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:
Though he played just two games with the club, legendary Atlanta Braves’ left-hander Tom Glavine is a former G-Brave. With the announcement of Glavine as part of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s 2014 induction class yesterday, the Gwinnett Braves Baseball Club has its first member of Cooperstown.
Glavine, who will be enshrined in the Hall alongside rotation-mate Greg Maddux and their manager Bobby Cox on July 27, 2014, was ever-so-briefly a member of the Gwinnett roster in 2009. The G-Braves were not quite two months into their inaugural season at then-named Gwinnett Stadium when Glavine came to town on a minor league injury rehab assignment.
Glavine had rejoined Atlanta as a free agent in 2008 after spending the previous five seasons with the New York Mets. He went 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA in 13 starts that year, a campaign shortened by three trips to the disabled list. A nagging left elbow strain ended the left-hander’s season in mid-August, and Glavine underwent surgery with Dr. James Andrews to repair a torn flexor tendon on August 21. The 2009 season was to be the 43-year-old’s comeback from the only major injury of his career.
His first rehab outing came with Double-A Mississippi on April 12, 2009, a 2.0-inning start in which he allowed a run on three hits in a no-decision. Though he was efficient with 26 strikes among his 36 pitches, Glavine wouldn’t take the mound again until late May.
It was on May 23, 2009 when Glavine made his Gwinnett Braves debut. In front of a Gwinnett Stadium crowd of 9,294, he turned in 3.0 innings against Toledo, yielding three runs on five hits. Two of those runs came on a two-run homer by Mud Hens’ first baseman Ryan Roberson in the third inning. Glavine left in line to lose, but the G-Braves scored seven runs over the fourth and fifth innings to take a 9-3 lead. Two scoreless frames from reliever Francisley Bueno and a rain storm that erupted prior to the sixth gave Gwinnett the 9-3 victory in a shortened five-inning contest.
Five days later, Glavine made his final appearance in a G-Braves uniform and provided one last glimpse of his legacy for the 5,571 in attendance. He handcuffed the Indianapolis Indians to six hits over 5.0 scoreless innings, walking one while striking out two. Glavine threw 67 pitches, 41 for strikes to earn the win as Gwinnett prevailed, 10-6.
Those two outings (1-0 with a 3.38 ERA) marked the whole of Glavine’s time as a G-Brave. However, it was not his final outing in professional baseball. The last start of his career came with the Class-A Rome Braves on June 2, 2009. Glavine won that game as well, tossing 6.0 scoreless, three-hit innings, walking none and striking out two in a 3-0 blanking of Augusta.
Glavine’s rehab assignment ended after that game, as did his professional career. Though he had been dominant in his last two minor league starts, the 22-year Major League veteran was released on June 3, 2009. The following February, he officially retired from the game in order to join the Atlanta Braves’ broadcast team and serve as a special assistant to Braves’ president John Schuerholz.
Four years later, Glavine is rightfully headed to the Hall of Fame. He goes in as a career 305-game winner, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, a 10-time All-Star, a World Series MVP and lastly, a former G-Brave.
Though Glavine is the first player to don the Gwinnett Braves uniform to reach the Baseball Hall of Fame, he’s not the only member of the 2014 class with ties to the Richmond/Gwinnett franchise. Glavine, along with managers Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa, all spent time as players with the Richmond Braves.
Long before his days in the Atlanta dugout, Cox was a Braves’ farmhand himself, playing in 99 games with Richmond in 1967. A 26-year-old third baseman, Cox batted .297 with 17 doubles, four triples, 14 home runs and 51 RBIs for manager Luman Harris and the ’67 squad. That team finished first in the International League with an 81-60 regular-season record before falling in the first round of the playoffs.
LaRussa played second base for Richmond in 1972 and appeared in 122 games for the club led by manager Clyde King. Like Cox, he was productive at the plate, hitting .308 with 13 doubles, two triples, 10 home runs and 42 RBIs. The ’72 R-Braves finished sixth in the IL with a record of 65-78, missing the playoffs.
And finally we’re back to Glavine, who also pitched for Richmond in 1986 and 1987. After going 11-6 with a 3.41 ERA in 22 starts for Double-A Greenville in 1986, Glavine joined Richmond and went 1-5 with a 5.62 ERA in seven starts. Though his numbers weren’t great, he contributed to a team that claimed the franchise’s second Governors’ Cup Championship. A 21-year-old Glavine returned to manager Roy Majtyka’s club in 1987, and despite a tough-luck 6-12 record, posted a respectable 3.35 ERA and four complete games in 22 starts. That would be his last non-rehab stint in the minor leagues, as he joined the Atlanta Braves that same season and became a Major League mainstay in 1988.
