Minor League Review - April

The Braves Show's Bill Shanks looks back at the first month of the minor league season in the Braves' organization.

Tonight marks the start of the second full month of the minor league season, so I thought we'd take a look at how some of our young kids have performed in the month of April. Obviously, our minor league system has been dominated by the story of the Rome Braves, who enter tonight's game at 20-5, the best record in all of baseball. Usually, our Low-A team struggles due to youth and inexperience, but this is a special group of players that have a tremendous amount of talent.

RICHMOND

Let's start with the pitching, and we've got to hope that right-hander Anthony Lerew, arguably our top pitching prospect right now, has gotten on track after his last start Monday night. Lerew has too much talent to have an ERA that high, so you knew it was just a matter of time before he righted himself… We make fun of Travis Smith being a "Quad-A" pitcher, but he certainly has done well in his first five starts. Smith is 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA, and he is possibly on his way to his best season ever… You've got to be impressed so far with the starts from Ricardo Rodriguez, signed in mid-April. The former Rangers' starter has pitched well in his first three starts. This is a guy who was dominating before being hit in the elbow with a line drive a few years ago. Has he found his magic again?…

We talk about many different Richmond relievers, but Chad Paronto does not get mentioned very much. He's only got a 0.61 ERA through his first ten games. This is a guy with big league experience, so we must keep him in mind as an option if needed in Atlanta… And Phil Stockman continues to impress. After dominating Double-A, Stockman has come up to Richmond and continued his good work. The only question is his control; he's got 10 walks in 11.2 innings…

Overall, Richmond has struggled offensively, but their corner infielders have not. First baseman Scott Thorman and third baseman Wes Timmons had fantastic first months of the season. Thorman is at .315 right now with four home runs and 14 RBI. His numbers are solid across the board. Timmons continues to try and prove that he is, in fact, a true prospect. After not going to big league camp this past spring, Timmons is showing he belongs by hitting .306. His OBP is .429, and he's got two home runs. We already know Tony Pena, Jr. and Martin Prado are reserve candidates, but do not leave out Wes Timmons. This kid can play…

There are more disappointments in the Richmond lineup that anything, though, especially with some of the more veteran minor leaguers. David Kelton (.234) and Cesar Crespo (.230) have struggled, and they were expected to be big parts of the Richmond lineup. It's also been a surprise that Bill McCarthy (.212) and Brayan Pena (.200) have struggled. Both are solid hitters. The biggest disappointment has been Jonathan Schuerholz, who had a fantastic big league spring training camp, but is hitting only .125.


MISSISSIPPI

The Braves have gotten some solid pitching in April, led by left-hander Chris Waters, who is 2-0 with a 2.35 ERA in his first four starts. Waters is completely healthy from his shoulder surgery two years ago, and he is showing the same talent that had him as a top prospect three years ago when he first pitched in Double-A. If he continues his solid season, Waters is going to position himself as a left-handed option next spring… Ryan Basner is currently piggybacking with Matt Wright, but the right-hander has had some solid starts. Basner could be a candidate to be moved up to Triple-A soon, since he pitched with Mississippi last season… Three members of the bullpen have been tremendous. Glenn Tucker (1.50 ERA), Manny Acosta (1.59), and Paul Bush (2.81) have all been very effective. Tucker, who also spent last season in AA, could be another promotion candidate to Richmond this summer if he remains effective. Acosta could be developing into a solid relief prospect with his high-90s fastball…

How good is Will Startup? He gave up his first earned runs of the season Wednesday, even though Acosta was the pitcher to allow Startup's base runners to score. He pitched one perfect game in Myrtle Beach before coming up to Mississippi and not allowing an earned run all of May. If he continues his solid season, he could be a call-up candidate later this season to Atlanta…

Bryan Digby continues to struggle. He has an ERA of 11.25 in his first seven games… Matt Wright has had two good outings as he bounces back from arm troubles the last two seasons. Wright will work with Basner in the rotation to build up his arm strength…

Fans should not be worried one bit about Jarrod Saltalamacchia's .236 batting average. Salty spent the first month of the season really working on his defense, which may have hurt his batting average just a bit. Not to mention he's got agents running around trying to get him to switch from his agent, which can get old. Salty has still generated four home runs and 14 RBI in 89 at bats, and you can expect him to get hot this month… Yunel Escobar has not hit a home run, but he's holding his own in AA with a .269 average. The Cuban defector has a .373 OBP, so he's helping the offense a great deal…


