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Braves MiLB Preview: Rome Braves look to take over first place, and Michael Harris II is still good

The top three levels of the Atlanta Braves minor leagues went 4-2 last week. What is in store for the week ahead?

Rome Braves home opener for the 2019 MiLB season Wayne Cavadi | Talking Chop

The Rome Braves continue to show they are a true contender for the South Atlantic League crown. This past week, they took down the best team in the league and inch closer to locking up that first half title.

Gwinnett and Mississippi also won their respective series for a winning week on the farm. Here’s you weekly look back at the week that was and what lies ahead for the young Atlanta Braves minor leaguers.

Gwinnett Stripers (21-21)

Last week: 4-2

Last week’s rotation: Connor Johnstone, Bryce Elder, Huascar Ynoa, Kyle Muller, Touki Toussaint, Nolan Kingham

Next week: at Norfolk, May 24-29

The Stripers handled the Memphis Redbirds last week, winning the four midweek games in a row. This week, they travel to the Adley Rutschman-less Norfolk Tides. The Baltimore Orioles affiliate is 20-22 on the year.

It was good to see Bryce Elder bounce back quickly after a nightmare start the week before. He should continue to dominate in Triple-A as he did this past week, striking out 11 and walking one. The strikeouts are up this year for Elder, which is a plus: His strength is being able to efficiently go deep into ball games.

No other starter really blew the roof off this past week, so let’s turn our focus to the best reliever in the minor leagues. Victor Vodnik made his Triple-A debut and much like Double-A, he was untouchable. He made two appearance and allowed no hits or runs but did walk three. Two came in his debut on May 19 so it could have just as easily been nerves. Most wanted to see him as a starter, but he sure is adjusting well to his new role.

Braden Shewmake started the week slow, but finished with a bang, including a four-hit night on Saturday. Drew Waters recorded at least a hit in each game he played last week and is now slashing .304/.333/.457 since returning to Triple-A from his rehab stint. These continue to be the two prospects to watch at the plate in Gwinnett.

Mississippi Braves (18-21)

Last week: 4-2

Last week’s rotation: Jared Shuster, Alan Rangel, Freddy Tarnok, Darius Vines and Tanner Gordon

This week: at Pensacola, May 24-29

The M-Braves also had a winning week last week, besting Biloxi yet again. This week, they travel to 19-15 Pensacola. The Miami Marlins Double-A squad is first in the division and split a series with Mississippi to open the month.

The Mississippi Braves rotation had arguably the most exciting combined young arms in the system heading into 2022. Thus far, it has been very Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with little consistency between strong starts and dominant ones. This week, Jared Shuster, Alan Rangel and Freddy Tarnok were very pedestrian, while Darius Vines had the kind of start that made him one of the breakout starts of 2021. Luckily, Shuster threw six strong innings to close the week after an absolutely horrific 0.2-inning start to open the week. What’s that mean for this week? Who knows?

You all hear about Michael Harris II? He had four two-hit games this past week and is really starting to rip it hard with five doubles and a home run. In other news, water is wet. While there are others to watch, like Luke Waddell and Drew Lugbauer who are playing good ball, it isn’t just Braves fans that are tuning into see what Harris does next... it’s seemingly all of baseball.

Rome Braves (23-16)

Last week: 4-2

Last week’s rotation: Royber Salinas, Luis De Avila, Roddery Munoz, Dylan Dodd and Andrew Hoffmann

This week: at Hudson Valley, May 24-29

The Rome Braves are amid a brutal stretch and have thus far come out on top, which is why they are a half game out of first. Last week they upended the best team in the SAL, taking down Aberdeen. This week, they head to 17-21 Hudson Valley. The R-Braves took a series from the New York Yankees farm club earlier this year and have first-place Bowling Green waiting in the wings.

While this spot is usually reserved for an Andrew Hoffmann appreciation post — which is still deserved after another solid six innings with eight strikeouts this week — let’s talk about the run Dylan Dodd is on. Dodd threw six shutout innings this past week. That’s two scoreless starts in a row... but wait, there’s more. He’s struck out nine over that span and has allowed no walks. Those two starts also came against two of the best teams in the Sally, so this is hopefully the start of something big.

Vaughn Grissom was mired in a min-slump to start the week but at least finished with a three-hit game in which he doubled and homered. Justyn-Henry Malloy continues to rake, tattooing two home runs this past week and now has a nice .921 OPS on the season. Landon Stephens had a few hits this past week, but no home runs. A week without a Landon Stephens moonshot seems like we missed out on something. He owes us this week.

Augusta GreenJackets (21-18)

Last week: 1-5

Last week’s rotation: Jorge Bautista, Jordano Perez, Landon Leach, Luis Vargas, AJ Smith-Shawver, JJ Niekro

This week: vs. Myrtle Beach, May 24-29

Two words sum up this past week for Augusta: BRU TAL. The GreenJackets opened with five-straight losses to the Charleston RiverDogs. This week doesn’t get any easier. The Chicago Cubs Myrtle Beach Pelicans come to town, sporting the best record in the Carolina League.

The pitching was a struggle from the start, with Jorge Bautista setting the tone. In his first Low-A start, he allowed eight runs in just one inning pitched. JJ Niekro continues to pitch well, this week as a starter, and was able to pitch the GreenJackets to its lone victory of the week.

There wasn’t much offense to speak of either. Caleb Durbin hit in four of his five games. He also stole his 15th base of the season. Brandol Mezquita continues to be the most pleasant surprise of the season. He hit in every game last week with a pair of two-hit games in the mix. He’s now slashing .331/.403/.451 on the season and continues to be the most consistent player on the field.