Atlanta Braves 2013 Minor League Season Preview: Lynchburg Hillcats

Matt Lipka will return to Lynchburg looking to rebound from a severe hamstring injury. - CB Wilkins

A breakdown of the roster and projected lineup and rotation of this year's Lynchburg Hillcats.

The 2012 Lynchburg Hillcats were the Carolina League Champions, but, as with any Minor League team, last year's success has little to no bearing on how this year's team will fare. This year's Hillcats team doesn't ave the prospect power that the other Braves affiliates have, but there are some solid prospects, as well as some interesting projects, including pitcher Navery Moore, third baseman Kyle Kubitza, and center fielder Matt Lipka.

LIneup

  1. Matt Lipka CF
  2. Kyle Kubitza 3B
  3. William Beckwith 1B
  4. Robby Hefflinger RF
  5. David Rohm LF
  6. Matt Weaver DH
  7. Ross Heffley 2B
  8. Cory Brownsten C
  9. Elmer Reyes SS

Last season, Matt Lipka made a flawless transition from shortstop to center field and just seemed to be turning a corner at the plate before a severe hamstring injury forced him to miss over half of the season. He'll return to Lynchburg and see if he can build on the progress he was making last year. Right fielder Robby Hefflinger began each of the last two seasons with Lynchburg before struggling and being sent down to Rome. Last season, something clicked and he became Rome's most dangerous hitter. The Braves believe he's put it all together and expect a big 2013 from him. William Beckwith has been his team's most steady and consistent hitter each of the last two years, and the Braves expect the first baseman to continue his steady, determined climb up the ladder this year in his first taste of High A.

Third baseman Kyle Kubitza got off to a blazing start for Rome last year, only to struggle mightily in the second half. He'll look to put up a complete, solid season with the Hillcats. Elmer Reyes spent most of the last two seasons at Rome and struggled both offensively and defensively. The Braves think highly of the 22 year old Nicaraguan, and believe he can break out this year. Diminutive second baseman Ross Heffley excelled in his debut last year with Rome and he should provide a steady presence both at the plate and in the field. South Atlantic League managers considered Cory Brownsten the best defensive catcher in the league last season, though he has yet to show much ability offensively.

Despite injuries and a subpar offensive performance, David Rohm was a vital part of the Hillcats 2012 championship team, and he'll look to improve on his numbers in a return this season. Matt Weaver also returns to the Hillcats, and he'll provide offensive pop and defensive depth with the ability to play all over the field. Fernando de los Santos promises to see a fair amount of time at both second and third base and Will Skinner will see plenty of time at all three outfield positions. Catcher Luis de la Cruz joins the Braves organization after seven years in the Cardinals chain, and will provide excellent defense while sharing time with Brownsten.

First baseman Chris Garcia and second baseman Tommy La Stella, key members of Lynchburg's 2012 championship team, begin the year on the disabled list, though both may end up moving up to AA Mississippi when healthy.

Rotation

  1. Navery Moore RH
  2. Ryan Weber RH
  3. AJ Holland RH
  4. Mark Pope RH
  5. Jarrett Miller RH

After being drafted in 2011, Navery Moore made his pro debut in 2012 with Rome, putting up a solid all around year, finding success as a starter in the first half of the season and pitching even better out of the bullpen in the second half, piggybacking with newly drafted Alex Wood. He'll look for a full season of success in the Hillcats rotation this year. Ryan Weber has bounced between Rome and Lynchburg each of the past two seasons, and he's hoping for a solid 2013 to allow him put A ball behind him entirely.

AJ Holland had some injury issues with Rome last year, and hasn't put up impressive numbers yet as a pro, but the Braves will give the big righty a shot to show what he can do this year in the Hillcats rotation. Marietta native and Georgia Tech alum Mark Pope was released at the end of Spring Training by the Padres and the Braves immediately snatched up the former 5th round pick. He posted a 6.13 ERA last year in the hitter friendly California League and the Braves believe he's better than his numbers have indicated. Rounding out the rotation is Jarrett Miller, who converted to starting halfway through 2012 with Rome and will look to harness his electric stuff better this season.

Flamethrowing righty Nathan Hyatt dominated last year in his debut with Danville and Rome, and he'll get most of Lynchburg's save opportunities, at least to start the season. Righty David Peterson was also dominant in his pro debut with Rome, and he'll see important innings out of the bullpen, and maybe even end up as a starter by season's end. Ronan Pacheco struggled at the beginning of last season with Lynchburg before finding success after a demotion to Rome. The lanky lefty will take another crack at High A in 2013. Wilson Rivera has found surprising success after converting from the outfield to pitching last year and the right handed strikeout machine will look to continue to refine his ability on the mound this season.

Righty Caleb Brewer and lefty Matt Chaffee were vital parts of the Hillcats bullpen in 2012 and they'll look to build on that success with a return to Lynchburg in 2013. The Tigers released righty Ryan Woolley at the end of Spring Training and the Braves quickly signed him to add depth to the Hillcats bullpen. Righty James Hoyt, the oldest player on the team at 26, will make his affiliated debut this season after spending the last two seasons pitching in independent leagues and the Mexican League. Righties Juan Jaime and John Cornely will begin the year on the disabled list. Jaime will likely move up to AA Mississippi when he's healthy and Cornely will assume Lynchburg's closer's role when he's ready to pitch.

Outlook

It's unfair to expect any Minor League team to repeat winning a Championship, and this year's Lynchburg team doesn't possess the veteran hitting and top tier pitching that last year's squad featured. Still, many of the players on this year's team were on the Rome team last year that was able to go from basement dweller in the first half to playoff team in the second half, so it would be foolish to count them out before they even have a chance to play. On paper, this is the least exciting of the Braves four full season teams as far as prospects go, but there are plenty of players on this team with Major Leauge potential, particularly on the pitching staff. This team has the most sleeper potential of all the Braves affiliates.

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