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Mississippi Braves 2018 Roster Preview

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The Braves AA team has a nice blend of starting pitching, power hitting and high end relievers. The Mississippi Braves will be a team to reckon with in 2018.

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-All Star Game Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves AA team, Mississippi Braves (Southern League), is located in Pearl, Mississippi where they play at Trustmark Park.

2018 should be a very exciting season as the roster has quite a few top prospects including Wright, Touki, Fried, Riley and Jackson. While some of the top prospects likely won’t stay the entire season in AA, it still has a group of players trying to make a name for themselves.

Managers

Manager: Chris Maloney - 1st season with the Braves in any capacity and spent the previous 17 seasons in the Cardinals organization, minors and majors.

Pitching Coach: Dennis Lewallyn - Joined the Braves organization in 2013 and seems to be one hell of a pitching coach. Lewallyn has 46 years of professional baseball service including 36 in a coaching role.

Hitting Coach: Carlos Mendez - This will be Mendez’s 11th season with the Braves organization, but his first with the Mississippi Braves. He was previously the hitting coach for the Class A Florida Fire Frogs.

Starting Rotation

Kyle Wright, Max Fried, Touki Toussaint, Ricardo Sanchez, Tyler Pike

Kyle Wright, 6’4”, RHP

2017 Stats: 18 K/6 BB in 17 IP with a 1.00 WHIP (High A); 121 K/31 BB in 103 IP with a 1.09 WHIP (Vandy)

Info: Kyle Wright has seen an uptick in velocity, so it’s hard to say where he sits, but I’ve seen anywhere from sitting 92-95 to sitting 94-97, maxing out around 98. Last year is the year I really started to pay attention to college players and the draft in general. Wright had a bad start to the year cause he was trying to blow everyone away with the fastball and couldn’t. Not even throwing 95-98. He smartly dialed it back down, relying on his impressive arsenal of pitches and really dominated after that. His poor 1st half could have been the reason he slid all the way to the Braves at the 5th pick in the draft. Regardless of why, Braves fans should be thrilled.

His curve is his best secondary and is a plus pitch already, but his slider and change are already above average. Even though he’s a college arm, there’s still considerable amount of growth left for Wright and he still has the potential for 4 plus or better pitches. His control is average, but he could end up being above average. He has all the makings of a #2 or better starter at the MLB level. And his first full season starting in AA already shows how much the Braves believe in him.

Max Fried, 6’4”, LHP

2017 Stats: 91 K/45 BB in 92.2 IP with a 1.45 WHIP in the minors and 22 K/12 BB in 26 IP at the MLB level. He’s shown to be around 9 K/9 and around 4 BB/9. Also, 32 K/8 BB in 26 IP with a 0.88 WHIP in Winter League.

Info: Fastball should sit 92-95 (60FV) to go along with one of the best curves (60/65FV) in the system when he’s on, and effective change that flashes above average (55FV). However, his control isn’t always there so we’ve seen him start slow the past 2 seasons and crank it up a few notches to end both 2016 & 2017 on such high notes. Fried even dominated in Winter League this year, which is notoriously good for hitters. His 2017 was derailed a bit due to a blister problem that impacted much of his season. For Fried to succeed, he needs to refine his pitches, improve his control and simply stay healthy. Another good thing about Fried is that he’s a groundball pitcher, having a groundball rate of over 52% (65% at MLB level) in 2017.

Touki Toussaint, 6’3”, RHP

2017 Stats: 167 K/64 BB in 145IP with a 1.23 WHIP. He was averaging about 10 K/9 and close to 4 BB/9.

Info: Garrett Spain already did a fantastic write-up on Touki here. However, Touki is a flyball pitcher though his HR/FB was under 8% in 2017. Touki has the potential for 2 plus-plus pitches in his fastball and curve, so he needs to continue to focus on improving the change-up and his control, which are still below average. Touki is primed for a breakout year.

Ricardo Sanchez, 5’11”, LHP

2017 Stats: 101 K/46 BB in 100 IP with a 1.63 WHIP. That’s a 9 K/9 and 4 BB/9.

Info: Low 90’s fastball (55FV), a curve that should be a plus pitch (60FV) and an average change (50FV). Sanchez is about to turn 21, but already on the 40 man, so the Braves will want to see more improvement as he’s not changed much over the 3 years in the Braves org.