While Cox, LaRussa and Glavine are going into the Hall based on the merits of historic Major League careers, each began their journey to Cooperstown in the minor leagues. For a moment in time, those journeys intersected with the rich history of the Richmond and Gwinnett Braves franchise.
Yesterday, I delved a bit into the background of right-hander Wirfin Obispo, the hard-throwing Gwinnett Braves closer who was just added to the Atlanta Braves’ 40-man roster last Friday. Today, it’s time to do the same for the other newest 40-man addition, left-hander Ryan Buchter.
The 26-year-old Buchter emerged as a bullpen force for the G-Braves last season, compiling a 4-0 record and a 2.76 ERA in 51 relief appearances. In addition to converting all five of his save chances, the southpaw also ranked among International League relief leaders in strikeouts per 9.0 IP ratio (1st, 14.95) and lowest opponent batting average (3rd, .168). Buchter’s most impressive work came down the stretch as he posted a 0.00 ERA over his final 14 appearances in August and September.
Much like Obispo, Buchter’s “breakout” season in 2013 came after a well-traveled start to his career. Originally drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 33rd round of the 2005 draft, the New Jersey native has already been traded twice. The Nationals dealt him to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for right-hander Matt Avery in 2008, and the Cubs moved him to Atlanta in a deal for right-hander Rodrigo Lopez in 2011. Amid the ever-changing scenery, including stops in eight different leagues, Buchter put together All-Star seasons in the Class-A Midwest League in 2009 and the Double-A Southern League in 2010.
Buchter’s travels and subsequent learning experiences were featured in a story I wrote for the final regular-season issue of Tomahawk Talk last year. In it, he reflected on his unlikely discovery by the Nationals, the benefits of being traded, his confidence gained from the 2012 Arizona Fall League, his “rollercoaster” 2013 season in Gwinnett and more.
Buchter Breaks Out
Left-hander Ryan Buchter has emerged as a go-to arm out of the Gwinnett Braves bullpen in 2013
by Dave Lezotte (published in Tomahawk Talk, August 26, 2013)
He may not qualify as the biggest prospect arm on the Gwinnett Braves’ roster, but what left-hander Ryan Buchter has been able to do in his first full Triple-A season is nothing short of impressive. The New Jersey native has held International League hitters to a .178 batting average, striking out 83 over 51 innings in 42 outings this year.
Buchter’s professional career, including stops with the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs organizations, has always been a bit under-the-radar. Even his signing by Washington came about almost on accident.
“It was a mistake,” said Buchter about his discovery by the Nationals. “I ended up pitching against somebody who was being scouted already. I kind of outpitched him, and it all started from there.”
The pitcher being scouted by both the Nationals and the Cubs was Winslow Township High School right-hander Chris Rollins. The Nationals passed on Rollins in the 2005 First Year Player Draft, but took Buchter in the 33rd round out of Highland Regional High School in Blackwood, NJ.
A draft-and-follow selection, Buchter attended Gloucester County Community College in nearby Sewell, NJ before starting his professional career in 2006 at age 19. His first two seasons as a Nationals’ farmhand were anything but successful. In his first year in the Gulf Coast League, he went 1-1 with a 7.24 ERA in 11 games, one start. The next year, he went 1-2 with a 6.82 ERA at Short-A Vermont. He finally showed some promise in 2008, going 4-2 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 games between the GCL and Class-A Hagerstown, but was traded away after the season.
The Nationals dealt Buchter to the Cubs in exchange for right-hander Matt Avery on November 3, 2008. The change of scenery proved to be a turning point in his career.
“Getting traded kind of jump-started me,” said Buchter about the move to the Cubs. “It made me take a different path in my career. I started to work a little harder that off-season and it started to show right away. From there, I kept building and building. I attribute (my success) to being traded and not wanting to let the new team down.”
With his career refreshed in a new organization, Buchter put together two award-winning seasons in the Cubs’ system. In 2009, he made his first professional All-Star Game, going 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA and five saves in 38 games for the Peoria Chiefs of the Class-A Midwest League. A year later, he was an All-Star again in the Double-A Southern League, going 7-2 with a 4.65 ERA in 47 games for the Tennessee Smokies. His third campaign as a Cub began with mixed results as he split time between Tennessee and Advanced-A Daytona, but another shakeup was imminent.