MYRTLE BEACH

The biggest story with the Pelicans' pitching has been the continued disappointment of Jake Stevens, who struggled in his first year above Rome last season and is still struggling in the Carolina League. The Braves are working with Stevens on a few mechanical issues to try and get his velocity back up. Do not expect the Braves to send him down to Rome; they feel Stevens can work things out there in Myrtle Beach with Bruce Dal Canton, the Pelicans' pitching coach… On the flip side, Matt Harrison has been outstanding, and has definitely taken over as the club's top left-handed pitching prospect. Harrison is 3-1 with a 2.12 ERA, and his control continues to be tremendous. Harrison might end the year in AA the way he's going now… And you've got to be impressed with Luis Atilano, who may be turning the corner and becoming a legit prospect. Atilano had a horrific first outing (8 ER in 2.2 IP), but has had four solid starts in a row, pitching 27 innings. The Braves are glad that Atilano's velocity is up and his curve ball seems tighter…

Lost in the shuffle is Kelvin "Pancho" Villa, who had a good season in Myrtle Beach last year despite a high ERA. Villa is piggybacking this season and has a 2.14 ERA in 21 innings (six games). Villa could be a candidate for a promotion to Double-A sometime this summer… Jose Ascanio has had a few good games, but he's got to improve his control. The hard-throwing right-hander has 19 walks in 29.1 innings pitched…

One of the offensive surprises so far for Myrtle Beach has been infielder Mike Rozema, who is hitting .294 with 3 home runs in 85 at bats. Rozema may be making himself another Wes Timmons-type of player… Matt Young, who is very, very short, continues to make you think he's a legit prospect. He's hitting .286, but his OBP is .423 and he has six stolen bases… Van Pope got off to a great start, but a horrid slump has his average now at .212. He did hit his first home run of the season this week… The Pelicans will miss Diory Hernandez, who broke a hammate bone and will be out for a while. Hernandez was hitting only .200, but he had three home runs and 14 RBI…


ROME

Where do we start?… How about Quentin Davis, who leads off for Rome and has jumpstarted that offense in many games. He's hitting .356 (third best in the SAL) with 8 stolen bases… But then you look at what Max Ramirez and Kala Ka'aihue have done so far and just say, "wow." Ramirez has a .333 average with a .430 OBP, two home runs, and 13 RBI. While Ka'aihue has a .313 average, an unfathomable .471 OBP (third best in the league), six home runs, and 17 RBI. Ka'aihue may be proving he's more than just a marginal prospect…

Ovandy Suero leads the South Atlantic League with 19 stolen bases. He's been fantastic… For a 17-year-old, you've got to be happy with Elvis Andrus so far. He's got his average up to .263 with one home run and 16 runs batted in… And Eric Campbell is finally coming around, displaying that solid power over the past ten days…

About the only disappointment has been Jamie Romak's batting average. The powerful outfielder has three home runs, but his average is at .143 after 63 at bats. Romak's going to lose some playing time when Jon Mark Owings returns this week if he doesn't snap out of this…

The starting rotation has just been outstanding. Chris Vines could be Myrtle Beach-bound real soon if he keeps up this pace. Vines, returning to Rome this season, has only three walks in 30 innings of work, along with a 3.30 ERA… Jo Jo Reyes may also finish the season at a higher level. He has really dominated this season, only seeing his ERA go up after the fifth inning. But he pitched seven strong frames last time out, and he is getting stronger and stronger in his return from Tommy John surgery and a torn ACL. Reyes has 33 strikeouts in 26.2 innings of work…

Steve Russell has been the surprise on Rome's staff. Russell is coming back from Tommy John surgery he had a few years ago, and he's finally fulfilling his promise. He's 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA in eight games… Jeff Lyman, last year's second round pick, and Tyler Bullock, the sixth rounder last year, have been outstanding overall. Lyman is looking like a very good high pick right now… The same can be said about Beau Jones, who has been a bit inconsistent, but has shown why the Braves have such high hopes for him.


Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.


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