Monday: RHP Matt Andriese (0-1, 4.91 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Foltynewicz (1-0, 0.90 ERA)
Tuesday: RHP Jaime Schultz (1-0, 1.74 ERA) vs. RHP Aaron Blair (2-0, 2.25 ERA)
Wednesday: RHP Austin Pruitt (1-0, 1.93 ERA) vs. RHP Tyrell Jenkins (1-0, 2.00 ERA)
Coming off of its four-game sweep against the Norfolk Tides over the weekend, the Gwinnett Braves come into play Monday on a six-game winning streak, which has extended the best start in team history and vaulted the club to the top of the International League’s South Division.
With three straight scoreless outings by starting pitchers to begin the homestand, Gwinnett outscored Norfolk 23-4 and earned its first four-game series sweep since last August 20-23 against Louisville. Righties Aaron Blair, Tyrell Jenkins and Casey Kelly each posted scoreless starts for the G-Braves, totaling 19.0 innings, vs. the Tides. Including Mike Foltynewicz’s start against Durham on April 13, the G-Braves went 27.0 straight innings without having any of their starters allowing a run until the Tides scored three times against John Gant is Sunday’s finale.
Emilio Bonifacio and Ronnier Mustelier shouldered the offensive load for Gwinnett in its sweep of Norfolk, going a combined 11-for-25 with 6 RBI in the series. Bonifacio moved into the International League lead with five stolen bases, after swiping three bags against Norfolk. Mustelier hit .500 (5-for-10) with three RBI against the Tides, including the game-winning RBI in Sunday’s finale.
The G-Braves’ bullpen, which had been shaky over the season-opening, seven-game road trip to Norfolk and Durham, settled down at Coolray Field over the weekend, allowing a total of 11 hits and one run in 13.0 innings. David Peterson wrapped up the save on Sunday, finishing his fifth game of the season, putting him in the lead in that category in the IL.
With a pair of doubles over the weekend, Matt Tuiasosopo now leads the IL in extra-base hits (7) and trails only Durham’s Mikie Mahtook in total bases (24). Tuiasosopo also leads the league in runs scored with 10.
In closing out its first road trip of the season, Gwinnett took two of three at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, going to extra innings in each of the first two games. Tuiasosopo homered twice, scored four runs and drove in a pair in that three-game set, while the G-Braves pounded out 38 hits in the three games. Brandon Snyder had six hits in the series, Rio Ruiz posted two two-hit games and Sean Kazmar Jr. homered and drove in a pair of runs.
Thursday: LHP Nick Additon (0-0, 4.50 ERA) vs. RHP Aaron Blair (1-0, 4.50 ERA)
Friday: RHP Todd Redmond (0-1, 24.30 ERA) vs. RHP Tyrell Jenkins (0-0, 6.00 ERA)
Saturday: RHP Terry Doyle (0-0, 6.00 ERA) vs. RHP Casey Kelly (0-0, 7.20 ERA)
Sunday: LHP Ariel Miranda (0-0, 1.93 ERA) vs. RHP John Gant (0-0, 4.91 ERA)
The Gwinnett Braves begin the 8th season of baseball at Coolray Field this evening with the opening game of a four-game set against the Norfolk Tides (Baltimore Orioles). The G-Braves opened the 2016 season with a seven-game road trip, playing four games in Norfolk and three in Durham against the Bulls, and coming home with a 5-2 record to sit in first place of the International League South Division.
Gwinnett began its campaign by taking three out of four at Harbor Park, after winning six of 10 in Norfolk a year ago. The G-Braves won the first three games of the series, out-scoring Norfolk 17-7 in the three contests before falling in the series finale 9-4. Jhoulys Chacin didn’t allow a run over 7.2 innings on Opening Day in a 2-0 Gwinnett victory and Tyler Moore hit a go-ahead, two-run home run in the top of the 10th in the second game to push the G-Braves to a 4-2 win.
