Much like Gwinnett, the AA Mississippi Braves had a rough season, finishing 62-77 and last in the Southern League. While the pitching did alright, the offense couldn’t even put up four runs a game. Two of their best players, Andrelton Simmons and Luis Avilan, moved up to the majors, which is the ultimate goal of the minor leagues.
Offensively, Joey Terdoslavich and Evan Gattis were the biggest bats, each coming in nearly 40% above league average. Terdoslavich hit a solid .315/.372/.480 after his horrible start in Gwinnett. His gap power returned in Jackson, hitting 24 doubles and five triples in 333 PA, but only five balls left the park, leading to a .164 ISO. He played his way off of third base, so his potential diminishes some, since his offensive skills are not great for a first baseman or corner outfielder. Gattis arrived in Mississippi after an unbelievable 94 PA start in Lynchburg, falling back to earth but still putting together a .258/.343/.522 line in just over 200 PA before a wrist injury shut him down. Like Joey, Gattis is somewhat caught in defensive purgatory, naturally a catcher but likely ending up in left field.
Todd Cunningham and Joe Leonard also had good seasons at the plate at slightly premium positions. Again, the lack of impact bats show up as Cunningham was the Braves Minor League Player of the Year with a good, but not great, .309/.364/.403 line. He seems to be a good defensive centerfielder despite the lack of top-flight speed and he doesn’t strike out much. His prospect status has risen, but this has been the exceptional season, as he did not hit anywhere near this level his first two professional seasons. Leonard does not have a strength offensively, and his defense at third base is dependable but not spectacular. Both 23-year-olds will likely make the majors as 26th or 27th men, filling in bench spots for injuries.
Christian Bethancourt was the big disappointment on the club, as the organization moved him up to AA despite him struggling offensively in High-A in 2011. After 2009 in Rookie ball, his plate discipline has completely abandoned him, striking out nearly five times for every walk. He hasn’t developed much power and he’s not a great line drive hitter, which basically encompasses the entire offensive spectrum. Defensively, he throws out 40% of baserunners, but is not known as having the greatest work ethic, though the lack of maturity could partially be explained by his tender age of 20. I would assume he would start next season in AA, but next year will likely show if he has enough of a bat to make an impact in the majors.
Ian Gac and Alden Carrithers were older players who played well, while Philip Gosselin, Keenan Wiley, and Matt Kennelly filled in the rest of the playing time, with none of them garnering any attention for future watch.
The pitching staff featured a pretty good rotation, led by Gary Moran, who posted a 2.91 ERA and 3.19 FIP, along with a high GB rate. However, at 27 years old, he’s not very high on the prospect list, and he had a late start in professional ball due to multiple shoulder surgeries. Like Gattis, he’s not a castoff despite the age, but the 6’8″ righty can arrive as a late bloomer with his good control and great groundball rate.
Zeke Spruill was the #2 man, showing a similar style to Moran, but just a tick worse in each component. At 22 years old, a 3.67 ERA and 3.51 FIP is alright for AA, but his 15.6% K rate is a bit worrisome. It’s not bad, but K rates rarely rise at higher levels, and living off of a low K rate from the beginning of a career is nearly unheard of. Fellow 22-year-old Sean Gilmartin had a good 3.54 ERA and 3.49 FIP, showing more sustainable rates. The lefty finished the season in AAA and may be in line for a couple spot starts in Atlanta next year. Braves Minor League Pitcher of the Year J.R. Graham finished his season with nine starts in Mississippi with a matching ERA and FIP of 3.18.
David Hale was the other main starter, managing a decent 3.77 ERA despite a double-digit walk rate. Cory Rasmus, brother of Blue Jays centerfielder Colby, is a raw bullpen arm, striking out and walking many. Ryan Buchter was Rasmus’ mirror image, a lefty with control issues and a 30% K rate. Mark Lamm and Chris Jones were the other late-inning relievers, posting great peripherals but poor BABIP and strand rates.
Looking through the team, there were more high points than the record would indicate. The starting staff was the strength of the team, while most of the younger prospects had good seasons. Bethancourt remains a major piece of the puzzle, especially with the struggles of Brian McCann this season. If McCann has truly lost his ability to square up the ball, Bethancourt is probably the only plausible option as an internal replacement. If the young catcher can’t hit in the minors, the Braves will be in a pinch.