AA is the toughest level of the Minor Leagues, it's where prospects either prove themselves, or prove they don't belong. Manager Rocket Wheeler, in his first year with the M-Braves after leading the Myrtle Beach Pelicans for the last five seasons, will have a mixture of AA vets and prospects that should make for an exciting, if not winning, team.
Panamanian righty Randall Delgado will lead the rotation, after going 3-5 with a 4.74 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in 8 starts for Mississippi last season. He dominated in his time with Myrtle Beach, giong 4-7 with a 2.76 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in 117.1 innings, striking out 9.2 hitters per 9 innings. The 21 year old is long and lean, allowing him healthy leverage on his pitches and he's always had an advanced feel for how to pitch, which has allowed him to be successful while his stuff continues to improve. Delgado's time in AA last season, and the improvements he made in those 43.2 innings, mean he likely won't be with Mississippi for more than half a season before he earns a promotion to AAA. He is one of the Braves top prospects and his development should be one of the most interesting stories coming out of Mississppi this season.
Joining Delgado in the rotation will be Brett Oberholtzer, who had a 6-8 record and a 3.78 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in 135.2 innings between Rome and Myrtle Beach. The 21 year old lefty is a bulldog on the mound, never giving in to hitters, as evidence by his 5.48 strikeouts per walk last season. JJ Hoover returns to Mississippi after pitching well in 4 starts at the end of last season, with a 3-1 record, a 3.48 ERA, a 1.45 WHIP, and 14.8 strikeouts per 9 innings in 20.2 innings. He had his ups and downs with Myrtle Beach, but ended up with great numbers, a 11-6 record, a 3.26 ERA, and a 1.21 WHIP in 132.2 innings. The 23 year old righty is as solid as they come. He's a durable innings eater who only needs time to become a Major Leaguer. After a short stint with Rome,
Paul Clemens spent most of the season with Myrtle Beach, finishing with an overall record of 2-4, a 3.23 ERA, and a 1.37 WHIP in 94.2 innings. He only made 8 starts, and may pitch out of the pen some this year, but he'll move into the M-Braves rotation to start the season. The lanky 23 year old righty had success after switching his arm angle and delivery last year and he has the kind of explosive stuff that could lead to him blossoming into a prime prospect. Much maligned righty Kenshin Kawakami will also be in the M-Brave rotation. There has been so much said and written about him that there's no reason to rehash it here. Basically, the Braves would rather not have him, but they do, and he'll be the highest paid player in AA.
Newly acquired Billy Bullock, who the Braves received in exchange for allowing the Twins to keep Rule 5 draftee Scott Diamond, will be the M-Braves closer. The huge 23 year old righty saved 27 games last year between High A and AA, with a 3.53 ERA, a 1.57 WHIP, and 12.8 strikeouts per 9 in 74 innings. Righty Michael Broadway showed enough potential to earn a spot on the Braves 40 man roster, splitting last year between Mississippi and Gwinnett, posting a 4.39 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP in 53.1 innings. His career numbers have been mediocre, but the 24 year old has the kind of frame and stuff that could allow him to breakout at any time. Righty Benino Pruneda doesn't have the frame, listed at a very generous 5'9", but he does have the stuff, tossing his fastball in the upper 90s. The 22 year old had a solid year between Myrtle Beach and Mississippi, with a 3.20 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP in 64.2 innings while striking out 12.9 hitters per 9 innings. His stamina has improved each season and this might be the year he finally puts it all together.
Lefty Richard Sullivan struggled mightily last season in the M-Braves rotation, but turned his season around after moving to the pen, with a 2.88 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in 56.1 innings as a reliever. He'll look to build on that this season. 23 year old righty Jaye Chapman had some rough times last season between Myrtle Beach and Mississippi, with a 5.29 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP in 63 innings, but he did manage to strike out 10.6 batters per 9 innings. Venezuelan lefty Luis Avilan was highly effective out of the Rome and Myrtle Beach bullpens, with a 3.54 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in 68.2 innings. The 21 year old picked up 9 saves for the Pelicans and he has a live arm.
The Braves plucked 28 year old lefty Rowdy Hardy from the Royals in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 draft. He had a nice season in AA, with a 3.44 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP in 81 innings, and he won milb.com's 2010 Minors Moniker Madness. Righty Brett Butts will start the season on the disabled list recovering from Tommy John surgery and the 24 year likely won't return until July.
Jesus Sucre was surprisingly good last season after a promotion to Mississippi, hitting .297 with a .729 OPS in 145 plate appearances. The 22 year old Venezuelan is a solid receiver and if he can hit enough he seems like a prototypical Major League backup. He'll split time with 22 year old Australian Matt Kennelly, who his .226 with a .654 OPS and 7 home runs in 291 plate appearances. Like most Autralians, Kennelly is taking a long time to develop, but he's the ultimate teammate, constanly positive and encouraging, making him adept at handling a pitching staff, and his bat is finally showing some signs of life.
