As the Atlanta Braves continue to build their Major League roster for 2016, the club is also making acquisitions for all levels of their minor league system. From December through the start of Spring Training, the G-Blog will highlight some of the players that could be bound for Triple-A Gwinnett.
Updates will be made as new players are acquired and confirmed by either the Braves.com transaction page or the Baseball America Minor League Free Agent Tracker. Please note that the official Gwinnett Braves 2016 Roster will not be announced until early April, and any roster projections are my opinion only.
This post was last updated on January 11.
Aaron Blair (RHP) – acquired by the Braves from the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of a three-player return for RHP Shelby Miller and LHP Gabe Speier on December 9. Arizona’s first-round pick (36th overall) in 2013 out of Marshall University, the 23-year-old Blair is coming off a dominant 2015 season. He went 13-5 with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 26 games (25 starts) between Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Reno. Following midseason All-Star honors in the Southern League, he made his Triple-A debut and posted a solid 3.16 ERA in 13 games in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Shortstop Dansby Swanson is clearly the top prospect acquired in the Miller trade, but Blair is closer to making a Major League impact. As of December 15, he’s rated the Braves’ No. 4 prospect according to MLB.com.
Reid Brignac (INF) – signed by the Braves as a minor league free agent on November 5. The soon-to-be 30-year-old Brignac spent 2015 in the Miami Marlins system, batting .268/.348/.375 with five home runs and 37 RBIs in 93 games at Triple-A New Orleans. No stranger to the International League, Brignac played for Durham from 2008-09 and 2011-12 (and was a Triple-A All-Star in ’08 and ’09) and Lehigh Valley in 2014. He has played 356 career Major League games with the Tampa Bay Rays (2008-12), Colorado Rockies (2013), New York Yankees (2013), Philadelphia Phillies (2014) and Marlins (2015), batting .219/.266/.310 with 12 homers and 83 RBIs. Brignac is also a versatile defender with the ability to play second base, third base, shortstop and left field.
David Carpenter (RHP) – signed by the Braves as a minor league free agent on November 21. Not to be confused with 2015 G-Braves’ RHP David Carpenter, who at last check is still a free agent, this is the David Carpenter who went 10-5 with a 2.63 ERA in 121 games for Atlanta from 2013-14 before being dealt to the New York Yankees in the trade that netted LHP Manny Banuelos on January 1, 2015. Carpenter had a 4.82 ERA in 22 outings with the Yankees before being sent to the Washington Nationals on June 11, where he finished up the season with a 1.50 ERA in eight appearances. He received an invite to Major League Spring Training and will contend for a return to the Atlanta bullpen.
Chase d’Arnaud (INF) – signed by the Braves as a minor league free agent on November 5. The older brother of New York Mets’ catcher Travis d’Arnaud, Chase was the fourth-round selection by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008. He signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies last offseason and spent most of the year with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, batting .268/.317/.354 with five homers, 77 runs scored, 35 RBIs and 28 stolen bases in 120 games. He has appeared in 75 Major League games with both the Pirates (2011-12, 2014) and Phillies (2015), but 48 of those games came in his rookie season. Much like Brignac, d’Arnaud is capable at second base, third base, shortstop and the outfield.
Joel De La Cruz (RHP) – signed by the Braves as a minor league free agent on November 20. The 26-year-old Dominican Republic native joins Atlanta after six years in the New York Yankees’ system. De La Cruz has spent parts of the last two seasons in Triple-A with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, going 3-5 with a 4.52 ERA in 17 games (12 starts) in 2014 and an impressive 7-0 with a 3.25 ERA in 15 games (7 starts) in 2015. A strong stint in Gwinnett could earn him his first big-league call-up in 2016.
Nate Freiman (1B) – signed by the Braves as a minor league free agent on December 14. Originally drafted by San Diego in the eighth round in 2009, the 6-foot, 8-inch Freiman was a power prospect with the Padres before breaking into the Majors with Oakland in 2013 and 2014. He’s a career .285/.356/.469 hitter with 91 home runs and 475 RBIs in 644 Minor League games, including time in Triple-A with Sacramento in 2014 and Nashville in 2015. Claimed off waivers by Oakland from Houston in 2013, Freiman batted .256/.309/.408 with nine homers and 39 RBIs in 116 games with the Athletics from 2013-14. He batted just .220 with four homers and 31 RBIs in 79 games with Nashville last season, however, and was released on December 13. The G-Braves lacked a true first baseman for much of 2015, using utility-men Sean Kazmar and Barrett Kleinknecht in the role before Joey Terdoslavich healed and Jordan Lennerton was signed. With Terdoslavich gone to Baltimore, the right-handed-hitting Freiman could be Gwinnett’s first baseman in 2016.
David Holmberg (LHP) – signed by the Braves as a minor league free agent on December 3. The second-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2009, Holmberg has been a part of two Major League trades since, moving to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010 and the Cincinnati Reds in 2013. He went 3-6 with a 6.17 ERA in 13 games (11 starts) with Cincinnati over the past two seasons, but spent the majority of his time in Triple-A Louisville, going 2-6 with a 4.66 ERA in 18 starts in 2014 and 7-7 with a 4.34 ERA in 21 games (19 starts) in 2015. Still only 24 years old, Holmberg has plenty of upside and could get a long look as a starter in Gwinnett.
Casey Kelly (RHP) – acquired by the Braves from the San Diego Padres as part of the two-player return for C Christian Bethancourt on December 10. Boston’s first-round pick (30th overall) in 2008, Kelly was an MLB All-Star Futures Game selection in 2009 when he went 7-5 with a 2.08 ERA in 17 starts between Class-A Greenville and Advanced-A Salem. He wasn’t with the Red Sox for long, however, as he was traded to the Padres as part of a deal for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in December 2010. Kelly reached the big leagues with the Padres in 2012, but posted a 6.21 ERA in six starts and didn’t return to the Majors until 2015. Last year, he went 2-10 with a 5.16 ERA in 31 games (17 starts) between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A El Paso, as well as 0-2 with a 7.94 ERA in three games (2 starts) with San Diego. A change of scenery could help Kelly bounce back in 2016.
Ian Krol (LHP) – acquired by the Braves from the Detroit Tigers as part of the two-player return for OF Cameron Maybin on November 20. The 24-year-old Krol has already accumulated 110 Major League appearances with the Washington Nationals (2013) and Tigers (2014-15), going 4-4 with a 4.91 ERA and one save in those outings. Last season in Detroit, he went 2-3 with a 5.79 ERA in 33 relief outings. The high ERA, as well as a 5.5 BB/9.0 IP ratio may explain why he spent an additional 28 games with Triple-A Toledo, where he was 1-1 with a 2.30 ERA. Trading a player of Maybin’s caliber to get Krol means the Braves believe he can help the Major League club immediately, but he’ll still have to compete with Andrew McKirahan and Matt Marksberry for a left-handed relief spot alongside Rule-5 selection Evan Rutckyj.
Ethan Martin (RHP) – signed by the Braves as a minor league free agent on November 26. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ first-round pick (15th overall) in 2008 out of Stephens County School in Toccoa, GA, Martin moved to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012 as part of a trade for outfielder Shane Victorino. He made his Major League debut a year later, going 2-5 with a 6.08 ERA in 15 games (8 starts) for the Phillies. Martin was a staple of the starting rotation at Triple-A Lehigh Valley as well in 2013, going 11-5 with a 4.12 ERA in 21 starts. He transitioned to the IronPigs’ bullpen in 2014 and was 2-1 with a 4.15 ERA in 29 relief outings, but took an odd step back in 2015 when he made 22 appearances between Advanced-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading. The 26-year-old could land either in Mississippi or Gwinnett in 2016.
