The first minor league roundup of the year is upon us. For those of you new to Talking Chop I try to churn out an update on our young stars about every two weeks when the Braves have an off day. Stats updated through games of 4/25.
Richmond Braves (AAA)
Hot: Speedy outfielder Gregor Blanco is off to a hot start, batting .347 with a whopping .439 OBP. He is also showing good plate discipline having walked 8 times versus just 7 strikeouts.... Super utility guy Willie Harris is also swinging a solid bat with a .327 batting average and a .424 OBP. Like Blanco, Willie has only 6 strikeouts versus 8 walks, but he has twice as many runs scored as Blanco with 16 (Willie has been at the top of the batting order and Blanco at the bottom).... Yunel Escobar is also continuing his good work from spring training and is currently sporting a .338 batting average, and leads the team with 10 RBI.... If we're looking for alternatives in the starting rotation, a one-time baby Brave reliever is rediscovering himself as a starter. Kevin Barry is 1-0 in three starts with a 2.51 ERA and a very impressive 1.05 WHIP.... Another blast from Braves past is Buddy Hernandez, who has a save and two wins in relief with a 1.42 and a 1.11 ERA.... And yet another blast from Braves past is Trey Hodges. He has a win and loss in two starts over three appearances, and is riding high with a 1.54 ERA.... And don't forget about Phil Stockman who has yet to give up a run in six innings spanning three appearances, and has only allowed one hit and one walk.
Not: Outfielder Doug Clark, who was all kinds of hot during spring training, is proving his journeyman status by hitting just .205 (hey, he might fit right in with our other left fielders).... Waste of roster space outfielder T.J. Bohn is hitting only .235 with a team-high 14 strikeouts.... The Jorge Sosa consolation prize, Rich Scalamandre, is 0-2 with a 12.15 ERA. (Speaking of Jorge Sosa, he is 3-0 in four starts with a 1.38 ERA for the Mets triple-A club.)
Mississippi Braves (AA)
Hot: Top prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia is en fuego! He is hitting a robust .377 with an astounding 1.226 OPS. His 6 homeruns are the most in the Braves system, and his plate discipline has been terrific with just 12 strikeouts versus 11 walks. (He does have 5 errors though.)... Everyone's favorite player to replace Langerhans is also off to a hot start. Brandon Jones is batting .333 with 2 homeruns, 2 triples, and 5 doubles.... As if we needed any more middle infield prospects there are three guys tearing the cover off the ball in Pearl. J.C. Holt is leading the team with a .394 average.... SS/2B Diory Hernandez has a .343 batting average and a 1.081 OPS.... And Brent Lillibridge is hitting .301 with 6 stolen bases, but has 4 errors and leads the team with 22 strikeouts.... If we are looking for replacements for the plug, look no further than young stud Dan Smith. He may have a plain name, but the dude has been awesome this year. He is 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP, and 23 strikeouts in 22 innings with only 4 walks.... Matt Harrison and Jo-Jo Reyes are also pitching well with ERAs of 3.20 and 1.69 respectively. Reyes has only surrendered 11 hits in 21.1 innings, but has issued 11 walks.... At the back end of games, both Joey Devine and Zach Schreiber have been closing with success. With 7 saves between them, Devine has 14 K's and Schreiber has yet to yield a run in 10 innings.
Not: Van Pope is having his troubles early on. He is hitting just .167.... Outfielder Josh Burrus is also struggling with a .130 average. I hope both of these guys get it turned around.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans (A+)
Hot: The pitchers are the only thing that's hot in Myrtle. Former top prospect Jake Stevens is rediscovering his form with a 1.66 ERA and an impressive 1.02 WHIP.... Reliever Kevin Gunderson is sporting a nice 1.80 ERA, but has struggled a bit with walks.
Not: The Pelicans hottest player, Diory Hernandez, was promoted to double-A several weeks ago, and he didn't leave too many hot bats behind. But Myrtle Beach is where hitters go to die, so we have to lower our standards a bit. Two guys who shouldn't be as low as they have been are Eric Campbell and Kala Ka'aihue - both players are hitting just .179. Campbell won't get the chance to try and get out of it anytime soon as he will be sidelined four-to-six weeks with a sprained ligament in his left thumb. The injury was suffered sliding "head-first" into second base. Ka'aihue has also missed about a week of games with a stiff back.
Rome Braves (A-)
Hot: Outfielder Jordan Schafer seems to be the only batter swinging a consistent bat. He sports a .345 average and a .992 OPS and leads the team with 13 RBI.... Starting pitcher Tommy Hanson has not registered a win yet this year, but he does have a 2.70 ERA, a 0.80 WHIP, just 3 walks, and a whopping 33 strikeouts in 20 innings.... Tim Gustafson is also pitching good with a 2.29 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. Like Hanson, Gustafson has an impressive strikeout to walk ratio, having fanned 21 while walking only 4 in 19.2 innings.... A great comeback story is pitcher Beau Jones, who has a 2.19 ERA in four long relief outings.
Not: Shortstop Chase Fontaine is struggling a bit with a .237 average, but he's really struggling in the field having committed 12 errors already.... Last year's top pitcher in the lower levels is struggling this year at Rome. Jamie Richmond is still not walking many people, but he has given up some key hits that have led to an 0-2 record and a 5.28 ERA.... Pitcher Jeff Lyman is giving up hits in bunches and has a 7.71 ERA and a 1.78 WHIP to show for it.