Tyler Pike, 6’0”, LHP

2017 Stats: 154 K/90 BB in 144.1 IP with a 1.34 WHIP.

Info: Fastball sits right around 90 (50/55FV), followed by a very good change-up (60FV) in the 78-82 range and a slow breaking curve (50FV). He doesn’t throw hard, but when he’s on his change-up gets a lot of swing and misses. Control has been Pike’s issue his whole career, so hopefully more time with the pitching coach, Lewallyn, can help get him sorted out.

Bullpen

Matt Withrow, 6’5”, RHP

2017 Stats: 70 K/31 BB in 79.2 IP and a 1.15 WHIP.

Info: Low to mid 90’s fastball (92-95) with an above avg slider and an avg curve and change-up. Withrow dealt with injuries in 2017 that kept him to just 15 starts. He does have history with injuries, but hopefully he stays healthy, cause he could be a guy that surprises some. He is a flyball pitcher, so also something to keep an eye on. Withrow has been a starter his career, but the Braves are moving him to the bullpen for the time being, possibly due to those injury concerns or too many arms. *Update - he’s starting the season on the 7-day DL.

Corbin Clouse, 6’0”, LHP

2017 Stats: 72 K/34 BB in 57 IP and a 1.51 WHIP. He’s running about 11 K/9 and over 5.30 BB/9.

Info: Low to mid 90’s 4-seamer, a low 90’s 2-seamer with good movement, along with a low 80’s slider and a 12-6 curve. Has converted 8 of 11 save opportunities. Clouse also didn’t fair too well in the hitter’s haven of Winter League, but did have 15 strikeouts in 11 innings.

Adam McCreery, 6’8”, LHP

2017 Stats: 90 K/38 BB in 62.1 IP and a 1.36 WHIP. He was right around 13 K/9 and a 5.5 BB/9.

Info: Throws a mid 90’s fastball and a low 80’s slider and a curve. Put up big strike out numbers along with the walks, but also has about 65% ground ball rate. Has converted 7 of 10 save opportunities.

Jacob Webb, 6’1”, RHP

2017 Stats: 74 K/36 BB in 65.1 IP and a 1.26 WHIP. That’s about 10 K/9 and a 5 BB/9 average.

Info: Low 90’s fastball (max 95), high 80’s cutter/slider mix, and will also throw a change and curve. Webb is interesting in that he has a high line drive rate at 22.5%, and only a 35-40% groundball rate.

Josh Graham, 6’1”, RHP

2017 Stats: 66 K/27 BB in 61 IP and a 1.28 WHIP. He’s normally around 10 K/9 and 3 BB/9, but his numbers were very poor in 13 IP of AA. Did not give up a HR in 2017.

Info: Mid 90’s fastball that tops out at 98, throws a slider 2 ways (one more of a cutter and the other that dips more) and a rarely used change. Graham didn’t fair well in Winter League giving up a lot of hits, but it is a hitter’s league. When you look into it more, he had just 2 BBs in 10.1 innings and didn’t give up a HR along with 11 strikeouts. There were definitely some positives.

Chase Johnson-Mullins, 6’8”, LHP

2017 Stats: 50 K/16 BB in 44 IP with a 1.36 WHIP.

Info: Throws a 4-seamer (mid 90’s) and 2-seamer (low to mid 90’s), but his 2-seamer is a much better pitch generating swing and miss and a ton of ground balls. He’ll pair it with an effective curveball. Mullins has generated a 65% groundball rate each of the past 2 seasons. If he keeps the walks in check, he could move quickly. *Update - starting the season on the 7-day DL.

Michael Mader, 6’2”, LHP

2017 Stats: 57 K/41 BB in 64.2IP and a 1.52 WHIP

Info: Transitioned from starter to reliever and his first crack wasn’t successful. Mader throws a low 90’s fastball (max 95), but no clue if he’s throwing harder out of the pen. He’ll throw a curve and a change as well. His change will induce a good amount of groundballs, and was likely featuring it more last year as his groundball rate was up to 49%.

Wes Parsons, 6’5”, RHP

2017 Stats: 108 K/29 BB in 111.1 IP with a 1.26 WHIP.

Info: Throws a low 90’s fastball (50/55FV) (max 96) with an effective slider. He was a starter and transitioned to the bullpen last season, so his fastball was sitting 93.