Ronnier Mustelier (2B) – signed by the Braves as a minor league free agent on November 24. Mustelier, a native of Cuba, came to the United States in 2011 and signed with the New York Yankees. He reached as high as Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, batting .290/.340/.423 with 45 doubles, 17 home runs, 90 runs scored and 91 RBIs in 186 games across parts of three seasons (2012-14). The Yankees released him in May 2014, and he has played exclusively in foreign leagues since, including stints with Quintana Roo and Laguna of the Mexican League, Culiacan and Mazatlan of the Mexican Pacific Winter League and La Guaira of the Venezuelan Winter League. Though listed as a second baseman, Mustelier has logged more time at third base and the outfield in his affiliated minor league career. If Adonis Garcia sticks in Atlanta, the 31-year-old Mustelier could be a comparable replacement in Gwinnett.
Sean Newcomb (LHP) – acquired by the Braves from the Los Angeles Angels as part of the three-player return for SS Andrelton Simmons and C Jose Briceno on November 12. The Angels’ first-round pick (15th overall) in 2014 out of the University of Hartford, Newcomb is now the top pitching prospect in the Braves’ system according to MLB.com. He rose quickly through three levels last year, going 9-3 with a 2.38 ERA and 168 strikeouts (tied for 2nd in all of MiLB) in 27 starts between Class-A Burlington, Advanced-A Inland Empire and Double-A Arkansas. His banner 2015 season also included selection to the MLB All-Star Futures Game. Newcomb will be just 22 years old as of Opening Day and has made only seven starts above Class-A, so he may open 2016 with Mississippi before making his Triple-A debut in Gwinnett.
Jose Ramirez (RHP) – acquired by the Braves from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for a PTBNL and cash on December 4. Ramirez pitched in the Majors for both the New York Yankees and the Mariners last year, going 1-0 with a 12.91 ERA in eight relief appearances. The Yankees, who signed him as a 17-year-old in 2007, traded him to Seattle in exchange for Dustin Ackley on July 30. He also spent ample time in Triple-A for both clubs, going 3-0 with a 2.90 ERA in 32 relief outings for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and 1-1 with a 9.00 ERA in nine appearances for Tacoma. The 25-year-old Ramirez provides Atlanta with bullpen depth and could see action in both the Majors and Triple-A in 2016.
Brandon Snyder (1B) – signed by the Braves as a minor league free agent on November 17. The first-round pick (13th overall) of the Baltimore Orioles back in 2005, Snyder has played 83 Major League games with the Orioles (2010-11), Texas Rangers (2012) and Boston Red Sox (2013), batting .243/.287/.399 with eight doubles, five home runs and 20 RBIs. He’s also spent parts of six seasons at the Triple-A level, batting .253/.315/.408 with 45 homers and 222 RBIs in 411 games with three teams including Norfolk and Pawtucket of the IL. Snyder opened 2015 with Southern Maryland of the independent Atlantic League before signing back with the Orioles on April 27, but didn’t make it out of Double-A Bowie despite batting .278/.356/.467 with 26 doubles, 11 homers and 52 RBIs in 93 games. At 29 years of age, it’s hard to imagine Snyder returning to Double-A this year.
Alex Torres (LHP) – signed by the Braves as a minor league free agent on January 7. Best known as the guy who wears the oversized protective piece over his cap, Torres opened 2015 with the New York Mets before being DFA’d and outrighted to Triple-A Las Vegas in August. He posted a 3.15 ERA and a .206 BAA in 39 relief appearances at the Major League level, but saw his ERA rise from 1.59 in June to 4.82 in July. At Las Vegas, he finished the year with a 1.17 ERA in 10 relief appearances. Torres, a familiar opponent with the Durham Bulls from 2011-13, is 7-4 with a 2.68 ERA over 152 career MLB appearances with Tampa Bay (2011, 2013), San Diego (2014) and the Mets. If he falls short of impressing Atlanta as a non-roster invitee this spring, he could serve as relief depth at Gwinnett.
Matt Tuiasosopo (OF) – signed by the Braves as a minor league free agent on November 10. The G-Braves hit a franchise-low 50 home runs in 144 games last season, and the signing of Tuiasosopo could help Gwinnett be a more powerful team in 2016. He homered a career-high 18 times last year with Triple-A Charlotte, batting .230/.344/.447 with 52 RBIs in 103 games. Seattle’s third-round pick in 2004, Tuiasosopo has logged Major League time with the Mariners (2008-10) and Detroit Tigers (2013), batting .207/.290/.356 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs in 152 games. After playing in 81 games with the Tigers in 2013, he has spent the last two seasons exclusively in the IL with both Buffalo and Charlotte. He’ll get a look from Atlanta as an invitee to Major League Spring Training.
Chris Volstad (RHP) – signed by the Braves as a minor league free agent on October 11. The Florida Marlins’ first-round pick (16th overall) in 2005, Volstad has compiled a 35-51 record and 4.92 ERA in 131 career Major League games (123 starts) with the Marlins (2008-11), Chicago Cubs (2012), Colorado Rockies (2013) and Pittsburgh Pirates (2015). He spent nearly all of 2015 with Triple-A Indianapolis, going 11-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 27 games (25 starts). Volstad is a non-roster invitee to Major League Spring Training and will contend for a spot with Atlanta, but seems like a great veteran presence for the Gwinnett rotation.
Madison Younginer (RHP) – signed by the Braves as a minor league free agent on November 10. Younginer, Boston’s seventh-round pick in 2009, spent six seasons within the Red Sox’ organization before joining Atlanta this fall. He’s 22-28 with a 4.69 ERA in 149 career minor league games (44 starts) across every level of the Boston system. Last year, he went 8-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 39 relief outings for Double-A Portland, earning selection to the Eastern League All-Star Game. He finished the year with a Triple-A debut in Pawtucket, going 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two outings. Despite his lack of high-level experience, Younginer was invited to Major League Spring Training by the Braves.
The 2015 World Series begins tonight at Kauffmann Stadium in Kansas City, and three former G-Braves are among the 50 players active for the best-of-seven series between the New York Mets and the Kansas City Royals. Mets’ outfielder Kelly Johnson and left-handed pitcher Sean Gilmartin are both Gwinnett alums, as is Royals’ right-handed pitcher Kris Medlen.
Before they take the field for pregame introductions tonight, here’s a quick look at all three players and how they spent their time in Gwinnett.
With the G-Braves: The well-traveled Johnson has spent two stints on the Triple-A Gwinnett roster in his career, both injury rehab assignments for the Atlanta Braves. While recovering from right wrist tendinitis in 2009, he batted .308 with three home runs and 16 RBIs in 13 games with the G-Braves. He returned to the Gwinnett roster briefly in 2015, batting .143 in two games while on Atlanta’s 15-day disabled list with a right oblique strain.
Joining the Mets: Johnson played for the Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles over the first nine years of his career before Atlanta brought him back as a free agent in 2015. He experienced a career resurgence this year, batting .275 with nine homers and 34 RBIs in 62 games with the Braves. That showing made him a valuable trade piece, and the Braves sent Johnson and third baseman Juan Uribe to the Mets in exchange for minor league pitchers John Gant and Rob Whalen on July 24. Johnson played 49 games for the Mets to close out the regular season, batting .250 with five homers and 13 RBIs.
2015 Postseason So Far: He has been summoned off the New York bench for pinch-hit at-bats six times and is 1-for-6 in those opportunities. His lone hit came in Game 5 of the NLDS at Los Angeles, a 3-2 Mets’ victory. Johnson will likely remain a late-inning option for the Mets in the World Series.
