Yesterday, I looked at the Rome Braves and Florida Fire Frogs rosters. Both Rome and Florida followed by winning their season openers. I feel as if I must have played some small part in that. Management might be rushing me up the ladder before I’m ready, but here we are in Mississippi ready to look at their roster. Mississippi played without my expert review yesterday, defeating the Tennessee Smokies.
Pitchers: Corbin Clouse, Max Fried, Josh Graham, Jason Hursh, Chase Johnson-Mullins (DL), Michael Mader, Adam McCreery, Wes Parsons, Tyler Pike, Ricardo Sanchez, Touki Toussaint, Jacob Webb, Matt Withrow (DL), Kyle Wright
Let’s start with the rotation. Kyle Wright started on opening day and will be followed by Touki Toussaint, Tyler Pike, Max Fried, and Ricardo Sanchez to form one of the deepest Double-A rotations you’ll ever see. Wright, the fifth overall selection last June and a consensus Top 50 prospect, was on a very strict pitch count both last year and on opening day. The book on Wright is simple – he’s damn good and just about major league ready.
Toussaint remains an enigma. When he’s on, which he was for 13 starts from June 5 to August 19 last year, he’s striking out a small village (91 K’s in 76 ING) and not giving up much solid contact. The problem is when he’s off, it gets ugly. He’s still trying to find that sweet spot between natural gifts on the mound and pitchability. An improved command will be the thing to watch for in 2018.
Another prospect the Braves liberated from the Mariners, Pike was nearly unhittable with Florida to open the 2017 season before coming back to Earth in the Southern League. His command crashed back to pre-Braves numbers and then some. Pike has the stuff to remain a starting option, but he’s going to have to throw more strikes and be able to utilize his changeup better. Fried is a surprise member of this roster after pitching in Atlanta last summer. There are two possible reasons for this – the Braves want him to work with Dennis Lewallyn in Pearl or they didn’t have enough innings for him in Gwinnett.
Finally, there is Ricardo Sanchez, who is the youngest player on the Mississippi roster to open the season. His story is similar to Pike. Great stuff, great two-pitch selection, iffy command, needs a better handle on his changeup. Both pitchers, who are southpaws, could transition later to the bullpen.
Here are the other arms Mississippi will be utilizing early in 2018…Corbin Clouse has faded a bit in prospect circles, but over a two-year career, the former 27th rounder has a 2.06 ERA and 125 K’s in 87.1 ING. The control can be spotty, but the southpaw is one to keep on if you’re looking for a guy who might rise quickly to the bigs. Josh Graham received a non-roster invite, which was a little surprising. The former Oregon Duck appeared ten times in Double-A last year. Overall, he has good control (though he can be prone to losing it) and knows how to get some K’s. He even nailed down a save in the season opener.
It feels like Jason Hursh is 35-years-old. Last night, he made his 97th appearance for Mississippi since 2014. And despite the fact that Hursh has had little success – including a dozen innings in the majors – he still has a 40-man roster spot. Another fixture in Mississippi is Michael Mader, who joined the M-Braves after being acquired from the Marlins in 2016. He appeared 35 times last season with one start. A move to full-time relief only hurt his command. Another lefty, Mader has a nice curveball but will need to locate better in 2018.
Speaking of control issues, let me introduce Adam McCreery and his career 5.6 BB/9. The Braves still coaxed a 90-K season out of him despite the control issues. That was at two A-ball stops. Atlanta likes his arm – they protected him during the Rule 5 draft – but the control has to be fixed. I feel like Wes Parsons has been around forever and then I remember he was on the 2014 Lynchburg Hillcats with Jose Peraza and Kyle Wren. Parsons finally pitched in Triple-A last year but did his best work in Mississippi as a swingman (2.71 ERA, 2.9 BB/9, 8.6 K/9).
Jacob Webb has pitched extremely well over 63 games in the minors. Only Tommy John Surgery has appeared to put a half to his climb up the latter. He’s already a veteran of Double-A, having spent 24 innings with Mississippi last year. His control can be suspect from time-to-time. Starting the year on the DL is Chase Johnson-Mullins and Matt Withrow. The former is yet another lefty who is equally good as he is massive – and he’s damn big. Withrow is the brother of Chris Withrow, who was Luke Jackson before being Luke Jackson was cool. What does that even mean? I’m not really sure. Anyway, Withrow has decent metrics but was limited to just 79.2 innings last year.
