Braves Announce Minor Leaguers of the Year

In a ceremony at Turner Field Saturday night, the Atlanta Braves named and honored their 2003 minor league Pitchers and Players of the Year. Bill Shanks profiles the winners from across the organization.

The players were down in the clubhouse before the game visiting the major leaguers. Vinny Castilla, Rafael Furcal, Henry Blanco, and Marcus Giles were just a few of the big league Braves who gave the young kids some of their baseball gear (batting gloves, fielding gloves, shoes). Then each of the players were introduced before the huge crowd at Turner Field and given a plaque recognizing their accomplishment.

Richmond Braves lefthander Andy Pratt was named as the Braves Pitcher of the Year in AAA. Pratt, acquired by Atlanta in April of 2002 from Texas for Ben Kozlowski, led the Braves organization and the International League with 161 strikeouts. He posted a 7-10 record and an ERA of 3.40. Pratt is a candidate for Team USA. If he is not selected, Andy will be playing winter ball in Puerto Rico for the second straight season.

Johnny Estrada was named as Richmond's Player of the Year. Atlanta's third string catcher had an outstanding season in AAA, leading the Braves organization and finishing second in the International League with a .328 batting average. Johnny hit 10 home runs and drove in 66. He also led the Richmond team in slugging percentage (.494), on-base percentage (.393), doubles (29), and total bases (175). Estrada was also named as the Player-of-the-Game in the 2003 Triple- A All Star game, going 3-for-3 with a home run and three RBI. Estrada is expected to be on Atlanta's roster next season.

Greenville's Pitching of the Year was Adam Wainwright. The first round pick in 2000 led the entire Braves organization with sixteen quality starts (six innings or more with three earned runs or less). He was 10-8 on the season with an ERA of 3.37. Adam led the Greenville Braves with 128 strikeouts in 149.2 innings pitched. Wainwright was named the starting pitcher in the Southern League All Star Team in July. Wainwright is also a candidate for Team USA, and will also spend some time with a strength and conditioning trainer over the winter to add bulk to his 6'8" frame.

James Jurries was drafted in the sixth round of the 2002 draft. But only fifteen months later, the former Tulane star was named as the Greenville Braves Player of the Year. Jurries led the Greenville team with 132 hits, 35 doubles, 73 runs scored, and 202 total bases while also producing a .284 batting average, 9 home runs, and 54 RBI. James ranked second in the Southern League with 35 doubles and fourth with 73 runs scored. James was named to the Southern League All Star Game in July.

In Myrtle Beach, Macay McBride was named as the Pitcher of the Year for the Braves High A affiliate. McBride, who won the award in Macon a year ago, went 9 and 8 with an ERA of 2.95 and only 49 walks allowed. He led the Carolina League with 139 strikeouts and 164.2 innings pitched. McBride was named to the Carolina-California League All Star game in June.

There was no surprise at who the Player of the Year award winner was in Myrtle Beach. Third baseman Andy Marte led the Pelicans in almost every offensive category with 16 home runs, 63 RBI, a .285 batting average, 69 runs scored, 35 doubles, 217 total bases, 67 walks, a .463 slugging percentage, and a .372 on base percentage. Marte led the Carolina League with 52 extra base hits, finished second in doubles and sluggin percentage, fourth in home runs, and fifth in hits. Marte played for the World Team in the 2003 Futures Game in Chicago back in July.

Rome's Pitcher of the Year was righthander Anthony Lerew. The 6'3", 210 pound Pennsylvania native led the Braves organization with a 2.38 ERA and going 7-6 in 25 games started. Lerew allowed only 127 hits and 43 walks in 143.2 innings of work while striking out 127. He also held opponents to a .215 batting average. Lerew had two clutch victories for Rome down the playoff stretch, including a six inning win in Game One of the Championship Series at Lake County on September 8th.

