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Atlanta Braves Minor League Recap: Jackson Homers Again, Ryan Howard debuts

2 extra inning games, a brawl, and the debut of Ryan Howard all highlight a very interesting day in the Braves system

MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies
Ryan Howard made his Braves debut and reached base 4 times for the Gwinnett Braves
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

(11-5) Gwinnett Braves 5, (7-9) Pawtucket Red Sox 2

Box Score

Rio Ruiz, 3B: 0-4, .215/.261/.277

Ozzie Albies, 2B: 2-4, 2B, BB, .282/.312/.437

Ryan Howard, DH: 2-2, BB, HBP, RBI, 1.000/1.000/1.000

Enderson Franco, SP: 4 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 2.25 ERA

The GBraves are back at it again, and extended their winning streak to 4 games with an easy win. After seeing his 13 game hitting streak snapped yesterday, Ozzie Albies wasted no time in getting back in the hit column with a lead off single. After Johan Camargo singled, Ryan Howard drove in Albies in his first at bat as a Gwinnett Brave. The GBraves scored another run in the 1st off of a base hit by Matt Tuiasosopo, who drove in 4 runs in the game. Johan Camargo had 2 hits in the game and has really been performing at a high level the few games he has played at Gwinnett. With his defensive ability and improved power the Braves may give serious thought to Camargo as a short term option at third base. While his bat isn’t the typical profile for the position, a strong season coupled with the struggles of Ruiz and Adonis Garcia make it possible he is the best option until some lower level options are available or a free agent signing is made. Ozzie Albies is steal leading the International League in stolen bases (7) and doubles (7), and Lane Adams and Matt Tuiasosopo are 1-2 in the RBI category with 16 and 14, respectively.

Enderson Franco had been working out of the bullpen all the way down in Rome prior to today’s game, and had never pitched above High A, but the Braves needed someone to fill the spot voided by Aaron Blair. Franco did not look out of place in the early going, working the corners well and pitching perfect baseball through the first two innings. His time in Rome’s bullpen started to take a toll in the third and fourth, and he lost some of the sharpness but managed to continue getting outs. The bullpen did its job marvelously, with Jason Hursh allowing a run over 2.1 IP but striking out 3 and getting 4 ground ball outs. Although very early in the season, Hursh is striking out nearly a batter per inning pitched (9 K, 9.1 IP) which is well above his career number of 5.6. This doesn’t come without support either, as he has made a clear improvement in his curveball getting it sharper and much deeper and turning into a pitch that generates swings and misses rather than just being a show. He is also walking batters at a lower rate than normal. I’ve been a (somewhat) silent fan of Hursh’s potential out of the bullpen, and his early results this season have justified that optimism, though my concerns about his tendency to leave pitches up still exists. David Peterson pitched 1.2 innings scoreless, and Jason Motte struck out the side in a perfect 9th inning.

Jason Hursh’s curveball. In this at bat, Hursh threw 3 straight curveballs to get the strikeout

Next Game: 4/23 vs (7-9) Pawtucket Red Sox @ 1:05 PM ET

Probable Starters

GWN: Sean Newcomb (1-1, 5.65 ERA)

PAW: Shawn Haviland (2-1, 3.38 ERA)

(8-8) Mississippi Braves 8, (8-7) Montgomery Biscuits 4 F/13

Box Score

Adam Brett Walker, LF: 1-5, HR, 3 RBI, BB, .200/.333/.800

Connor Lien, CF: 2-6, SB, .207/.270/.379

Luis Valenzuela, 2B: 3-6, 2B, .305/.328/.441

Patrick Weigel, SP: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 2.66 ERA

In the second straight game without Travis Demeritte (we don’t know, so asking is futile) the MBraves were able to put up a good offensive performance in regulation, before exploding for 4 runs in the 13th inning to take an easy margin. The big blow in the game came off of the bat of the newest demotee Adam Brett Walker, who clubbed a 3 run home run after to MBraves had already taken the lead to extend it to a huge 4 runs. Walker had struggled in his previous at bats with 3 strikeouts, but such is the way of ABWII. Luis Valenzuela’s 3 hit performance was his first such game since the second game of the season (he had 4 in that one). Joey Meneses went 2-6 in the game and now has an .821 OPS on the season in somewhat limited action.

Patrick Weigel came out firing in this game with 4 scoreless frames, but struggled a bit more down the stretch before not being able to work out of trouble in the 6th. His only run in the 5th came off of a lead off home run, but Weigel allowed hits to 3 of the final 4 batters in the 6th before being lifted for Jesse Biddle. Biddle allowed 1 unearned run and struck out 2. His return from the DL has been successful so far, as he carries a 3.12 ERA, though he is walking a lot of batters. This is not particularly concerning for a guy coming off of Tommy John Surgery, but it’s more notable as he is a guy that doesn’t throw hard and has never been good at avoiding walks. Akeel Morris, Evan Phillips, and Chad Sobotka each pitched 2 scoreless innings. This was a welcome sign from Phillips, who has struggled tremendously in the early going this season. Akeel Morris has been the story of the bullpen, as he has been tremendous for the MBraves and has shown much better control. If he can keep going at this rate it’s only going to be a few weeks before he’s called up to Atlanta.

Next Game: 4/23 @ (8-7) Montgomery Biscuits 3:05 PM ET

Probable Starters

MIS: Kolby Allard (0-1, 1.69 ERA)

MTG: Hunter Wood (1-1, 3.63 ERA)

8-9) Florida Fire Frogs 4, (11-6) Clearwater Threshers 3 F/11

Box Score

Ronald Acuna, RF: 1-5, .228/.267/.368

Austin Riley, 3B: 1-5, .246/.307/.362

Alex Jackson,C: 3-5, 2B, HR, RBI, .338/.3358/.677

Tyler Pike, SP: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 11 K, 3.54 ERA

Like the Mississippi Braves today and Rome yesterday, the Fire Frogs decided that 11 innings just weren’t enough baseball for them and they wanted a little extra action. Fortunately they were able to get out of this one fairly quickly, with Carlos Castro hitting his first home run of the year in the 11th to give them the lead and eventually the win. Castro was then ejected from the game in the bottom of the 11th, along with Alejandro Salazar and 2 Threshers players, following a brawl on the field.

