The Gwinnett Braves (0-1) started off the season with another tough loss to the Durham Bulls (1-0) on Thursday night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Facing a 6-2 deficit in the top of the third inning, the Bulls battled back, scoring one run in the fourth inning, three in the fifth and one in the seventh to claim the victory 7-6.
Bulls’ shortstop Cole Figueroa scored the game-winner, as he continued to haunt the G-Braves by going 2-for-3 with two runs scored in the contest.
In 30 games against the Braves, Figueroa has tallied a .354 (40-for-113) batting average with 15 runs scored, six doubles, two triples, one homer and 20 RBIs. Last season, Figueroa batted .355 (27-76) with six extra-base hits and 14 RBIs, while only striking out twice.
So, what makes Figueroa so good against the Braves?
In 113 official at bats, the infielder has fanned five times. His .044 strikeout per at bat average is well below his career strikeout per at bat average of .103 (225 K / 2180 AB). In addition to his low strikeout rate against the G-Braves, Figueroa has a BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) of .358 against Gwinnett.
Some sabermetricians would suggest that Figueroa is getting lucky, as his BABIP is greater than his BA.
But, line drive hitters tend to have high BABIP’s. Figueroa is a great example, as he holds a BABIP of .312 in his career, opposed to a lifetime batting average of .291 (635-for-2180).
So, luck has nothing to do with it and the G-Braves will have to deal with Figueroa another three days at the DBAP.
Gwinnett will face Figueroa and the Bulls in game two of this four game series at 7:05 PM tonight.
Background Check: Stephen Cole Figueroa is a Tallahassee, FL native, but played his collegiate baseball at the University of Florida. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2008 First Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres. In 2010, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays along with RHP’s Brandon Gomes and Adam Russell and LHP Cesar Ramos in exchange for shortstop Jason Bartlett. Figueroa is entering his fourth season with the Rays organization and his seventh in professional baseball.
G-Braves News & Notes: Ryan Buchter was optioned from Atlanta prior to last night’s contest. The southpaw tossed a scoreless eighth inning. Buchter made the Opening Day roster, but did not appear in a game in his first call-up to the big leagues.
Thu: Gavin Floyd (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Nathan Karns (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Fri: Ervin Santana (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. LHP Enny Romero (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Sat: LHP Daniel Rodriguez (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Matt Andriese (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Sun: Mitch Atkins (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. LHP Mike Montgomery (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Pitching: The Gwinnett Braves will open their series against the Durham Bulls with two MLB veterans leading the group. Both Floyd and Santana will be on strict pitch counts, as they work their way back to the Major Leagues. Rodriguez, who missed most of last season with elbow ailments in his throwing arm, will make his first start since June 2nd and Atkins will join the G-Braves after spending 2013 with Double-A Mississippi.
Floyd will try to get the Braves off to a good start in 2014, as he is a perfect 3-0 against the Bulls in his career, but hasn’t pitched in a Triple-A contest in seven years. Rodriguez and Atkins haven’t fared well against the Bulls in their respective careers. Rodriguez gave up seven runs in 0.1 IP in his lose start against the Tampa Bay affiliate, while Atkins is 1-1 with a 5.50 ERA in three career starts against Durham.
Nathan Karns will be the opening day starter. The right-hander was a part of the monster trade, which saw the Tampa Bay Rays exchange catcher Jose Lobaton, pitcher Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettelson for the Washington Nationals’ Karns. The right-hander is a game-changer as he tosses a mid 90’s fastball, hard sinker and a heavy slider. Last season, he struck out 155 batters in 133.0 IP with Double-A Harrisburg.
Karns wasn’t the only one dominating the Double-A circuit. Romero was spectacular in the Southern League, going 11-7 with a 2.76 ERA in 27 starts for the Montgomery Biscuits. He made one start for Triple-A Durham (8IP, 0R, 2K) and one for Tampa Bay (5IP, 0R) to end the season. He will get the start in game two of the series.
Andriese will make his first start in International League as he was a part of the San Diego Padres organization in 2013, while Montgomery will put his 2-3 record with a 5.27 ERA in five career starts against Gwinnett on the line in game four.
