Earlier this afternoon, I looked at the opening day roster for the Rome Braves. I did well with that and was promoted up a level. Let’s focus on Year 2 of the Florida Fire Frogs. Even more so than the Rome roster, Florida’s collection of players is a direct result of a more restrained approach by the Alex Anthopoulos regime with players. Remember than Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka skipped Florida last year? None of the three big guns from last year’s staff in Rome will follow that path.
Pitchers: Ian Anderson, Mauricio Cabrera, Tucker Davidson, Drew Harrington, Justin Kelly, Jon Kennedy, Bladimir Matos, Sean McLaughlin, Chad Sobotka, Jeremy Walker, Devan Watts, Joey Wentz, Bryse Wilson
Projecting this rotation is certainly difficult in its own right. We all know about the trio of Anderson, Wentz, and Wilson, but if you are sleeping on Jeremy Walker, you need to wake up. Walker’s collection of pitches that all have natural sink to them make him a guy tough to elevate on. Should that continue, in a game embracing a flyball revolution, that may increase Walker’s value.
Walker will play half of “the other guys” with either Tucker Davidson or Drew Harrington. Davidson, a 19th rounder in 2016, shocked a lot of observers last year with a 2.60 ERA and nearly a strikeout an inning. A midseason move from the bullpen might become a lasting landing spot for him. Harrington moved to the rotation in 2017 with Florida and started strong, but faltered. He’ll likely start this season in the bullpen, but seems like a good bet to start a few games this year.
Of course, the triple main event of Anderson, Wentz, and Wilson will highlight much of the analysis. Anderson has been a little slow to catch up with the W’s, but the soon-to-be 20-year-old has handled professional hitters rather well with one small bugaboo – control. Should the command improve in 2018, Anderson could be a Top 25 prospect in all of baseball.
Wentz K’d 152 in 131.2 innings in Rome last year and allowed just four home runs. He uses a nasty curveball, a fastball with great movement, and a changeup that looked a good deal improved to befuddle his opponents. There is a little concern because his 2016 mid-90’s velocity looked more like low-90’s velocity last year, but that’s not always a bad thing when you have Wentz’s stuff. Sometimes, less velocity improves command.
I was slow to the Bryse Train, but now I’m conducting this sucker. Overshadowed at the beginning of 2017, Wilson paired with Wentz to form the best 1-2 combo in the South Atlantic League. Despite an easy, repeatable delivery, Wilson has one of the nastiest sliders in the organization. There is a concern with Wilson because, while it showed improvement, his changeup lags behind his fastball and slider. How good the change becomes will decide whether or not Wilson remains a starting prospect or a high-leverage reliever. I’m banking on the former.
Here’s a look at the rest of the staff: What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, Mauricio Cabrera was working his way back from injury and was expected to rejoin the Braves’ bullpen, where he had impressed in 2016. Now, he’s back in High-A ball looking to resurrect his career. DFA’d this offseason, Cabrera might run out of chances soon. Justin Kelly is the answer to “who’d the Braves get for Jim Johnson?”
“From Justin to Kelly” is a movie that has been deemed a war crime to use as torture after US soldiers showed it to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. True story.
Ask not what Jon Kennedy can do for the Fire Frogs. Except…you should…since he’s on the team. The Australian 23-year-old has looked pretty good whenever he was called upon. A lefty, Kennedy has good control (10 walks in 109 innings), though he won’t overpower hitters. Bladimir Matos will rack up some K’s, but until he learns to limit self-inflicted damage via the walks, his prospect status isn’t very high. Sean McLaughlin has been at High-A for two consecutive seasons. He can eat some innings and will throw enough strikes to be reliable, but that’s about it.
Chad Sobotka has to be running out of time. Drafted back in 2014, he struggled mightily last season after seemingly progressing back into a good prospect in 2016. He could bounce back, but if he doesn’t, it’s hard to see him making it through the year. Watts’ placement is curious. He dominated the Florida State League in 2017 and looked pretty impressive in the Southern League as well after a midseason promotion. This may have been a numbers crunch issue.
Catchers: Brett Cumberland, Lucas Herbert
Am I a little surprised Cumberland remains behind the plate and not in the outfield? Not at all. I believe Alex Anthopoulos mentioned Cumbo as a catcher in the recent Facebook Live Q&A he did. Am I surprised that the Fire Frogs have only two catchers? Yes. Last season, when these two opened as Rome’s dual-starting catchers, they had Tanner Murphy to allow the Braves to start one behind the plate and the other at DH. This is going to be an interesting situation to watch as it may reflect a shift in how the Braves see these players.
