With a tear in our eyes, the Talking Chop team bids adieu to the Atlanta Braves minor league regular season. It ends a little differently than years passed, with only Gwinnett advancing to the playoffs, winners of the International League South Division with the second-best record in the IL.
Here’s how the finale of the regular season went down on Labor Day.
Gwinnett Stripers 8, Durham Bulls 5
- Austin Riley, 3B: 1-for-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K
- Cristian Pache, CF: 3-for-3, 1 R, 1 BB
- Huascar Ynoa: 5 IP. 3 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 4 K
Well, the Stripers bats surely didn’t want to go out quietly. Despite the bevy of exciting youth on the Gwinnett squad, it was the veterans who came to play. Left fielder Ryan LaMarre went 2-for-3 with two runs and two RBI, Sean Kazmar, Jr. added three hits and four RBI, and Jack Lopez cranked the Stripers only home run, his 12th of the season.
The young guns showed up as well, of course. Pache closes the regular season on a five-game hitting streak. He’s hit in 14 of his last 15 games, raising his average from .170 to .274 and his OPS nearly .300 points over the same span. His outfield counterpart, Drew Waters finished with an 0-for despite a breakthrough age-20 campaign.
Ynoa came out sharp allowing just one hit through his first four innings. He still needs to get sharper around the zone, but he has shown the ability to strike people out. If he can cut down the walks — seven in his last 8.2 innings, for example — he can become a solid weapon for the Braves. Sometimes it feels like we forget he’s still 21.
In rehab news, Riley played the hot corner for the whole game and is hopefully close to a return. Darren O’Day fired one solid inning of ball, striking out two around a hit. It got a little dicey at the end, but Patrick Weigel went 1.1 innings of one-run ball to close it out.
Mississippi Braves 3, Chattanooga Lookouts 2
- Trey Harris, RF: 2-for-4, 1 R
- Greyson Jenista, 1B: 3-for-3, 1 BB
- Braden Shewmake, SS: 1-for-4
Claudio Custodio finished out a strong 2019 campaign. The 28-year-old — once a promising bullpen arm in the New York Yankees lower minors — pitched well for Mississippi in the bullpen before closing out the season in the rotation to mixed results. Don’t expect a renaissance from Custodio, but he could provide to be a depth arm next season if the Braves are in a pinch.
At the plate, Riley Unroe finished his season by adding some insurance in the bottom of the seventh with an RBI triple scoring the third run of the game, a run the M-Braves wound up needing. Jenista finished strong, recording three singles to cap off his much-improved second half. He is quite the conundrum when 2020 season starts in guessing where he will start, but a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League could propel him to Gwinnett.
Speaking of the desert, Trey Harris ended his 2019 breakout with two more hits as well. Over three levels, Harris slashed .322/.388/.498 with 26 doubles, seven triples, and 14 home runs. He was clearly one of the best stories in the system and will (hopefully) get the national recognition he deserves once in the Fall League when people are watching.
Asheville Tourists 5, Rome Braves 3
- Justin Dean, CF: 1-for-3, 1 BB
- Brendan Venter, 3B: 3-for-4, 2 R
- Victor Vodnik: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R (1 ER), 1 BB, 5 K
That was certainly the way we needed to see Vodnik close out the season. An up and down, injury-plagued season certainly hurt his chances, but there is no denying that Vodnik entered 2019 with high hopes from many who had a taste of what he showed in the GCL last year. After a red hot May and June, Vodnik missed all of July and was shaky through August.
On Monday, the 19-year-old righty tossed a season high five innings as a starter, landing 52 of his 77 pitches for strikes and posting that 5-to-1 K:BB ratio he is capable of doing on a regular basis. He’s still somewhat raw, but he definitely is one to watch in 2020 in many of the same ways Freddy Tarnok was this year. We’ll see how aggressive the Braves are with Vodnik come April.
At the plate, Justin Dean’s final tuneup before heading West saw him record his 122nd hit of the year. He closes the season with a .285 batting average and .818 OPS with a South Atlantic League best 85 runs, nine triple and 45 stolen bases to go along with nine home runs and 18 doubles.
Speaking of doubles, Braves sleeper draft pick Bryce Ball closed out the season with one of his own. Catcher Ricardo Rodriguez had two hits in the finale with all three Rome RBI. It was a rough season for Rome, but the young Braves had a strong second half, staying in playoff contention until the final week of the season.