With the G-Braves: Atlanta’s first round pick in the 2011 June draft out of Florida State University, Gilmartin ascended to Gwinnett for his Triple-A debut just over a year later. He went 1-2 with a 4.78 ERA in seven starts in 2012, including 1-1 with a 3.54 ERA and three quality starts in his first three outings. He returned to the G-Braves in 2013 and was the club’s Opening Day starter, but went just 3-8 with a 5.74 ERA in 17 starts during an injury-plagued campaign. Gilmartin opened the year 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA over his first five starts before left shoulder tendinitis took its toll.
Joining the Mets: The Braves parted ways with Gilmartin on December 18, 2013, trading him to the Minnesota Twins in a one-for-one swap for catcher/first baseman Ryan Doumit. Gilmartin went a solid 9-7 with a 3.71 ERA in 26 starts combined between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester in the Twins’ system in 2014, but was left unprotected for the 2014 Rule 5 Draft and was selected by the Mets. He made his Major League debut with New York this season, going 3-2 with a 2.67 ERA in 50 games, including one start.
2015 Postseason So Far: Of the 11 pitchers on the Mets’ World Series roster, Gilmartin is the only one who has yet to pitch in this year’s playoffs. He’ll look to make his first career postseason appearance on the largest stage, the World Series. The next time he pitches will be his first outing since October 1, when he made his first career Major League start in a loss at Philadelphia (5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER).
With the G-Braves: Before leading the Atlanta Braves to victories in a Major League record 23 consecutive starts from May 29, 2010 through September 30, 2012, and before nearly seeing his career derailed by two “Tommy John” surgeries, Medlen was an original G-Brave. He went 5-0 with a 1.19 ERA in eight games (six starts) for the inaugural 2009 squad, including a win on April 9, 2009 at Charlotte that made him the first winning pitcher in Gwinnett history. He returned to the G-Braves in 2012 to stretch out as a starter and went 0-2 with a 4.73 ERA in three starts before rejoining Atlanta. Medlen followed that Triple-A stint with a historic run, going 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA over his final 12 starts to send the Braves to the first-ever National League Wild Card Game.
Joining the Royals: Medlen went 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA in 32 games (31 starts) for Atlanta in 2013, but missed all of 2014 due to his second career “Tommy John” surgery. He was granted free agency by the Braves on December 2, 2014 and signed with Kansas City just over two weeks later on December 18. Rehab stints with Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha preceded his improbable return to the Majors on July 20, 2015. Medlen went on to author one of the feel-good stories of the year, going 6-2 with a 4.01 ERA in 15 games (eight starts) for the Royals.
2015 Postseason So Far: Medlen has pitched once in relief, eating innings in an 11-8 loss at Toronto in Game 3 of the ALCS. He worked 5.0 innings and allowed two runs on three hits, walked one and struck out six. Kansas City manager Ned Yost has already tabbed Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, Yordano Ventura and Chris Young as starters for World Series Games 1-4, meaning Medlen will most likely stay a long-relief option.
Catch Game 1 of the 2015 World Series tonight at 8:00 PM ET on Fox, or follow the action online at MLB.com.
Saturday, September 19 was a special night for 14 of the top players in the Atlanta Braves’ organization who were invited to Turner Field to be recognized as the club’s Minor League Pitchers and Players of the Year. The group, including players from each level and affiliate of the organization, received a tour of the clubhouse, watched batting practice from the field and mingled with some of the current Braves’ Major Leaguers prior to accepting their awards in a pregame ceremony.
For Woodstock, GA native and Mercer University (Macon, GA) product Brandon Barker, the Pitcher of the Year for Advanced-A Carolina, the night was more than just a chance to reflect on a breakout season, it was the opportunity to live out a childhood dream.
“When I was in college and growing up, I always dreamed of playing for my hometown team, the Braves,” said Barker. “I grew up a fan, so being out here is a great experience. I mean, it’s just awesome. I never thought I’d actually be on the Braves’ field.”
Barker earned that chance to step out on the Turner Field playing surface by asserting himself as one of the top pitchers in the Braves’ organization in 2015. He went 12-10 with a 3.25 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 146.2 innings, leading all Braves’ farmhands in wins and strikeouts and finishing sixth in the system in ERA. The 23-year-old made 27 starts across three levels, advancing from Class-A Rome all the way to Triple-A Gwinnett by season’s end.
His best numbers came with the Carolina Mudcats, where he went 8-5 with a 3.00 ERA and eight quality starts in 17 total starts to earn the club’s Pitcher of the Year award.
“It’s a great honor to be here, and I’m happy that the Braves gave me the award for Carolina,” said Barker prior to the September 19 ceremony. “It’s such a surreal experience coming out here and seeing the locker room, seeing all the facilities and being on the field with everybody, it’s just a great experience.”
Selected by Atlanta out of Mercer in the 16th round in 2014, Barker made his professional debut that same season, going 5-2 with a 3.96 ERA in 14 games, five starts between Rookie-level Danville and Rome. He returned to Rome to open 2015, going 3-4 with a 3.48 ERA in eight starts.
A promotion to Carolina followed, but it wouldn’t prove to be his highest rung on the organizational ladder. Barker went on to make two spot starts for the G-Braves, facing the Charlotte Knights on July 5 at Coolray Field and the Norfolk Tides on September 2 at Harbor Park.
“To be honest, no,” said Barker when asked if he thought he’d reach the Triple-A level this year. “But I knew that if I just worked hard and took it day by day and did what I could on my end, that things would hopefully work out and I’d get my chance.”
His first chance with Gwinnett produced mixed results as he took the loss in his Triple-A debut on July 5. Barker held the potent Charlotte offense to two runs over his first four innings, but was saddled with two more runs after his exit with one out in the fifth. Over 4.1 innings, he yielded four runs on four hits, walked three and struck out an impressive seven batters. Barker exited in a 2-2 game, and the G-Braves went on to lose by a narrow 5-4 margin.
“The first game that I came up, I was a little nervous, just because I didn’t know anybody that I was playing with,” admitted Barker. “I’m from Woodstock, so it’s not too far away. I had a lot of friends and family there. So I was a little bit nervous the first time. But the second time I went out there, I knew I’ve already been there and thought I could do the job. I just did the best that I could, and it turned out well.”
The next time the G-Braves tabbed him to start on September 2, the club was in the heat of a playoff chase. Following a 6-2 win in game one of a rain-soaked doubleheader at Harbor Park in Norfolk, VA, Gwinnett trailed the Tides by 3.0 games for first place in the International League South Division. Only six games remained in the regular season.
Barker helped keep slim postseason hopes alive by throwing 5.0 innings for the victory, holding the Tides to two runs (one earned) on five hits, walking one and striking out three. The G-Braves swept the twinbill with a 7-2 win, cutting Norfolk’s division lead to 2.0 games. That damp September night proved to be the last start and win of Barker’s tremendous 2015 campaign.
Ending his second season with success at the highest level of the Atlanta Braves’ system will give Barker plenty of confidence heading into 2016, but the right-handed starter is stopping short of worrying about which level he’ll open at next year.
“It’s just a great way to end the season so I can work hard in the offseason and have a good Spring Training, and hopefully — you know what, it doesn’t matter what team I break camp with, I just want to have a successful season.”
As the Hot Stove season continues, here’s an overview of Atlanta Braves’ transactions that could directly affect the Gwinnett Braves roster in 2015. Moves that pertain to the Major League club only are not included. All information has been obtained through the Braves.com Transaction Report and Baseball America Minor League Free Agent Tracker. Please note that the official Gwinnett Braves 2015 Roster will not be announced until early April, and all roster projections are my opinion only.
This post was last updated on February 10.
