In the second installment of the minor league roster prediction series we are going to head down to Florida with the Fire Frogs, and the decisions are starting to get intriguing. Florida’s roster should have a deeper talent pool this season, with a mix of talented new draftees and more experienced players that will max this a battlefield for who will represent the Braves as a top prospect going forward.
The pitching staff for Florida is going to be an interesting mix of players, and I’m quite excited to see how they develop this season. At the top you have to lead off with Victor Vodnik, who should be expected to take on a significant starting role this season. I could actually see the Braves being extremely patient and leaving Vodnik at Rome for a few weeks to get his feet wet as a full time starter, but with the season now being delayed it might be best to just go ahead and push him. Vodnik is a talented arm and is the one I’m most excited about in the lower minor leagues this season. He’s got a fastball and curveball combination that was dynamite in the South Atlantic League, and with the changeup coming on more and more every day he’s a guy who could make waves in Florida this season. Long term most expect Vodnik to end up in the bullpen, but I’m moving towards being all in on the arm talent and saying I expect his future in a rotation.
Freddy Tarnok did not have the 2019 he wanted, and with the injuries and the struggles he had I would expect the Braves won’t try to push him into the log jam at Double-A and Triple-A and just give him another chance to turn things around in Florida. Tarnok is the prototype for a starting pitcher with a big frame, a live arm, and a slider that can dive away from hitters, but he did take a step back last season and you have to wonder if that June injury was something that had been lingering all season. Tarnok finished off his season in stellar fashion with 41 strikeouts to 10 walks over 45 ⅓ innings, leading to a sub-3 ERA. This is the confidence he needed to give the Braves going into 2020 and it might be enough to push him over the top, but right now I think patience is a smart course of action and Tarnok honestly needs the seasoning before he is ready to take on Double-A.
The rest of this Florida pitching staff is going to be worth watching just to see who can prove themselves and who will slide off of the radar after this season. Mitch Stallings had a tremendous first full season with a 2.04 ERA and 79 strikeouts to 16 walks in 75 innings, but he’s done it against much younger competition and it’s time to really see what he can do when pushed. I really don’t think we’ll know exactly what Stallings is until he is in Double-A, and I think long term he is just a middle/long relief option, but guys who can command three pitches find jobs and Stallings has shown he can do that even if the measurables aren’t in his favor. Ricky DeVito was a college arm who made it up to Rome last season, and the logical progression is just to keep moving him on up. They may start DeVito now, even though he is going to move to the bullpen long term, and he’s another we’ll just need to see in action against older competition to really see his potential. Troy Bacon may find himself in Double-A next season, but again we have a real logjam of pitching ahead of him so he may find himself relegated back to Florida. Don’t see this as a knock on Bacon, because he is a legitimate relief option the Braves should look forward to and his performance thus far has been strong, it’s just that some guys have to be held back and he may be it.
Let’s move now into a couple of favorites of mine that I think we’ll see in Florida. Darius Vines might be an overly aggressive selection, especially for a guy who posted a 6.61 ERA in Danville, but the peripherals show a guy who will do nothing but get better, and he’s one I think will impress in a camp setting and grab a surprise promotion. Rome is probably a more legitimate choice for him, especially if they want him to start, but I believe in him and there’s always a few surprises every year so why not. No one thinks about Luis Mora anymore. He’s 24, hasn’t made it past low-A, and can’t control the ball to save his life but dammit he can throw hard and I wanna talk about him. Mora legitimately is Mauricio Cabrera bad when it comes to keeping the ball anywhere near the plate, but his stuff is in my opinion a league ahead of Cabrera’s. His fastball has life and can push into triple digits, he’s got a 6’4 frame and gets great extension, and his slider is a real out pitch that has made leaps since the first time I saw him. The strikeout rates (62 in 43 ⅓ innings) are legitimate, and while I don’t expect him to sniff a major league roster you always gotta love a guy who is just a straight gunslinger on the mound. Unless you’re a hitter. You probably should be afraid of a guy who throws 101 and can’t tell the difference between home plate and the batter’s box.