On April 9, Gwinnett exploded for seven runs in the top of the first inning against former G-Brave Todd Redmond to back righty Aaron Blair, who was making his first start since coming over in a trade from Arizona in December. Blair posted a quality start, allowing three runs over 6.0 innings, striking out six and walking just one.
After dropping the series opener at Durham in 11 innings, the G-Braves rebounded with back-to-back victories to close the trip, 6-5 (10) and 6-2. In the finale, righty Mike Foltynewicz was dominant, allowing just two hits and one walk over 6.0 scoreless innings, while striking out seven, lowering his season ERA to 0.90.
The hot hitting of Matt Tuiasosopo and Sean Kazmar Jr. paced Gwinnett over its first week of 2016, as the club returned home with the IL’s most runs scored (38)and second-best team batting average (.293). Entering play on Thursday, Tuiasosopo leads the International League with three homers, five extra-base hits and 18 total bases. He blasted a pair of homers on April 11 at Durham and the team has six home runs, well ahead of its record-low pace from a season ago when they hit just 50 in 144 games (last in all of Triple-A baseball and the fewest by an IL team since the 1980 Tidewater Tides hit 43 in 139 games).
Kazmar Jr. hit .278 over the first week with two home runs and seven RBI, which put him one off the IL lead entering play Thursday. Moore’s three doubles and 15 total bases rank third in the IL and Rio Ruiz, the club’s youngest player at 21 years of age, hit .318 over his first six Triple-A games with a pair of doubles. Reid Brignac (.296 AVG, 6 RBI), Blake Lalli (.375 AVG) and Brandon Snyder (.346 AVG, 4 RBI) also had productive weeks for the G-Braves.
Before being called up to Atlanta to make his major league debut on April 11, Mallex Smith hit .400 with two doubles, a triple and five runs scored.
The calendar has given us an extra day this February, officially making 2016 a “leap year.” In honor of the event, The G-Blog will examine four members of the 2015 G-Braves that are in position to make the next “leap” this season. The series concludes this week with Mallex Smith.
Players change organizations all the time. Some struggle in new surroundings, taking time to adjust and translate prior success to new uniforms. The 2015 season was the furthest thing from a struggle for outfielder Mallex Smith, who shined in his first year in the Braves system. He earned his second straight All-Star selection, this time at Double-A Mississippi, reached Triple-A for the first time and was recognized as the Atlanta Braves’ Hark Aaron Minor League Player of the Year. How’s that for a system debut?
Smith got off to a fast start by hitting .322 in April at Mississippi, but his next two months were even better. He was the M-Braves’ Player of the Month in both May and June, batting a combined .347 (51-for-147) with 23 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. Smith earned a trip to the Southern League All-Star Game on June 23, where he started in center field and batted leadoff, going 1-for-3.
At the Southern League’s All-Star break, Smith ranked second in the circuit in on-base percentage (.418) and tied for second in steals (23). Those impressive numbers earned him a promotion to Gwinnett for the second half of the season.
Despite seeing a drop-off of about sixty points in his batting average (.340 with Mississippi, .281 with Gwinnett) over the season’s final three months, Smith continued to be a weapon on the basepaths, stealing 34 bases in 41 tries (82.9 percent) as a G-Brave. In only 69 games in the International League, his 34 steals ranked third in the league, and his six triples ranked tied for seventh.
Smith was the IL’s Player of the Month in August, when he batted .336 with league highs in hits (41), triples (3), runs (24) and steals (13). Following the season, he earned the Braves’ organization’s top minor league honor for a position player, and along with teammate Tyrell Jenkins – the Braves’ 2015 Minor League Pitcher of the Year – showed that offseason trades can pay immediate dividends, even in the minors.
Across both levels in 2015, Smith led all Braves’ farmhands and ranked fifth in minor league baseball with 57 stolen bases (57-for-70). As impressive of a year as that is, it wasn’t even the highest single-season total in his career.
