Nineteen Former G-Braves on Atlanta’s NLDS Roster
The second season officially begins tonight for the Atlanta Braves, who open the best-of-five National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Turner Field. It’s no secret that the success of the Braves at the Major League level goes hand-in-hand with the preparation and rehabilitation that occurs here in Triple-A, a connection that became even more evident with the release of Atlanta’s 25-man NLDS roster yesterday. A total of 19 players have connections to the Gwinnett Braves, including 15 that suited up for the G-Braves in 2013.
Luis Ayala, David Carpenter, Freddy Garcia, Jordan Walden and Alex Wood all made brief appearances in Gwinnett this season, and all will be participating in the Playoffs as Braves for the first time. Veterans Ayala (8 games, 0-1, 6.48 ERA) and Walden (1 game, 0-0, 0.00 ERA) appeared for the G-Braves on injury rehab assignments, while Garcia (0-1, 19.64 ERA) and Wood (1-0, 1.80 ERA) each made just one start for Gwinnett. Before turning into a prime set-up man for Craig Kimbrel, the right-handed Carpenter was on Gwinnett’s Opening Day roster, going 1-2 with a 3.52 ERA in six relief appearances. The most interesting inclusion on the pitching staff, however, is right-hander David Hale. Atlanta’s third-round selection out of Princeton University in 2009, Hale worked past a right shoulder strain to go 6-9 with a 3.22 ERA in 22 games, 20 starts in his Triple-A debut. A September call-up for the first time in his career, Hale was brilliant in two spot starts for Atlanta down the stretch, going 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA, 14 strikeouts and just one walk in 11.0 innings. The Marietta, GA native won’t see a playoff start, but should be an asset in long relief.
The playoff success of the Braves will depend largely on pitching, and the four biggest names on the staff all have ties to Gwinnett. Kris Medlen (2009, 2012), Mike Minor (2010-11) and Julio Teheran (2011-12) are the announced starters for the first three games of the NLDS. Medlen has just one playoff start under his belt (the infamous 2012 NL Wild Card Game), while Minor and Teheran will experience postseason starts for the first time. Kimbrel (2010), widely regarded as the best closer in baseball, will look to extend his dominance into October.
All three Braves’ catchers — Evan Gattis, Gerald Laird and Brian McCann — spent time on the Gwinnett roster in 2013. McCann made a brief stop at Coolray Field on his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, while Gattis (strained right oblique) and Laird (kidney stone procedure) were also with the club on rehab assignments. Gattis also returned to Gwinnett for the final three road games of the season, hitting .461 with three doubles, a home run and one RBI in a tune-up for the stretch drive.
McCann is a career .300 hitter with three homers and eight RBIs in seven NLDS games, all with Atlanta. Laird has limited action in all three playoff rounds, winning the World Series as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 and returning to the World Series with the Detroit Tigers in 2012.
Of Atlanta’s five infielders, two played for Gwinnett in 2013. First baseman Freddie Freeman, the International League Rookie of the Year with the G-Braves in 2010, hit .500 with two doubles, three runs scored and two RBIs in three games as he recovered from an oblique injury. That span included the only five-hit game by a G-Brave this season, Freeman’s 5-for-5 performance on April 20 at Charlotte. Infielder Paul Janish started his season on a rehab assignment as he returned from right shoulder surgery, but was later optioned to the Gwinnett roster. In 41 total games, the defensive specialist hit .207 with five doubles and 12 RBIs.
The Braves (and the Dodgers, for that matter) know what to expect from Freeman, who is coming off a career year in which he hit .319 with 23 homers and 109 RBIs. Janish won’t see the starting lineup ahead of Elliot Johnson and Andrelton Simmons, but will be used to spell Chris Johnson at third base in the late innings.
This six-man group (not including Gattis) includes four players who played in Gwinnett in 2013, including three on rehab assignments. Jason Heyward (appendectomy), Jordan Schafer (right ankle contusion) and B.J. Upton (right thigh strain) all used stints in Triple-A to return from injury. Heyward (.300, double, 6 RBIs) and Upton (.333, 3 doubles, 2 RBIs) were both productive offensively, while Schafer (.063, 2 doubles, 2 RBIs) struggled.
Jose Constanza edged out fellow former G-Brave Joey Terdoslavich for the final bench spot given his knack for getting on base and stealing bags. Gwinnett’s “Fan Favorite Player” in 2013, Constanza hit .276 with 17 RBIs and a team-high 21 stolen bases. He strung together an 18-game hitting streak and a 25-game on-base streak this season. He won’t start and isn’t the first option as a pinch hitter off the bench, but expect to see Constanza utilize his speed as a pinch runner.
All 19 former G-Braves and the rest of the Atlanta Braves begin their quest for a World Series title tonight with Game 1 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Check back at the G-Blog for further updates on Gwinnett players in the 2013 MLB Playoffs.