If you’ll remember Castro was ejected and suspended for an incident last season with the Hickory Crawdads. Word is that Castro *may* have enjoyed his home run a bit too much for the poor old Threshers and the first base coach (who in this case was a player. Minor Leagues woo!) just haaaad to say something to him (insert eye roll) and it wasn’t quite a friendly conversation over afternoon tea. As you may can see from the last 3 pictures (the top right shows Salazar and Castro on the Thresher in question Jan Hernandez) there is high likelihood of a few players involved facing suspension. This is a situation that clearly escalated beyond reasonable levels, and while a little fire every now and then is acceptable the players cannot let themselves into a situation that could see them injured or suspended. Alex Jackson gets our “Save some for everyone else” award in this one with his 6th home run of the season. It took Jackson 46 games to get to that number last season. Ray-Patrick Didder went hitless again, and has been atrocious at the plate this season but has walked so many times he still has a near .300 OBP despite a .158 average. RPD was removed from the game following a strikeout (see Demeritte above)

Holy strikeouts the pitching was on fire for the Fire Frogs in this game. Tyler Pike was dominant early in this game, and through 4 innings hadn’t allowed a hit or run and had struck out 8 batters. This included a second inning that saw him sit down all three batters on swinging strikeouts. Pike’s first 7 strikeouts were all swinging, with his final strikeout of the day being his 8th such strikeout on the day. Then the bullpen got in on the action and struck out 9 more batters in 5.1 IP, all by way of swings-and-misses. Jacob Webb had 5 of those strikeouts in his 2 innings pitched, including a 9th innings that saw him sit down the side in order on just 11 pitches. Corbin Couse, despite his substandard numbers the two prior games, seemed to be getting back on track control-wise and finally had a good outing for the Fire Frogs. He pitched 2 scoreless with 3 K’s and only one walk, earning the win for Froggos. Florida is in 3rd on the league strikeouts board, but has played far fewer innings than those above them and has a higher strikeout rate. Notably the two above them have a team ERA of 2.98 and 2.38, while Florida sits at 4.71, so there may be a bit of bad luck although Florida has allowed far more walks than either of those.

Next Game: 4/23 @ (11-6) Clearwater Threshers 1:00 PM ET

Probable Starters

FLO: Drew Harrington (2-1, 3.52 ERA)

CLR: Blake Quinn (0-1, 4.66 ERA)

(11-6) Rome Braves 2, (10-7) Greeneville Drive 3

Box Score

Derian Cruz, SS: 0-4, .167/.215/.250

Cristian Pache, CF: 0-3, BB, .246/.292/.311

Juan Yepez, 3B: 1-3, 2B, BB, .322/.349/.508

Bryse Wilson, SP: 4 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 2.55 ERA

I’m gonna steal the question I’m sure you’ll all want to ask for a moment, “What is up with this team, when should we start worrying about this team and those so-called great position players aren’t hitting the baseball?” I’m a fan of what Cristian Pache and Derian Cruz bring to the table, but they’ve been awful and probably don’t deserve the 2-3 spots in the order. Let’s remember the (far more talented) 2016 squad was 27-42 in the first half. Am I interested in why Pache and Cruz have not hit? Of course I am. Does the lack of walks from both catch my eye? Absolutely. With 18 year olds, especially at this level, you just have to take everything slowly and understand that most players are not Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna. We’ve become spoiled a bit by the past few seasons, but if any of you are starting to approach a cliff this early it’s worth settling down. Back to the game, Rome was absolutely dreadful outside of one inning in which they scored 2 runs (both helped by errors). The Braves were no hit through 5 innings by Darwinzon Hernandez, well I say “no hit” but he plunked 2 batters before his reliever decided to plunk another later on. 2 of those were Brett Cumberland, and to be honest that kinda matches my feelings about Cumberland’s play so far this season. Both relievers also shut down the Braves, and unsurprisingly the 2 hits came from Randy Ventura (who was inexplicable moved to 9th) and Juan Yepez (who explicably? Continues to hit 4th.)

Now that we’ve reached pitching, I get to talk about Bryse Wilson and tell you that everything you’ve heard this season is true. Wilson was nearly unhittable through his 4 innings of work, only slipping in the third when a leadoff single and some bad control allowed the Drive to cash in 2 sacrifice flies for runs. Wilson has been the best of the Rome pitchers at limiting walks, and when paired with a strikeout per inning pitched that is looking like a mighty nice return on a 4th rounder. Wilson has had one glaring issue through his first 4 games, and that is his play with runners on base. With the bases clear he is holding opponents to a .095/.156/.119 line with 23 K / 3BB, but with runners on those numbers fall apart and batters are hitting .313/.364/.438 with 5 K/ 3 BB. Small sample size caveat, it is something that needs to be watched going forward for WIlson. Raymar Navarro, suddenly available off of the DL following Rome’s 18 inning game, pitched 2 scoreless innings in relief of WIlson. Bladimir Matos pitched 2 innings and gave up one run, that run proving to be the winner for the Drive.

Next Game: 4/23 @ (10-7) Greenville Drive 4:05 PM ET

Probable Starters

ROM: Jeremy Walker (0-1, 4.38 ERA)

GVL: Michael Shawaryn (1-1, 8.03 ERA)

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