Batting: Offense will be showcased in the series, as both teams have potent attacks. The Braves will have two-time RBI champion Ernesto Mejia leading the middle of the order. In 2013, Mejia struggled against the Bulls, hitting .192 (14-for-73) with two homers, eight RBIs and 26 strikeouts. While, Mejia struggled against the Bulls, Jose Constanza thrived at the dish against Durham pitching. The outfielder batted .340 (17-for-50) with two doubles, two RBIs and six stolen bases in 12 contests against the Bulls. Constanza is the lone active G-Brave to hold a batting average over .300 against Durham in 2013.
While, the G-Braves struggled to hit Bulls’ pitching, Cole Figueroa welcomed G-Braves pitching. The infielder hit .355 (27-for-76) with three doubles, two triples, one homer and 14 RBIs in 20 games against Gwinnett in 2013.
He will be joined veterans Wilson Betemit and Vince Belnome around the infield. Betemit is coming off of an injury-riddled 2013 campaign, but in 2012, he hit .261 with 19 doubles, 12 homers and 40 RBIs in 102 games with Baltimore. He will try to find his stroke in 2014 with Durham.
Belnome hasn’t had a problem hitting at the minor league level. He is a lifetime .300 hitter at the MiLB level, clubbing 58 homers and driving in 312 runners. Despite struggling against the G-Braves in 2013 (.151, 12K), he hit .300 and drove in 67 runs while earning an IL All-Star Game nod.
Bull Rushed: The Gwinnett Braves will look to get off to a good start in 2014 against the Durham Bulls, as they went 6-15 against Durham in 2013. Durham’s stranglehold was more apparent at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, as they won nine of ten games at home.
The IL Preview concludes with the Gwinnett Braves. Last season, Gwinnett had a forgettable season, finishing last in the IL with a 60-84 mark. Injuries at the Major League level and constant turnover at the minor league level crippled the Gwinnett roster.
The Braves will be led by new skipper Brian Snitker. The former Atlanta Braves third base coach has managerial experience at the minor league level, coaching over 2,000 games (1140-1145 record). He will have a good group of players leading the charge in 2014.
Pitching: The Braves pitching staff took a big hit with the losses of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy during Spring Training. The losses will trickle down to the minor league level, as two potential G-Braves in David Hale and Gus Schlosser will start in Atlanta.
The G-Braves will start the season with Zach Stewart, Mitch Atkins, Daniel Rodriguez, Cody Martin and Yunesky Maya. All five pitchers have pitched at the Triple-A level and come with experience. Atkins has won 33 games between the Pacific Coast League and International League. Last season, he went 5-2 with a 3.47 ERA in 17 games for Double-A Mississippi.
Martin enters the season with the least amount of experience on the staff, but will be leaned on to built upon his successful 2013 campaign. In 13 games (11 starts), he went 3-4 with a 3.49 ERA with 66 strikeouts in 69.2 IP with the G-Braves.
The bullpen will feature a slew of flamethrowers, as Wirfin Obispo, Mark Lamm, Juan Jaime and Luis Vasquez will be eager to close outs games. Obispo returns to Gwinnett after going 2-4 with a 3.53 ERA in 54 relief appearances. He recorded nine saves, striking out 70 batters in 63.2 innings.
Infield: Offensively, the diamond will be loaded with a deep-talented group. Ernesto Mejia, who hit a career-high 28 homers in 2013, returns for his third season with the G-Braves. He has led the IL in RBIs two straight seasons.
Tommy La Stella will join him on the right side. The former Coastal Carolina alum is a lifetime .327 minor league hitter. The second baseman made an impression with Atlanta during Spring Training, batting .255 with four doubles and five RBIs. He will get his first taste of Triple-A baseball in 2014.
The Atlanta Braves No.2 prospect according to Baseball America, Christian Bethancourt will get his first taste of Triple-A as well. He hit .277 (99-for-358) with 21 doubles, 12 homers and 45 RBIs in 90 games for the M-Braves. He set a club record by reaching base in 40-straight games from June 13 to August 14, batting .338 (54-for-160) with 12 doubles, 10 homers and 27 RBI during the streak.