Acquired via trade:
- Arodys Vizcaino (RHP) – acquired from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Tommy La Stella on November 16. As mentioned in a previous post, the hard-throwing Vizcaino is back in the Braves’ organization after two-plus seasons with the Cubs. He rebounded from 2012 Tommy John surgery to go 1-1 with a 3.51 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 41.0 minor league innings last year, some of that time spent with Triple-A Iowa. The 24-year-old also pitched out of the Major League bullpen in September, going 0-0 with a 5.40 ERA in five relief appearances with the Cubs. Vizcaino is on the Braves’ 40-man roster and will compete for a bullpen spot this spring, but his limited MLB resume could land him in Gwinnett.
- Tyrell Jenkins (RHP) – acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals along with Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden on November 17. The Cardinals’ 50th pick in the first round of the 2010 June draft is now one of the top pitching prospects in the Braves’ organization. Jenkins, 22, put up solid numbers with Advanced-A Palm Beach in 2014, going 6-5 with a 3.28 ERA in 13 starts. He was also impressive in Arizona Fall League action, going 2-2 with a 2.22 ERA in six starts with the Peoria Javelinas. He’s slated to make his Double-A debut with Mississippi in 2015, but he could be a candidate for a late-season promotion to Triple-A.
- Aaron Kurcz (RHP) – acquired from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Anthony Varvaro and cash considerations on December 17. Kurcz, 24, was a teammate of Bryce Harper at the College of Southern Nevada when the Chicago Cubs selected him in the 10th round of the 2010 June draft. The Cubs then sent him to Boston in March 2012 as part of the compensation package for hiring Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations. Kurcz made his debut at Double-A Portland in 2012, going 3-4 with a 3.04 ERA, four saves and 72 strikeouts in 50.1 innings over 29 relief outings. Unfortunately, Tommy John surgery on his right elbow forced him to miss August and all of the 2013 campaign. He came back strong with Portland in 2014, going 3-2 with a 2.14 ERA, three saves and 54 strikeouts in 42.0 innings over 34 outings. Kurcz held opponents to a .204 batting average and didn’t allow a single home run last year. With plenty of late-inning experience at the Double-A level, he should fill a similar role with Gwinnett in 2015.
- Jace Peterson (2B) – acquired from the San Diego Padres along with left-hander Max Fried, third baseman Dustin Peterson and outfielder Mallex Smith in exchange for Justin Upton and Aaron Northcraft on December 19. The 24-year-old Peterson is the only player the Braves received in the J-Up blockbuster that has played above Advanced-A. San Diego’s first round pick in 2011 out of McNeese State University, Peterson reached the Majors for the first time in 2014, batting .113 with a pair of stolen bases in 58 plate appearances. The rest of his season was split between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A El Paso, where he combined to hit .307 with 24 doubles, six triples, three homers, 46 RBIs and 16 stolen bases in 86 games. Atlanta signed veteran infielder Alberto Callaspo to be the likely stop-gap second baseman until Jose Peraza is ready, but Peterson could contend for that role with a good Spring Training performance. If he doesn’t make the big club, he could be in the crowded Gwinnett infield mix.
- Manny Banuelos (LHP) – acquired from the New York Yankees in exchange for David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve on January 1. Like Kurcz and Fried, Banuelos is another promising prospect set back by recent Tommy John surgery. The 23-year-old Mexico native was rated the No. 4 prospect in the Yankees’ system by Baseball America prior to the 2011 season. He made his Triple-A debut that year with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, going 2-2 with a 4.19 ERA in seven starts. On August 29, 2011, he one-hit the Pawtucket Red Sox over 7.0 scoreless innings, striking out six. Banuelos returned to Scranton to open 2012, but made just six starts before suffering the left elbow injury in May. After missing all of 2013 while rehabbing, the southpaw made his return in 2014. Over 26 appearances between Advanced-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton and Scranton, he went 2-3 with a 4.11 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 76.2 innings. His final four starts came in the International League, where he went 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 15.0 innings for the RailRiders. Banuelos has yet to make his Major League debut, but is currently a factor in the Braves’ search for a No. 5 starter. If he doesn’t win the spot, he’ll likely start in Gwinnett.
- Michael Foltynewicz (RHP) – acquired from the Houston Astros along with right-hander Andrew Thurman and third baseman Rio Ruiz in exchange for Evan Gattis and James Hoyt on January 14. Foltynewicz, Houston’s first round pick in 2010, jumps to the head of the class when it comes to Braves’ prospect pitchers. The 23-year-old made both his Triple-A and Major League debuts in 2014, going 7-7 with a 5.08 ERA in 21 games with Oklahoma City and 0-1 with a 5.30 ERA in 16 games with the Astros. A power pitcher who has reportedly touched triple digits with his fastball, Foltynewicz will look to improve his control and cut down his ERA in his first season with the Braves. He could immediately challenge for a Major League bullpen spot this spring, but Atlanta may choose to develop him as a starter in Gwinnett.
Claimed off Waivers:
- Eury Perez (OF) – claimed off waivers from the New York Yankees on January 23. The 24-year-old Perez is a top-of-the-order Triple-A hitter that has speed and can play all three outfield spots. He has had brief call-ups with the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees over the past three seasons, but has been primarily plying his trade in Triple-A Syracuse. Over 193 games with the Chiefs since 2012, Perez batted a combined .310 with 38 doubles, eight triples, eight home runs, 49 RBIs and 63 stolen bases. With G-Braves’ all-time hits leader Jose Constanza out of options, Perez could be the guy to take over his table-setting role in Gwinnett. (EDIT: Constanza, DFA’d on January 28, cleared waivers and was assigned back to Gwinnett on February 5.)
Acquired via Rule 5 Draft:
- Daniel Winkler (RHP) – selected from the Colorado Rockies in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft on December 11. Normally, a Major League Rule 5 selection must spend the entire season on his new club’s 25-man roster or be offered back to his old team, but Winkler is an interesting exception. He is coming off Tommy John surgery performed last June, meaning the Braves can keep him on the Major League disabled list while he rehabs. Atlanta will likely assign him to minor league rehab outings (potentially with Gwinnett) early in the season, but will have to call him up to the active roster for 90 days to retain him past 2015. Winkler went 13-7 with a 2.98 ERA and a MiLB-best 175 strikeouts in 2013, then went 5-2 with a 1.41 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 12 starts with Double-A Tulsa last year.
- Steve Rodriguez (C) – selected from the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Double-A roster in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft on December 11. Rodriguez, 24, was Arizona’s 15th round pick in the 2011 June draft out of UCLA. In four seasons in the D-Backs’ system, he batted .225 with 30 doubles, two triples, four home runs and 56 RBIs in 158 games. He made his Double-A debut with Mobile last year, batting .267 with nine doubles and 11 RBIs in 39 games. While he didn’t do much with the bat in 2014, he did throw out 50% (19-of-38) of attempting base-stealers in 38 errorless games with the BayBears. Rodriguez hopes to ride his defense to a Triple-A debut in 2015.
Re-Signed with Braves:
- Sean Kazmar (INF) – signed to a minor league contract on November 12. Kazmar, 30, has been a versatile defender and steady bat for the G-Braves for the past two seasons. After batting .228 in 95 games with Gwinnett in 2013, he posted the highest batting average of his career in 2014, a .297 mark in 67 games. His production was halted by a left hand fracture suffered in late May, but Kazmar returned in July and batted .299 in 27 games in August. He capped his season by earning the Gwinnett Braves “Most Competitive Player Award” for 2014. Expect to see Kazmar at Coolray Field once again in 2015, backing up at second base, third base and shortstop.
Minor League Free Agents:
- Pedro Ciriaco (2B) – signed to a minor league contract on October 13. Ciriaco, 29, is a well-traveled Major League infielder, having logged time with the Pittsburgh Pirates (2010-11), Boston Red Sox (2012-13), San Diego Padres (2013) and Kansas City Royals (2013-14). In 188 career big league games, he has batted .270 with 24 doubles, six triples, four home runs, 36 RBIs and 31 stolen bases. Despite that experience, Ciriaco played primarily with Triple-A Omaha in 2014, batting .302 and posting a .766 OPS in 62 games. He brings postseason success with him to Gwinnett after batting .342 in nine playoff games for the Triple-A National Champion Omaha Storm Chasers last year.
