Braves' Farm Report: the Upper Minors

Today, we’ll looks at the progress of the higher minors levels, but I’ll do this a little out of order so that we can highlight a notable feat that just ended last night.

Photo credit: Ed Gardner, milb.com

Mississippi Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella saw the end of his team-record 23-game hit streak last night in Huntsville, as the M-Braves fell to the Stars in a very late contest (delayed by rain) 2-1.  One other notable thing about this streak is that La Stella did not dramatically raise his batting average during the streak, as so many other typically do:  on June 18th, he was already hitting .330.  On July 16th (the streak was about a week old then), it was .316.  After last night, he’s at .337.

In other words, the kid can hit.

Add to that a total of 14 walks and a scant 11 strikeouts (over 147-ish plate appearances) and you realize that he could be developing into an ideal #2 hitter.  Because of reasons I outlined earlier in the week, I don’t expect La Stella to be a September call-up, but I do think we can watch for him getting a Spring invite to Disney in 2014 and a long look in AAA next year.  Well done.

There’s other good things – a lot of them – going on with the AA squad.  I finally got to see Catcher Christian Bethancourt a couple of days ago:  he looks like a different hitter at the plate.  And although he went 1-for-5 that night (now batting .277), there was that characteristic ‘sound’ coming from his bat hitting the ball that you typically associate with guys named Heyward or Upton.  Seriously Bethancourt was driving the ball, not just hitting it.  His first out that night was a line-out to right field… and yes, he’s a right-handed hitter.  Another one was just missed:  deep to center.  He’s using more of the whole field and ripping the baseball now – something I hadn’t seen him do before.  It’s real good to see.

Every time I’m about to write off Mycal Jones, he seems to go off and start doing something to make me think that maybe he’s really not quite done yet.  Back in the middle of June, the center fielder was hitting .213.  He’s now raised that to .254, along with 29 steals (9 caught).  Strikeouts are still high for a lead-off guy, but I saw a guy who was really dirty at the end of a game after diving all over the bases and being in the middle of run-scoring efforts.  Speed is his game, but if he can keep the K’s down, then the OBP can get up to an acceptable level to keep pushing this 26-year-old a little bit further.

SS Jaime Pedroza and RF Jose Martinez are still hitting well:  2.93 and .291, respectively.  You know who they would be behind at the major league level, but stranger things have happened, and good hitting can get you noticed.

So with that, I’ll give a shout-out to MBraves hitting coach Garey Ingram.  I can’t tell you exactly how much influence he’s having on these kids, but it appears that something is working for them, so let’s give the credit now to the guy in charge.  I do hope that his magic works for Tommy Hefflinger – since joining the AA club, he’s… a little lost at the plate:  5 HR, true, but hitting just .195 (he was hitting .286 at Lynchburg).

Pitching side

You might think that this staff has been decimated by a number of factors this year – and you’d be right.  Alex Wood was stolen away to the majors.  J.R. Graham was hurt two months ago and has not returned.  Cody Martin and Andrew Russell were moved up to AAA.  Juan Jaime was pitching well, but then something happened with him, and his control has suffered a bit since.

They’re still doing pretty well, thanks.

I watched Gus Schlosser throw a 2-hitter over six innings  (his ERA is down to 2.33 over 108+ innings).  Last night, Ian Thomas (2.84) had a 3-hitter into the sixth.  Aaron Northcraft has lowered his ERA (3.67) by half a run in the past couple of weeks.  The Braves still have pitching in the ranks.

In last night’s game, a trio of Juan Jaime (no inherited runners scored), newcomer to AA Shae Simmons (2 strikeouts), and Ryne Harper (1.84 ERA, 1K) shut down Huntsville after Thomas departed.  These three are now the Avilan/Walden/Kimbrel equivalents (in some order) for Mississippi.  Harper has an odd delivery (think ‘Alex Wood-odd’) from which he throws both a hard fastball and something off-speed that’s way off-speed.  You can definitely tell that hitters are off-stride if they guess wrong… and that’s led to nearly a strikeout per inning for him.

Mississippi took 3 of 5 games from Huntsville – nearly snatching the one last night with a late rally.  They’re now 23-20 in the 2nd half, in second place behind a Jacksonville Suns team that was no-hit by a Cubs prospect last night.

 

Okay, that went far too long.  Unfortunately, the Lynchburg Hillcats haven’t been doing as well lately:  9-12 since their all-star break, and currently in last place in their Carolina League division.

The organization stole their offense (La Stella and Hefflinger) while some other recent additions have yet to get on track.  2B Emerson Landoni has slipped to .287, RF David Rohm to .288, and 1B Trenton Moses is at .229 after tearing up Rome.

C Shawn McGill has raised his average to .276 (from .258 at last report) and 3B Kyle Kubitza is up to .265.

1B prospect William Beckwith is still on the Suspended list – no word on whether that will change any time soon; but the longer it goes, the less likely he will be back with the organization.

Of their pitchers, Greg Ross has had a good summer:  lowering his ERA from around 4 to 3.32 over almost 90 innings, with a 2:1 K/BB ratio.  Ryan Weber has a high-ish ERA (~3.50) over 72 innings, but a 1.08 WHIP and 5:1 K/BB ratio.  Williams Perez was promoted this summer and is making the most of it:  4-1, 1.74 ERA in 31 innings/31K, 8 walks and a 1.00 WHIP.  Very nice.  Ryan Hinson has been almost as good in his 4 starts:  1.73 ERA.

 

It’s weird looking at the Gwinnett stat sheet since it’s like seeing the major league roster.  Most of the Atlanta team has been there for a rehab visit… and many of the AAA guys are in the majors now.  Unfortunately for Gwinnett, their offense is also in the majors, resulting in a 49-69 record, last place in the Southern division of the Internal League.

I’ll single out (again) Alden Carrithers the third baseman at Lawrenceville.  He’s hitting .296/.376 OBP with just 4 errors over 70 games.  Good, steady work, though even that represent a bit of a drop from early July (he was hitting .314 on July 1st).

Also of note is that Tyler Pastornicky is still doing well:  hitting .303, though with 11 errors at (primarily) 2nd base.  He’s got two triples and four homers to go with a .363 OBP and 9 steals.

The pitching staff at AAA is still in a bit of a scramble, but it’s settled down over the past month:  Omar Poveda has logged 135 innings (3.48 ERA) in 20 starts.  Yohan Flande has lowered his ERA to 4.42 (down 1.1) in 108 innings, Dale Hale has likewise lowered his from 4.39 to 2.99 (yeah – 1.4 runs) while double his innings and starts since the first of July.  Cody Martin has continued good work:  2.96 in 53 AAA innings.  Kameron Loe has returned to Gwinnet and is doing well:  3.50 (46 innings).  And Joe Beimel is getting better:  ERA down to 4.91 (was over 6 a month ago) in 22 innings, 20 appearances.

As reported on the transactions page, Sean Gilmartin has started a rehab stint down in Orlando.  So far, so good.

 

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Tags: Christian Bethancourt Gwinnett Braves Lynchburg Hillcats Mississippi Braves Tommy La Stella

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