Braves Minor League Catchers

Where will Tanner Murphy be this season in the Atlanta farm system?

Who will play catcher at the four top Braves minor league affiliates? Here is a preview.

GWINNETT
Last year’s main starting catcher in AAA, Christian Bethancourt, will be the starter in Atlanta this season, so the search will be on to find a new starter for Gwinnett.

The Braves signed veteran Eli Whiteside, a 35-year-old veteran who has been in the majors with the Orioles, Giants and last year for a brief time with the Cubs. Jose Yepez was brought back. He played in 14 games behind the plate last season for Gwinnett. He’s been on Atlanta’s Triple-A roster for parts of the last three seasons.

Braeden Schlehuber and Matt Kennelly were the two main catchers in Double-A last season. One could be moved up to Triple-A this season. Schlehuber is now 27 years old. He was Atlanta’s fourth round pick back in 2008. He has spent the last two seasons in Double-A Mississippi, so the time may be now for him to move up to Triple-A.

Kennelly will turn 26 before opening day. He’s been in the Atlanta system since 2007. Kennelly hit .266 in Mississippi last season.

SUMMARY: Whiteside, Yepez, Schlehuber and Kennelly will battle for playing time in March.


MISSISSIPPI
Both Schlehuber and Kennelly could be in the mix in Double-A. The Braves will also want to test Yenier Bello, the Cuban catcher signed last year. Bello is 29 years old, so the Braves need to see pretty quickly if he’s a candidate to be a backup or not.

Steve Rodriguez was a minor league Rule V draft choice from Arizona. He’s a 25-year-old left-handed hitter than spent most of last season in Double-A with Mobile. He could be in the mix in Mississippi this season as well.

Tyler Tewell deserves consideration for a promotion. He hit .251 with eight home runs and 45 RBI in 80 games with Lynchburg. Could he push one of the veterans to backup Bello in Double-A? Yes, but it’s likely Tewell will start back in High-A.

SUMMARY: Bello should be the main starting catcher in Mississippi, with either Schlehuber or Kennelly the main backup. We’ll see where Rodriguez fits in.


CAROLINA
Rodriguez and Tewell could be the leading candidates to be the starter at catcher for the new Carolina Mudcats. Don’t discount Joe Odom, who hit six home runs in 220 plate appearances last season for the Hillcats. His average was only .205, so he needs to get better at the plate.

SUMMARY: With the numbers in AAA and AA, it looks like Tewell and Odom will once again be in the Carolina League. Rodriguez could also fit in here, as well.


ROME
Last year’s main starting catcher for the Rome team was Victor Caratini, who was traded to the Cubs for James Russell. Bryan De La Rosa (22 games), Carlos Sanchez (22 games), Sal Giardina (21 games), Anthony Nunez (nine games) and Orrin Sears (two games) played there the rest of the season.

Nunez and Sears are now gone, so the other three will fight it out for playing time in spring training. De La Rosa was a third round pick in 2012. He’ll be 21 years old when the season starts, so De La Rosa is still young. But he hasn’t hit a lick yet, posting a .186 batting average in 312 at bats over three seasons.

Sanchez is 21 years old as well. He’s hit only .222 in four seasons in the Braves organization. Giardina was Atlanta’s 31st round pick out of Lynn University in Florida last year. The Braves put the 22-year-old in Rome and he had a .266 batting average with two home runs and 16 RBI in 37 games. That is impressive compared to the others who have not shown an ability to hit.

But the favorite might be Tanner Murphy, who led the Danville Braves last year with 42 games behind the plate. Murphy, who was Atlanta’s fourth round pick in 2013, hit .242 but had five home runs and drove in 19 runs in 50 games. He’ll be 20 when the season starts, and while that’s still young, Murphy is probably ready for another step up on the minor league ladder.

SUMMARY: Murphy was a high draft pick and showed some power in Danville, so he’s the best prospect here. That should make Murphy the favorite for the starting catcher’s job in Rome for 2015.


Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.
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