Everything good must come to an end, at least that's what they say. The 2015 minor league season was no exception, and the Braves wrapped up their most exciting minor league slate in years.
(77-67) Gwinnett Braves 6, (74-70) Charlotte Knights 2
Mallex Smith, CF: 1-2, 2B, 2 BB, SB, .281/.339/.367
Cedric Hunter, LF: 2-4, 2 RBI, .283/.331/.420
Jose Yepez, C: 1-4, HR, .194/.238/.27
Jake Brigham, SP: 6 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 4.50 ERA
Gwinnett went out with a bang, beating Charlotte in front of a rowdy home crowd. There was defense all over the place, with team MVP Cedric Hunter making a diving play early, and shortstop Sean Kazmar making 3 nice plays up the middle. Mallex Smith ended his season with a hit and 2 walks, the last of which was his 202nd time on base this season, which leads the system. One of the best moments of the season came in the 3 run 7th, when catcher Jose Yepez took an outside pitch and launched it high off of the wall in left field. This is Yepez's 4th season in Gwinnett, and he has become a favorite with players and fans. The home run was his first since 2012, and brought the crowd and dugout to their feet. Gwinnett turned 5 double plays on the day, including a couple of key ones early. Gwinnett made a ridiculous 217 roster moves this seaosn, and still managed to finish just outside of a playoff spot. So much credit needs to go to Brian Snitker and his staff of Marty Reed, John Moses, Billy Nicholson, Mike Graus, and Jason Curry. This was Gwinnett's best season in awhile, and they capped it in the best way possible.
Well, Mississippi's season ended in the most Southern League way possible, a rain out at Jacksonville. It was a bit of a disappointment as I would have loved to see those guys run out there one more time. Emerson Landoni was one of the best players in the system after the All-Star break, posting a .339 post break batting average. Rio Ruiz showed signs of life late in the season, including a walk today before the skies opened up. Lucas Sims is of course the one that has gotten the most attention, putting up a measly 0.88 ERA over his last 5 starts. It was an incredible year for Aaron Holbert's Braves, as they shook off struggles from Rio Ruiz and the loss of Daniel Castro, Tyrell Jenkins, and Mallex Smith to go 36-32 in the second half and end a game out of first place. Next year should bring renewed excitement, with Sims, Zack Bird and Andrew Thurman likely repeating, plus the addition of Connor Lien, Dustin Peterson, and Chris O'Dowd from the suspended list.
(71-68) Carolina Mudcats 6 vs. (72-68) Lynchburg Hillcats 2 F/12
Dustin Peterson, LF: 1-6, 2 RBI, .260/.326/.362
Connor Lien, CF: 2-5, BB, Outfield Assist, .283/.343/.407
Johan Camargo, SS: 0-5, .257/.311/.338
Carlos Franco, 3B: 1-5, HR, BB, 2 RBI, .237/.297/.331
Seth Webster, SP: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 2.82 ERA
Carolina ended their season in one of the wackiest fashions I've ever seen, a 12 inning thriller with the Lynchburg Hillcats. It was a ho hum game through 7, with Carolina holding fast to a slim 2-1 lead. Lynchburg fought back though, and Greg Allen scored after Sal Giardina threw a ball into the outfield on a stolen base attempt to third base. 1 more inning passed with no score, and it was on to extras. Carolina could not score in the top of the 10th, and Lynchburg thought they had the win on a Greg Allen base hit until Connor Lien gunned LeVon Washington trying to score to end the inning. One more scoreless frame passed for Carolina, and again Lynchburg laced a 2 out single with a runner on second. It was all over until Tanner Krietemeier gunned Loganville native Clint Frazier out at the plate to end the inning. To the 12th they went, and after a double and an intentional walk to Connor Lien, Dustin Peterson knocked in Reed Harper, and then Lien scored on an error by Clint Frazier to give Carolina 4-2 lead. They weren't done though, and Carlos Franco dropped a bomb to center to give the Mudcats a 6-2 lead. It wasn't over yet, as Richie Tate allowed the 2 runners to reach in the bottom half, but the stellar Justin Jackson came on to finish off the game and the season in winning fashion.
(58-82) Rome Braves 4 vs. (81-57) Hickory Crawdads 5
Braxton Davidson, RF: 0-3, BB, RBI, .242/.381/.374
Luis Valenzuela, SS: 1-3, BB, .365/.387/.506
Luke Dykstra, 2B: 2-4, 2 RBI, .348/.378/.478
Oriel Caicedo, SP: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 3.55 ERA
This was just not a good season for Rome, and it ended the way it went for most of the year. They mounted a comeback from down 4-2, but could not hold the tie as Chad Sobotka gave up a run in the 8th to give Hickory the lead and eventual win. The game was still full of positives, namely the extension of Luke Dykstra's now 10 game hit streak. Tanner Murphy drilled his 17th double of the season in the 6th to finish the season off with a solid performance in August and September. Murphy is a big time bounce back candidate for the 2016 season, which will likely start with Rome. Braxton Davidson drew his system leading 83rd walk of the season and drove in a run on a sacrifice fly. Luis Valenzuela has been absolutely unstoppable no matter who has played for this season, adding another hit and walk in this one.
2015 was a truly memorable year for the system. The retooling led by John Hart had every level brimming with talent, and that translated into a lot of wins for most of the teams (except for you Rome. What happened?) There were bus crashes, near perfect games, and marvelous but futile playoff pushes. We laughed, we cried, we lived and died-OK maybe I'm getting a bit carried away. No one died yet. Though the way our drivers are doing it's only a matter of time.
This was one of the most exciting minor league seasons in recent memory, and it's unfortunate that it must draw to a close. We now have to wait and watch Atlanta every night (help), at least until fall league kicks up.
On behalf of Talking Chop, I wanna thank you guys for a fantastic season of comments and game recaps. We all enjoyed interacting with you guys, and we truly hope that 2016 brings bigger and better things. This isn't the end, but it is an end, one that shouldn't be mourned but celebrated. Our prospects worked hard to keep us entertained all year, and now get to go home and rest for awhile. They get to visit loved ones, some for the first time in months, and take a moment to sleep in their own beds for a night.
We can't wait until we get another chance to say "Austin Riley hit another home run" or swoon over the curveball of Touki Toussaint. 2015 has been a phenomenal ride, and we can't wait to share a few more with you guys soon. Don't fret, we have plenty of postseason articles planned to keep you busy. But until next time, I must sign off.
PS Special Thanks to Eric Cole and Kris Willis for helping me get adjusted. I started out part way through the season and they showed me the ropes. I've never been much for writing but Eric and Kris were always there for me when I had an article idea to run by them or just needed someone to make sure I didn't make any typos (**he still made some....I kept a few particularly hilarious ones in from time to time -Eric**). Thank you guys, it's been a pleasure working with you and all of the guys at Talking Chop. This feels like and graduation speech. I am no valedictorian I can tell you that.