Going into this season, much hype has surrounded the team the Braves are putting at the Low A level, but when rosters were announced Mississippi was arguably the most stacked level of the minor leagues. The M-Braves are taking 10 of the top 30 prospects in the Braves system despite a few surprising demotions and promotions. There is a top to bottom depth for Mississippi that will make them an extremely tough team to play in the Southern League, with the possible promotions of such players as Dansby Swanson to further strengthen them.
Newcomb is the premiere pitching prospect in a loaded system, and will lead the way for a stacked rotation in Mississippi. This is Newcomb's second stint in AA, a level he dominated in the Angels system last season. The Braves won't expect him to spend the entire season in Mississippi, so if you want to see him pitch I would get out to games early in the season.
The Curacaoan sensation is making a name for himself at every level he plays, and after jumping past high A Carolina he will be the youngest player on opening day in the Southern League. He will likely lead off and play short stop and is setting himself to be amongst an elite group of prospects to debut in the majors at such a young age. While I would expect him to spend much of the year in Mississippi, don't be surprised if he dominates early and earns a promotion.
It seems like Mauricio has been in the system for a decade, yet he will still be 22 when this season starts. He is a high octane pitcher, and with the Braves having shown a propensity for aggression with hard throwing relievers I would expect a quick call up. Along with Jason Hursh, Matt Marksberry, and Kyle Kinman he should anchor a solid bullpen.
Kinman may be 25, but his performance in his early career is nothing short of inspiring. He dominated the lower minor leagues, and was solid with Mississippi in his short time last year. With his age the Braves will try to be aggressive, and if he performs well I seriously doubt he spends more than 2 months in Mississippi.
Marksberry was no doubt disappointed to be optioned all the way down to AA, but nevertheless will provide a solid relief option for the team though he may not stay down long. He may also be able to provide a little bit of experience with his time in the major leagues to help some of the other relievers. I was able to catch up with Marksberry (more on that to come), and he had this to say about playing in Mississippi:
"I've heard the hospitality down here is great. I'm excited to see what southern hospitality is, and I'm excited to be in Mississippi and play with some guys I've played with before.We're looking to do good things down here, we've got a really good starting group of guys and I think our offense is going to be very potent this year."
I have the camera skills of an 8 year old on a sugar high but at least I try
Many had given up on Sims after his struggles last season, and his promotion to Mississippi was a major surprise. He didn't respond well at the outside, but exploded down the stretch allowing 3 earned runs total in his final 5 starts. That momentum translated into an incredible performance in the Arizona Fall League, something he hopes to take into this season. He also could be a midseason call up to Gwinnett, though I don't expect him to repeat the ridiculous level of play he had at the end of last season.
Lien is coming out of a breakout season at Carolina, but after a bit of a break down at the AFL comes in a little bit wounded. I expect that to be a wake up call for Lien, who hopes to start off the season strong as he did last year. He has already exceeded the expectations that were put on him when he was drafted, and I would expect him to continue to do no less.
Mississippi is solid top to bottom in pitching, so much so that there may not have even been room for former MBrave Zack Bird. The 5 man rotation will likely be made up of Rob Whalen, Lucas Sims, Sean Newcomb, Chris Ellis, and Stephen Janas, with Andrew Thurman possibly being the 5th man. That makes 6 top pitching prospects at one level, not to mention Brandon Barker, and relievers Jason Hursh and Matt Marksberry. When teams come into Trustmark Park, more often than not they are going to leave with very few runs on the board. Brad Roney will be an X Factor out of the bullpen this year. He has put up gaudy strikeout totals (almost 1.5 per inning pitched), and if he can reign in his equally gaudy walk totals (7 per 9 innings) he could be nearly untouchable.
Luckily MBraves pitcher Victor Mateo is better at holding baseballs than bats
Photo Credit: Garrett Spain
The MBraves are just strengths on strengths on strengths at this point. The lineup will include Ozzie Albies, Connor Lien, Dustin Peterson, and Dian Toscano, which will make for both a solid offensive and defensive unit. Johan Camargo seems poised to start at second base, with Carlos Franco manning the hot corner. It remains unclear who will play 1B, C, and DH, though Willians Astudillo, Jacob Schrader, and Matt Kennelly are the likely favorites (in no order). Emerson Landoni and 3 time MBrave Matt Lipka highlight the bench players. This is an offense that could score a lot of runs, and will no doubt be just as interesting to watch as any other lineup in the system.
I'll be quite honest, when it was announced that Rio Ruiz would not be in Mississippi I was shocked. Nothing about his play last year really earned him a spot in Gwinnett, but the Braves must have felt confident enough in his progress to promote him. To a lesser extent the Zack Bird demotion was a bit surprising, though his injury and struggles last season coupled with a boiling pot of pitchers makes the decision very sensible. As for players actually on the team, I am a bit surprised to see Hursh back at AA for the third time. I understand his struggles at Gwinnett, but at this point you have to figure it is do or die for him.
Former First Rounder Jason Hursh takes the long walk to the bullpen
Photo Credit: Garrett Spain
Looking back to Carolina's roster, the aforementioned Zack Bird is an easy candidate to make the jump back to AA this season. Also there are a few former College pitchers that seem likely to rise if others get promoted, Max Povse, Ryan Clark, and Chase Johnson-Mullins being the most obvious candidates. I don't expect the starters in AA to change, but I expect Sean Godfrey to make his return to a likely bench role for Mississippi at some point this season. Finally, Dansby Swanson almost certainly seems to be working towards time in Mississippi. There is no reason to be patient with him if he plays well, and I'd be more shocked if he stayed in Carolina than if he skipped over AA all together.
Dustin Peterson at times flashes competent potential, especially during the beginning stages of last season. Though his late season decline does fall in line with his previous performances, he was a major victim of the Mudcats bus crash and that certainly affected his ability to play the entire season. Given his track record, longevity will be the more important factor than peak performance, but being that he is only 21 it is very possible if not likely that this is finally Peterson's season. He young and talented, and to truly have a breakout season he needs to begin showing more of his power potential. That will be tough in the pitcher-friendly Southern League, but he can do it.