It’s hard to believe there are just a couple of weeks left in the minor league season. The Atlanta Braves farm system, once again, proved to be deep with talent in 2019.
So deep, in fact, you may have missed a few names.
Here’s a few that you should get really excited for come the 2020 season.
Kasey Kalich, RHP, Rome Braves
- The skinny: 6’3”, 220, age 21 | Draft: 4th round of the 2019 MLB draft out of Texas A&M
- 2019 stats: 1.04 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, .156 BAA, 19 K, 9 BB, 17.1 IP
- Why you should be excited: I know, it’s not often you get overly excited for a prospect destined for the bullpen, but then again, have you watched MLB bullpen’s this season, particularly in Atlanta? Kalich began his career at Blinn College in Texas where he pitched long relief and even made a start. He transferred to Texas A&M in 2019 and became the Aggies closer, locking down 12 saves with 38 strikeouts and just four walks in 23 innings.
I saw Kalich pitch his fifth-consecutive scoreless outing, all of which were two-inning appearances. He walked one, but didn’t allow a hit while striking out two. He pounded the strike zone with two pitches — a mid-90s fastball that sat about 94 and a slider that was around the upper-80s — landing 21 of his 29 pitches for strikes. He’s big and has some power to go with deceptive movement in both of his pitches, which could make him a fast climber next year in the system.
Vaughn Grissom, SS, GCL Braves
- The skinny: 6’3”, 180, age 18 | Draft: 11th round of the 2019 MLB draft out of high school
- 2019 stats: .302/.373/.432, 7 2B, 3 HR, 20 R, 20 RBI, 3-for-3 SB
- Why you should be excited: When I asked our own Matt Powers who to get excited about on the GCL team after the draft, Grissom was the second player he named. That’s reason enough to be excited.
How did Matt describe Grissom, you ask? As an elite hitter, that makes strong contact that could develop more power as he fills out. Grissom was primarily a shortstop — with athleticism to play all over the infield — for Hagerty High School in Florida, and a teammate of Riley Greene.
The right-handed hitter and thrower started slowly, but has been scorching hot in August. In 13 games he’s slashing .400/.472/.444 and has six multi-hit games in his last eight appearances. He’s hitting .333 with a .929 OPS against lefties and .296 with a .779 OPS so there isn’t much to suggest he struggles with any pitching. None of this is surprising as he showed well in wood bat competition in high school and there is plenty of reason to believe this is just the beginning of good things to come.
Nolan Kingham, RHP, Mississippi Braves
- The skinny: 6’4”, 210, age 23 | Draft: 12th round of the 2018 MLB draft out of Texas
- 2019 stats: 3.66 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, .258 BAA, 105:31 K:BB, 147.2 IP
- Why you should be excited: Maybe excited isn’t the right word. Kingham is nothing flashy, but he exudes fifth starter, and in today’s MLB, having a rotation with five solid starters is a rare thing. Just taking a look at his innings pitched (147.2) shows you he can go deep into ball games.
Kingham is a college arm that is now 23 and has done what he is supposed to do, already landing in Double-A. He began the season in Rome where opposing hitters didn’t stand a chance, and after three games he jumped to Florida. The numbers may not look pretty, but when Kingham was on with the FireFrogs, he was on. On May 1, he pitched a complete game shutout, needing only 85 pitches to do so and replicated the feat to close out May, throwing a two-hitter on the 31st.
Now that he is in Mississippi, he’s been in control once again, allowing just three earned runs in his first three Double-A starts. He’s not going to overpower you and strike you out, but he works fast and to contact, so if there’s a good defense behind him — which a healthy Braves have — he’s a prototypical BOR arm. He induced 14 ground balls in both those complete game shutouts just to give you an idea.
Is Kingham heading to the top 15 Braves prospects? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean he can’t provide quality depth for a winning organization.
More to watch: Mahki Backstrom, GCL Braves; Bryce Ball, 1B, Rome Braves; Michael Harris, Rome Braves; Tyler Owens, Danville Braves.
Philip Pfeifer, LHP, Mississippi Braves
Talk about an enigma. Pfeifer will be 28 by midseason of 2020, so a prospect he is not. But he is certainly a minor leaguer to keep tabs on. Here’s a guy who couldn’t keep guys off base to start the year as a reliever in Mississippi. He got demoted to Florida where he began to get stretched out, and then on June 30 became one of the toughest pitchers to hit in the minors.
He has an 11, 17, and 10-strikeout game to his name (author’s note: he has six strikeouts through 4.2 innings as this is being typed) and has allowed just seven earned runs since that game (spanning nine starts). He’s also walked nine batters since June 30, and if you consider the four that came in one game as an anomaly, Pfeifer has just been absurd. I’m not sure what to make of him, and I don’t know many others do either, but if he continues to excel, he will be quite the turnaround story to watch.