We are finally – FINALLY! – getting some minor league rosters today. It is opening day for the minor leagues after all. While we already know where a number of bigger prospects will start the year, it’s good to see the entire roster for once. Here’s a quick look at the Rome Braves’ roster.
Pitchers: Tanner Allison, Jake Belinda, Walter Borkovich, Thomas Burrows, Jasseel De La Cruz, Odalvi Javier, Kyle Muller, Alan Rangel, Kelvin Rodriguez, Freddy Tarnok, Brandon White, Huascar Ynoa, Bruce Zimmermann.
The first question that immediately comes up is what will the starting rotation look like. I imagine we’ll see Muller start opening day with Rangel, Tarnok, Ynoa, and De La Cruz to follow in some order. Javier is another possibility and I saw him a few times in Danville last year. He’s short on stuff but big on pitchability. That said, his ceiling is not likely to be higher than the others who I imagine get the rotation assignment. Regardless, expect Javier to start some games this season.
Muller is the star of this rotation with a big-time pedigree and an appearance for the Braves Futures Team under his belt. Tarnok’s placement is interesting, though. He’s one of just two players on this roster that will skip Danville, which says a lot about where this franchise views his development considering their new-found conservative approach to pushing prospects. Ynoa and De La Cruz are similar project arms with potential high ceilings who could break out in 2018. I’ve never been as high on Rangel as others and see him more as a relief option. That said, many disagree with me.
No placement with Rome is more surprising than Burrows, who pitched extremely well last year in the South Atlantic League. This might be similar to the Max Fried decision. Fried will start in Double-A largely to find him innings. Burrows will get a chance in Rome to not get lost in the shuffle. That said, I don’t expect him to stay in Rome for too long.
Of the rest of the arms – Allison was more known for hitting in college, but the Braves like his arm. Like Tarnok, he’s skipping Danville. Belinda is the nephew of Stan Belinda and sports a nice fastball/slider combo. I love Walter Borkovich, by the way. The Bork was dominant last summer after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State. Rodriguez is a bit too old to be at this level but did see his K% balloon over 20% last year. Like Burrows, White has already dominated the SALLY. Finally, Zimmermann is a small college lefty who looked very good in Danville in short bursts.
Catchers: Drew Lugbauer, Carlos Martinez, Alan Crowley (DL)
Burrows repeating at Rome was shocking, but William Contreras not even showing up on the roster was damn near astonishing. There could be many reasons for this, but after the summer Contreras had in Danville and his cameo this spring in the major league camp, it was assumed that he would be in Rome.
That said, it may be the presence of Lugbauer that has Contreras on the sidelines. Atlanta might want to get an extended look at Lugbauer, who cycled between the infield corners, DH, and behind the plate last summer. Reports are mixed about his long-term viability as a catcher. The Braves may want to decide if using him behind the plate is even worth it.
Martinez had a quirky 2018 where he had a .353 OBP and a .284 SLG. He ISO’d .012. That’s shockingly low. He’s a nice defensive option, though. Crowley is really just a guy. He does have a little bit of pop. In fact, build a machine that combines him and Martinez and you have a half-decent backup catcher.
Infielders: Griffin Benson (1B), Derian Cruz (2B), Riley Delgado (SS), Jean Carlos Encarnacion (3B), Kurt Hoekstra (IF), Luis Mejia (IF).
Griffin Benson looks like he should be a big-time hitter, but has slashed just .228/.305/.277 over two seasons in the GCL and Appalachian Leagues. I can only assume he beat out Austin Bush for this spot, but Bush will keep breathing down his neck (unless it was an injury situation). Of course, Bush has his own issues – namely, contact.
I’m assuming that Cruz stays at second base where he was more comfortable last year. If that continues, it’ll address at least one part of his game. Now, will he hit? In 2017, he looked lost in Rome and really didn’t look all that much better in Danville after the demotion. Between the two levels, he on-based .256. Atlanta invested $2 million into Cruz and they desperately want to see some return on their investment.
At third base, J.C. Encarnacion could be the breakout player for this offense. Signed for just $10,000 on the international market, Encarnacion is still filling out. When he does, there is a good chance he’ll become a 20-home run threat with plus athleticism at third base. For prospect nerds that follow the Braves, Encarnacion is a name we are all really high on.
Delgado, Hoekstra, and Mejia are all cut from the same cloth as decent gloves and not much else. I saw Mejia the most of this group and I will say he is a glue guy. He seemed to take Kevin Maitan under his wing his last summer in Danville and is a talkative guy in the field.
Outfielders: Jefrey Ramos, Gary Schwartz, Drew Waters, Isranel Wilson
Ramos and Encarnacion had similar stories in 2017. Both started things off by beating up in the GCL before spending about a month in Danville holding their own as teenagers. Ramos has big-time power potential and is a popular pick to make a huge jump up the prospect ranks this season.
Schwartz is a hitter. He was a hitter with Grand Canyon College for three years before flashing some offensive skills with Danville last summer. A 16th rounder, Schwartz slashed .281/.398/.531. He’s not a big prospect by any means just yet. What we need to see is whether or not Schwartz can keep doing it. At some point, if he does, we’ll stop doubting him just because he lacks the pedigree of an impact prospect.
Speaking of pedigrees, Waters has it. He has five-tool potential, though he might be a better fit in a corner outfield spot. He struck out a ton in 2018, but provided he gets that under control, Waters has everything you’re looking for when it comes to impact performance. The last at-bat I saw from him in 2017, he smacked a no-doubt home run to left field. Expect more of that in 2018.
In some ways, Wilson has elite potential, too. He’s probably a better center fielder than Waters is right now as well. Wilson came to the Braves raw and immature. However, he’s worked his butt off to take his natural gifts and turn them into more frequent positive results. While Izzy Wilson won’t enter the season as one of Atlanta’s top three or four outfield prospects, don’t sleep on the possibility that he outplays Waters – and that’s not a slight on Waters.
All in all, there is a lot of talent on this roster and if you have the chance, go see them. There are at least five hitters and a number of pitchers with very good chances of developing into a major league talent. 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!