In the second part of our series previewing the various minor league rosters of the Atlanta Braves farm system, we will take a look at the Gwinnett Braves. With all of the excitement happening in the lower minors, its easy to forget that the squad at Gwinnett should be really good this year.
From exciting young prospects to reliable journeymen that can fill in in a pinch to several free agent signees the Braves have gambled on a bit, Gwinnett will definitely be an interesting level to watch this coming season.
Notable Players at Gwinnett
For those in the Mallex Smith fan club (card carrying member here), it was mildly disappointing that Mallex didn't break camp with the big club, but given the specific platoon concerns with Ender Inciarte its not that surprising. A relatively strong showing in spring training pushed Rio Ruiz out of Double-A Mississippi despite a lot of struggles at the level last year. He will again be among the youngest players in the league and had trouble making hard contact for long stretches last year.
On the pitching staff, Jhoulys Chacin will likely only be making a cameo appearance or two in Gwinnett before Atlanta calls him up as it appears he has locked the 5th starter spot. Mike Foltynewicz will also be at Gwinnett, although whether he starts off on the DL or gets eased in remains to be seen. Organizational pitcher of the year and all-around great guy Tyrell Jenkins will join them in the rotation along with Aaron Blair (another strong candidate to be called up quickly if the need arises) and Fangraph's top 5 Braves prospect Ryan Weber who had a tough spring training stint.
The rotation should be greatly improved over last year's motley crew although the lineup (and the prospects therein) could struggle as consistent run producers such as Cedric Hunter and Adonis Garcia are no longer in Gwinnett. The bullpen will have some very interesting pieces including David Peterson and the still recovering Chris Withrow. Keep an eye out for Casey Kelly and the rest of the players that are currently on the 40 man roster, the Braves will want to know relatively quickly if the guys who have 40 man slots are going to be worth the slot as more and more prospects start coming up and will need to be protected from the Rule V draft.
This section could be very long based on a lot of the names that bounced between Atlanta and Gwinnett last season. Sugar Ray Marimon is now playing overseas while Cedric Hunter signed and broke camp with the Phillies. Manny Banuelos will start the season the DL and it remains to be seen whether he will spend significant time in the minors or go straight back to the Braves when he returns. Jake Brigham and the other David Carpenter have left town as well.
It is interesting that after the Braves brought Jason Hursh up to Gwinnett after transitioning him to a reliever and are now starting him back at Mississippi. His prospect status is severely waning to say the least and his days in the system could be number if he doesn't perform this season. Sean Newcomb not starting in AAA will be a surprise to many, but he has very limited pro experience and giving him some time against AA competition to hone his control and then bumping him up later could do him a world of good.
As of right now, there are only 3 outfielders on the Gwinnett roster which could be problematic but the Braves can move some guys around out there to make it work in the short term. Overall, Gwinnett should have a very solid squad to begin the season and could become a destination for Braves fans as more and more of the Braves' top prospects join Tyrell, Mallex, and Rio in Gwinnett during the course of the season.