As Opening Day draws near, we continue our level-by-level 2023 season preview today with Atlanta’s Double-A affiliate, the Mississippi Braves. Mississippi has seen its fair share of future stars pass through the organization in recent years, but what can fans expect to see as they head out to Trustmark Park this season? Let’s take a deep look.
Now coaching for your 2023 Mississippi Braves is… essentially the 2022 Rome staff. In all seriousness, Mississippi will see a lot of familiar faces in the organization previously with Atlanta’s Single-A affiliate. After spending the previous two seasons as Rome’s manager, Kanekoa Texeira received a promotion to Double-A to be Mississippi’s skipper.
Pitching coach Bo Denning and hitting coach Danny Santiesteban also made the jump from Rome to Mississippi to join Texeira on the coaching staff. Jefferson Romero also joins the staff in Pearl after a stint as a coach with the Braves affiliate in the FCL.
Kicking off the 2023 campaign, Mississippi will play host to Biloxi for a three game set beginning on April 7.
After wrapping up their first home stand, the Braves will travel to Chattanooga to play five games against the Lookouts.
As for some of the more noteworthy series to keep an eye on, the Braves will have a chance to take on the defending Southern League champ in early May. Traveling to Pensacola on May 2 to take on the Blue Wahoos, Mississippi will play a five game series and will also host five games against the reigning champions later in the month.
Mississippi will also take on the runner-up in last season’s championship series in the Tennessee Smokies. Making the road trip on July 18 for five games, the Braves will wrap up their season at home with five more games against the Smokies starting on September 5.
They close out the season traveling to Pensacola on September 12 for five games.
Projected Top Prospects
On the surface, it doesn’t currently appear as though Texeira and company will have a full stable of top prospects to work with, especially early on in the season. That’s not a knock on Mississippi, but rather the current state of the Braves’ farm system as a whole. Augusta and Rome both figure to showcase more top prospects in the 2023 season, but Mississippi could reap the benefits later in the year if players exceed expectations.
Position-wise, Cal Conley leads the way in terms of top prospects who figure to spend a large chunk of time in Mississippi. Despite only playing 44 games at High-A in 2022 while posting a 108 WRC+, there’s a good chance Conley makes his way to Double-A early in the season and could even debut in Mississippi to start the season.
Jesse Franklin would have been the top position player kicking off the season with Mississippi — or potentially Gwinnett If he had been able to play a full season — were it not for an elbow injury he sustained which required Tommy John surgery after tallying just 66 plate appearances. The potential is certainly there for Franklin to reestablish himself as one of Atlanta’s top position prospects if he’s able to bounce back from injury.
Players like Drew Lugbauer and Luke Waddell are names Braves fans and prospect aficionados are familiar with who will continue to see time at Double-A in 2023.Lugbauer sw atted 28 homers in 128 games for Mississippi last year but his defensive limitations and lack of a pure hit tool are holding him back from taking that next step in his development. Waddell still has potential to provide some value for the Braves at the big league level. While both hit and power tools lack that exclamation point, there’s still enough offensive potential there for the Braves to like. Waddell also possesses a good amount of defensive versatility to give him more value in the Braves future plans as a potential utility guy. But work needs to be done at the plate if he wants to push past Double-A as a 24-year-old light hitting shortstop, especially after missing significant time due to injury last year.
In the outfield, outside of Franklin’s return, it doesn’t appear as though any top prospects will start their year off in Mississippi. Fringe prospects like Andrew Mortiz and Cody Milligan figure to help occupy the outfield early on in the year while Justin Dean, who got a taste of Triple-A last year, could be a guy who goes back and forth between levels as needed.
That’s not to say some top guys in the lower levels can’t make the jump though. Brandol Mezquita is one of those guys who might be a longshot to make it to Mississippi, but he does figure to start 2023 in Rome and has the tools to make some noise and at least be in consideration for a promotion down the line.
In terms of other guys who could jump up a few levels, the Braves have a couple of 2022 draftees that could hit their way to Double-A by summer’s end. Drake Baldwin figured to have the best shot of all 2022 draftees to make it to Mississippi due to the combo of his tools and his position. As a catcher, there really aren’t any players standing in his way from making the jump. So as long as he continues to hit and make strides behind the dish, it stands the reason the Braves will be fairly liberal in their movement with Baldwin.
David McCabe is another 2022 guy who could make get the nod up a level eventually. Splitting time between first base and the hot corner, and much like Baldwin, there really aren’t any players standing in McCabe’s way in getting a promotion so long as he hits.
Finally, KeShawn Ogans is another draftee who might see Mississippi. While he doesn’t have that one tool that stands out, he is solid across the board and he possesses defensive versatility that would certainly play to his benefit. Baldwin, McCabe and Ogans all figure to start out at Rome this season.
On the mound, there is the possibility for a few intriguing arms to make their way to Double-A this season. Guys like Victor Vodnik, Dylan Dodd and Darius Vines earned promotions to Gwinnett in the second half of the 2022 season, presumably putting Mississippi in their rear view mirror.
According to the unofficial/official roster, none of the current arms with Mississippi ranked on our Top-25 or honorable mentions prospect list. Nolan Martinez, Tanner Gordon and Domingo Robles all possess intriguing tools with some decent upside. But given either their age or inconsistencies, they leave more questions than answers.
But much like on the positional side of things, there are some intriguing arms with the capability of getting to Mississippi. 2022 draftee Blake Burkhalter would have most-likely been a slam dunk to be the best arm on the staff were it not been for the recent news of him needing Tommy John surgery, sidelining him for the 2023 season.
With that being said, Roddery Munoz stands out as one of the more exciting arms who could take the mound for Texeira this year. Making 19 starts at Rome last year, Munoz posted a 4.03 ERA while whiffing 105 batters across 89.1 innings. He’ll most likely return to Rome to start the year, but expect the Braves to be aggressive with him as he possesses one of the best fastballs in the system.
Other under-the-radar guys fans should keep an eye on include J.J. Niekro and Luis De Avila. While Niekro doesn’t possesses flashy plus pitches, he finds ways to get batters out and also having the last name he has doesn’t hurt. As for De Avila, there’s a real chance for him to cement himself on prospect lists this year. Last season at Rome, the 21-year-old righty made 24 starts posting a 3.49 ERA with 129 strikeouts in 126.1 innings. He’ll return to Rome to kick things off in 2023 big there’s enough there for him to quickly rise up the ranks if he can build off last year.
Another arm that could fly under the radar as one to debut in Pearl this year could be the tantalizing righty Spencer Schwellenbach. I know this may seem like a significant stretch to some, and the Braves have been super patient with him as he’s worked his way back from Tommy John surgery. Granted, he’s yet to throw a single pitch as a professional after blowing out his elbow at Nebraska and recovering from it, but given his age and tools, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Schwellenbach to make his way to Pearl once he builds up some stamina and gets a good amount of innings under his belt. Albeit if he does make it to Double-A, it’ll most likely be in the late stages of the season.
Our number one prospect, AJ Smith-Shawyer, is a guy who could potentially see Mississippi in the latter part of the season. But those chances are fringe at best given his stamina issues and having yet to pitch an inning above Low-A thus far in his pro career.