Catcher Brian McCann was Rome's Player of the Year. McCann, a second round pick in the 2002 draft out of Duluth High School in Duluth, Georgia, had a .290 batting average, 12 home runs, 71 RBI, 31 doubles, and 196 total bases. Brian led the team with 31 dobles and a .462 slugging percentage and led the organization with 71 RBI. He was named to the South Atlantic League Annual All-Star Team and also participated in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game held on June 24th in Lexington, Kentucky.

Baseball America named Chuck James as the Appalachian League's Sixth best prospect, and the Braves named him as Danville's Pitcher of the Year. James, a 20th rounder in 2002, was 2-1 in eleven games with an ERA of 1.25. Chuck was second in the Appy League with 68 strikeouts in 50.1 innings, averaging 12.2 punch outs per nine innings. James also allowed only 26 hits while holding opponants to a .151 batting average. James will start the 2004 season in Rome.

Matt Esquivel was the Danville Player of the Year. The 6'2" centerfielder finished second in the Appy League with 11 home runs, fourth in RBI (42), fifth in slugging percentage (.514), and fourth in extra base hits (25). Matt also led Danville with a .282 batting average, 62 hits, 41 runs scored, 113 total bases, and 4 triples. Esquivel was named to the Appalachian League All Star Team and was named as the 8th best prospect in the league by Baseball America.

The Braves 2nd round draft choice from this past June was named as the Pitcher of the Year for the Gulf Coast League Braves. Jo Jo Reyes helped lead the GCL Braves to their first league championship since joining the league in 1976 by producing a 5-3 record, 2.56 ERA, and 55 strikeouts (4th in the league) in 45 innings pitched. Reyes struck out 11 batters per nine innings and held opponants to a .205 batting average. Baseball America named the Riverside, California resident as the 13th best prospect in the GCL.

GCL Centerfielder Steve Doetsch was named as the Player of the Year. Doetsch was the Braves 14th round draft choice in the 2003 draft out of Indian River Junior College in Ft. Pierce, Florida. Doetsch finished high in several offensive categories in the GCL. He was sixth in batting average (.320), first in home runs with 8, third in RBI (37), first in hits (73), third in slugging percentage (.500), and third in extra base hits (22). Steve was named to the 2003 Gulf Coast League All Star Team and Baseball America named him as the 10th best prospect in the GCL.

Now let's move to the two Domincan Summer League teams. First, righthander Sergio Valenzuela was named as the Pitcher of the Year in the DSL 1 Braves team. Valenzuela led the league with an ERA of 0.96, producing a 6-2 record, allowing 34 hits in 65.2 innings with 56 strikeouts. He also had only 12 walks. Valenzuela was signed by the Braves as a free agent on July 9, 2001 out of Hermosillo, Mexico. The 6 foot, 175 pounder just turned 19 years old.

Michael Rodriquez was named as the Player of the Year for the DSL 1 Braves. Rodriquez, a first baseman, ranked second in the league in batting average (.315), fifth in RBI (35), and first in doubles (20). Rodriquez also led the team with a .472 slugging percentage, 68 hits, 4 home runs, and 102 total bases. Michael was signed by the Braves as a free agent on October 10, 2001 out of Miranda, Venezuela.

The DSL 2 Braves team had Co-Pitchers of the Year. Lefthander Carlos Rivas was third in the league with a 1.25 ERA and was second in wins with seven. Rivas allowed 53 hits in 64.2 innings. Rivas turns 19 years old this January and was signed by the Braves in October, 2001 out of Venezuela. Kelvin Villa was 7th in the league with an ERA of 1.64 and was second in strikeouts with 78. The lefthanded Villa was 5-1 and allowed 40 hits and 22 walks in 66 innings pitched. Villa was signed last November out of the Dominican Republic.

Maximiliano Ramirez won the Player of the Year award for the DSL 2 Braves team. Ramirez was 7th in the league with a .298 batting average, 2nd in doubles with 16, and 2nd in RBI with 43. He also had 5 home runs in 181 at bats. Ramirez played third base but was signed as a catcher last October by the Braves out of Venezuela.

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