This is the third in a three-part review on individual performances in the minor leagues. This final post of the series is going to focus on guys that no one was really looking at before the season who have suddenly stepped forward with excellent performances:
Cedric Hunter, OF, AA .314/.386/.535, 6 HR, 4/3 SB/CS, 20/24 BB/K
Hunter was a 3rd round pick of the Padres in 2006 out of high school in Georgia. He was a top-100 prospect before 2007 after a very strong performance in rookie and low-A ball immediately after being drafted. He then played well in 2007, even having a late-season playoff promotion all the way to AAA as a 19 year-old. Since then, he’s never really had a “bad” year, but he’s seemingly stalled as a prospect, only getting a cup of coffee in 2011 with the Padres before finding his way to Atlanta as his third club since that 2011 appearance. He’s turned heads this year with his solid contact and patience with Mississippi, and he’s still only 26 years old. Hunter could see a call-up as a corner outfielder who can play center field in a pinch.
Matt Kennelly, C, AA .309/.362/.346, 5 XBH, 12/21 BB/K
The Braves signed Kennelly out of Australia as an 18 year-old in 2007. He’s never really done much with the bat, but he’s worked his way up the minor leagues and seemingly stalled since 2011 at the upper levels of the minors. The big thing Kennelly has changed in his return to the Atlanta organization is turn into a very similar player to a guy in the Cincinnati organization, where he spent time in 2012 and 2013, Ryan Hanigan. He’s turned into a solid defender who can hit with solid contact and on base skills. While he may never be a starting catcher in the majors and is already 25, Kennelly could be an ideal backup catcher that could make the leap to Atlanta in 2015 with Gerald Laird‘s contract up after this season.
Williams Perez, SP, AA, 2.18 ERA, 70.1 IP, 17/49 BB/K, 1.02 WHIP
Perez was signed out of Venezuela in 2009 as an “older” signing at 18 years old. He’s always had excellent stuff, especially sinking stuff, but controlling that stuff was a struggle, leading to 4 seasons in rookie ball before moving up both A and A+ levels last season. This year, he’s simply dominating Mississippi hitters as a rare starting pitcher having success in the 2014 season in the Atlanta system. He’s a notorious ground-ball sinkerball pitcher, as evidenced by his lower-than-you’d-like strikeout rate, but pitchers like Perez can be excellent inning-eater types at the back-end of a rotation for many seasons. He’s 23, and he’s made big strides in the last two seasons. A bump up with his strikeout rate could lead to a major rise up to the majors.
James Hoyt, RP, AA/AAA, 1.14 ERA, 31.2 IP, 11/44 BB/K, 0.95 WHIP
Brandon Cunniff, RP, A+/AA, 1.47 ERA, 36.2 IP, 18/38 BB/K, 1.01 WHIP
I’ll combine Hoyt and Cunniff as they both are products of the Braves’ excellent scouting of independent league ballplayers, and both could be huge down the stretch for Atlanta. While neither is much of a “prospect” as Hoyt is 27 and Cunniff 25, respectively, they have both been excellent in their time for the Braves (both were signed in 2013), and both could factor into the Atlanta bullpen at some point this season. The biggest reason they aren’t up in the majors right now is the simple fact that they throw with their right hand. Both have put forth excellent seasons this year by keeping the ball in the ballpark while also posting excellent strikeout rates. Look for one or both to make the jump to Atlanta, and possibly before September.