With the minor league season almost a month old, it's time to take a look at how the Braves top four minor league teams are faring so far.
The Braves are 10-13 on the season. Ten days ago they were 9-6 and had just won five games in a row. Since then they have lost seven of their last eight games. Player turnover has hampered Richmond as injuries in Atlanta have forced the promotion of Mike Hessman and Damon Hollins in the last two weeks. Plus, the Braves traded Russ Branyan to Cleveland and sold Ryan Jackson to Korea. Former Met and Devil Ray Jason Tyner is now on board to play left field until Hollins and/or Hessman return.
Offensive consistency has been a problem, as Manager Pat Kelly has had to juggle his lineup with the different players. The Braves are 12th (of 14 teams) in the International League with a .242 team batting average.
Wilson Betemit is struggling to keep that average above the Mendoza Line. He's now at .191 after a 2 for 12 skid.
James Jurries hit his first home run in AAA for Richmond Tuesday, but he is hitting only .095 (2 for 21) so far.
Pete Orr has been a huge bright spot for Richmond. Getting additional playing time with all the player movement, Orr has taken advantage by hitting .370, good enough for third in the league. The Braves have believed for several years that Orr could be a utility candidate down the road, and he may be showing everyone why.
Richmond's pitching has been much better, posting a team ERA of 3.59, third best in the International League.
Travis Smith has had five solid starts, going 2-0 with a 1.63 ERA. He is fourth in the league with that low ERA mark. Smith also leads the team with 24 strikeouts.
The Braves bullpen was very solid in April, posting an ERA of 3.39. Matt Whiteside is tied for second in the league with six saves. Buddy Hernandez (2.92) and Sean Fesh (1.54) have been very effective in the set up role. Roman Colon is struggling with a 7.84 ERA. Ryan Glynn was just activated off the DL and will rejoin the bullpen.
Armando Almanza looks to be close to re-joining Atlanta. He has been flawless so far in his five appearances in AAA, allowing no runs and two hits in 4.2 innings in relief. He could join Atlanta's roster at any time. Almanza struggled in his five games in Greenville.
The G-Braves are in another slump, losing six of their last seven games. They are currently 6-20 on the season.
Pitching has been the problem as the G-Braves are last in the Southern League with a 4.68 team ERA. Greenville's starters posted a 5.68 ERA in April, while the bullpen did fairly well with a 3.97 ERA. Zach Miner put in his best performance on Monday, going five strong innings. Miner has improved his strikeout and walk totals from a year ago, walking only seven batters and striking out 23 in 21.1 innings of work.
The G-Braves have bumped Steve Smyth out of the rotation. Smyth was 1-1 with an ERA of 5.00 in four starts in April. Daniel Curtis, who pitched well in seven games out of the bullpen, is now in the rotation and pitched well in his first start on Saturday.
Both Greenville and Richmond could be using the same "piggybacking" system that Rome now employs when Chris Waters, Paul Byrd, and Brian Moehler return from their rehab in a few weeks. Waters is expected to go to Greenville, while Byrd and Moehler will join either Richmond or Greenville.
Kevin Barry is showing he once again deserves consideration as a potential Atlanta reliever. Barry is 2-0 with 1 save and a 0.69 ERA in 9 games. Barry had a 1.88 ERA in his first two pro seasons in the Braves system before struggling at Greenville (4.95 ERA) last season. Barry may not get consideration for a 40-man roster spot if he keeps this up.
Brett Evert continues to show that his future might be in a big league bullpen. Evert has pitched well in nine games out of the G-Braves bullpen. He's got a 3.57 ERA and has 19 strikeouts in 17.2 innings of work. Alec Zumwalt also continues to pitch well, posting a 1.76 ERA in ten games.
Greenville's offense in second best in the Southern League with a .266 team batting average, but the Braves have struggled a bit since the loss of Jurries last week.
Andy Marte is only 4 for his last 23, seeing his average drop 36 points. He's got 4 home runs and 8 RBI on the season.
Billy McCarthy is putting together his finest season as a pro player. McCarthy is hitting .310 with 5 home runs and 15 RBI. He's 15th in the league in on base percentage with a .380 mark.
Adam Stern is also putting up a solid campaign, hitting .311 out of the leadoff spot with five stolen bases. Stern is tied for first in the league with his former teammate Richard Lewis with four triples.
Tony Pena is 15th in batting average in the league with a .313 average.
The Pelicans are 13-12 on the season. No surprise that so far it's been the pitching that has been the story for Myrtle Beach through the first four weeks of the season.
