Atlanta Braves 2013 Minor League Season Preview: Mississippi Braves

Highly touted prospect JR Graham will lead the Mississippi Braves this season. - CB Wilkins

A breakdown of the roster and projected lineup and rotation of this year's Mississippi Braves.

The AA level is the proving ground where prospects come to flourish or fail, and the Atlanta Braves have a promising group of young players they hope to see flourish this season with the Mississippi Braves, headlined by pitchers JR Graham and Alex Wood, catcher Christian Bethancourt, and third baseman Edward Salcedo.

Projected Lineup

  1. Phil Gosselin 2B
  2. Dan Brewer CF
  3. Jose Martinez RF
  4. Kyle Russell LF
  5. Edward Salcedo 3B
  6. Christian Marrero 1B
  7. Christian Bethancourt C
  8. Barrett Kleinknecht SS

The best hitting prospects in Mississippi's lineup are third baseman Edward Salcedo and catcher Christian Bethancourt. They're also the youngest players on the team, both just 21 years old. Salcedo had a solid all around year for Lynchburg last season, hitting 26 doubles and 17 homers, while stealing 23 bases, but he'll need to improve his plate discipline after posting a .295 OBP and 130 strikeouts. Bethancourt was overmatched last season at Mississippi, putting up a lowly .566 OPS in 268 at bats before a broken hand ended his season. While Salcedo has had many problems defensively, Bethancourt is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, with an absolute cannon for an arm.

Phil Gosselin returns for his second year with the M-Braves after hitting just .242 with a .637 OPS last year. Barrett Kleinknecht lost 30 pounds in the offseason at the Braves behest, and the team will give him an opportunity to play every day at shotstop. Dan Brewer, who was an integral part of the Lynchburg Hillcats 2012 championship team, will see time at every outfield position and has previous AA experience with the Yankees. The rest of the outfield will also be patrolled by AA veterans, with Kyle Russell joining the organization after his Spring Training release from the Dodgers and Jose Martinez, who played previously in the White Sox system. Both are 6'5" hulking sluggers. First baseman Christian Marrero began last year in the Braves system, playing with Mississippi and Gwinnett before being traded to the Pirates, and he returned as a Minor League free agent this offseason.

Outfielder Myke Jones began last season with Mississippi before being sent down to Lynchburg, and he's back this season, sure to get plenty of playing time between center and left field. Alden Carrithers and Jaime Pedroza both ended last year with the M-Braves, and they will provide depth at multiple positions in the infield and outfield. Infielder Luis Nunez comes over as a free agent from the Dodgers organization, and will likely see plenty of playing time filling in at multiple positions. Backup catcher Braeden Schlehuber was an All-Star last year for Lynchburg, and will be a welcome addition to the lineup when Bethancourt needs a day off. Catcher Shawn McGill begins the year on the disabled list, still recovering from offseason knee surgery.

Projected Rotation

  1. JR Graham RH
  2. Alex Wood LH
  3. Aaron Northcraft RH
  4. Cody Martin RH
  5. Gus Schlosser RH

Like Lynchburg last season, Mississippi begins the year with the Atlanta organization's most promising rotation, headlined by JR Graham and Alex Wood. Graham was a pleasant surprise last season, dominating for Lynchburg early before more than holding his own after a promotion to the M-Braves. He dazzled this year in Major League Spring Training, and if he gets off to a hot start he may wind up with an early promotion to AAA Gwinnett. Wood, the Braves' 2nd round pick last season, was a major contributor to a second half turnaround for the Rome Braves, and will skip all the way up to AA this season.

The rest of the rotation includes a trio of pitcher who excelled for Lynchburg last season, including 2012 Carolina League Pitcher Of The Year Gus Schlosser. Schlosser and fellow sidearmer Aaron Northcraft will give opponents and unusual angle from a starting pitcher, and Cody Martin will look to put a broken ankle suffered last season behind him and continue his conversion from reliever to starter.

Mark Lamm led the M-Braves with 10 saves last season, and will begin this year as the team's closer. Despite an All-Star season with the M-Braves as a starter last year, Gary Moran will begin 2013 in the bullpen, working as a swingman. Lefty Chris Jones also returns as the team's primary setup man. He will pair with fellow lefties Chasen Shreve, who spent some time with Mississippi last year, and Ian Thomas, who skips up to AA after excelling in Rome's bullpen last year. Ryne Harper excelled last year with Lynchburg after a promotion from Rome and will pitch important innings out of the M-Braves bullpen. Michael Lee was an important part of Lynchburg's rotation in 2012, but he'll begin this year as a swingman in Mississippi's bullpen. Righties Brett Cammons, Benino Pruneda, and Jason Rice all begin the year on the disabled list, each recovering from Tommy John Surgery.

Outlook

Pitching wins games and the M-Braves project to have a fantastic pitching staff, with five legitimate prospects in the rotation and a deep, veteran bullpen. The lineup has a number of veterans as well, which is typically a must-have to win games in the Minors, though is also has the potential to struggle with a number of boom or bust hitters. With Bethancourt behind the plate, the defense at catcher will be top notch, but the rest of the team is likely to be average at best defensively. Overall, this is a promising team with the potential to win a number of games, but, more importantly, it also has the potential to develop a number of useful Major Leaguers, and possibly a few future stars.

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