I anticipate a bit of a stack at catcher, and one ending up stuck back in Rome is probably the actual most likely scenario. Of course we have to lead off with the guy everyone will be talking about on the roster, and that’s ninth overall pick Shea Langeliers. Langeliers is a bit of a tweener in that I think he’s far above a High-A player but the bat is a bit short of competing in Double-A, so we’ll have to see what happens with him. As of now I expect he’ll spend a few weeks in Florida as the primary catcher, and then move up to Double-A once Contreras gets a promotion or the Braves decide it’s time for a good, old-fashioned catching competition. What he is in my book a guy whose bat is good enough and who can play a great defensive game. He’ll really be a big help to a group of pitchers all of which are looking to make a push for themselves, and he’s good enough I think he’ll drum up some excitement with his numbers in Florida. Or not. What do I know?
Logan Brown is the one of the three catchers that will definitely be on the roster. This is the level he needs to be at and he’ll play a nice backup to Shea. I’m not quite as high on him as others at Talking Chop, but I respect the hustle and it’s worth noting that the others do like him a fair bit. Playing behind Langeliers will afford him the opportunity to observe how he calls games and receives the ball, both things that Brown needs to work on. Ricardo Rodriguez is a personal favorite of mine and I think he needs to be in High-A, but with the weakness at catching and the jam of players here the Braves may see fit to just give him time on the field and keep him at Rome. Ignore the numbers for a minute because I don’t think they tell his full story, Rodriguez is good enough to play in Florida and I would like to see him get the opportunity this season.
Let’s go around the diamond a bit because this should be a fun group. Bryce Ball is going to carry a lot of excitement into 2020, but don’t be disappointed if he gets off to a tough start. The hitting environment in that league doesn’t match well to Ball’s skills and he may not look his best, but focus on his plate discipline and how much he is making contact to really see what the improvements are for ball. Ball has the power to hit it out in any park in the world so he will still get his, but if you’re expecting a pure rampage like 2019 you may see him fall a bit short of that.
Over to second base we have Greg Cullen, and I debated having him in Double-A but I just don’t see him getting playing time in that infield. Cullen is definitely going to move up and he’ll do just fine in High-A, and then once we get a month or so of these guys you may see Cullen get his call once the infield clears out a bit. Cullen can hit, but the run environment the way it is in the Florida State League you probably aren’t going to get much out of him power wise.
The final notable prospect in the infield is AJ Graffanino and I’m not sure what to think about him right now. The defensive ability is legitimate, but that injury last season clouds his outlook and with now Delgado and Shewmake above him and a guy like Beau Phil-pfft okay I can’t say that with a straight face. I like Graffanino a lot. I believe in him more than I probably should. He’s a versatile and well above average glove, and I think the bat is going to come around more than he’s given credit for. I just want to see him on the field.
This is either going to be a fun group or I’m completely wrong and it’s going to be mind-numbingly bad. I went back and forth on this a bit but I think we’ll see Jefrey Ramos repeat the level, at least for a short while. He hasn’t played all that great if we’re being honest, and if it comes down to him or Justin Dean as to who gets left in High-A then the decision is pretty clear to me. Still, I expect one of those two players in High-A and if it is Dean it would not surprise me. It would disappoint me, but not surprise me.
The final two players on the roster are borderline prospects and I’m probably overstating it to say event that, but your center fielder is going to be Jose Bermudez. Was he great in Rome? No. But he can defend well, he can run, and he needs to be pushed if the Braves have any hope of him being a legit prospect. I like Bermudez more than I should and I actually think he is ready for this step even if the numbers last season were less than spectacular. Jeremy Fernandez is in much the same boat in that he disappointed last season with the bat, but I think Fernandez can really hit, he has power, and he just got derailed a bit by a somewhat turbulent season. I could see him staying in Rome as well, but at 22 I think the Braves will want to push him because he is a legitimate talent and he has no value if he’s just some random 22 year old putting up numbers in Low-A.