The team ERA is 2.65, which is best in the Carolina League and a staggering 0.68 lower than the second best team (Lynchburg at 3.33) in ERA. Matt Wright is fourth in ERA (1.24) and Blaine Boyer is ninth (1.88).
Wright has put up scary numbers so far. He started the season piggybacking with Matt Merricks, so he had 3 relief appearances in April (0-2 with an ERA of 4.00). But in the four games he's started, Wright is 1-0 and has yet to give up an earned run. He has struck out 18 and allowed only 8 hits in 20 innings of work as a starter. Overall, Wright has 27 strikeouts and that ties him with teammate Anthony Lerew for fourth in the league.
The Pelicans starting pitching was excellent in April:
72 hits in 105.2 innings pitched
33 walks and 113 strikeouts
The Myrtle Beach starters have allowed only four earned runs in 27.1 innings (1.32 ERA) in the first four games of May.
Jose Capellan has pitched well in his last two starts (1-0, 0.82 ERA, 4 walks and 16 K's in 11 innings). Blaine Boyer has also pitched well in his last two starts (1-0, 0.68 ERA, three walks and nine K's in 13.1 innings pitched).
Matt McClendon continues to impress in his comeback from Tommy John surgery. The former Florida Gator is 1-1 on the season with an ERA of 2.61. Efigenio Peralta has been superb going 1-0 with an ERA of 0.92 in seven games (one start). Glenn Tucker has three saves for the Pelicans and an ERA of 2.25 in ten games.
Offensively, first baseman Scott Thorman has been the story for the Pelicans. He's hitting .293 with 4 home runs (tied for 4th in the league), 18 RBI (tied for fourth in the league), a .375 on base percentage (12th in the league), and a .500 slugging percentage (tied for 7th in the league lead). Thorman has done exactly what the Braves were hoping he'd do when they wanted him to repeat the High-A level. If he continues on this pace, it's possible Scott could be promoted to AA around the All-Star Break.
The rest of the Pelican hitters are struggling. Only one player (backup catcher Zo Ruelas) is hitting over .300. Myrtle Beach is last in the Carolina League with a .228 team batting average. Onil Joseph (.197) and Jonathan Schuerholz (.123) are both hitting below the Mendoza Line, and Gregor Blanco (.216) is also right near the dreaded mark.
Jeff Francoeur is hitting .247 with 2 home runs and 10 RBI. He does have 8 walks on the season and is on pace for 48 this season. Jeff had only 30 walks last season in Rome. Brian McCann is hitting .257 and is still looking for his first homer of the season.
The Rome Braves have lost five in a row and are now 12-13 on the season. Rome has showed its youth at times with very inconsistent play, but there are a lot of bright spots.
Outfielder Steve Doetsch continues to show he was a steal in the 14th round last season. He's hitting .286 with 5 HR (tied for 6th in the South Atlantic League) and 21 RBI (tied for third in the league). Doetsch has struck out 34 times in 84 at bats.
Matt Esquivel continues to provide solid offense for Manager Rocket Wheeler. The former high school football player is hitting .360 (6th in the league) with four home runs, 12 RBI, 10 doubles (tied for second in the league), and a .616 slugging percentage (fourth in the league).
The Braves are thrilled with the play of outfielder Josh Burrus, who after struggling the last two seasons seems to be turning the corner. Burrus is hitting .295 with 2 home runs, 10 RBI, and 6 stolen bases.
Second baseman Martin Prado continues to have problems with the wrist that was hit by a pitch early in the season. Mike Hanson has been seeing a lot of playing time at second the last few games. Hanson started off strong but now finds his average at .143.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia is splitting time with Miguel Bernard at catcher. "Salty Dog" is hitting .271 with 1 home run and 6 RBI. He has played very well behind the plate.
The pitching has been inconsistent, but that was expected from a team that is going to have seven starters early in the year. Chuck James has been the most consistent starter thus far, going 3-0 with an ERA of 1.38 (4th best in the league). James has been piggybacking with Charlie Morton, who has been much more effective when starting (2.37 ERA) compared to relieving James (6.51).
Jake Stevens can also say that he is better when starting the piggyback games. He's splitting time with Steve Russell this season. In his two games started, Stevens has an ERA of 0.85. He has an ERA of 6.55 when relieving Russell.
Bryan Digby and Gonzalo Lopez, two pitchers the Braves hope to promote out of Rome before the first half of the season is over, both have ERA's of 5.40.
Former Georgia Tech star Kyle Bakker is doing well in the Rome bullpen. He's 2-0 with an ERA of 0.96 in five games. Bakker has walked four and struck out eight in 9.1 innings of work.
Minor League Update: 5/7
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