We’ve reached the end, and it’s time to take a look at how the Gwinnett Stripers roster should look in 2020. You should be able to figure most of this out now, so let’s jump into what should be by far the most talented roster in the system, and maybe the most talented in all of minor league baseball. This is a pitching heavy team, but there are so many your head is gonna spin like a Touki Toussaint curveball
The Gwinnett pitching rotation is so unfair that even its own prospects can’t keep up. Two borderline blue chippers, a couple of former top prospects trying to fight their way to the bigs, and some surprise studs that made their way into top prospect contention.
It’s hard to say who the ace of staff will be for Gwinnett, but the money for me is on Kyle Wright. Wright may not have vaulted to immediate success, but when he got hot in Gwinnett he was on fire and he showed that he is a top of the rotation starter waiting to be unlocked. He kept that momentum to put up a stellar spring until that was cut short, and the only question now is if Atlanta will actually let him go back to Triple-A. I think there are things that Wright can work on in Triple-A, but there’s a big part of me that believes he is one of the Braves’s best five right now. Wright ended his 2019 on a twelve game run with a 2.66 ERA and 86 strikeouts to 22 walks in one of the toughest run environments in the history of minor league baseball. Wright was without a doubt the star of the late season in the Braves system, and the only thing standing in his way now is the leash the Braves will give him in Atlanta. With the myriad of talent around him and a World Series trophy in their sights they may not be patient with Wright, but if they are he has already shown he can be a superstar and he should continue that in 2020 please don’t let me be wrong about this I want to believe.
Number two in rotation for Gwinnett is a top 40 prospect in baseball, yet maybe only the fourth best player on the team which is quite the statement. Anderson was undoubtedly the best pitching prospect beginning to end in the system last season, putting up historically good strikeout numbers in Mississippi and posting a 2.68 ERA. He struggled in Triple-A in his adjustment to a different ball, and his grip is really going to be an interesting storyline once he makes a transition to the major leagues. Regardless, Anderson is a tremendous talent, and while it would be appropriate to expect a slow start it might not be smart seeing as Anderson has proved now for four straight seasons that he is up to the task when called on. Anderson was lights out in spring training, so he’s ready to get back on the mound for the Stripers.
Bryse Wilson comes into a fight in 2020, and he’ll be looking to prove skeptics wrong who have continuously doubted him throughout his career. Wilson managed to end his season in 2019 with a six game stretch in which he went 6-0 with a 0.90 ERA and only one home run allowed in a historically home run happy season. Wilson consistently puts up the numbers, so that won’t be enough to prove it this year. Wilson will be looking to earn another chance in Atlanta, and this time he needs to put his early career struggles behind him as the Braves will be looking to move some of their young arms.
Tucker Davidson comes in as our number four pitcher in the rotation, and I’m just laughing at this point over the fact that dude with a 2.15 ERA in the last season could be considered the fourth best anything on any team. Tucker made headlines this fall by clearing 100 mph cue video
And the excitement should remain high for him. Tucker had the one down season, but overall he is a guy who just improves, and performs, and continues to show he belongs in the top prospect conversation. Tucker will find his way into a major league rotation one day and he should stick around for a long time, it’s a question of when and where that will happen. For now, I just want to see if he can put up back to back good seasons, and get over some of the command issues he has towards the end of 2019.
I have no idea who the Braves will make the number five starter down in Gwinnett, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is an argument to be made for Muller, but right now I see the options coming down to Touki Toussaint, Patrick Weigel, Huascar Ynoa, and Philip Pfeifer. Touki of the three has the best chance to be a major league starter, and from a pure value standpoint I think you could still get that on the trade market, but if the Braves want to keep him in the organization it’s time to transition him into the elite reliever he could be. Weigel is a reliever all the way in my books, but he still deserves a shot and would as of now be my pick for the number five spot, but I think the Stripers go in another direction. Philip Pfeifer put down one of the most incredible career turnarounds I’ve ever seen, and the fact we’re even talking about it amazes me. Still, he’s a bullpen guy long term and I honestly don’t even know if that will be with the Braves but it sure would be fun to see. Ynoa probably has the best chance to stick as a starter long term, which is why I have suggested potentially keeping him in Double-A, but I figure him to be the number five starter. He started 14 games in Gwinnett last season, and while he was pretty bad I actually saw a lot of things I liked out of Ynoa and I think giving him a shot is the right move. The command improved, he started striking guys out, and the only thing that really killed him was the rabbit ball. Ynoa is still a setup guy for me in the long run, but he may be a legitimate trade asset and he’s only 21 so a future in the rotation would be less than surprising.