Tyler Greene and Edward Salcedo will fill out the left side. Both players have the ability to drive in runs and steal bases. Salcedo has swiped 80 bags and drove in 211 runners in 471 minor league contests, while Greene has over 150 stolen bases and 373 RBIs in his ten year career.
Outfield: The Gwinnett Braves will be fortunate to feature a major-league like outfield, as Jose Constanza, Todd Cunningham and Joey Terdoslavich will be manning one of the three outfield positions. Terdoslavich returns after a banner season with Gwinnett. He was named an International League midseason and postseason All-Star after hitting .318 (102-for-321) with 24 doubles, 18 home runs and 58 RBI in 85 games. He was named Gwinnett’s Most Valuable player by Atlanta and Gwinnett. He was as selected to represent Team USA in the 15th annual SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, but did not participate due to his MLB call-up on 7/4.
Constanza returns for his fourth season with Gwinnett. The longest tenured G-Brave returns for his fourth season with the ball club. Constanza enters the season as the G-Braves all-time hits (306), triples (11) and stolen bases (58) leader. In three seasons, he has tallied a .301 (306-for-1,118) batting average with 19 doubles and 69 RBIs.
Cunningham, the switch-hitting outfielder led the squad in hitting with a .265 (113-for-427) batting average. He tallied 13 doubles, five triples, two home runs, 38 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 116 games.
Projected Depth Chart:
The Durham Bulls will begin their title defense with another star-studded team. Last season, the Bulls posted an International League best 87-57 mark and rolled through the IL playoffs to claim their fourth Governor’s Cup.
However, they would fall to the Omaha Storm Chasers 2-1 in the Triple-A Championship.
Charlie Montoyo returns to the helm to lead the Bulls for the eighth straight season. He will go on without outfielder Wil Myers and pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer, but he will have another loaded roster.
Pitching: Last year, it all started and ended with pitching. The Bulls posted a team ERA of 3.33 and had a 16-game winner in J.D. Martin. The IL All-Star has moved on and will be playing his baseball overseas, and with the 50-game suspension of Alex Colome, the IL champs will have four spots to fill in 2014.
Nathan Karns will take over one of the spots. The former Washington Nationals’ farmhand will be a big part of the rotation. Last year, Karns went 10-6 with a 3.26 ERA in 23 starts for Harrisburg. He made his major league debut in September, making three starts for the Nationals. The right-hander is a fire-baller, featuring a mid 90-s fastball, hard sinker-splitter and wipeout curveball. He has some control issues, which will keep him from starting on the Rays to begin the season.
In addition to Karns, the Bulls will have Enny Romero. Romero was spectacular in the Southern League, going 11-7 with a 2.76 ERA in 27 starts for the Montgomery Biscuits. He made one start for Triple-A Durham (8IP, 0R, 2K) and one for Tampa (5IP, 0R) to end the season. He enters the season the No.6 ranked prospect in the Rays organization according to Baseball America.
If you add Merrill Kelly (8 wins), Mike Montgomery (7 wins) and MLB veteran Erik Bedard, the Rays rotation will be loaded once again.
Infield: The group around the horn will be led by Triple-A All Star Vince Belnome. The infielder hit .300 with eight homers and 67 RBIs last season. He recorded a team-high 133 hits.
Hak-Ju Lee will be another player to keep an eye on, as he will start the season recovering from a torn ACL, but will return to the Bulls lineup in 2014. Prior to tearing all three ligaments in his left knee, Lee was hitting .462 (19-for-45) with three doubles, one triple, one homer and seven RBIs for the Durham Bulls. He enters the season as the No.2 ranked prospect in the Tampa Rays organization according to Baseball America.
Outfield: Originally a 31st round pick in the 2010 draft, Kevin Kiermaier has exceeded all expectations in the Tampa organization. Regarded as one of the best outfielders in minor league baseball, Kiermaier has great instincts to the baseball and plus arm that allows him to play all three outfield positions. In 39 games with the Bulls, he hit .263 (36-for-137) with seven doubles, six triples, one homer and 13 RBIs. He enters the season as the No. 10 ranked prospect in the Tampa Rays organization according to Baseball America.
At Durham: April 3-5, July 2-3, August 22-25
At Gwinnett: April 11-13, July 17-20, August 26-27
Projected Depth Chart:
The Norfolk Tides are coming off a solid season in 2013, going 77-67 in the South division.