While playing for Class-A Fort Wayne and Advanced-A Lake Elsinore in San Diego’s system in 2014, Smith swiped a minor-league best 88 bases (88-for-114, 77.2 percent). He has 226 steals in 285 tries (79.2 percent) in his four-year professional career.
If Smith can continue to prove he’s as capable with his bat as he is with his legs, he could provide Atlanta with its first true leadoff hitter and base-stealing threat since Michael Bourn was at the top of his game in 2012. It was in that year when Bourn stole 42 bases and led off for the Braves 151 times, helping lead Atlanta to a Wild Card berth while playing solid defense.
With the recent signing of Jeff Francoeur, the Atlanta outfield picture has become more crowded. Ender Inciarte – acquired from Arizona with top-prospect Dansby Swanson and righty Aaron Blair in December – Nick Markakis and Hector Olivera are slated for starting positions come Opening Day, leaving Francoeur, Bourn and Nick Swisher as outfield options off the bench. Having that veteran group in the fold increases the likelihood of Smith beginning the 2016 campaign with Gwinnett.
But if a 69-game sample size was any sign of what’s to come, Smith is ready to join the big club sooner than later. A late-summer call-up appears in the cards for Smith, which would provide the final “leap” necessary in his career. With his plus-grade wheels (Baseball America ranks him as the fastest baserunner and best athlete in the Braves system) a solid year in Gwinnett should lead Smith to a permanent place in Atlanta’s outfield going forward.
The calendar has given us an extra day this February, officially making 2016 a “leap year.” In honor of the event, The G-Blog will examine four members of the 2015 G-Braves that are in position to make the next “leap” this season. The series continues this week with Ryan Kelly, check back each Thursday in February for more features.
Things could not have gone much better in the minor leagues in 2015 for right-hander Ryan Kelly. Handed the closing duties in both Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett, he was nearly perfect, saving 23 of 24 games while allowing just four earned runs across 41 games and 47.0 innings.
After dominating minor league hitters from April through June, the 28-year-old wore out I-85 between Coolray Field and Turner Field from July through September. But each time Kelly was promoted to Atlanta for his first cracks at Major Leaguers, he struggled mightily, posting a 7.02 ERA (13 ER in 16.2 IP) while allowing opponents to bat .313.
He produced strong numbers for Mississippi to open the season, allowing one earned run in 18.2 innings, saving 10 of 11 games and recording three times more strikeouts than walks (18 K / 6 BB). Southern League batters managed just a .197 average against Kelly, with left-handed hitters managing only two hits in 20 at-bats. That effort led him to his first trip to the Triple-A level since 2013 with Tucson in the San Diego system.
Kelly fired 9.2 scoreless innings upon his arrival in Gwinnett, picking up four saves in four tries and earning a victory on June 3 at Norfolk. He was tagged for three runs on three hits on June 20 against Pawtucket, but instead of letting one bad outing snowball, he returned to the mound four days later and mowed down Indianapolis over a scoreless inning. His first promotion to the Majors soon followed on June 28.
In his MLB debut on June 30 against Washington, Kelly yielded a run on two hits in a 6-1 Braves’ loss before returning back to the minors three days later.
Over his next five appearances for Gwinnett, Kelly worked 7.0 innings, allowing one hit and one walk, while registering 10 strikeouts and holding opponents scoreless. He earned two wins and one save in that stretch and was recalled by Atlanta on July 17.
He got into games on back-to-back days against the Chicago Cubs, totaling 1.2 innings during which he allowed two hits and two runs (one earned) without picking up a strikeout.
After earning the save for Gwinnett on August 1 at Durham, Kelly was summoned back to the Majors for a week-long stint over which he made four appearances and allowed four earned runs on seven hits in 3.2 innings.
In his final stretch with the G-Braves in 2015, Kelly tossed 5.2 scoreless innings, converting five saves in as many chances and yielding only one hit through August 29. But when he went back to Atlanta in September, he tallied a 6.30 ERA in nine outings (10.0 innings), allowing two runs on three separate instances to close the season.
The Atlanta bullpen struggled as a whole in 2015, ranking 29th in MLB with a 4.29 ERA, allowing the third-most runs in the league (253) and earning the 25th-most strikeouts (430). Outside of Arodys Vizcaino (nine saves, 1.60 ERA), who appears to have a hold on the ninth inning, and veterans Jason Grilli (24 saves before tearing his left Achilles in July) and Jim Johnson (2.25 ERA for Atlanta) returning to the mix, there’s not a lot of proven right-handers currently in the Braves’ pen. As a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, Kelly will have an opportunity to battle for one of the remaining spots.
For Kelly to take that next “leap” and become a reliable mid-to-late-inning reliever for the Braves, he simply needs to prove he’s capable of getting Major League hitters out. He showed in 2015 that he shouldn’t need more seasoning in the minors, but he will need to carry those results over into the big leagues to avoid going back-and-forth on I-85 again this season.
The calendar has given us an extra day this February, officially making 2016 a “leap year.” In honor of the event, The G-Blog will examine four members of the 2015 G-Braves that are in position to make the next “leap” this season. The series continues this week with Daniel Castro, check back each Thursday in February for more features.
The 2015 season for infielder Daniel Castro started and ended with a bang. The 23-year-old opened the year by bashing Southern League pitching to the tune of a .389 average in 23 games for Double-A Mississippi, and ended it with his third trip to Atlanta and a 3-for-5 game with his second career MLB home run on October 2 against St. Louis.
In between the two highs, Castro reached the top two levels of the Braves’ organization for the first time in his professional career, also spending an 89-game stint with Triple-A Gwinnett for the better part of the summer.
Castro started hot, reaching base safely in 20 of 23 games for the M-Braves. He posted a 13-game hit streak from April 9-25 – the 12th-longest streak in the Southern League all year long – and hammered left-handed pitching (11-for-18) before being promoted to the G-Braves on May 8.
Upon his arrival in Gwinnett, Castro batted .276 (34-for-123) in 35 games, leading into his Major League debut on June 17 vs. Boston. In that game, he picked up a pinch-hit single off of Junichi Tazawa, helping kick-start a two-run rally that pushed the Braves past the Red Sox for a 5-2 victory.
Following the one-game cameo, Castro returned to Gwinnett and hit .241 (26-for-108) over 32 games between June 19-July 24. But as the season wore on, he played his best baseball, hitting .301 (31-for-103) with 15 RBIs and 12 runs scored in 29 games in August between Gwinnett and Atlanta.
Castro took New York’s Steven Matz deep for his first MLB home run on September 11 at Turner Field, a high point of his extended look in the Braves’ lineup over the season’s final five weeks. He hit just .212 with only two other extra-base hits (one being the October 2 homer off Jaime Garcia) in that span, but for someone who had only played in 147 games in the United States prior to 2015, his 33 games in the big leagues marked a significant career advancement.
The Mexico native bolstered his Major League potential by displaying defensive versatility, flashing his glove at second base, shortstop and third base with the Braves.
Castro has played the majority of his defense at shortstop since coming to the United States in August 2013, with 240 of his 279 games played coming at the position (86 percent). But while playing second base over each of the three levels last year, he did not commit an error in 14 games (12 with Atlanta) and 79 total chances. He was also perfect in 35 chances over 10 games at third base for the Braves.
After the offseason trade of former Gold Glove winner Andrelton Simmons to the Los Angeles Angels, no longer does the best defensive player in baseball reside at the shortstop position in Atlanta’s infield. The November 12 deal potentially nudged the door open for Castro if Erick Aybar – acquired along with pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis – does not improve upon career-worst numbers from 2015.
Aybar is also in the final year of his current contract, and two potential long-term shortstop candidates for the Braves, last year’s No. 1 overall draft choice Dansby Swanson and 19-year-old Ozzie Albies, may be more than a year away from reaching the big leagues.
With uncertainty on the left side of Atlanta’s infield leading into 2016, Castro has an opportunity to seize one of those roles, battling for playing time with Adonis Garcia, Kelly Johnson, Hector Olivera and the aforementioned Aybar. Johnson has played plenty of outfield in his career, and Olivera is making a transition to left field, further strengthening Castro’s case as a utility infielder for the Braves this year.
A “leap” for Castro in 2016 means a much longer look in Atlanta, improvement at the plate and a continued steady glove at multiple infield positions.
The calendar has given us an extra day this February, officially making 2016 a “leap year.” In honor of the event, The G-Blog will examine four members of the 2015 G-Braves that are in position to make the next “leap” this season. The series starts this week with Tyrell Jenkins, check back each Thursday in February for more features.
Once the 2014 season ended and the Atlanta Braves made changes at the top of its front office, one of the first moves was to begin restocking a barren farm system with top-end talent. In the first move by John Hart and John Coppolella, a 6-foot, 4-inch right-hander named Tyrell Jenkins was the secondary piece of the November 2014 trade that sent homegrown superstar Jason Heyward to St. Louis. Though right-hander Shelby Miller was the clear centerpiece, Jenkins proved he was more than just a throw-in to the swap as he dominated the top two levels of the minors in 2015 and racked up awards along the way.
Since coming to the organization, Jenkins has flourished, posting a 3.19 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett. He earned his second career All-Star nod at Mississippi, and following the season he was named the Braves’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Jenkins produced a 3.00 ERA and had three complete-game efforts in 16 starts for the M-Braves to begin the year. He allowed two runs or fewer in 12 of his outings for Mississippi and surrendered only three home runs over 93.0 innings. After being knocked around for nine earned runs in 5.2 innings on May 1, he rebounded to yield only three earned runs over 27.0 innings in his next four starts. Jenkins was Mississippi’s Pitcher of the Month in May despite the hiccup on the month’s first day.
With a wave of success mounting as the season reached the mid-way point, Jenkins was promoted to Gwinnett on July 8 and made his debut the next night against Norfolk. In that game, he reached 100.0 innings on the year in a sterling 7.0-inning shutout of the Tides, registering six strikeouts and allowing seven hits with just one walk.
Following his dominance of Norfolk in his G-Braves debut, Jenkins registered a 2.16 ERA in four July starts before allowing 12 earned runs in 18.2 innings in four outings in August (5.79 ERA) and spending time on the disabled list with arm fatigue. He made just one appearance after August 16, a 1.2-inning start on September 4 at Norfolk.
Coming into 2015, Jenkins hadn’t pitched 100.0 innings in any of his first five professional seasons as the result of multiple injuries. But despite the stint on the G-Braves’ disabled list in August, he finished last season with a career-high 138.1 innings pitched, 5.0 more than he had thrown in the previous two seasons combined.
After such an impressive debut in the Atlanta system, he’ll head to Major League Spring Training later this month looking to break camp with the big club.
Making Atlanta’s Opening Day roster would be considered a big leap, even for the fast-rising Jenkins. The time he’s missed due to injury could lead the Braves to give him more seasoning in Gwinnett, though it’s clear his time is fast approaching. Of the 25 pitchers picked ahead of Jenkins in the 2010 Draft, 13 of them have made their MLB debuts. Of those 13 that have reached the big leagues, the average amount of minor league appearances was 79.7; Jenkins enters the 2016 season having made 83 minor league starts.
The numbers might suggest that 2016 would be the year for Jenkins to become the 14th member of his first round draft class to reach the Majors, but he’ll have to stay healthy and continue to build on his award-winning 2015 season. He’ll also have to outshine some established veterans.