- Sugar Ray Marimon (RHP) – signed to a minor league contract on November 4. The Braves are just the second organization for Marimon, who spent his previous eight seasons in the minors with the Kansas City Royals. The 26-year-old made his long awaited Triple-A debut in 2014, going 5-4 with a 3.56 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 83.1 innings for Omaha. Like Ciriaco, he was an important September piece for the Triple-A National Champion Storm Chasers, going 1-1 with a 1.74 ERA in his two playoff starts. Marimon is just 27-46 with a 4.14 ERA in 137 career outings (121 starts) in the minors, but may benefit from a fresh start with the Braves. He should be a strong candidate for the Gwinnett rotation.
- Greg Smith (LHP) – signed to a minor league contract on November 4. The veteran southpaw has pitched for seven different organizations prior to joining the Braves, including Arizona (2005-07), Oakland (2008), Colorado (2009-10), New York Yankees (2011), Boston (2011), Los Angeles Angels (2012) and Philadelphia (2013-14). He has seen time on the Triple-A roster for all seven of those clubs. Smith’s standout year was 2008, when he made 32 Major League starts for Oakland and went 7-16 with a 4.16 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 190.1 innings. G-Braves fans will more likely remember him as a staple of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs’ rotation, where he went 9-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 27 games (26 starts) a year ago. Consider Smith a challenger for a Gwinnett rotation spot.
- Francisco Rondon (LHP) – signed to a minor league contract on November 7. Rondon, 26, has spent all nine of his minor league seasons in the New York Yankees system, going 29-18 with a 3.61 ERA, seven saves and 431 strikeouts in 436.0 innings. After tastes of Triple-A in 2012 and 2013, he finally caught on with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for a longer stretch in 2014, going 3-1 with a 3.32 ERA over 12 relief outings. The Santo Domingo, D.R. native could be a relief option in Gwinnett or Double-A Mississippi next year.
- Donnie Veal (LHP) – signed to a minor league contract and invited to Spring Training on November 10. As mentioned in a previous post, the 30-year-old Veal will compete for an Atlanta bullpen spot this spring, but could spend ample time with Gwinnett in 2015. In 100 Major League outings with the Pittsburgh Pirates (2009) and Chicago White Sox (2012-14), he’s 3-3 with a 4.87 ERA, one save and 70 strikeouts in 64.2 innings. He spent the majority of 2014 with Triple-A Charlotte, going 4-5 with a 5.94 ERA in 37 relief outings.
- Chien-Ming Wang (RHP) – signed to a minor league contract and invited to Spring Training on November 10. Also mentioned in a previous post, the 34-year-old Wang is the most notable addition to the Gwinnett pitching staff thus far. Seven years and several injuries removed from his consecutive 19-win seasons with the New York Yankees in 2006 and 2007, Wang is now considered a Triple-A workhorse. He led the International League with 28 starts in 2014, going 13-8 with a 4.12 ERA between the Louisville Bats and the Charlotte Knights. His strikeout ratio was low (73 SO in 172.2 IP), but his groundout/flyout ratio was an impressive 1.78. Wang should headline the Gwinnett rotation in 2015.
- Victor Mateo (RHP) – signed to a minor league contract on November 13. Mateo, 25, joins the Braves after spending his first eight minor league seasons in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. He hasn’t yet reached the Triple-A level, but is coming off back-to-back solid seasons as a starter for Double-A Montgomery. In 2013, he went 7-9 with a 3.93 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 153.1 innings for the Biscuits. Last season, he matched a career high with 12 wins, going 12-11 with a 3.90 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 166.0 innings. Mateo appears poised to advance to Triple-A for the first time in 2015, but a glut of experienced starters in Gwinnett could mean a trip to Mississippi.
- Corban Joseph (1B) – signed to a minor league contract on November 19. The New York Yankees’ fourth round selection in the 2008 June draft, Joseph spent seven seasons with the club before being released on August 27. He made his Triple-A debut in 2012 with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, batting .266 with 25 doubles, 13 home runs, 56 RBIs and an .840 OPS. His 2013 season was highlighted by his Major League debut with the Yankees — a two-game stint as the 26th man during a doubleheader on May 13 — but also included a torn labrum injury in his right shoulder that required surgery in June. He returned to Triple-A in 2014 and hit .268 with four homers and 28 RBIs in 70 games with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Joseph, 26, could be a potent left-handed bat for the G-Braves as he seeks to play a full season for the first time since 2012.
- Jake Brigham (RHP) – signed to a minor league contract on November 20. Brigham, 26, has experienced a lot in eight minor league seasons prior to joining the Braves. Originally selected by the Texas Rangers in the sixth round in 2006, Brigham underwent Tommy John surgery in 2007 and missed all of 2008. He returned from the injury in 2009 and reached as high as Double-A Frisco in 2012, going 5-5 with a 4.28 ERA in 21 starts. The Rangers traded him to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for catcher Geovany Soto at the 2012 trade deadline, but got him back from the Cubs via trade the following November. Brigham made his Triple-A debut with Round Rock in 2013, going 5-5 with a 4.51 ERA in 26 games (18 starts). The Rangers didn’t re-sign him after 2013, and he moved on to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Last year at Triple-A Indianapolis, he went 3-5 with a 4.29 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 92.1 innings over 18 games (14 starts). Brigham profiles to be in Gwinnett, but a definite fit isn’t clear.
- Travis Mattair (1B) – signed to a minor league contract on November 20. The 25-year-old Mattair has yet to play above Double-A, but is an intriguing prospect that could be ready for the next level. Originally drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the second round of the 2007 June draft, Mattair was selected during the Triple-A phase of the 2012 Rule 5 Draft by the Cincinnati Reds. In two seasons with the Reds’ Double-A affiliate in Pensacola, he combined to hit .240 with 42 doubles, 26 home runs and 126 RBIs in 263 games. He also struck out 239 times in that span, a rate he’ll have to cut down in order to proceed to Triple-A. Mattair could be headed for Gwinnett, but is more likely to be in Mississippi.
- Jairo Heredia (RHP) – signed to a minor league contract on November 20. Another former Pinstripes prospect, Heredia joins the Braves after seven seasons in the New York Yankees’ system. The 25-year-old Dominican Republic native was rated the Yankees’ No. 12 prospect by Baseball America back in 2009. He spent most of 2014 with Double-A Trenton, going 4-1 with a 3.53 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 71.1 innings over 26 games (10 starts). Heredia also pitched five times for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year, going 1-0 with a 7.53 ERA and 16 strikeouts over 14.1 innings in five games (1 start). He likely starts out in Double-A Mississippi in 2015.
- K.D. Kang (OF) – signed to a minor league contract on November 21. Though born in South Korea, the 26-year-old Kang has ties to Gwinnett County. He attended Parkview High School in Lilburn, GA, the same school that produced former Braves outfielder and current Philadelphia Phillies farmhand Jeff Francoeur. The Tampa Bay Rays drafted Kang in the 15th round in 2006, and he spent seven seasons in their minor league system before signing with Baltimore for 2014. The left-handed hitter has batted .269 with 150 doubles, 38 triples, 68 home runs, 307 RBIs and 37 stolen bases in 726 minor league games, stats reflecting decent power and speed. He has yet to reach the Triple-A level, however, spending nearly all of his time with Double-A affiliates the past four seasons. Last year, Kang batted .282 with 22 doubles, three triples, 12 homers and 37 RBIs in 100 games with Bowie of the Orioles’ system. He looks poised to make his Triple-A debut in Gwinnett sometime in 2015.
