(Introduction…I randomly generated a number from the current 117 Atlanta Braves minor leaguers who have an at-bat this year. Hope to make this a weekly article or something close to it.)
Meet Braeden Schlehuber. He kind of looks like a psycho. No, really, he’s cool. I want to say that because, yes, I am kind of scared.
Schlehuber was born in Bountiful, Utah on January 7th, 1988. A right-handed hitting catcher, Schlehuber was drafted in the fourth round in 2008 and received a $240,000 bonus. A product of the College of Southern Nevada, Schlehuber was one of five guys to be drafted from the school in 2008. Solid numbers from a junior college, I’d say. In fact, Bryce Harper went there to prepare to be drafted by the Nats. Fellow Lynchburg Hillcat teammate, Chasen Shreve is also from the college, drafted in 2010. Also, briefly a Brave, Mike Dunn was drafted from the college in 2004. Schlehuber was considered a raw prospect with potential and was a calculated risk by the Braves.
Shortly after he was drafted, Schlehuber signed and headed to the Gulf Coast League for his first taste of the professional experience. In 42 games, all but six behind the plate, Schlehuber hit .268/.359/.301. Great on-base skills and he added seven steals. Skipping Danville, Schlehuber headed to Rome to play in 2009. The results were pretty miserable. He hit .199, on-based .265, and slugged a paltry .308. He did cut down 39% of baserunners in his 74 games behind the plate. A pair of other catchers (Matthew Kennelly and Jesus Sucre) logged a combined 69 games as well behind the plate for the Rome Braves.
Back at Rome in 2010, Schlehuber showed little improvement. He hit .221 with a .562 OPS while backing up Christian Bethancourt. Promoted to Myrtle Beach on July 15th, Schlehuber was even worse. He hit a buck-fifteen as Kennelly’s primary backup following the promotion of Sucre to Mississippi. Why couldn’t I have gotten Kennelly? He also sucks, but he’s played in Australia!
Suddenly, without warning, Schlehuber showed signs of having a bat in 2011 with the Lynchburg Hillcats, my ex-hometown team. I remember one instance when chasing a popup, he slid knee-first into the unprotected concrete behind home plate. That’s all I really remember, but Schlehuber did hit .248/.298/.430 while being the primary backup to Shawn McGill. He threw out 38% of potential basestealers and was forced up to Mississippi for Bethancourt’s promotion to Lynchburg last July. Backing up Kennelly again, Schlehuber was competent and posted a .233/.316/.326 line.
This season, Schlehuber is back in Lynchburg where for the first time since 2009, he is the primary backstop. Now 24 and in his fourth season of A-ball, Schlehuber is hitting .293/.353/.512 for the first place ‘Cats. He’s thrown out 35% of potential basestealers and has been a constant in the lineup. If you make the cutoff 125 PA, Schlehuber’s .865 OPS would rank 16th in the league. Legitimate shot for the All-Star team which should be announced this week.
Schlehuber seems to be a plus defensively and looks to have a good, strong, and accurate arm. But eventually, you have to hit and Schlehuber has not been able to do that, outside of this season. Let’s be honest, though. If you can’t hit the Carolina League at 24 and in your fourth year of A-ball, you probably don’t have much a bat. If he sustains his offensive production, he will likely stay in the Braves’ plans for another year. The two primary catchers for Rome are both hitting under .200 so it’s not like Schlehuber will be pushed or passed over.
You’d like to get more out of a fourth round pick than a plus defender behind the plate with no major league potential. Schlehuber was considered raw coming out and he could possibly be turning a corner. Considering the lack of potential behind the plate outside of Bethancourt (ala J.C. Boscan getting promoted…again), the Braves would love to see Schlehuber continue his success at Mississippi next year and give the Braves at least a nice guy who can fill in as the backup catcher in a pinch.