Shortstop Tyler Pastornicky was acquired in the Yunel Escobar trade last July and made a good impression after the Braves aggressively promoted him to AA, hitting .254 with a .699 OPS and 11 steals in 160 plate appearances. The 21 year old is a tireless worker and a fine defender, the only question is if he'll be able to hit enough to play everyday in the Major leagues. He played second base in the Arizona Fall League, a position he may see some time at this season. Jordan Kreke split his season between Rome and Myrtle Beach, hitting .240 with a .632 OPS in 506 plate appearances, and split his time between second base, shortstop, and third base, playing at least 20 games at each position. He'll likely see most of his time at second base and while he's not much of a threat on offense, his versitlity may lead him to a long career as a utility player. Cuban Donell Linares returns to play third base after hitting .240 with a .649 OPS in 447 plate appearances for Mississippi last season. The 27 year old struggled with injury problems, so hopefully a healthy year, as well as having another year in the US under his belt, will lead to a big 2011 for him.
Big first baseman Ernesto Mejia returns to the organization after hitting .276 with a .805 OPS and 16 homers in 481 plate appearances in High A and AA for the Royals. The 25 year old had a monster season in 2008 with Myrtle Beach, hitting 47 doubles and 21 homers with a .829 OPS, so the potential for success certainly exists. He'll split time at first base with Gerry Rodriguez, who will also see some time in the outfield. The 23 year old Rodriguez missed 50 games after being suspended for violating the Minor League policy on performance enhancing drugs, hitting .253 with a .759 OPS and 13 homers in 356 plate appearances when he did play. Second baseman/third baseman CJ Retherford was released at the end of Spring Training by the White Sox, but the Braves quickly snatched him up to supplement Mississippi's bench. The 25 year old hit .200 with a .543 OPS in 504 plate appearances between AA and AAA last year.
Myke Jones will start the season on the DL with a minor ankle injury after putting up a solid 2010 campaign, going all the way from Rome to Myrtle Beach to Mississippi, hitting .262 with a .747 OPS, 31 doubles, 15 homers, and 22 steals in 570 plate appearances. After racking up 43 errors at shortsop last season, the Braves have decided to utilize Jones' athleticism in centerfield, where his natural baseball IQ should make him a top notch defender. The 23 year old will aso see time at second base and he'll continue to work on his on base skills to make himself the kind of leadoff hitter the Braves project him to become. Cory Harrilchak put up a solid year between Rome and Myrtle Beach, hitting .287 with a .754 OPS, 26 doubles, and 15 stolen bases. The 23 year old is above average at all three outfield spots, though he profiles best as a centerfielder if he can prove he's athletic enough for it.
The Braves had 27 year old Antoan Richardson in Spring Training last year, but released the speedy outfielder before the season began. At the end of May the team re-signed him and he hit .279 with a .709 OPS in 331 plate appearances for MIssissippi, posting a .393 on base percentage along the way. After spending four seasons in the Mariners farm system, Gavin Dickey spent last year in the independent American Association, hitting .299 with a .851 OPS, 17 homers, and 20 stolen bases in 432 plate appearances for Lincoln. The Braves acquired 22 year old Marcus Lemon from the Rangers at the end of Spring Training and he'll be a super utility player for the M-Braves, capable of playing second base and shortstop as well as the outfield. The lefty hitter put up a .271 average and a .680 OPS in 468 plate appearances for AA Frisco.
It's easy to wonder where the runs will come from with this collection of hitters, there's a lack of consistent power, but with dynamic, speedy players like Jones, Harrilchak, Pastornicky, and Richardson they may be able to run the opposition to death. Fortunately, with the pitching at their disposal the M-Braves may not need to score many runs. This team probably won't compete for a playoff spot, but there's plenty of talent that should help Atlanta in a few seasons.
- Myke Jones CF
- Tyler Pastornicky SS
- Cory Harrilchak RF
- Ernesto Mejia 1B
- Donell LInares 3B
- Gavin Dickey LF
- Jesus Sucre C
- Jordan Kreke 2B
- Randall Delgado
- Brett Oberholtzer
- JJ Hoover
- Kenshin Kawakami
- Paul Clemens
He's one of those guys who's so naturally skilled that you can't help but be tantalized by the possibility of what could be, so we're gonna go with Paul Clemens. He may be in the rotation, but evenetually he seems like he could develop into a shutdown reliever. He may be outpitched by some of his teammates this season, but Clemens has the potential to start mowing hitters down with his plus stuff.