The Mississippi Braves are going to have an interesting group of talent in 2021. The lineup should be a blast to watch on a daily basis and they mix in some fun talent in the pitching staff to give them reason to be watched. Lets take a look at the roster.
All good things come to those who wait. pic.twitter.com/i6TlsueZkS— Chris Harris (@CHarris731) May 3, 2021
Nolan Kingham has reportedly been a standout in extended spring training, and there’s reason to believe he could find himself in Triple-A to start the season. That said, with the crowded rotation I expect he may get an opportunity when someone is promoted but for now will just stick in Double-A for a little bit. He had a 3.79 ERA in Mississippi in 2019, but a 4.64 FIP with a lot of home runs and very few strikeouts in 35 ⅔ innings. One would like to see him strikeout more batters than he has in his professional career, but he is good at forcing undesirable contact and has had at least reasonable success at every level.
Hayden Deal is the most intriguing under the radar prospect that we’ll get to see this season, given that he had tremendous success in High-A, but due to Florida not having MiLB TV, we haven’t actually watched him since he was a reliever in 2018. His cutter has made him into a legitimate prospect and he’s produced extreme ground ball rates in his career. Long term, he’s not particularly likely to stick in rotation, but for now he’ll be the third of an interesting group of starters in Mississippi.
The bullpen will be led by the electric Daysbel Hernandez, who has the potential to make it to Atlanta this season with a good performance. He had a 1.71 ERA in Florida in 2019 and struck out 31.8% of batters faced. He needs to improve his breaking ball and is unlikely to develop good control, but the Braves need relievers and he may be one that can do it. Jake Higginbotham is an older arm that could be a middle relief piece in Atlanta, although it wouldn’t be a shock if he gets some starts in Mississippi. He was a bit prone to imploding when he pitched in Low-A, but other than two or three really bad outings, his numbers were fantastic. He can pitch in long relief and has shown stretches of good control interspersed with weeks he can’t find the strike zone.
Victor Vodnik has the chance to be an electric bullpen piece that could move quickly through the system. Vodnik dominated in Rome two years ago and features a fastball into the upper 90’s and a very good changeup. It’s not the ideal combination of pitches for a late inning reliever, but he makes them work and that fastball is a true weapon.
I expect Mississippi to have four legitimate hitting prospects, two of whom could be on Top 100 lists if they perform well enough.
The team’s most high profile prospect is Shea Langeliers, part of a potentially very good tandem with the recently promoted WIlliam Contreras. Langeliers struggled a bit offensively in his Low-A debut in 2019, but showed good barrel skills at the level and has the raw power to be a real offensive threat. He is a high floor defender with the potential to be elite, and though I think the trip to Double-A will be a tough jump for him he is a player that could join the Braves in the next couple of seasons.
Braden Shewmake will be the second first rounder on the team and there’s no real reason he can’t hit his way out of Mississippi by the middle of the season. How much power is in the bat remains to be seen, but Shewmake can rake and I don’t know really expect him to struggle in Double-A. The aggressive jump in 2019 was definitely ugly as he hit .217/.288/.217 in Mississippi, but it was also 14 games and he was likely gassed from going straight from college into a professional career. Will he defend well enough to stick at short? We shall see, but expect some fun performances out of Braden Shewmake this season.
Trey Harris being in Double-A may be a bit surprising to you, but I think it’s more a case of not having anywhere to play him in Gwinnett. Waters, Miller, and Heredia or Gore are going to need to play every day so Harris is kind of the odd man out. Being 25 and in Double-A isn’t ideal, but it’s not a death sentence to his career. He hit well in limited time in Mississippi in 2019, though he didn’t walk much, and I expect him to do the same in 2021.
After spending longer than he should have in Low-A, Justin Dean will get a chance to play in Double-A. This will really be the test to see if Dean is a legitimate prospect or just a guy who beat up on younger players. Watch Dean this season to see if he can limit his swings and misses and to see if his speed can play against better defensive catchers. If he does, he turns into a legitimate contender to make the major league roster in the next couple of years.
Jefrey Ramos will be another member of the outfield in Mississippi. He can hit and has shown good power in the past, but playing in Trustmark Park is not going to help him much. His biggest problem is whether he’ll be able to hit enough to get on the radar as a legitimate major league prospect. He also draws very few walks which puts more pressure on him to show power in game.
CJ Alexander has fallen off the map fairly quickly after consecutive lost seasons, but he has real power and if he can hit Double-A pitching, he can put himself back in the conversation for being a legitimate top 15 prospect in the system. He’s a wait and see candidate at this point and at his age, he doesn’t have all the time in the world.