaraguan is a superb defender. His bat needs work though, as he hit just .217 with a .584 OPS in 146 plate appearances in Rome last season. Keenan Wiley, who was signed out of the independent Frontier League last season and hit .328 with a .772 OPS in 74 plate appearances for Danville, will come off the bench.

Summary
In six seasons as a Minor League manager, Matt Walbeck has won four Manager of the Year awards and three league championships, but at this level it's not about winning, it's about developing talent, so it will be interesting to see how he does handling the move back down to Low A after spending the past four seasons in AA. Still, Walbeck has a great baseball mind and will likely be able to get the most out of his players this season while also helping them develop for the future. The Braves were smart to put older, more experienced players in the bullpen and on the bench to help the prospects, so while players like Alsup and Ahearn may not be prospects, they could be instrumental in developing talent for the Braves.

Projected Lineup

  1. Kyle Rose CF
  2. Matt Lipka SS/DH
  3. Barrett Kleinknecht 3B
  4. Jakob Dalfonso 1B
  5. David Rohm RF
  6. Edward Salcedo SS/DH
  7. Christian Bethancourt C
  8. Elmer Reyes 2B
  9. Ramon Flores LF

Projected Rotation

  1. Carlos Perez
  2. David Filak
  3. Steve Kent
  4. Ryan Weber
  5. Ronan Pacheco

Breakout Player
When you're looking for a breakout player you want to avoid top prospects, because it's easy to assume they're going to succeed, so we'll go with someone a little less well known, rightfielder David Rohm. He was a ninth round selection last season and was tearing the cover off the ball in the GCL when he was promoted to Danville. He more than held his own there before a broken foot prematurely ended his season. The kid is huge and in Spring Training he was hitting one towering home run after another. Look for Rohm to have a breakout year, hitting with solid power and moving himself up the prospect charts.

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