The Gwinnett Stripers roster will boast one of the top rotations in all of minor league baseball, and the roster features a handful of players that could be long-term contributors to the Braves major league success. This Stripers roster now features 8 of Talking Chop’s top 30 prospects, with 6 of those falling in the top 20. Once Luiz Gohara can return from the Injured List, the Stripers entire 5 man rotation will be in the Talking Chop Top 20.
Kolby Allard, Thomas Burrows, Corbin Clouse, Rafael De Paula, Connor Johnston, Elian Leyva, Andres Santiago, Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Jacob Webb, Bryse Wilson, Dan Winkler
IL: Caleb Dirks, Luiz Gohara
Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Kolby Allard, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright*
Mike Soroka is the Braves top pitching prospect at the moment, but had you been told a year ago he would be starting this season in Triple-A it would have been surprising. Soroka quickly made it to the major leagues after 4 starts in 2018, but nagging shoulder injuries after a successful MLB debut has taken away nearly his entire 2018 season and prevented him from grabbing a spot in Atlanta in 2019. There’s no question that Soroka has the stuff to succeed in the major leagues and will be one of the starting five if he turns in a string of healthy starts, but for now the concern about his shoulder continues to grow. Shoulders are notorious for causing trouble long term, and though you want to have confidence it’s always going to give a bit of pause when a guy just can’t shake this sort of injury. Soroka will have no problem with Triple-A lineups, and hopefully will find himself back in Atlanta sooner rather than later.
Touki Toussaint was another seen as an odds on favorite to make the major league roster, but a 8.62 ERA in spring training left him on the outside looking in. Still, Touki showed tremendous peripherals with 20 strikeouts to 3 walks in 15 ⅔ innings over the course of the spring, and if he can continue his trend of walking fewer batters every season he should be knocking on the door after just a few starts in Gwinnett. Toussaint was unfair in his 8 starts with Gwinnett last season, posting a 1.43 ERA in 50 ⅓ innings. It’s not smart to expect that level of production again from any pitcher, but it’s safe to say that Touki should have no trouble disposing of Triple-A hitters and the Braves are going to have a difficult balancing act, especially if one of the more established starters begins to struggle.
Fresh off of his first major league start, Bryse Wilson was demoted to the Stripers, which is not all that unsurprising but won’t be a long term arrangement. While Bryse has not had as much success as the previous two pitchers in limited exposure to Triple-A, he posted some phenomenal peripherals in 2018 with 28 strikeouts to 3 walks in 22 innings. The problem was his 6 home runs allowed, and that will continue to be a statistic worth tracking. Over 17 innings in spring training and his first regular season start Wilson allowed 4 home runs. There is some precedent for Braves prospects in recent seasons coming up and struggling with the long ball, but of the most recent notable players (Aaron Blair, Matt Wisler, Lucas Sims) Wilson has both the best raw stuff and the best command so it is an unfair comparison. If Wilson can cut into that home run rate he will also find himself pushing the Braves for a rotation spot even in just the first couple of months of the season.
Kolby Allard is looking to erase the narrative surrounding him this season, which is that of a player who just doesn’t have the stuff to succeed. It’s hard to believe that just 2 years after being Baseball America’s 37th overall prospect Allard is seen as a longshot to crack the rotation, but how we got to this point is concerning and disappointing. All of Allard’s pitches regressed in 2017 and 2018, and while he’s continued to get outs and move up the ladder he has struggled to find an out pitch to go to. Allard’s tendency to work up in the zone hurt him in his short major league stint, and it seems he’ll need to focus on refining himself into an elite command guy if he wants to make it at the major league level. Optimistically, he’s never really struggled at the minor league level despite always being one of the youngest players in the league, and if he can find a way to work that success into a major league game plan he still has a shot of being a low 4/high 5 starter.
Luiz Gohara will open his season on the injured list, and with no real indication of a timeline for his return it’s safe to say that 5th spot in the rotation will be covered by Kyle Wright when Mike Foltynewicz returns from the disabled list. Gohara is still the same talent he was a few years ago, but his inability to get on the field and sustain success due to a series of events has taken a huge hit to his status and leaves him in danger of being buried. Gohara showed some positive signs last year by lowering his walk rate while still striking out batters, but saw a sharp increase in home runs against him. Hopefully Gohara’s shoulder makes a recovery soon and he finds himself back on the field, but until then it’s really difficult to make any predictions for Gohara or his season.
The Stripers roster carries two of the top relief prospects in the system in Corbin Clouse and Thomas Burrows, and both seem to be ready to contribute to a weak Atlanta bullpen. Clouse got 16 innings in Gwinnett last season and was as unhittable as always, and over 65 innings across two levels he carried a 1.94 ERA with 83 strikeouts. As he’s progressed he’s managed to drastically reduce his walk rates, but it’s still going to be the biggest piece of his game to watch as it’s the only major weakness in his arsenal. Burrows wasn’t the same sort of dominant as Clouse last season as he battled early season control problems of his own, but once he made his way to Double-A was one of the top relievers in the minor leagues. He posted a 1.42 ERA over 19 innings at Mississippi, with 27 strikeouts to 6 walks. Both of these lefties should see some time in Atlanta this season
Alex Jackson, Raffy Lopez
Alex Jackson had a brutal 2018 season and looked for parts of it as if he was lost at the plate, but he started to show signs of turn around towards the end of the season in Gwinnett and leveraged that momentum into a pretty strong spring training. Jackson saw some resurgence in his power production in Gwinnett, and with that he began to pull out of his slump. Jackson saw a .097 jump in his ISO between Double-A and Triple-A and saw his walk rate take a step forward. Jackson was stellar in 27 plate appearances in spring training, and the key now will be for him to cut into his strikeout rate enough to be decent hitter. If Jackson can tap into his power potential he can still be a good major league catcher, but he is still raw defensively and has to take steps before he’ll be ready to handle a major league staff full time.
Andres Blanco, Pedro Florimon, Sean Kazmar Jr., Jack Lopez, Luis Marte, Austin Riley
We all know you’re reading the hitters section for one player, and you do so with good reason. Pedro Florimon’s fantastic had many calling for him to--- wait, I’m sorry I’m being told you are not here for my piece on Florimon, so I guess I will have to save that one. Austin Riley is the big piece the Braves are banking on adding to the lineup in the near future, and sits as a consensus top 40 prospect in baseball. Riley already handled Triple-A well last season, but an injury took away some much-needed development time and the Braves didn’t feel confident handing him the reigns in the major leagues on a full time basis. With the presence of Josh Donaldson at the hot corner in Atlanta Riley will have the benefit of an entire season to show he’s ready for the major leagues and to develop his skill set without worrying about the shuffling of rosters. Riley’s strikeouts started to tick up at the end of 2018 and that will be the major point of focus for him this season. The future is bright for Austin Riley and the Braves infield.
Travis Demeritte, Adam Duvall, Ryan LaMarre, Rafael Ortega
The outfield for Gwinnett is disappointingly shallow, with two guys who could theoretically make an impact in Atlanta but if needed to would not be a good sign for the Braves season. Demeritte is the only one who can be given any sort of long term outlook but his strikeouts continue to rise every season despite only marginal production increases elsewhere. Being out of the Southern League should help Demeritte’s power numbers some, but he’s going to have to show his hit tool will play or he’ll never get much opportunity in the major leagues.