- Michael Kohn (RHP) – signed to a minor league contract and invited to Spring Training on December 4. Like Veal, Kohn is a reliever with quality Major League experience that the Braves will take a long look at this spring. Over parts of four seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, he combined to go 5-6 with a 3.67 ERA, two saves and 107 strikeouts in 110.1 innings. In 2014, Kohn made 25 big league appearances, going 2-1 with a 3.04 ERA. He’s also a veteran of four Triple-A seasons with Salt Lake, where he went 5-6 with a 3.62 ERA in 110 relief outings. The Camden, SC native could end up a G-Brave, but certainly has the ability to pitch for Atlanta as needed.
- Joe Benson (OF) – signed to a minor league contract on January 7. The Minnesota Twins’ second round pick in 2006, Benson was regarded by Baseball America as the Twins’ No. 2 prospect in 2008. He spent seven seasons with the Twins, making a 21-game Major League debut back in 2011 (.239, 17-for-71, 2 RBI, 2 SB). Benson has not since returned to the Majors in stints with the Texas Rangers and Miami Marlins, and he spent most of 2014 with Miami’s Double-A affiliate in Jacksonville (.264, 10 HR, 62 RBI in 124 games). Though he’s logged 861 minor league games — including 70 games with Triple-A Rochester from 2012 to 2013 — he’s still just 26 years old and has upside. Time will tell how he fits into a Gwinnett outfield that could return Todd Cunningham, Edward Salcedo and Joey Terdoslavich.
- Leyson Septimo (LHP) – signed to a minor league contract on January 7. The continued search for left-handed relief depth led to the 29-year-old Septimo, who pitched for Southern Maryland of the independent Atlantic League last season (0-0, 14.85 ERA in 8 games). Septimo was originally signed as an outfielder by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2003 and began his conversion to the mound in 2008. The Chicago White Sox claimed him off waivers in June 2011, and he spent most of 2012 and 2013 working out of the Triple-A Charlotte bullpen. He went 2-1 with a paltry 1.31 ERA in 24 outings for the Knights in 2012, but followed up with a 2-1 record and 4.42 ERA in 28 games in 2013. Septimo does have big league experience, 21 appearances with the White Sox in 2012 when he went 0-2 with a 5.02 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 14.1 innings. If Septimo regains his 2012 form, he could be another sleeper Independent League find for the Braves on the order of Carlos Fisher last season.
- David Carpenter (RHP) – signed to a minor league contract on January 17. The OTHER David Carpenter joins the Braves after six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels’ ninth round pick in 2009, Carpenter has spent parts of the last three seasons with Triple-A Salt Lake. In 60 games with the Bees, he combined to go 7-2 with a 5.58 ERA, six saves and 67 strikeouts in 80.2 innings. After posting a 9.48 ERA in 24 outings with Salt Lake in 2013, he dropped his ERA down to 3.34 in 21 games last season. Carpenter has logged 30 appearances in the Majors with Los Angeles, but 28 of those came back in 2012 when he went 1-2 with a 4.76 ERA. He is likely to spend some time in Gwinnett next season.
- John Buck (C) – signed to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training on January 25. The well-traveled Buck has played for Kansas City, Toronto, Florida/Miami, New York (NL), Pittsburgh, Seattle and Los Angeles (AL) over an 11-year Major League career. In 1,090 big league games, he has combined to bat .234 with 134 home runs an 491 RBIs. Back in 2010, he was an American League All-Star with the Blue Jays thanks to career highs in batting average (.281), homers (20) and RBIs (66). The 34-year-old did spend 33 games with Triple-A Salt Lake in the Angels’ system last year, and could end up in the same role within the Braves’ system — veteran catcher providing depth in Gwinnett.
- Jesus Flores (C) – signed to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training on January 26. Flores is another seasoned catcher added with depth in mind. He spent five years with the Washington Nationals from 2007-12, batting .241 with 23 homers and 127 RBIs in 311 games. Last season, he made the move to the Kansas City Royals’ system, but played in just 40 games with Triple-A Omaha before being released on July 23. Flores is one of eight catchers the Braves extended non-roster invites to, but he and Buck stand as the most Major League ready backstops of the group.
Notable 2014 G-Braves that have gone elsewhere, or are currently free agents:
- Mitch Atkins (RHP) – signed with the Texas Rangers.
- Pedro Beato (RHP) – currently a free agent.
- Brandon Boggs (OF) – currently a free agent.
- Ryan Buchter (LHP) – signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
- Terry Doyle (RHP) – signed with the Baltimore Orioles.
- James Hoyt (RHP) – traded to the Houston Astros.
- Tommy La Stella (2B) – traded to the Chicago Cubs.
- Steve Lerud (C) – signed with the Washington Nationals.
- Ozzie Martinez (INF) – signed with the Baltimore Orioles.
- Donnie Murphy (INF) – currently a free agent.
- Aaron Northcraft (RHP) – traded to the San Diego Padres.
- Daniel Rodriguez (LHP) – traded to the Baltimore Orioles.
- Edward Salcedo (OF/3B) – traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
- Gus Schlosser (RHP) – traded to the Colorado Rockies.
- Chasen Shreve (LHP) – traded to the New York Yankees.
- Atahualpa Severino (LHP) – signed with the Los Angeles Angels.
- Zach Stewart (RHP) – signed with the Los Angeles Angels.
Please check back for further updates as the offseason continues, and remember to follow @GBravesMedia for baseball-related G-Braves news.
The Atlanta Braves traded one former G-Brave for another yesterday, sending infielder Tommy La Stella and an international bonus pool slot (No. 4) to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for right-hander Arodys Vizcaino and three international bonus pool slots (No. 2, No. 3, No. 4).
Time for a G-Braves-centric look at the trade:
La Stella entered 2014 with plenty of hype, having earned the Braves’ “Best Hitter for Average” and “Best Strike Zone Discipline” distinctions from Baseball America. Though he didn’t display much power in his Triple-A debut, he was as-advertised for Gwinnett, batting .293 with a .384 on-base percentage in 47 games. He ranked among International League leaders in lowest TPA/SO ratio (2nd, 1 SO/14.21 TPA), walks (T-8th, 25) and on-base percentage (10th) as of May 28, and Atlanta rewarded him with his first Major League call-up.
A few more of La Stella’s Gwinnett highlights:
- He reached base safely in 21 consecutive games from April 10 to May 2, batting .325 (27-for-83) with one double and 14 RBIs. It was the longest on-base streak by a G-Brave in 2014.
- In 23 games at Coolray Field, he batted .346 (27-for-78) with two doubles and eight RBIs.
- In his final game with Gwinnett on May 27 at Pawtucket, he belted his first career Triple-A home run, a two-run shot off RHP Matt Barnes.
La Stella started hot in the Majors, batting .411 with nine multi-hit games over his first 16 contests. He leveled off, however, batting .251 with 16 doubles, one home run and 31 RBIs in 93 total games with the Braves. By season’s end, he saw decreased playing time with the emergence of fellow former G-Brave Phil Gosselin.
In sending La Stella to the Cubs, the Braves have helped clear up their second base log-jam. Gosselin is a good bet to be the Braves’ starting second baseman next April, but he may only be a placeholder for Jose Peraza. The Braves’ top prospect and 2014 Minor League Player of the Year, Peraza batted .339 with a .364 on-base percentage and 60 stolen bases between two levels last season, but hasn’t yet played above Double-A. He could follow the same path as La Stella, starting the year in a Gwinnett uniform before earning a Major League call-up during the season. Second base sets up to be an intriguing spot for the G-Braves in 2015, as Gosselin, Peraza or Tyler Pastornicky could see time at the position.