On May 26, 2011, Buchter was traded for the second time. The Cubs sent him to Atlanta in exchange for 35-year-old right-hander Rodrigo Lopez.
“I was just sent down to High-A to iron out some kinks,” reflected Buchter on the time of the trade. “I started throwing well in Daytona with the intention of (moving back up) to Double-A or Triple-A. When I got traded, (Daytona manager Buddy Bailey) pulled me aside and said ‘I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is, you’ve been traded. The bad news is, you’re going back to High-A.’ That was a difficult thing to handle.”
Buchter started his Atlanta Braves’ career with Advanced-A Lynchburg, going 2-5 with a 3.59 ERA and a career-high 15 savs in 2011. In 2012, he moved on to Double-A Mississippi, returning to the Southern League for the first time since pitching with Tennessee. Facing familiar competition, he boasted a 3-1 record, 1.31 ERA and four saves in 35 relief outings for the M-Braves.
“I just went out and did what I knew I could do,” said Buchter about his success. “Just give me an opportunity and I’ll pitch and throw well, especially late in the game. I embraced the role I was being used in, seventh, eighth, sometimes ninth (inning) and it worked out.”
His stint with Mississippi worked out for a late-season promotion to Gwinnett for his Triple-A debut. Buchter went 0-2 with a 10.12 ERA in nine outings for the G-Braves, indicating that he still needed some refinement. A trip to the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League and an extended look in Braves’ Major League camp during the spring helped him regain confidence.
“It helped me iron out some bad habits that I created when I came up here (to Gwinnett),” said Buchter about his fall and spring assignments. “It made me realize that I can get anybody out. I can get the prospects out; I can get the big league guys out. Once you realize that, I don’t want to say the game becomes easier, but you start to have a little more faith in yourself.”
Buchter began his 2013 season on Gwinnett’s Opening Day roster and was nearly unhittable early, postin a 1.00 ERA in nine April outings. He came back down to earth in the summer months, going 0-0 with a 4.58 ERA in 28 games from May through July, but found his best stuff in August. Through his first seven games, he went 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and one save.
“It’s been a pretty fun rollercoaster,” said Buchter about 2013. “With pitching, it’s easy to be a perfectionist and want to go out and pick yourself apart for giving up a walk or giving up a hit. Sometimes the hardest thing is to realize that if you throw up a zero (no runs), it’s actually a good inning no matter what else happens.”
He’s had plenty of those good innings lately for Gwinnett, most of them in pivotal spots. With the departure of closer Cory Rasmus to the Los Angeles Angels in a July trade, Buchter has been given more opportunities to pitch with late leads and in save situations. Pitching in tight ballgames is something he relishes.
“The game’s a little more fun when you’re out there and you’re up by one, down by one and you know your team needs you to throw up a zero,” said Buchter. “It’s something that I’ve learned to embrace and I look forward to a one-run game. I get a little antsy in the bullpen hoping they’ll call down and say my name, that way I get a chance to come in.”
Buchter has climbed to the top of the league in relief strikeouts thanks to a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s and a willingness to challenge hitters with it. For the left-hander, getting ahead in the count quickly is the key to his prolific strikeout numbers.
“If I get ahead, a lot of times my success rate is a lot higher than a lot of guys,” said Buchter. “Get strike one, and then I try to pitch to one side of the plate for righties and lefties. If I get two strikes on a guy, then I’ll try to put him away. It’s a very simple game plan. A lot of fastballs; then I’ll mix the cutter in and then try to put them away with the breaking ball.”
Buchter’s professional career started with an unlikely discovery, progressed with three different organizations and has resulted in a 2013 season that has him closer than ever to the Major Leagues. While he waits for a shot at Atlanta’s bullpen, he remains optimistic and focused.
“Obviously, you’re waiting for your turn, and for a lot of bullpen guys, it’s luck,” said Buchter. “It’s luck and what the team has planned for you. They may have a plan for you, they might not, but you’ve got to continue to stay focused on the task at hand down here (in Gwinnett). It’s good to just keep your mind on things down here and do your job every day. If you don’t do your job here, they’re not going to be looking for you anyway.”
The Atlanta Braves will certainly be giving Buchter a long look when Spring Training starts up in February. For the first time in his career, he has the stability that comes from being on a Major League 40-man roster.