The Braves had a number of minor league relievers have excellent seasons in 2014. Due to the lack of scouting on minor league relievers, these write ups will likely be shorter than most, but we can certainly evaluate the numbers.
Brandon Cunniff, RHP, Lynchburg/Mississippi, 25 years old – 1.38 ERA, 41 appearances, 65 1/3 IP, 3.7 BB/9, 9.4 K/9
Cunniff was an independent league signing by the Braves in 2013, and he’s really impressed in his short time with the Braves, not posting an ERA over 2.00 at any individual stop with the Braves. He even was promoted for a 1-game visit to the majors this year, and it wouldn’t surprise this writer if he’s in the bullpen plans for 2015. Cunniff posts excellent K/9 rates and has kept the ball in the zone fairly well. He’s not pitched as a closer, so some may claim major league pressure may get to him, but thus far, he’s not hit a wall at all as he’s climbed the organizational ladder.
Caleb Dirks, RHP, Danville/Rome, 21 years old – 1.95 ERA, 18 appearances, 27 2/3 IP, 3.6 BB/9, 10.4 K/9
Dirks was picked in the 15th round this year out of California Baptist University. He’s immediately shown ability at the back of the bullpen. He features a fastball/slider combination, and the one chance I’ve had to see him, that slider had some very wicked break and the fastball had some nice late life. He has an unconventional windup, so that could lead to some deception/timing with younger hitters, and we’ll see how that translates as he likely will start at high-A Lynchburg in 2015 and have the chance to move quickly.
Dustin Emmons, RHP, Danville, 22 years old – 1.86 ERA, 8 appearances, 9 2/3 IP, 0 BB/9, 8.4 K/9
Emmons is the most recent undrafted free agent to find success with the Braves (following the lines of Brandon Beachy and Wes Parsons). He has a live fastball, but his secondary stuff needs work, which will be the thing that determines how quickly he ascends up the ladder. He has been incredible with Danville since his signing, but we’ll see how he handles next season, which will likely be starting in extended spring training and starting the season with Danville before a promotion to Rome.
Ryne Harper, RHP, Mississippi, 25 years old – 2.72 ERA, 45 appearances, 72 2/3 IP, 2.8 BB/9, 11.5 K/9
Harper was noted for his performance last year after working his way slowly up the system after being part of the Braves 2011 draft class. This was a repeat season at Mississippi, and it’s notable that he has averaged 1/3 more innings per outing, which doesn’t sound like much, but he’s pitching nearly 2 innings with every appearance, and that could allow him to have a very interesting role in the bullpen going forward. He’s shown the ability to be a dominant closer at AA and now to be an excellent long reliever. He should be in the mix for the Braves bullpen in the spring and likely starts the season in Gwinnett in 2015.
James Hoyt, RHP, Mississippi/Gwinnett, 27 years old – 3.30 ERA, 50 appearances, 57 1/3 IP, 3.6 BB/9, 11.8 K/9
Hoyt was a great independent league signing in 2013, and he moved well up to AA last season. He struggled in his move to AAA Gwinnett this season, mostly due to struggles with his control, but he continued to strike out more than a batter per inning. He’s certainly shown the ability to be a dominant guy in short spurts, and while he may return back to Gwinnett to start 2015, he’s a guy who could have a nice bullpen career in spite of starting “late” due to not reaching pro ball until 26.
Kyle Kinman, LHP, Danville, 23 years old – 2.77 ERA, 17 appearances, 26 IP, 2.1 BB/9, 12.5 K/9
Kinman was a 25th round selection this June out of small Bellevue University in Nebraska, and I’ve been a personal fan due to him being a fellow upper Midwesterner. Kinman is small in stature at 5’11” and 185 lbs., so he will likely remain in the bullpen, and a lefty who is putting up 12.5 K/9 is a highly desirable asset. He’ll likely start 2015 in Rome and continued performance like his post-draft 2014 could launch him up the system. Kinman was quite a hitter in college as well, so he could have a fallback if he doesn’t work out on the mound.
Chasen Shreve, LHP, Mississippi/Gwinnett/Atlanta, 23 years old – 2.48 ERA, 43 appearances, 61 2/3 IP, 1.6 BB/9, 12.6 K/9 (in minors)
Shreve was brought up to Atlanta when they were desperate for a left-handed reliever, and he held his own, sporting a 1.80 ERA in 5 IP with similar peripherals to his minor league numbers, so his ascent this season is absolutely real. He reports his sudden change in performance this season to simply letting loose with his velocity after trying to nitpick location in his past. That has actually led to BETTER control in 2014. There’s no reason not to expect Shreve to end up in the major league bullpen in 2015, and he could be as fun as Jonny Venters/Eric O’Flaherty were to watch from the left side.
Alex Wilson, RHP, Lynchburg, 23 years old – 1.70 ERA, 38 appearances, 58 1/3 IP, 2.2 BB/9, 8.3 K/9
Wilson was a 15th round selection out of Wofford College in 2012, and he’s been in the bullpen the entire time. He is not an overwhelming pitcher, but he has served well as the Lynchburg closer this season, notching 15 saves. He looks like a guy who could take on the David Hale role in the bullpen fairly well based on the watching I’ve had of him. He doesn’t blow anyone away, but he seems to keep the ball on the ground often, as evidenced by his 0.3 HR/9 rate, and that can have a lot of value in a big league bullpen if he continues to work his way up the system ladder.
Jorge Zavala, RHP, GCL Braves, 20 years old – 0.40 ERA, 17 appearances, 22 2/3 IP, 2.8 BB/9, 9.1 K/9
Signed out of Honduras in 2012, Zavala moved solely to the bullpen this season as the closer for the GCL team, and he’s been nothing short of amazing in 2014. He doesn’t strike out guys at a ridiculous level, but one report I had said that he has very good late life on his fastball, which bears out in his very low hit rate this year. Some of that will normalize, but if he can avoid the heart of the bat (0 home runs allowed this year), he could be a huge asset going forward in the Braves bullpen with that sort of difficult pitch to hit. He’ll likely start the season in extended spring training, but a good spring could have him jumping Danville and going straight to Rome.