Yesterday’s trade also brings the hard-throwing Vizcaino back to the Braves organization. Before Tommy John surgery in 2012 and a trade to the Cubs that July, he was included with Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado as the next wave of prospect pitchers bound for Atlanta. The Coolray Field faithful saw him briefly during the pitching-rich 2011 season, when he went 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA, no walks and eight strikeouts in 7.0 innings with Gwinnett. Vizcaino made his Major League debut with Atlanta that same season, going 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA, nine walks and 17 strikeouts in 17 games, 17.1 innings.
Vizcaino had a comeback year in 2014, as he went 1-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 18 walks and 42 strikeouts over 41.0 innings in the Cubs’ minor league system. His September call-up to Chicago produced a 5.40 ERA in five outings, 5.0 innings.
Though Vizcaino logged most of his appearances at Triple-A Iowa, he was certainly acquired to compete for a bullpen spot with Atlanta this Spring. His addition also provides competition for another flame-throwing former G-Brave, right-hander Juan Jaime. Jaime and his upper-90’s fastball have been impressive in both Gwinnett and Atlanta, but he’ll have to improve his control and limit his walks (45 in 53.1 combined innings) to stick in the Majors.
This deal in the long run seems to be more about the international bonus pool slots and the minor league depth the Braves can build with them, but it also helps Atlanta bolster their pitching staff while clearing up the picture at second base.
Following a historic front office revamp in October, the Atlanta Braves are preparing for their most important Hot Stove season in recent franchise history. Here at the G-Blog, we’ll periodically take a look at some of the players that President of Baseball Operations John Hart and the new regime are bringing in, specifically those that will have an impact on the 2015 roster here in Gwinnett.
Yesterday marked Atlanta’s first foray into Major/Minor League free agency this offseason, as the club announced the signing of outfielder Zoilo Almonte to a one-year Major League deal and pitchers Chien-Ming Wang and Donnie Veal to Minor League deals. While these acquisitions aren’t the most notable the Braves will make this winter, they are proof that Hart and company are committed to building a deeper organization through the addition of established veterans.
Anyone who follows the Gwinnett Braves or the Triple-A International League closely will be familiar with all three players. Almonte, Wang and Veal all spent significant time in the IL last season, and each played against the G-Braves on more than one occasion.
Almonte, on Atlanta’s 40-man roster, will contend for a spot on the 25-man Major League roster this Spring. He’s the youngest of the three acquisitions at age 25, and he’s logged brief stints with the New York Yankees in each of the past two seasons. Almonte has never quite settled in at the plate in the big leagues, batting .211 with two home runs and 12 RBIs in 47 career games, but he’s done plenty at the Triple-A level to make him an intriguing prospect. In 105 games with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders last year, he batted .261 with 18 doubles, 18 home runs and 69 RBIs. His banner performance of 2014 occurred against Gwinnett at Coolray Field from July 23-24, a game that took two days to complete due to rain. Almonte went 4-for-6 with three homers and seven RBIs in a 12-4 rout of the G-Braves, launching solo and three-run shots off Kanekoa Texeira and adding another three-run clout off Carlos Fisher.
Almonte is reportedly out of options and would have to clear waivers should the Braves ever want to send him to Gwinnett, so it’s unlikely that he’ll bring his homer show back to Coolray Field in 2015. That’s not to say his addition won’t have an effect on the G-Braves’ roster. IL veterans Todd Cunningham and Joey Terdoslavich, also competitors for the Atlanta bench, are now more likely to return to Gwinnett for their third and fourth seasons, respectively. Cunningham (.287, 8 HR, 58 RBI, 19 SB) and Terdoslavich (.256, 15 HR, 61 RBI) both had productive Triple-A seasons a year ago.
In contrast to Almonte, Wang appears to be specifically signed to help the Gwinnett roster. The Taiwanese right-hander posted back-to-back 19-win seasons with the New York Yankees in 2006 and 2007, but suffered a career-altering foot injury in 2008 and has since seen his profile transition to Triple-A workhorse. Since the start of 2011, the 34-year-old has made twice as many starts in the International League (50) as he has in the Major Leagues (22). Last year, Wang made an IL-best 28 starts with two organizations, going 13-8 with a 4.12 ERA with the Louisville Bats (Cincinnati Reds) and the Charlotte Knights (Chicago White Sox). He struck out just 73 batters over 172.2 innings, but kept the ball on the ground with a 1.78 groundout/flyout ratio and only six homers allowed.
Much like Almonte, Wang had success facing the G-Braves last year. He went 1-0 with a 2.92 ERA in two starts while with Louisville, then finished 3-0 with a 3.54 ERA in three starts with Charlotte. He worked at least 6.0 innings in four of his five meetings with Gwinnett, including 7.1 scoreless, nine-hit frames in a win with the Bats on June 14.
If he joins Gwinnett, Wang would be the elder statesman of a starting rotation that could include returnees Cody Martin (7-8, 3.52) and Aaron Northcraft (7-10, 4.70) and Double-A standouts Jason Hursh (11-7, 3.58) and Williams Perez (7-6, 2.91). Another season of 170-plus innings from Wang would also help keep the bullpen fresh in 2015.
Speaking of the Gwinnett bullpen, that’s where you might find the left-handed Veal come April. Veal, a second-round pick by the Chicago Cubs back in 2005, has had a taste of the Majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago White Sox. In 100 total games from 2009 through 2014, he went 3-3 with a 4.87 ERA and one save. His best year was 2011, when he went 0-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 24 relief outings with the White Sox. Far more of his time has been spent at the Triple-A level, where he logged 25 games with the Indianapolis Indians from 2009-2011 and 89 games with the Charlotte Knights from 2012-2014.
After going 2-2 with a 2.70 ERA in 17 relief outings for Charlotte in 2013, Veal took a step back in 2014, going 4-5 with a 5.94 ERA in 37 appearances. Against Gwinnett, he went 0-0 with a 9.00 ERA in three meetings. Though his recent numbers don’t impress, the 30-year-old southpaw will get a look in Major League camp this Spring. Should he fail to make the Atlanta roster, he’ll be an asset for a Gwinnett bullpen in flux. Of last year’s G-Braves relief staff, right-hander Pedro Beato and left-handers Ryan Buchter and Atahualpa Severino are all Minor League free agents. That trio combined to make 131 appearances for the club last season.
Yesterday’s moves don’t represent a “big splash” at the Major League level, but they are the Atlanta Braves’ first steps toward building better organizational depth — and a better Triple-A club — in 2015.
Much like David Hale, outfielder Todd Cunningham has seen quite a shift in his expectations this spring. A year ago, he entered Major League camp as the reigning Atlanta Braves Minor League Player of the Year, an award that earned him a spot as a non-roster invitee. He played in 22 Grapefruit League games before ultimately opening the season with Triple-A Gwinnett, where he went on to hit .265 with 60 runs scored an 20 stolen bases. This spring, Cunningham is a member of the 40-man roster with a taste of the Majors under his belt (he hit .250 in eight games for Atlanta last year), vying for a return trip to Turner Field. Gwinnett Braves Media Relations Manager Dave Lezotte caught up with him today at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
DL: Last year, you were a non-roster invitee to Braves Spring Training. This year, you’re on the 40-man roster. How does this spring compare to last year?
TC: Every year, you’re just trying to get ready for Spring Training. Wherever you settle in the lineup or whatever team you end up on, it kind of works itself out. It’s all about getting ready for the season and being ready to go for game one.
DL: You’re competing for a roster spot with Atlanta, going up against some former Gwinnett teammates like Jose Constanza and Joey Terdoslavich. What’s that competition like?
TC: We all get along so well, there’s no bad blood among us. It’s all about the competition. We go out and we play hard, all of us enjoy the game of baseball. We have that connection, that bond, regardless of what happens. It’s all about going out there and playing hard.