Catchers: Sal Giardina (DL), Alex Jackson, Tyler Marlette, Jonathan Morales
Sal Giardina has an excellent mustache. That’s about all I have to say about that.
Alex Jackson can hit the ball a long way. Last year was proof of that when he bashed 19 home runs between Florida and Mississippi. What we really didn’t know is just how good of a catcher he could become. Those that watched him this spring learned that Jackson has some real instincts behind the plate. He has an improved understanding of his responsibilities and even shows a solid ability to frame pitches. Jackson is not ready for prime time – not yet. But he’s showing the kind of skill level that could land him a long-term gig in the majors.
A perfect minor league catching backup, Tyler Marlette is a good glove man with pop. He’s yet to play above Double-A during his seven-year career. Early on in the 2016 season, Jonathan Morales looked like he might be a huge find deep in the draft. However, his bat started to decline and bottomed out last year. He’s a decent option behind the plate, but his offensive issues don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.
Infielders: Alay Lago (2B), Daniel Lockhart (UTIL), Austin Riley (3B), Cleuluis Rondon (SS), Michael Snyder (1B), Luis Valenzuela (IF)
Obviously, the star of this group is Austin Riley. The big thing with Riley is simply progression. We all know he has plenty of power after back-to-back 20 home-run campaigns in his first two full seasons. He has an average-to-above-average hit tool and is a better defender than most people think. But to become the prospect many of us believe he’s capable of becoming, Riley will have to continue to improve. Becoming more selective at the plate could be a start. Either way, with Jackson, Mississippi has a pair of powerful thumpers for the middle of the lineup.
Alay Lago was signed out of the Mexican League last offseason after beginning his career in Cuba. He hit .303 for Florida. He’s decent all-around, but not much of a prospect at this point because he’s 26. Keith Lockhart‘s son, Daniel, is a bit like his father. His numbers won’t jump off the page, but Daniel works his butt off and does a bit of everything. Unfortunately, his dad’s offensive skillset was a bit better.
Cleuluis Rondon can play defense. He can’t do much else, but Wright, Toussaint, Fried, and company will love having him at shortstop. Signed after two years in the Atlantic League, Michael Snyder was once an Angels product. He started his career well but floundered when he reached Double-A before being released in 2015. In two years on the independent scene, Snyder slashed .290/.373/.543 with 50 home runs in 910 PA. That landed him a second shot in affiliated ball. With little competition for time at first, Snyder could be a quiet, but effective, contributor for Mississippi this season.
Acquired a long time ago for Jonny Gomes, Valenzuela is useful and injury-prone. He rarely sees a pitch he doesn’t want to swing at but has a hit tool that plays up well. Expect him to sneak starts from Lago and Rondon.
Outfielders: Travis Demeritte, Connor Lien, Tyler Neslony, Michael Reed
That first name may surprise you. It surprised many of us when we saw the lineup posted yesterday evening. Let’s get this straight – this has nothing to do with Travis Demeritte’s defensive skills on the infield. He’s a great second baseman and looks good at third base as well. Demeritte in the outfield is about flexibility as much as anything as the Braves attempt to turn their power-hitting second baseman into a utility player. All of this is for not if Demeritte doesn’t bounce back in 2018 after a terrible year with Mississippi last season. He improved his contact rate but was generally worse for it. It’ll be interesting to see what he does in 2018.
It wasn’t that long ago that Connor Lien had prospect hype and was pushing his way up the rankings for the Braves. A few years of stagnation at the plate and an improved system has demoted Lien to fourth outfielder.
Tyler Neslony is not without his supporters. He was an excellent college-ball hitter at Texas Tech but hasn’t flashed much power since being drafted. Neslony can hit and he’ll sneak a few doubles in, but will it be enough to get noticed? Defensively, Neslony won’t embarrass you, nor impress you. I guess there is a reason that Nick Markakis fans also get attached to Neslony.
Unlike most players on this roster, Reed already has major league experience after 30 PA between 2015-16. Reed has always been high on tools, but results have always held him back. He’s fast, defensively sound, takes walks, and will occasionally flash power. The hit tool isn’t great, but if he maximizes his other skills, he could be a guy that ends up in the major leagues again.
Overall, Mississippi is a mix of some big-time prospects (starting rotation, Jackson, Riley) and hired guns around the field. That should make the team competitive in the Southern League during 2018. 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!