Last season, the Tides and Rochester Red Wings finished tied for the Wild Card spot, but Rochester advanced with a better head-to-head record against the Tides.
Third year skipper Ron Johnson will lead a very strong Norfolk team in 2014.
Pitching: The pitching staff could lead the group in 2014. The staff may feature talented prospects in Kevin Gausman and Eduardo Rodriguez, while having solid veterans in T.J. McFarland and Steve Johnson.
Gausman has moved through the minor league ranks pretty quickly. Last season, he made his major league debut in May after eight starts in Double-A Bowie. Gausman has an electric fastball that’s clocked in the mid-90’s and a split-finger fastball that he uses as his strikeout pitch. Gausman attacks the zone and works the count in his favor, as he has only walked 28 batters in 145 innings.
He will likely be joined by Rodriguez, who is rated the No.3 prospect in the Orioles organization according to Baseball America. The Orioles took a chance on a 17-year old Rodriguez in 2010, signing the southpaw to a $175,000 international contract. Since then, he has ascended through the minor league ranks, reaching Double-A at the young age of 20. He still has some growing up to do, but with a low-90’s fastball, slider and changeup, he would be ready to make the jump to the Majors by the end of the season.
Infield: The infield will have some solid veterans all over the diamond. David Adams is coming off a solid season for the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Railriders in 2013. In 59 games, he hit .268 with five homers and 21 RBIs. He made his major league debut on 5/15, and played in 43 games for the Yankees, batting .193 with two homers and 19 RBIs.
In addition to Adams, will be Cord Phelps. Phelps played in 65 games with Columbus last season, hitting .267 with nine homers and 46 RBIs. Phelps is a lifetime .283 hitter with 53 homers and 300 RBIs, he will likely play one of the middle infield positions.
Jamile Weeks, Brett Wallace and Johnny Monell will likely fill out the rest of the infield. Weeks and Wallace were former first round picks in their respective drafts.
Outfield: The outfield will feature some speedsters and power. Quintin Berry and Julio Borbon will set the table and be movers on the basepaths, while Henry Urretia will provide the pop. Urretia is coming off of a phenomenal campaign, hitting .347 with nine homers and 50 RBIs across Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk in 2013. He was called up to the big leagues in July and played in 24 games with Orioles, hitting .276 with one triple and two RBIs. Berry and Borbon will be tough around the basepaths, as they stole a combined 44 bags in 2013.
At Norfolk: Arpil 7-10, July 10-13, August 15-17
At Gwinnett: April 14-15, May 22-25, August 7-10
Projected Depth Chart:
The Charlotte Knights had a forgettable season in 2013, finishing the season third in the South Division with a 65-78 record.
Third year man Joel Skinner will look to ride the ship after winning the International League South Division in 2012. Unlike last season, Skinner will have a loaded lineup to work with that will stick around to help out the club. Last year,
Skinner watched 21 of his players get promoted to the Big League level, resulting in a thin depth chart at the Triple-A level.
Pitching: The Charlotte Knights will be thin on the starting rotation, as they have traded two Triple-A veterans in Zach Stewart (Braves) and Omar Poveda (Nationals) before the start of the season. They will look for answers internally with Charlie Leesman leading the group. After suffering a career-threatening injury in the 2012 Triple-A playoffs, Charlie Leesman proved his worth as the anchor to the 2013 Charlotte staff. In 16 starts, he went 4-3 with a 3.87 ERA and was a September call-up. Leesman will try to earn a spot on the Chicago rotation, as he works out his low-90’s fastball and his groundball inducing slopping curveball.
While Leesman leads the rotation, Zach Petricka will anchor the bullpen. The former second rounder out of Indiana State University has been putting it all together since moving to the bullpen. The right-hander had his best professional season in 2013, going 6-1 with a 2.19 ERA across three different levels. He made his major league debut last year, going 1-1 with a 3.26 ERA in 16 appearances. He will likely start the season in Charlotte before moving back up to the big leagues.
Infield: Josh Phegley will return to Charlotte for the third straight season. The backstop has all the defensive tools to play at the big league level, but his bat is lacking. Last season with Chicago, he hit .206 with four homers and 22 RBIs. He will need to do more if he hopes to return to Chicago.