Jason Hursh, 6’2”, RHP

2017 Stats: 51 K/17 BB in 52 IP with a 1.53 WHIP.

Info: On paper, Hursh looks like a legit reliever. He can pair a mid 90’s fastball (4 and 2 seamer) with an above avg slider and curve. He’s supposed to have above avg control too. So it’s maddening that he walks a ton of guys and gives up a ton of hits.

Position Players

Catchers

Alex Jackson, 6’2”, RHH

Info: .267/.328/.480/.808 - Jackson captured that hitting stroke that made him a top 10 pick back in 2014. Along with Gohara, Jackson might be yet another steal by the Braves. Jackson set career highs in doubles and HRs in 2017. He also fared well in the AFL with an .826 OPS and 5 HRs.

Tyler Marlette, 5’11”, RHH

Info: .245/.309/.405/.714 - Signed as a free agent minor league contract. Marlette is a decent hitting catcher with some pop. Turned 25 in January so not much of a prospect.

Jonathan Morales, 5’11”, RHH

Info: .219/.268/.272/.540 - Morales was coming off a solid 2016, and I had him pegged as a breakout candidate for 2017. Sadly, that didn’t happen. He didn’t get much playing time in Winter League ball, and didn’t hit there either. Morales is more of a defensive catcher, posting a 50% caught rate stealing (53 total caught stealing) in 2016, but runners didn’t test him much last season and ended with a 37% CS rate. Still 23 and catcher’s bats do take a bit longer to bust out.

Sal Giardina, 6’4”, Switch hitter

Info: .264/.348/.329/.676 - He’s tall for a catcher.

Outfield:

Connor Lien, 6’3”, RHH

Info: .187/.252/.329/.581 - I honestly thought he was released, but here he is. His performance has gotten worse the past 2 seasons for the 24 year old CF. He’s also dealt with injuries.

Travis Demeritte, 6’0”, RHH

Info: .241/.335/.457/.792 - This was an off year for Demeritte and still managed a 105 wRC+. He had a career low strikeout rate at 26%, but his walk rate and power decreased too. Demeritte still oozes athletic talent, but it’s time to put the entire package together. I guess a plus defender at 2B is moving to the OF to improve his versatility.

Tyler Neslony, 6’1”, LHH

Info: .263/.342/.363/.704 - Neslony had a fantastic season in High-A with a 140 wRC+, but ran into bad luck in AA posting a 57 wRC+ and a .229 BABIP. However, Neslony went ham in the AFL with a .972 OPS and hitting 9 HRs. We’ll see if he can carry over that kind of hitting into 2018.

Michael Reed, 6’0”, RHH

Info: .208/.346/.351/.698 - Not much of a hitter, but Reed is a high OBP guy due to ability to take a walk.

Infield:

Austin Riley, 6’3”, RHH

Info: .275/.335/.446/.786 - Riley just turned 21 on April 2nd. He already has back to back seasons with 20 HRs. Riley has gotten off to slow starts every year, but he did heat up more quickly last season, getting advice from a powerful source, Chipper Jones. He also had a 1.021 OPS with 6 HRs in the Arizona Fall League (AFL).

Michael Snyder, 6’4”, RHH

Info: .230/.298/.384/.682 - He’s 27, not a prospect. Has a little bit of pop. Strikes out a lot.

Luis Valenzuela, 5’10”, LHH

Info: .278/.321/.404/.725

Alay Lago, 6’0”, RHH

Info: .303/.342/.413/.756 - Lago isn’t a prospect as he’s 26, and the Braves picked him up from the Mexican League. Still, his first season with the Braves was a good one.

Daniel Lockhart, 5’11”, LHH

Info: .217/.300/.339/.619 - 25 year old minor league journeyman is the son of Keith Lockhart. Not much else to say. Probably will get a coaching role after he’s done playing, or something in the front office.

Cleuluis Rondon, 6’0”, Switch hitter

Info: Career .209 hitter, but still 23 years old. More than likely org filler.

Predictions for 2018:

Best Starting Pitcher - Kyle Wright

Best Bullpen Pitcher - Adam McCreery

Team MVP: Austin Riley

Dark Horse Prospect: Tyler Neslony