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Braves MiLB Preview: Tough week ahead as top pitching prospects try to bounce back

This next week is going to be significantly tougher for Braves’ affiliates after they blew chances against easier opponents last week.

Atlanta Braves prospect Jared Shuster delivers a pitch
Atlanta Braves 2020 first round pick and top pitching prospect Jared Shuster delivers a pitch for the Rome Braves
Image Credits: Mills Fitzner

Braves minor league affiliates had a chance last week to make some waves as they were matched up against some of the worst teams in their leagues. Unfortunately, that is not how it worked out and now they are going to be trying to make up some ground against (in most cases anyways) better competitions.

Gwinnett Stripers (27-27)

Last week: 3-3

Next week: at Jacksonville, June 7-12

Gwinnett has been consistently medium all season and that trend did not change last week as they went 3-3 against Louisville. Inconsistency on both sides of the ball with a rough inning from Bryce Elder and a bullpen game gone awry being the biggest culprits on the pitching side. Gwinnett has struggled to get consistent offense as Travis Demeritte has played in just one game since being sent back down to the minors, Drew Waters has not been dialed in, William Contreras seems to be a permanent fixture in Atlanta, and the rest of of the lineup is a collage of quad-A types that seem to more function as an extended bench/emergency reserves for the big league club.

One guy to keep an eye on is Phil Gosselin as he has been Gwinnett’s most consistent performer of late and he does have a lot of defensive versatility. If I had to circle one guy that could somehow make his way to the Braves’ bench, it might be him. Drew Waters hasn’t been bad per se, but he hasn’t been the impact player lately that his talent says he should be. If he wants to factor into big league outfield consideration, 1-4 or 1-5 nights with just a single are not gonna cut it.

The Stripers are going to have a significantly tougher opponent on paper this week as instead of last place Louisville, they get the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. Jacksonville’s Max Meyer, one of the best pitching prospects in the game, has been out with ulnar nerve irritation but it was said at the time in mid-May that the expectation was that he wouldn’t miss much time. Hopefully, he misses at least one more week.

Mississippi Braves (24-27)

Last week: 1-5

Next week: at Rocket City, June 7-12

Mississippi SHOULD have done quite well against last place Montgomery this past week, but instead got blown out in the series. As it turns out, giving up 7-8 runs a game is not a recipe for success. Mississippi is going to need some big bounce back starts from AT LEAST Jared Shuster and Freddy Tarnok (who were quite bad last week) in order to hang with the best team (so far) in the Southern League in Rocket City.

While the pitching staff’s struggles were primarily to blame last week, it is clear that without Michael Harris in this lineup, it is far less dynamic. However, two guys that are pulling their weight are CJ Alexander and Drew Lugbauer. Alexander has six home runs in his last nine games and, at least for the moment, is making us forget about the concerns over his hit tool that existed over the last couple of years. Lugbauer had a great week of his own last week with a couple long balls to add to his collection this season. Lugbauer honestly deserves a promotion to Triple-A gibven his performance the last two years in Double-A, but its debatable as to what purpose that serves with Matt Olson entrenched for most of the next decade.

Rocket City has been the best team in the Southern League by a significant margin thanks in no small part to a rotation led by Ky Bush and Coleman Crow. Mississippi is going to have to find a way to get some offense going and its going to be tough on the road as Rocket City has lost just eight games all season in their home park.

Rome Braves (28-23)

Last week: 2-4

Next week: vs. Wilmington, June 7-12

Rome had a tough matchup last week as they had their hands full with first place Bowling Green. They now get a pretty Wilmington team who hasn’t been playing their best baseball over their last 10 games or so. Royber Salinas currently leads all of minor league baseball with 93 strikeouts by a lot (in just 47.1 innings which is wild to type out). Andrew Hoffmann, Dylan Dodd, and Roddery Munoz are all coming off of solid starts as well. The bullpen, on the other hand, has been a bit more suspect of late although the lack of offense has been the bigger issue.

Justyn-Henry Malloy and Cody Milligan both performed reasonably well last week with Malloy being particularly awesome. Malloy is almost in a situation now that it may not be the worst idea in the world to see what he looks like in a corner outfield spot just to give him some more options should the Braves want to promote him (it may make more sense to do that defensively, too). Vaughn Grissom keeps hitting, but has been lacking in dynamic, game-changing performances. He has some power, but it is going to have to start playing in games more and soon.

One fun story is that old friend Luis Avilan is currently list as being on rehab assignment in Wilimington. Not sure if that will stick this week, but its nice to know he is still hanging around. Wilmington isn’t exactly loaded down with prospects, but their rotation is solid and their bullpen is legitimately good, so Rome is going to have to taking advantage of their run scoring opportunities if they want to hang with the teams ahead of them in their division.

Augusta GreenJackets (27-24)

Last week: 4-2

Next week: at Columbia, June 7-12

Augusta, on paper, looks like a team cobbled together from later round draft picks and lesser known IFA signees in the hopes that things will just work themselves out and so far...they have. They are a team not afraid to draw walks and have used some good pitching and timely hitting to have a winning record 50 or so games into the season. The team’s top prospects, AJ Smith-Shawver, missed his turn in the rotation last week, but all indications are that he should be good to go this coming week as it was just some management given this is his first full season.

We are currently watching Brandol Mezquita closely has he has missed some games of late and hasn’t looked like his normal self at the plate. He was reaching base at a decent clip last week, so hopefully there is no cause for concern there. Caleb Durbin currently sports a season OBP north of .400 while stealing bases and getting some extra base hits here and there. For a guy from a small, small is fun watching him succeed.

After a pretty easy matchup with Kannapolis last week, Augusta is fortunate to get another easy matchup in Columbia who has the worst record in the league and have lost six straight games. Their run differential this season is -130 which is impressively bad.