Many consider AAA a holding pen for fringe Major Leaguers and career Minor Leaguers, but the Atlanta Braves have a surprising number of players with legitimate upside in Gwinnett this season, including pitchers Sean Gilmartin and David Hale, outfielders Joey Terdoslavich and Todd Cunningham, and third baseman Joe Leonard.
- Jose Constanza LF
- Tyler Pastornicky SS
- Ernesto Mejia 1B
- Joey Terdoslavich RF
- Blake DeWitt 2B
- Joe Leonard 3B
- Todd Cunningham CF
- Matt Pagnozzi C
Gwinnett's lineup will be led by returning leadoff hitter Jose Constanza, who won a batting title for the G-Braves in 2012, and first baseman Ernesto Mejia, who was the International League Rookie Of The Year in 2012, slugging 24 homers and driving in 92 runs. Also returning are Tyler Pastornicky, who will see time all over the field as he looks to become a utility player on Atlanta's bench, and Joey Terdoslavich, who will make the transition to the outfield after struggling at third base last season. By playing in the outfield, Terdoslavich will be able to focus on his hitting, something he couldn't seem to do early last year for the G-Braves.
Joining the team for their AAA debut will be center fielder Todd Cunningham and third baseman Joe Leonard. Both are excellent defenders, Leonard was given a Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove last season, who had breakout seasons at the plate with AA Mississippi in 2012. The lineup will be supplemented by veterans catcher Matt Pagnozzi, who just missed winning a job with Atlanta to start the season, and second baseman Blake DeWitt, who will also see time at the hot corner and in the outfield.
Outfielder Jordan Parraz is likely to see plenty of playing time after impressing the Braves the last two years in Spring Training. Sean Kazmar and Corey Wimberly were teammates on the Mets AAA squad in 2012 and they'll provide depth at multiple positions for the G-Braves with the ability to play both the infield and the outfield. Jose Yepez returns for a second season as the team's second catcher, and catcher Matt Kennelly will begin the year on the disabled list recovering from an injury suffered in Spring Training after he was hit by a pitch.
Sean Gilmartin is the best prospect on the team, and he'll anchor the rotation while refining his game and keeping himself ready in case Atlanta needs a sixth starter. After several years of struggling and bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen, David Hale had a steady, solid season for Mississippi in 2012, and will make his AAA debut this year. After dominating the Mexican League last year, the Braves signed Daniel Rodriguez and gave him 6 innings with the G-Braves to get his feet wet in US pro baseball. He'll get a much longer look this year, pitching every fifth day.
Yohan Flande returns for his third season with Gwinnett, beginning the year in the rotation again, though he could end up being used as a swing man. Rounding out the rotation is newcomer Omar Poveda, who spent the last two season in the Marlins organization after beginning his career in the Rangers system. The big righty was considered a prospect early on in his career, but underwent Tommy John surgery. Still, he's only 25 with 8 years of pro experience, and could break out with the right coaching.
Righties David Carpenter and Wirfin Obispo both joined the organization in the offseason and made solid impressions during Spring Training. They'll anchor the bullpen, hoping to prove they're ready if Atlanta needs to reach into AAA for depth. Ryan Bucther struggled in his AAA debut with Gwinnett last year, but if the power lefty can gain better control he could become a top notch reliever. Sidearming Australian righty Andy Russell had an oustanding 2012 between Mississippi and Gwinnett and he'll look to build on that this year.
Righty Cory Rasmus, a supplemental 1st round pick way back in 2006, has overcome a number of injuries to turn himself into a solid relief prospect and he'll make his AAA debut this year. Lefties Dusty Hughes and Cole McCurry return for another year with the G-Braves. Righty Tim Corcoran, the team's oldest player at 35, joins the Braves organization for his 17th professional season and will provide depth as a swingman. Lefty Robert Fish begins the year on the disabled list recovering from Tommy John surgery and righty Billy Bullock begins the season serving a 50 game substance abuse suspension.
It's hard to predict how a AAA team will perform, the rosters change more than at any other level, bending to suit the needs of the Major League team, but, at the outset, the Gwinnett Braves have a chance to be a very good team. The lineup has the potential to score plenty of runs, with proven performers like Constanza, Mejia, and DeWitt, and the likelihood for big bounce-back years from Pastornicky and Terdoslavich. Gilmartin seems likely to excel at the front of the rotation, but the rest of the rotation may be a bit boom or bust. The bullpen is deep and experienced and may end up being one of the best groups in the league, despite not having an obvious closer. Most importantly, the team has a number of players who could more than hold their own if pressed into Major League action, and that's the sign of a great AAA team.