DL: Obviously you still root for those guys when they’re at the plate.
TC: Yeah, they’re your teammates. You’ve come up with them and played with them, so you want everyone to do well.
DL: Last year with Gwinnett, you hit two home runs all year. In your third game this spring, you homered. What was it like showing some power in a Major League Spring Training game?
TC: It feels good. Hopefully that works itself into my swing; it’s something that I’ve tried to incorporate a little bit. Hopefully that shows up throughout the whole season.
DL: As a G-Brave in 2013, you were the everyday centerfielder. This spring, you’ve been playing a lot of left field. Are you still working towards being in center, or is it left field now?
TC: The whole goal is to be able to play as many (positions) as possible. You start looking at the levels above you, the big league level and who they have, and there’s a lot of contracts out there. For me and my position, trying to find a way to get in there, you have to be able to play more than one. The more positions I can play, the better, but obviously the longer I can stay in the middle of the field, the better, too.
DL: Is there different preparation involved for playing the corner outfield spots as opposed to center?
TC: Balls just don’t stay true on the corners, you get all the slices and hooks and top-spin. It’s a lot about first-step reads.
DL: Last season with Gwinnett, you hit .265 and stole 20 bases. Is there an area of your game that you’re working on improving for this year?
TC: Just being able to drive the ball consistently. I’d kind of go through stretches last year where I’d get behind some balls. To be able to do it throughout the whole year, would obviously improve (my) game.
DL: Last year, you got the opportunity to make your Major League debut with the Braves. It was a limited stint, but certainly an eye-opening experience for you. How important is that experience for you heading into this season?
TC: It’s great. It put me in position to come in as a roster invitee. It was just a really cool experience, to kind of get (my) feet wet. Especially when we were on that 14-game winning streak, it was a lot of fun to be in that atmosphere.
DL: Brian Snitker is the manager in Gwinnett this year. You got a chance to work with him at the Major League level last season, what are your thoughts on Snit?
TC: I’m excited to have his experience transferred down to the Triple-A level. He’s been around the game for a long time, so I’m sure there are things that everyone can pick up from him.
DL: The Gwinnett roster obviously will take shape once the Atlanta roster works itself out, but there should be a veteran presence on the club this year. I know you guys aren’t thinking about Triple-A just yet, but what’s your early feeling about the Gwinnett club?
TC: The whole goal, like I said, is to get to the big leagues, but also be ready for game one. I think everyone is going to be on the same page there and be ready in case the opportunity presents itself to be in Atlanta. As far as how the Triple-A team is going to shape up, I think it’s going to be a lot of guys all with the same goal in mind, which is really cool when you get that many guys on the same page. It should be an exciting year, wherever I end up.
DL: If you do end up back in Gwinnett at some point this season, how do you handle that?
TC: Just the same as I’ve always handled it. It’s baseball, I’m trying to get better, I have things that I’m working on. Keep the big picture in mind, trying to get back to Atlanta, and just keep working.
Chris Roughgarden of the Gwinnett Braves Photography Staff was at Champion Stadium on Thursday night to shoot the Atlanta Braves/Washington Nationals night game. She got some great shots of several 2013 G-Braves, which can be viewed in the slideshow below. The Braves won the contest, 3-2.
This time last year, right-hander David Hale was working on adding a sinker to his repertoire and preparing for his first Triple-A season with Gwinnett. A year later, the Marietta, GA native finds himself competing for an Opening Day roster spot with the Atlanta Braves, having already made his Major League season and postseason debuts last fall. Gwinnett Braves Media Relations Manager Dave Lezotte caught up with Hale today at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
DL: Last year, you made your Triple-A debut, battled back from a right shoulder strain and made your Major League debut by season’s end. A lot of things happened to you in one season. What did you learn from those experiences?
DH: Just to stick with it, and to improve on the stuff that I have. I added another pitch last year, my sinker. It gave me a lot of confidence in pitching, and I could focus more on the art of pitching instead of just trying to overpower people. I could actually go at them with a pitch that I could come in on them and then go away on them. It’s more of an art to me now, to focus on pitching like that.
DL: September 13, 2013, you made your Major League debut for the Atlanta Braves. Being from Marietta, growing up a Braves fan and getting a chance to make a debut in front of your family and friends, what was that like?
DH: It was incredible, I had so many people there that I haven’t seen in years. To have all them come out and support me, it means a lot, it really does.
DL: You worked 5.0 scoreless, four-hit innings and struck out nine in that game. You didn’t have more than nine strikeouts in any Triple-A start all season. Did your performance surprise you that night?
DH: I think it did. It was good for me because it gave me some confidence; let me know that I can perform at that level. I couldn’t have asked for a better outing, just to do that in front of my family and friends, and like I said, to give myself some confidence.
DL: You got a win the next time out on September 26 vs. Philadelphia, and not long after, you were named to the Braves’ postseason roster. How shocking was that?
DH: You know, I really wasn’t expecting that. When it came down to it, I guess they were looking for a long relief kind of guy, and I was able to fill that spot. It was a blast; it’s something that I certainly won’t ever forget.
DL: You pitched in Game 3 of the NLDS at Los Angeles, a tough 13-6 loss for the Braves. Still, it was a huge personal moment for you at the end of that game. What was it like stepping on the mound in the playoffs, at Dodger Stadium of all places?
DH: It was pretty cool to be on the mound during the playoff atmosphere. Like you said, L.A., that place is enormous; I didn’t realize it was the largest stadium in the league. It was a little daunting, but we were down a little bit, so that took away (some) of the nerves because it was out of our hands. But still, my heart was racing and it was fun to be there.
DL: When we talked last season, one of the things we focused on was your use of video as preparation at the Triple-A level. You have access to even more of that at the Major League level, what is your preparation like here?
DH: I kind of do the same thing. We have a lot of the same video stuff in the big leagues as in Triple-A, so I always like watching that. I get a feel for the hitter before I ever see him, so it’s like I’ve faced him before. It’s being comfortable through knowledge, I guess.
DL: This year at Spring Training, you’re competing for a Major League roster spot. What is that competition process like?
DH: It’s pretty stiff. We have a lot of good starting pitching, so I’m just doing the best I can and hopefully putting the ball in the decision-makers’ courts.
DL: What are you working on the most this spring?
DH: Consistency, that’s something I’ll say for the rest of my career. Working on that sinker, just being consistent with it, as well as my off-speed pitches.
DL: Do you have a good feel for that sinker so far this year?
DH: Yeah, it actually is feeling really good right now. I’ve got to get that off-speed stuff going again, but it’s early obviously, and that’s why we have Spring Training. Just getting the feel back.
DL: You’ve been a starter and a reliever in your minor league career. Would you accept either role in the Majors?
DH: I’ll catch if they want me to. Whatever they want me to do to be on this roster, I’ll do it.
DL: This is a young pitching staff, both the rotation and the bullpen. Who do the young guys look up to on the staff?
DH: Like you said, it’s a pretty young staff. (Kris) Medlen has taken on a big leadership role. Then you have Freddy (Garcia), he’s been around forever, so we all look up to him.
DL: If you end up back in Gwinnett at some point this season, how do you handle that?
DH: Just stick with it and just keep getting better through practice. I don’t think any team has ever had 25 men on it for the entire season. I just need to put myself in position to take a spot if one opens up.
In case you missed it, new Gwinnett Braves Manager Brian Snitker was a guest on Mike Sammond’s radio show on 92.9 The Game last Saturday. In the roughly 10-minute interview, Snitker talked about his move back to the minors, the challenges of managing and coaching third base simultaneously, his experience as the Major League third base coach for Bobby Cox and Fredi Gonzalez, the development of Braves’ top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt, his thoughts on Atlanta’s club in 2014 and more.
Click below to listen: