The Fire Frogs are entering their inaugural season in the Florida State League, formerly the Brevard County Manatees. The Braves ended their contract with the Carolina Mudcats and moved the Manatees up to the old Houston Astros Spring Training Facility which is only about 30 minutes from their Spring Training home at Disney. For their first season the Fire Frogs are getting quite a team.
The outfield should be excellent defensively with Ronald Acuna and/or Ray-Patrick Didder manning centerfield, the other in right and a combination of 2014 first rounder Braxton Davidson, Tyler Neslony and Alex Jackson in left field. Didder has an excellent arm and manned centerfield beautifully while Acuna was down last year. I doubt Acuna takes many days off despite missing so much time last year to injury. He only played 42 games between Rome and GCL, 20 in Australia and 13 MLB Spring games. He’s only 19 though and has excelled at every level so I don’t expect him to stick around in high-A too long.
Austin Riley will look to build on his strong second half in Rome (.929 OPS, 17 HR) as the everyday third baseman. Carlos Castro the extra base hit machine (39 XBH, 45 singles) is the only listed first baseman but Braxton Davidson played there in High School and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get some time there as well with the crowded outfield situation. Alejandro Salazar, Omar Obregon and Alay Lago will split up time at second and short.
Jonathan Morales and Wigberto Nevarez will share the catching load with Alex Jackson. Morales came out of nowhere last year in Rome with a scorching first half and though he cooled down a bit towards the end he still put together an excellent season putting up wRC+ of 93 at 21 in A ball. Nevarez hasn’t hit at all the past 2 years in Rome and will serve as depth if Jackson can’t backup Morales on a regular basis. It will be interesting to see how much Jackson actually catches and I was a bit surprised to see him all the way up in High A. He looked good back there from all the reports I saw in minor league ST and he’s listed as a C/OF on the official roster press release.
The rotation is full of left handers except one - Touki Toussaint is the lone right hander in the rotation, he struggled out of the gate last year but took off after lowering his arm slot under the guidance of Rome pitching coach Dan Meyer. In his final 17 starts he racked up 110 strikeouts to only 43 walks with a 2.59 ERA.
Drew Harrington was the ACC Pitcher of the Year last year pitching all the way into the College World Series for Louisville. He went from 36 and 31 innings in 2014/15 to 110.2 in 2016 so upon drafting him the Braves sent him to Danville where he pitched mostly out of the bullpen. Luiz Gohara is a flame throwing behemoth who has been comped to CC Sabathia, he put up a 1.81 ERA in 13 GS over 69.1 IP with 81 K in 2016. Ricardo Sanchez put up solid numbers at 19 in the South Atlantic League and will turn 20 next week. Tyler Pike bounced around several affiliates with Seattle but will look to make himself at home down the the road from where he went to high school in Winter Haven, FL.
The bullpen should be pretty good as well as most of Rome’s champions head down south. Corbin Clouse, Devan Watts, Chase Johnson-Mullins, Josh Graham, Taylor Lewis, Jacob Webb all pitched in Rome at one point last year. Sean McLaughlin and Andres Santiago were the only ones not on that team. Clouse, Watts, Johnson-Mullins and Graham should form a pretty fearsome back end.