Atlanta has signed experienced arms like Jhoulys Chacin, Kyle Kendrick and Bud Norris, which could present a block to Jenkins’ immediate path to the big leagues. Based on those signings further strengthening Braves’ starting pitching depth, it appears that Jenkins is destined for a call-up at some point later this summer. The longer the Braves stay competitive, like in 2015 when they were just five games under the .500 mark at the All-Star break, the longer Jenkins could pitch at Coolray Field instead of Turner Field. But a “leap” in 2016 means nothing less than his Major League debut.
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.
The Atlanta Braves brought up 12 players from the Gwinnett Braves’ roster for their Major League debuts this season before right-handed starting pitcher Ryan Weber got his chance, but his patience was rewarded, as he has capitalized on the long-awaited opportunity.
Weber went 0-1 with a 3.26 ERA (7 ER in 19.1 IP) in his first three big-league starts for Atlanta after the Braves called him up the day after the G-Braves’ season ended on September 7. He delivered a quality start in his first outing despite a 5-0 road loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on September 8, and he produced his longest start at any level this season on September 19 against the same team.
“I still pitch to my strengths,” Weber said after the game. “I knew I had to be a little more fine because they had already seen me and just mix my pitches more than what I did last time.”
The 25-year-old held the Phillies to one run on two hits with two walks and five strikeouts in 7.0 innings, which is the deepest he had pitched into a game since he threw 7.0 frames on August 3, 2014 against the Mobile BayBears while with Double-A Mississippi.
He took a no-decision in a 2-1 win for the Braves over Philadelphia in what was his third career Major League start and sixth consecutive start between Atlanta and Triple-A Gwinnett.
“I was just pounding the zone early and often,” Weber said. “Thank God my curveball finally came around, and my changeup was really working tonight, and it was down.”
Pitches low in the strike zone that induce ground balls have been a staple of Weber’s repertoire throughout his career. He entered 2015 with a 2.63 groundout-to-airout ratio, and he led the Gwinnett staff with a 2.20 ratio (min. five starts). He also recorded 15 of his 21 outs on September 19 by way of groundout or strikeout.
“I’m doing the same thing I was doing down there,” Weber said. “A 90 mph sinker is a 90 mph sinker in the minor leagues or here, and I know they’re going to hit a ground ball.”
Weber began the season with Mississippi and pitched primarily out of the bullpen. He was 0-2 with a 2.73 ERA (8 ER in 26.1 IP) in 11 appearances, including three starts for the M-Braves through May 25. He made his Triple-A debut on May 17 in a spot start for Gwinnett and tossed 5.0 scoreless innings with two hits allowed, a walk and one strikeout in a home game the G-Braves lost 7-4 to the Louisville Bats.
The St. Petersburg, FL native rejoined the G-Braves full time on May 27 and again spent most of his time as a reliever with an occasional spot start until the end of the season. He went 6-3 with a 2.21 ERA (18 ER in 73.1 IP) in 27 outings (six starts) for Gwinnett, overall. He moved into the starting rotation on August 25 and made three starts to close the minor league season, going 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA (5 ER in 16.0 IP).
Those numbers combined with support from Gwinnett pitching coach Marty Reed helped Weber believe he would have success at the highest level, he said.
“Marty told me, ‘You can go up there; you can do it. Just be yourself, and you know you have the capabilities to do it,’ ” Weber said. “I thank Marty a ton for giving me that confidence.”
The Braves drafted Weber in the 22nd round pick in the 2009 June free agent draft, and he spent most of his time as a reliever with 76 relief appearances in his 139 career outings from 2009-14 were in relief. He went 25-28 with a 4.21 ERA (223 ER in 476.2 IP) and 4.41 strikeout-to-walk ratio (362 SO/82 BB) across his first six professional seasons.
He improved on all of those numbers this year. Combined at three levels this season, Weber was 6-6 with a 2.50 ERA (33 ER in 119.o IP) and a 4.53 strikeout-to-walk rate (68 SO/15 BB) in 41 outings (12 starts), including his three starts for Atlanta.
“I’m just locking into my routine and just dialing in to what I need to do to go out the next time and pitch well,” he said.
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.”