And by that, what I’m really trying to get at is Lucas Herbert and his lack of a bat. In 200 professional games, he’s hitting .217/.276/.331. There are a lot of things I can say about that. Those sentences usually start with, “In his defense.” As in, “In his defense, Herbert missed a year of development and was aggressively pushed to Rome before he was ready in 2016.” And all of that is reasonable and defensible.
But there is a new sheriff in town and he doesn’t care that the Braves drafted Herbert in the second round of 2015. It’s this simple – produce or get out of the way. Nobody doubts that Herbert’s defense is amongst the best the system has to offer. You know what you call a catcher with amazing defense and a career .606 OPS? A backup.
Infielders: Johan Camargo (3B, Rehab Assignment), Braxton Davidson (1B), Ray-Patrick Didder (UTIL), Marcus Mooney (SS), Omar Obregon (2B), Jordan Rodgers (3B), Alejandro Salazar
Camargo is a bust. Never going to be anything.
Just kidding. He’ll play a few games with Florida before returning to the big league club.
The 2014 draft class continues to shrink. Provided you didn’t lose a few fingers in an accident at some point, you can count on one hand the number of players that remain in the system from that draft. Only Max Povse has made it to the majors and honestly, he might be the only one to ever make it. Frank Wren’s final draft class got real ugly real quick and it started with Braxton Davidson. Depending on who you ask, he’s either too patient at the plate or has a hole the size of Montana in his swing. Over four seasons – three above rookie ball – Davidson has shown his great power potential to the tune of 27 home runs.
Reminder: this will be his fourth opening day above rookie ball. He’s yet to play in Double-A. The most unfortunate part, though, is the fact that Davidson has only regressed. This could be the last chance for Davidson, who moved to first base last fall during instructionals. He’ll either sink-or-swim. To be fair (I do that a lot), Davidson won’t turn 22 until mid-June.
From Aruba, Ray-Patrick Didder has always shined when it came to on-base percentage. That’s in no small part because he gets hit a lot. I mean, a lot. However, as you go up the ladder, pitchers flash better control and they make fewer mistakes. Didder hit .274/.387/.381 in 2016 with Rome. He lost about 40-to-50 points across the board last year in Florida. Didder is interesting because he can play all over, flashes occasional pop, and is quick around the bases. But as I will say over-and-over, it’s a results-driven business. Didder needs some better results in 2018.
Continuing with the infield, Marcus Mooney is a non-prospect who is in the mix. He was a manipulative draft choice. That only means that he was a reach in the tenth round two years ago so the Braves could sign him for cheap and use the rest of the slot elsewhere.
Life comes at you pretty fast. Omar Obregon combined with shortstop, Ozzie Albies, to form a solid double-play combo for Rome back in 2015. Three years later, Obregon is still trying to move up to Double-A for good. He’d also like to get his first professional home run. A sixth-rounder last June, Jordan Rodgers doesn’t really profile as much of a prospect but could be a strong work ethic/glue guy that sticks around for a few years. Finally, Salazar is a solid defender. He also had a .265 OBP last year in 404 PA. Yeah, I meant to type OBP.
Outfielders: Justin Ellison, Jared James, Cristian Pache, Anfernee Seymour
Picked in 2015, Justin Ellison has more tools than a mechanic. He also has a career .297 OBP over 246 games. That’s the chance you take when you sign a very raw player. What I’m sure is not lost for Braves’ talent evaluators is the lack of progression. Meanwhile, Jared James skipped Florida last year and hit .279/.352/.415 in Double-A, which makes this demotion a little surprising. He’ll get a chance to refine his skills while time opens up ahead of him, though.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Cristian Pache. He just put the baseball world on notice with two home-runs against Sean Newcomb in an exhibition game. His swing has been tweaked and as a result, Pache could become the next “it” prospect in baseball if he starts adding power to his already fine hit tool, speed factor, and next-level defense. No one should immediately compare Pache to another outfielder who opened last season in Florida, Ronald Acuna Jr., but if the shoe fits…
Anfernee Seymour has speed for days. What he lacks is the knowledge or instincts to utilize it well. He hit decently compared to his averages after being promoted to Florida last year. However, his season ended with a removal from the Arizona Fall League for disciplinary reasons. If he can do a better job at getting on base – and be more efficient in steal opportunities – Seymour could be an interesting player moving forward.
So, there you have it. Lots of potential top prospects (Anderson, Wentz, Wilson, Pache) mixed with some intriguing talent (Davidson, Walker, Cumberland). By the way, if you haven’t already, consider purchasing the 2018 Atlanta Baseball Preview. I used it as a quick reference for this article. Take it to the game with you this year to give you the ability to quickly know what to expect from most of the Braves’ minor league players you’ll see this year. Also makes a great gift!