Matt Davidson has no problem at the dish. Davidson had a career year in 2013, hitting .280 with 17 homers and 74 RBIs for the Reno Aces of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. The 2013 Triple-A All-Star Homerun Derby champion was traded in the offseason to the Chicago White Sox for right-hander Addison Reed. He enters the season as the No.4 ranked prospect in the Chicago organization and is close to his first Major League call-up.
Outfield: Jordan Danks will be the mainstay in the Knights lineup. Danks is the franchise all-time leader in walks (168) and triples (12). He has also amassed 355 hits and 199 runs with the Knights. Danks can play at the big league level, but with a crowded outfield in Chicago, he will have to wait his turn. Blake Tekotte and Denis Phipps will likely fill the other two outfield spots.
At Charlotte: April 16-18, June 30-July 1, August 5-6, 18-19, 31 and September 1
At Gwinnett: April 19-21, June 28-29, August 2-3 & 29-30
Projected Depth Chart:
The Louisville Bats will have to move on without top prospects Billy Hamilton and Tony Cingrani this season, but they are locked and loaded for a solid campaign in 2014.
After finishing the 2013 campaign with a 69-75 record and third place in the West Division, the Bats are looking for a turnaround season in 2014.
Pitching : The pitching staff will have two proven Major League veterans in Chien-Ming Wang and Jeff Francis anchoring the staff. They will occupy spots in the rotation until top pitching prospect Robert Stephenson makes the jump to the Triple-A level. The 6- foot, 2-inch right—hander will likely start the year in Double-A, but can make the jump early in the season. With a mid 90’s fastball and devastating curveball, he has the tools to succeed at any level, but at 21-years old he will start at age appropriate Double-A level in 2014.
Daniel Corcino will return to Triple-A Louisville after a frustrating 2013 campaign. The No. 13 prospect in the Reds system according to Baseball America, went 7-14 with a 5.86 ERA in 28 games for the Bats. He allowed hitters to hit a career-high .279 against him and walked 73 batters. He has the stuff to excel at the Triple-A level with a low-90’s fastball, slider and a changeup. He lost his spot on the rotation last year, so he will have to fare better in 2014 to stay on the staff.
Infield: The offense will come from Donald Lutz and Neftali Soto. Lutz joins the Bats after spending last season with Double-A Pensacola and the Cincinnati Reds. In 99 combined games, he clubbed eight homers and drove in 38 runs. Lutz has power but was slowed down with a broken finger in 2013; he will be a force for Louisville until Cincinnati calls.
Soto will return to Louisville for his fourth straight year. In 244 games with the Bats, he has slugged 30 homers and driven in 124 runners. Last season, he hit .279 (125-for-461) with 15 homers and 61 RBI.
In addition to Soto and Lutz, top catching prospect Tucker Barnhart will spend his first season with the Bats. Last season, he hit .260 with three homers and 44 RBIs. In 2012, he earned the Rawlings Gold Glove for his work in the California League.
Outfield: Ryan LaMarre will man center field for the Bats. The No. 14 rated prospect in the Cincinnati organization, will play his first season at the Triple-A level. Last year, he hit .246 with 10 home runs and 22 stolen bases. He will be joined by Jason Borgeois. With six seasons of Major League experience, Bourgeois will be a great addition to the Bats. He is a career .291 hitter at the Triple-A level and last season he stole 22 bases for the Bulls.
Schedule: The G-Braves travel to Louisville on June 11 through 14 and the Bats come to Coolray Field from June 20 through 23.
Projected Depth Chart:
Toledo is ready to start the 2014 season after a poor showing in 2013. The MudHens finished the 2013 campaign with a 61-83 mark and last in the West Division.
Promotions of Nick Castellanos and the trade of Avisail Garcia will leave the MudHens thin at various positions, but they will have some veteran leadership leading them in 2014.