Notable relievers include Chris Rusin. He is probably the next guy up if someone in the bullpen gets hurt or underperforms (I’m watching you AJ Minter). Not much to talk about long term but he’s a great insurance piece that allows you to keep guys like Davidson and Burrows down until they are 100% ready. Chad Sobotka has already been optioned so he will likely see his season mostly in Gwinnett, but there’s always a shuffle and Sobotka is the guy who just won’t go away. I don’t have the utmost faith in him, but I like the arm talent and like that the Braves continue to give him chances. Jeremy Walker is a guy I like more than most, and I think he will find a place in the Braves bullpen long term. He’s a valuable asset who can give you an inning or give you three and he won’t walk himself into trouble. Jacob Webb will spend his time in Gwinnett for much of this season, and the goal for him is to stay healthy. It’s been trouble in the past, but when he steps on that mound he has always been effective. The last guy to touch on is Thomas Burrows. A lot of people have soured on Burrows, so much so that he went unprotected and unselected in the Rule 5 draft, but I think there’s still something there for him. The strikeouts are still there and he doesn’t get hit hard, but the command hasn’t been what was expected and that has hurt his value. If he can get a reign on that command he is a legit late inning option for Atlanta but it has to start here or I think the time will run out and he will be replaced by someone who can.
The catching situation for Gwinnett isn’t exciting, but it is solid and it’s led off by Alex Jackson. With all of the talk about Contreras and Langeliers, Jackson gets pushed off to the side far more than he should. Not to say he’s a major league starter because I don’t see it, but he’s a guy I think will be an effective backup in the league. He can provide pop off the bench, he’s a better defender than he gets credit for, and he will always be able to control the run game. I wish the bat was better, but it’s not, so that is what it is. Jonathan Morales will back him up I would expect.
Until guys like Shewmake or Alexander are ready to be promoted the Gwinnett infield is going to be kind of boring. Look for guys like Kazmar, Unroe, Lopez, and Kozma to get a lot of playing time this season. Hope the pitchers are as good as advertised.
Our star in the outfield for 2020 is an obvious pick, one of the great young players in the game, and a superstar in the making-Rafael Ortega. Ortega had a breakout for the ages in 2019, putting up gaudy numbers in the International league with 21 home runs, 34 doubles and a slash of .285/.373/.524. He took advantage of his promotion to Atlanta and was known for his late game heroics, including a towering sixth inning grand slam to give the Braves a lead over the Dodgers. The Braves, foolishly, went with loafer Ronald Acuña Jr. and it cost them their first round playoff series, and now inexplicably will once again demote future hall of famer Rafael Ortega. Look for Ortega to come out seeking vengeance. Rest in Peace International League.
Okay but anyways let’s talk about Cristian Pache I’ve been waiting so long. Pache is a top 15 prospect in the game except for that one publication that shall remain unnamed, and has improved every season in a Braves uniform. From the star defender who couldn’t take a walk or clear the fences to a player that can do just about everything, Pache’s rise to prospect stardom has been quick and glorious. The Stripers pitchers are going to fall in love with him, and the Braves fans will get a glimpse of their future center fielder. Originally, I expected to see Pache in Atlanta by mid season, but now I think it’s safe to bet he will spend the whole season in Gwinnett. Or start in Atlanta. Please. He’s so much fun. Pache should only be expected to improve this year. He always has. The power steps up every season, the plate discipline is more than adequate after being his biggest flaw, and through it all he hasn’t lost a step in the field or seen a significant drop in his ability to make contact. Baserunning is really the only spot left in Pache’s game that is a true liablity, and he could be a few years away from being one of the great young stars in the game as a well rounded offensive player and maybe the best defensive outfielder in the game.
Drew Waters is just a half step behind Cristian Pache according to MOST people *cough* and it’s easy to see why they make up one of the most exciting prospect tandems in the game. Gwinnett attendees will be privy to this duo likely for the entire season, with Drew Waters coming off of his big breakout season. Drew was an animal in the Southern League, hitting .319/.366/.481 over 108 games and earning a late season call up to Gwinnett where he performed decently. Waters still has a lot left to prove, especially in regards to his strikeout numbers, but he has all of the other tools to be another star in the Atlanta outfield. Waters has above average raw power and consistently hits the ball as hard as anyone in the system, and he started showing improved plate discipline towards the end of the season in 2019. He can steal bases, although it won’t be a cornerstone of his game, and he is an above average defender with a cannon arm. Waters is probably going to be a little behind Pache in getting to the league, but if he can find the sweet spot between the aggressive approach that makes him roll and the plate discipline needed to be successful, he could really be another star in this league.
For what it’s worth this also means my Atlanta roster predictions are
SP: Soroka, Fried, Hamels, Foltynewicz, Newcomb/Hernandez
RP: Hernandez/Newcomb, Greene, Smith, Jackson, Melancon, Martin, Minter, O’Day
C: Flowers, d’Arnaud
IF: Freeman, Albies, Swanson, Camargo, Riley, Hechavarria
OF: Acuña, Inciarte, Ozuna, Duvall, Markakis
In reality though, it’s going to be interesting to see if teams treat the first month, or two, or three or however long it’s shut down as development time, or if they will treat prospects like whenever it starts is the beginning of the season. It makes actually predicting what guys end up where extremely hard. If I get half of these right I’m throwing myself a party.