With the loss this afternoon, the Rome Braves are now 9-23 on the season. It's not the start the Braves expected from this young team, but it does not dampen the enthusiasm for the talent on the roster.
The Braves' offense has really struggled, with only a .233 team batting average through the first 31 games. But the pitching has been very respectable, and that's where scouts are screaming about all the Braves' prospects.
Right-hander Tommy Hanson has perhaps been one of the best pitchers in the South Atlantic League so far this year. He's first in the league with 45 strikeouts and 14th in ERA with a 2.40 mark. Hanson's record is 0-2, but it's easy to see his team has simply not given him any support. He's allowed only 19 hits in 30 innings and has only nine walks.
It's easy to get too excited about a pitcher in Low-A, but the Braves are privately thrilled with Hanson's performance so far. Some scouts are even calling Hanson a potential top-of-the-rotation starter in a few years. "He's not afraid of anything on that mound," one scout said.
Hanson needs to continue to work on his changeup, but the Braves are confident that pitch will get better. His makeup is exceptional, and now he's showing that his talent is top-notch as well.
Jeff Lyman and Beau Jones returned to Rome this season, and the Braves feel both are making significant progress. Lyman has had a few bad games and a few good games. Overall he's 0-5 with a 4.68 ERA in seven starts, with 12 walks and 33 strikeouts in 32.2 innings. But in his last three games Lyman has allowed only three runs in 16.1 innings pitched.
Jones has pitched all in relief, but the Braves have gotten him 21.1 innings in those seven games. His ERA is exceptional (1.69) and his control has been impressive (5 walks in 21.1 innings). The Braves believe Jones has "his old swagger back," and they feel good about Beau's chances to have a solid overall season. His fastball is back to the 91-92 mph range, as it was in high school.
Jamie Richmond is starting to come around with several good starts. He allowed five runs in his first start, but in his last five starts he's given up only eight runs. And his control has been outstanding with four walks all season. Richmond has ironed out a few things in his delivery and is now pitching very well.
Tim Gustafson pitched Wednesday and allowed one run in five innings of work. The former Georgia Tech star now has an ERA of 3.67. He also does not walk many, with 11 free passes in 34.1 innings.
Deunte Heath and Kyle Cofield have been apart of the only piggyback situation for the Rome team. Heath has an ERA of 1.85, while Cofield is at 3.90. Both have done very well.
While he's not technically in the rotation, right-hander Mike Broadway has gotten some work in the middle innings of games. Broadway has ten innings pitched in his first four contests. He missed part of April after turning his ankle at the end of spring training.
Broadway has wowed scouts with a blazing 97 mph fastball. His curve ball is coming along and the changeup is very good right now. Broadway has really done a good job of cleaning up his mechanics, and don't be shocked if the Braves get him into the rotation at some point this summer.
The bullpen has been solid. Jones leads the team with two saves, while right-hander Kris Medlen and lefty Tyler Wilson each have one save. Medlen just joined the team about ten days ago after missing April with some tendonitis in his elbow. The Braves hope he can take charge of the closer's role in Rome.
Wilson has an ERA of 5.84, but the Braves believe he's a future big league reliever. Wilson's got to watch his control (10 walks), but he's got 19 strikeouts in 12.1 innings of work.
Joe Johnson has been a pleasant surprise. The tall hard-throwing right-hander has allowed only one earned run in 11.1 innings. And Carlos Sencion's numbers have been just unbelievable. The lanky right-hander has struck out 33 battes in 24 innings.
Ryne Reynoso, a former outfielder at Boston College, has taken off as a reliever for Rome. He's got a 3.21 ERA in his first eight games.
The Rome offense has just struggled, and now that Jordan Schafer has been promoted to Myrtle Beach the team is going to need a few players to step and and play.
Concepcion Rodriguez is the new leadoff hitter with Schafer gone. Rodriguez hit his third home run of the season Wednesday and his average is up to .218. The Braves believe Rodriguez could really take off this summer and show everyone how good an outfield prospect he might be for the team.
Jon Mark Owings is on the Disabled List with a pulled oblique. He was hitting only .203 but had four home runs and nine runs batted in before the injury.
The Braves really need third baseman Danny Brezeale (.190), first baseman Josh Morris (.162), and right-fielder Yohan Silva (.182) to improve at the plate.
Chase Fontaine has been a bit of a disappointment so far, hitting only .250. The Braves have moved him from shortstop to second base, and they hope that will help Fontaine settle down at the plate.
Willie Cabrera swapped places with Schafer and came down from Myrtle Beach after hitting only .224 with the Pelicans. The Braves could get a big boost from Cabrera, who hit .308 with Danville last season.
So the pitching has defintely been the story so far this season, as scouts from all over baseball are raving at the Braves' talent on the mound. Hopefully, if the offense picks up, we'll see more wins for the Rome Braves as we continue the month of May.
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. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta, 105.5 the Fan in Macon, and the Atlanta Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at email@example.com.
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