Pitching: The rotation will be thin. With the trade of Jose Alvarez to the Angels and Doug Fister to the Nationals, the Tigers need help at the major league level. Falling into place will be top pitching prospect Drew VerHagen. The former 4th rounder out of Vanderbilt in 2012 has watched his stock rise in the last two years. Last season, he went 2-5 with a 3.00 ERA in 12 starts for Double-A Erie. He has promising stuff, hurling a mid 90’s fastball, hard sinker and a curveball. He has great dip on his sinker, as his 6-foot, 6-inch frame allows for trajectory on his pitches. Tigers want to keep him in the rotation, but his fastball-sinker combo may be better suited in the bullpen.
One of the bullpen arms that the MudHens will rely on is Melvin Mercedes. With Bruce Rondon out for the season with a torn UCL, Mercedes is the front-runner to close out games for the MudHens. Mercedes tallied 23 saves in 2013 across two different levels, while tossing 50 IP and striking out 36 batters. Mercedes has a high-90’s fastball and mid 80’s slider. He works both pitches on both sides of the plate, but tends to use his fastball up in the zone for the strikeout.
Infield: James McCann and Jordan Lennerton will lead the infield bats. McCann hit .277 (122-for-441) with 30 doubles, one triple, eight homers and 54 RBIs at Double- A Erie, while Lennerton hit .278 (143-for-514) with 25 doubles, one triple, 17 homers and 57 RBIs for Triple-A Toledo. They will be rellied on to supply most of the offense around the horn, as they will be joined by light-hitting Eugenio Suarez and Hernan Perez in the middle of the diamond. Despite their limitations offensively, they both can play solid defense and will help the MudHens pitching staff.
Outfield: The outfielders will have a true leadoff hitter in Ezequiel Carrera. The former Columbus Clipper stole 43 bases in 2013, and has 248 career stolen bases.
Tyler Collins and Daniel Fields will join Carrera in the outfield. Collins, the No. 20 prospect in the Tigers organization is coming off of a solid year in Double-A Erie. He batted .240 (112-for-466) with 29 doubles, 21 homers and 79 RBIs. His homerun output in 2013 surpassed his minor league total for his first two seasons combined. His strikeout percentage increased in 2013, so he will have some work to do in 2014.
Fields doesn’t feature the pop that Collins does, but has a great approach at the plate. He hit .284 (130-for-457) with 27 doubles, six triples, 10 homers and 58 RBIs. He is the No.22 ranked prospect in the Tigers system and can play all three outfield spots.
Schedule: The G-Braves go to Toledo from April 26-29 and Toledo comes to Coolray Field from June 24 through 27.
Projected Depth Chart:
Columbus Clippers enters the 2014 season with high hopes after finishing the 2013 campaign with a 71-73 mark and a second place finish in the West division.
Standouts Trevor Bauer and Preston Guillmet will anchor the team’s pitching staff like in 2013. Guillmet was an IL All-Star in 2013, leading the club with 20 saves and finishing third in the IL.
Second year man Chris Tremie will look to lead another loaded roster in 2014.
Pitching: Bauer, the No.2 organizational prospect for Cleveland, will lead the staff for the second straight season. Last season he went 6-7 with a 4.15 ERA in 22 starts. Bauer is looking to find the consistency that has him as one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Bauer has a mid 90’s fastball and a plethora of off-speed pitches, but has issues around the strike zone. Last season, he walked 89 batters in 138 IP. He will need to correct his consistency around the zone if he wants to be moved to Cleveland.
While, the rotation has solid pieces, the bullpen will be the key for the Clippers as they feature many top arms. C.C. Lee is the top arm in the pen’ as he has been solid since signing in 2008. In 167 minor league relief appearances, he is 18-11 with a 2.94 ERA. He has struck out 323 batters in 263 innings, while walking 84. Lee missed parts of 2012 and 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery, but looks to be at full strength. He throws a low-90’s fastball and a hard slider to get rid of the opposition.
Infield: Jesus Aguilar and Ronny Rodriguez will lead the infield group. Rodriguez is coming off a solid season with the Akron Aeros, hitting .265 (124-for-468) with 25 doubles, six triples, five homers and 52 RBIs. His power numbers diminished in 2013, as he slugged a career-low five homers, but shows great bat-to-ball skill at the plate. He will look to get back on track in Columbus.
