The 2018 season for the Danville Braves gets underway today. This is a team that is loaded with college talent, but the bigger story will actually be who is not here.
Thanks to penalties under John Coppolella and the previous front office costing the Braves numerous high end prospects, the main story for Danville is going to be the guys set free by MLB.
Kevin Maitan was here last year, but would likely have began here in 2018. Abrahan Gutierrez, Yunior Severino, Livan Soto, Juan Contreras, and Yefri Del Rosario are all exciting talents from last year’s GCL club who were expected to be in Danville this year but now play in other organizations.
Those guys will be missed, but instead of focusing on them we should be focused on the talented team which will be suiting up in the Appalachian League.
Note that the first game is tonight at 7 PM Eastern against Pulaski. Yankees elite pitching prospect Luis Medina is the confirmed starter for Pulaski, so the bats will get a real test to start the year.
The guy to come and see is going to be fifth round pick Trey Riley. I’m not sure exactly how they plan to monitor his workload, but he will be showing off his two filthy pitches here to begin his career.
Overslot 11th round pick Jake Higginbotham joins the Danville roster, but may be on a tightly restricted innings count after basically not pitching in two years before this spring.
Matt Rowland was an overslot 11th round pick back in 2016, but hasn’t appeared in a game yet because of injury. He’s also in Danville and another promising young arm worth paying close attention to.
Two more newcomers to the system expected to start or piggyback are 2018 draftees Tanner Lawson and Zach Guth. Both started their careers at bigger college programs, Houston and Maryland respectively, but transferred to different locations. Lawson, a lefty dropped down a level and had a strong college career, while Guth went the JUCO route and racked up plenty of strikeouts this year.
There are a pair of arms that aren’t new to the system as well. Dilmer Mejia has struggled this year in five combined appearances between Florida and Rome, but he was solid here last year and provides a proven veteran for all of the newcomers. The other guy not new to the system in the rotation is Jose Montilla, who was solid in the DSL last year, and wasn’t bad in two late season GCL starts. The 20 year old Dominican native could be another arm to watch.
The bullpen is just loaded. The guy to watch is Stetson senior sign Brooks Wilson. Wilson was a two way guy there who just dominated thanks to his fastball and splitter. I wouldn’t be surprised if he only had a short stay in Danville.
Drafted out of Iowa, Zach Daniels is a second promising two pitch reliever from this draft class. A third 2018 draftee is Zach Seipel, a small school guy from a cold weather school that is new to pitching. Seipel struck out 63 in 36.1 IP this year, so he will be a guy to watch.
The biggest surprise is Jake Belinda being here, as the right hander has thrown 31 solid innings for Rome this year, posting a 3.48 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. A second guy who had spent a lot of time in Rome this year is Tanner Allison, a 2017 draftee who has big stuff but is yet to harness it as evidence by his 13.13 ERA and 2.50 WHIP in 24 IP.
Three guys who played a big part out of the pen last year are back without having moved up yet. Each has quality stuff but some command concerns. The biggest name may be 8th round senior sign John Curtis. The lefty out of Lenoir-Rhyne posted a 2.13 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 25.1 IP. Connor Simmons from Georgia Southern had a 2.95 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 18.1 IP. Keith Weisenberg was a big reliever out of Stanford last year with some command issues. He was here last year and was solid in 25 innings of work.
He isn’t signed yet, but expect Danville to be the destination for Tristan Beck when he does sign. Same for the guys who are still in the NCAA Tournament or just eliminated from it like Nolan Kingham, Mitch Stallings, Ty Harpeneau, Ryan Shetter, and even infielder A.J. Graffanino.
Five catchers will be here, though a trio stand out above the group. The biggest name will be Ricardo Rodriguez, who was acquired from the Padres a few years ago now. Rodriguez has a bit of potential, but still hasn’t hit enough to truly emerge.
The others are a pair of recent draft picks. Hagen Owenby, a 2017 pick with power, and this year’s draftee Rusber Estrada- a sleeper out of the JUCO ranks.
My opinion is that none of these guys really stand out from the group. Not that they aren’t talented, just that at this point in time all three are jumbled in together. That could mean a rotation unless one takes a step forward.
The other two guys are 2017 draft choice Zack Soria, who posted a respectable .736 OPS in the GCL last year as a 23 year old, and this year’s draft pick from Oregon Ray Soderman. Soderman doesn’t have much of a bat, but is noted for his ability to work with pitchers.
The biggest name in the infield will be Greg Cullen. The extremely productive draftee out of Niagara will likely play second base. Another small school draftee who was highly productive is D3 product Michael Mateja, a third baseman.
Toolsy Nick Shumpert is back, and he is a breakout with the hit tool away from moving up the ladder. Shumpert adds versatility, playing second, third, and short last year. Luis Mejia doesn’t come with Shumpert’s pedigree, but plays the same three positions and has been around the organization for a while now- making it as far as Rome earlier this year.
Brett Langhorne is a senior sign who adds some versatility. The former prep shortstop turned third baseman doesn’t have the ideal power, but he can field and he’s a better runner than most third basemen.
First base will be shared by a pair of sluggers in Griffin Benson and Nicholas Vizcaino. Benson started the year in Rome but was quickly sent back to short season ball. He’s got some power, but is yet to tap into it in game. Vizcaino hit .259 in the GCL last year with 10 doubles in 135 at bats.
Marcos Almonte is a speedy utility guy signed after he was released by the Astros. Almonte was hitting .221 in Low A this year at the age of 22. He was there last year and in 322 at bats managed 9 homers and 11 steals. He’s a guy who has had a 20 steal season before and in the past two years has lined up everywhere but catcher and first base as a position player.
The biggest name on the roster is going to be second round draft pick Greyson Jenista. The sweet swinging middle of the order hitter is probably too good for this league, so if you plan to see him this year do it early before he gets promoted to Rome. There is a chance he sticks around if he decides to really make some adjustments to his swing in order to tap into his raw power.
Another draft pick in town will be UNC Greensboro center fielder Andrew Moritz. Moritz is the three time SoCon batting champ, and should be an exciting player to watch with his combination of hitting ability and speed.
Another draft pick on the roster is Justin Dean, a small school undersized player, but one with an intriguing mix of power and speed. He is a former college teammate of Curtis.
Center fielder Jose Bermudez is a speedy leadoff type, and he actually saw eight games in Rome back in April.
Also on the roster is Carlos Baerga Jr. from last year’s GCL team. The final piece is Cuban Henry Quintero, who signed last July 2nd and got off to a hot start in the DSL as an older player(he’s 24) before an injury cut his momentum.
The top prospect here is easily Greyson Jenista right now. The slugger is a very high upside bat and may not be challenged much here. Trey Riley is easily the second best prospect on the roster, and another guy with real upside. The third guy would have to be Andrew Moritz, a speed and defense based center fielder who can really hit.
The fourth and fifth best prospects in Danville for me both have injury history- Matt Rowland and Jake Higginbotham. Rowland is tough to really project after he has missed two years and is yet to pitch in a pro game, while Higginbotham has stuff but is in need of some innings to refine himself.
Just off my Top 5 would be Brooks Wilson, the potential relief weapon, Niagara’s extremely productive second baseman Greg Cullen, toolsy Nick Shumpert, and promising reliever Zach Daniels.