Aguilar power numbers were fine in 2013, slugging 16 homers for the Aeros and driving in 105 runners. He ended the season hitting .275 (137-for-499) with 28 doubles. At 23-years old, Aguilar is progressing rapidly and could make an impact with the Indians in 2014.
Outfield: Carlos Moncrief will lead the outfield. The No. 14 prospect in the Cleveland organization according to Baseball America, is ready to continue his climb as an everyday position player. Originally signed as a pitcher out of Chipola JC (Fl.), Moncrief moved to the outfield in 2010. Last season, he hit .284 (139-for-489) with 26 doubles, seven triples, 17 homers and 75 RBIs for the Aeros. He will be joined by Matt Carson and Tim Fedroff in the other three outfield spots.
Schedule: Columbus rolls into Coolray Field from June 3-6 and the G-Braves visit Columbus from April 22-25.
Projected Depth Chart:
Continuing the International League preview with the Indianapolis Indians, Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Indians finished an outstanding season, going 80-64 and coasting to a West Division title. However, they were swept in the first round of the IL playoffs by the Durham Bulls.
Last season, catcher Tony Sanchez and hurlers Vic Black and Kris Johnson led the charge. The Il All-Stars have moved on, as Black and Johnson were traded and Sanchez will spend most of the 2014 campaign at the big league level.
Do not be discouraged as the Indians feature a roster that has the talent to repeat as West Division Champion for the third straight season.
Pitching: It all starts with pitching and Indians may have the best pitching prospect in the IL with James Taillon. Taillon made a brief appearance with the Indians in 2013, going 1-3 with a 3.89 ERA in six starts for Indianapolis. Taillon is close to the big leagues, but needs to develop a third pitch to reach his full ceiling as a potential No.2 starter. Taillon has a mid-90’s fastball and a sharp breaking curveball, which leave the opposition baffled. However, he has to develop better feel for his changeup and slider. He will try to develop both pitches as a member of the Indians.
The rest of the staff will be rounded out by talented prospects Stolmy Pimentel and Brandon Cumpton. Both Pimentel and Cumpton got a taste of Triple-A and the big leagues last year. Cumpton impressed in 21 games (19 starts) for the Indians, going 6-7 with a 3.32 ERA. He made six starts for the Pirates, going 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA. Cumpton is a grinder, pounding the zone with low-90’s fastball and plethora of off-speed pitches, but doesn’t overpower hitters.
On the other hand, Pimentel has electric stuff, featuring a mid-90s fastball and mid-80’s split finger. His slider and curveball show flashes of excellence and could keep him in the rotation at the big league level, but he may be destined to be a reliever with his fastball-split combo.
Infield: Sanchez will likely start the season with the Indians, as the crowded backstop of the Pirates will keep him from playing in the majors to start the season. However, he will be the first to get the call from Pittsburgh. Last season, he hit .288 (75-for-260) with 26 doubles, 10 homers and 42 RBIs in 76 games with the Indians. He has the defensive prowess to succeed at the big league level, but may need to get his bat straight to be a full-timer at the MLB level.
Matt Hague and Brent Morel will be added to the fold, as the Triple-A veterans will be great players for the Indians. Hague enters his fourth season with the Indians, while Morel comes from the White Sox organization. Last season, Hague hit .285 (153-for-536) with 37 doubles, two triples, eight homers and 69 RBIs and Morel hit .266 (105-for-395) with 30 doubles, three triples, six homers and 54 RBIs.
Outfield: Gregory Polanco and Andrew Lambo will add thump to the middle of the Indians order. Polanco, the No.1 prospect in the Pirates organization according to Baseball America, has all the tools to succeed at the big league level but will need to refine his tools with Indianapolis. Last season, Polanco started the season in High-A Bradenton before jumping all the way to Triple-A for the IL playoffs. Polanco wasn’t the only one to have a big year in the system, as Lambo clubbed 33 homers and drove 99 runs in 2013 across three different levels. Lambo has great power potential and could be an asset to the Pirates but will start with the Indians. Jaff Decker will fill out the outfield, as the former Padres farmhand is rated the No.22 prospect in the Pirates organization according to Baseball America.
Schedule: Indianapolis will visit Coolray Field on May 17 through 20, while the G-Braves visit the Indians from June 15-18.
Projected Depth Chart: