Results tagged ‘ Atlanta Braves ’

Who’s ready to take the “leap?” INF Daniel Castro


Daniel Castro warms up before an at-bat on June 21, 2015 for the Gwinnett Braves. The 23-year-old infielder made his Triple-A and MLB debuts in 2015, totaling 145 games across three levels. Photo by: Chris Roughgarden / for the Gwinnett Braves

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.

-Andrew Constant

G-Braves Hot Stove: 2015-16 Transaction Tracker

tuiasosopo media wall

Matt Tuiasosopo batted .230 with 18 home runs and 52 RBIs in 103 games for Triple-A Charlotte in 2015. (Laura Wolff / Charlotte Knights)

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 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

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 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.

-Dave Lezotte

From Gwinnett to the Show: Ryan Weber

Right-handed starter Ryan Weber went 6-3 with a 2.21 ERA in 27 outings (six starts) before he made his Major League debut with the Atlanta Braves on September 8. (Karl Moore)

Right-handed starter Ryan Weber went 6-3 with a 2.21 ERA in 27 outings (six starts) before he made his Major League debut with the Atlanta Braves on September 8. (Karl Moore / Gwinnett Braves)

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 went 0-1 with a 3.26 ERA with the Atlanta Braves in his first three career Major League starts. (Karl Moore)

Weber went 0-1 with a 3.26 ERA with the Atlanta Braves in his first three career Major League starts. (Karl Moore / Gwinnett Braves)

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.

– JM

Tyrell Jenkins, Mallex Smith visit Turner Field as Atlanta Braves’ award winners

Two key contributors who helped the Gwinnett Braves push to one game out of a playoff spot were able to catch a glimpse of where their Major League dreams might become reality when they received honors shortly before Saturday’s game between the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field.

Right-handed starting pitcher Tyrell Jenkins earned the Braves’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year award, and center fielder Mallex Smith received the Braves’ Minor League Player of the Year award during a pregame ceremony that honored players from each level of the Atlanta Minor League system, including Gwinnett Pitcher of the Year Manny Banuelos and Gwinnett Player of the Year Adonis Garcia.

“It’s pretty cool, actually,” said Jenkins, who is Atlanta’s No. 4-ranked prospect according to “When they called me and told me, I couldn’t stop smiling for like 10 minutes. It was just awesome.”

Right-handed starter Tyrell Jenkins (middle) receives his Atlanta Braves' Minor League Pitcher of the Year award from Assistant Director of Player Devleopment Jonathan Schuerholz (left) and Director of Player Development Dave Trembley.

Right-handed starter Tyrell Jenkins (middle) receives his Atlanta Braves’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year award from Assistant Director of Player Development Jonathan Schuerholz (left) and Director of Player Development Dave Trembley in a pregame ceremony on Saturday at Turner Field. (Dave Lezotte)

The 23-year-old Jenkins and 22-year-old Smith both began the season at Double-A Mississippi but were promoted to Gwinnett before the Triple-A All-Star break. Jenkins was 3-4 with a 3.57 ERA (18 ER in 45.1 IP) in nine starts for the G-Braves, while Smith batted .281 (78-for-278) and stole a team-high 34 bases in 69 games with Gwinnett.

“It’s just a blessing,” said Smith, the Braves’ No. 13 prospect according to” You can’t really ask for this, it’s something that just happens over the course of time. Every day you wake up and try to get ready to go and perform and just be the best you can possibly be. I just feel like if you go out there and put your best foot forward daily, things happen. The Lord just found mercy on me to bless me with this. It’s just an honor, unbelievable.”

The Braves acquired both players in offseason trades. Jenkins joined right-handed starter Shelby Miller as part of a package in a November 17 trade from the St. Louis Cardinals in return for outfielder Jason Heyward and right-handed reliever Jordan Walden. Smith was part of a five-player deal with the San Diego Padres on December 19 that sent outfielder Justin Upton to the Padres.

Jenkins overcame two lat muscle injuries in the past three years that had kept him from making more than 19 starts in any of his first five professional seasons. He started a combined 25 games between Mississippi and Gwinnett in his first year as an Atlanta farmhand, going 8-9 with a 3.19 ERA  (49 ER in 138.1 IP) that was the fourth-lowest among qualified pitchers in the Braves’ system. His 88 strikeouts also were the fifth-most of any Atlanta minor leaguer.

“Just to be able to come back and be able to have a full season, whether it was (Pitcher) of the Year or not, I was just happy to make it through the season knowing that the whole surgery held up and everything,” Jenkins said. “Just to win that adds on to kind of let you know what people saw I did or what they thought of my year, and it’s pretty special. I’m glad to be here.”

After he led all of Minor League Baseball with 88 stolen bases in 2014, Smith had a blistering start to his career in the Braves’ system. He batted .340 (70-for-206) with 23 steals in 57 games for Mississippi before he received his promotion to Gwinnett. He finished the season with a combined .306 batting average (148-for-484) that ranked fourth among Atlanta farmhands, while his 57 total steals led the organization.

Center fielder Mallex Smith receives his Atlanta Braves' Player of the Year award from Schuerholz (left) and Trembley on Saturday at Turner Field.

Center fielder Mallex Smith receives his Atlanta Braves’ Player of the Year award from Schuerholz (left) and Trembley on Saturday at Turner Field. (Dave Lezotte)

“Mentally, I improved a lot, just going through my ups and downs,” Smith said. “Being traded, I had to get over that mental hump. Adjusting to a different organization, adjusting to different rules. Just trying to better yourself and just make sure you’re not disobeying the rules, just trying to get along and figure out your way. It helped out a lot.”

All of the award winners had the chance to be on the field for batting practice, which allowed Smith to meet outfielder Cameron Maybin, who was also a member of the San Diego organization up until the 2015 season, and outfielder Michael Bourn, who Smith admired during Bourn’s first tenure with the Braves from 2011-12.

“It’s a different feel seeing them up close and personal than on TV,” said Smith, a native of Tallahassee, FL. “It feels more real.”

As for his time in Gwinnett, Smith said it was fun to be part of a team that had a chance to reach the playoffs until the penultimate day of the season after it was in last place its division when he arrived on June 24.

Jenkins spent much of the final three weeks of the season on the Gwinnett disabled list because of arm fatigue, but he was thrilled to be able to come back to make one more start on Sept. 4 to prove to himself and the organization he was healthy and ready to embark on an offseason of preparation for a 2016 season that could see him back in the dugout at Turner Field.

He said it would be particularly special if he could accomplish that goal alongside Smith, his friend and roommate during road trips with Gwinnett.

“We’d always talked about always going up to Atlanta together and being together,” Jenkins said. “If he does something wrong I’ll let him know, and if I do something wrong he’ll let me know. We really looked out for each other this year.”

Smith admitted it would be fun to rise to the big leagues together, but he said he also understands all they can do is put themselves in positions that make that dream a possibility.

“When the time is right, we’ll come,” Smith said. “Until then, we’re going to prepare and get ourselves ready to be up here.”


From Gwinnett to the Show: Adonis Garcia

Third baseman Adonis Garcia blasted eight home runs in his first 45 games as a rookie with the Atlanta Braves. (Karl Moore)

Third baseman Adonis Garcia blasted eight home runs in his first 45 games as a rookie with the Atlanta Braves. (Karl Moore)

Atlanta Braves third baseman Adonis Garcia had never hit more than nine home runs in any of the three seasons since the Cuba native has played baseball in the United States, but this year he has received his first chance to play in the Major Leagues and gone on a power surge.

The 30-year-old Garcia hit three home runs in 87 games to begin the 2015 season with the Gwinnett Braves, but he blasted eight in his first 45 big-league games.

“The difference is just coming up here and being a little bit more prepared,” he said through translator Alex Cotto. “We’ve worked on my swing a little bit, not too much, but I’m looking for a good pitch to drive, and the results are coming through.”

His homers have come in key situations, as well. His first career Major League long ball came in his third game after Atlanta recalled him from Gwinnett on July 25. He took St. Louis Cardinals’ right-handed starter Michael Wacha deep for a solo shot to lead off the sixth inning on July 26 that was the go-ahead run in a 3-2 victory.

Garcia then hit a game-tying solo homer in the top of the ninth inning the following night against left-handed reliever Zach Britton to give the Braves a 1-0 lead over the Baltimore Orioles, although Baltimore came back to win the contest 2-1 in 11 innings.

His third blast was a “walk-off” two-run shot against right-hander Ryan Vogelsong that beat the San Francisco Giants 9-8 in the 12th inning on August 3. He even homered against the organization that signed him as a non-drafted free agent on April 28, 2012 when he hit a solo homer off of New York Yankees’ right-handed reliever Branden Pinder.

Garcia’s first career pinch-hit homer was his eighth in the big leagues this season, overall. He launched a three-run blast over the left-field wall on Sept. 12 at Turner Field off of New York Mets’ righty reliever Tyler Clippard to pull the Braves into a 4-4 tie.

“It was a good feeling, as with most of the other players on the bench, they are preparing themselves in case that moment comes when they”ll be called,” Garcia said after Atlanta ultimately lost the game 6-4. “From the fourth inning on, me and a few the other guys were working out in the cage and keeping an eye on the pitcher who may be coming in. When my time was called, I was glad I was able to come through.”

Garcia also drove in three runs the following day in a 10-7 loss to the Mets. He batted .270 (43-for-159) with nine doubles, 17 runs scored and 18 RBIs while playing third base and left field across his first two big-league stints. Atlanta purchased his contract from Gwinnett on May 18, and he got two pinch-hit at-bats, going 0-for-1 with a walk and a strikeout. The Braves sent him back to Gwinnett on May 22, and he continued to work at the Triple-A level until he received the call back to Atlanta little more than two months later.

“Gwinnett, it was good because I played every day,” Garcia said. “It prepared me and just got me going because without Gwinnett I wouldn’t be here. It helped me establish myself and get well-prepared for what I was going to encounter (in the big leagues).”

Garcia received the Gwinnett Player of the Year award from the Atlanta Braves after batting .284 in 87 games with the G-Braves. (Karl Moore)

Garcia received the Gwinnett Player of the Year award from the Atlanta Braves after batting .284 with 17 doubles, one triple, three homers, 43 runs scored, 47 RBIs and five stolen bases in 87 games with the G-Braves. (Karl Moore)

He led the team with 47 RBIs and was second on the club with 94 hits at the time of his recall. He also helped carry the G-Braves’ offense through April. He batted .328 (22-for-67) with five doubles, one home run, nine runs scored and 10 RBIs during the first month of the season, which earned him the Gwinnett Player of the Month award for April from the Atlanta Braves.

Garcia also received the Gwinnett Player of the Year award from Atlanta after he hit .284 (94-for-331) with 17 doubles, a triple, 43 runs scored and five stolen bases for the G-Braves in his first year with the Atlanta organization.

“I’m very proud. I’m very appreciative, too, of the opportunity to work with the coaches and the players who were there,” said Garcia, who the Braves signed as a minor league free agent on April 4 after the Yankees released him three days earlier. “The coaches spent a lot of time with me, and I’m very appreciative of that. I’m grateful for the award.”

– JM

From Gwinnett to the Show: Daniel Castro

Daniel Castro batted .268 with nine doubles, 36 RBIs and 19 runs scored in 89 games for the Gwinnett Braves in 2015.

Daniel Castro batted .268 with nine doubles, 36 RBIs and 19 runs scored in 89 games for the Gwinnett Braves in 2015. (Jim Lacey)

Atlanta Braves’ infielder Daniel Castro has had many new experiences in the first 20 games he has played in two stints in the Major Leagues this season, and he added an entire batch of highlights in what was perhaps his best game on Friday, September 11.

The 22-year-old Mexico native, who started 88 games at shortstop for the Gwinnett Braves in 2015, played second base on Friday for the second time with Atlanta and fourth time, overall, in his 131 games this season among Double-A Mississippi, Triple-A Gwinnett and Atlanta. He also hadn’t homered in his first 445 at-bats combined among the three clubs.

However, he lifted a 2-2 pitch in the fifth inning during his third at-bat against New York Mets’ left-handed starter Steven Matz over the left-field wall at Turner Field for his first big-league home run. It was also his first homer of any kind since August 29, 2014 with Mississippi.

“It felt great, but I wasn’t trying to hit a home run,” Castro said through translator Alex Cotto. “I was down in the count, I was just trying to make contact and it just so happens that’s what happened.”

The solo shot accounted for the only run in Atlanta’s 5-1 loss, and Castro received the ball afterwards to have as a keepsake.

“I’ll just save it and put it away and just always have it there as a remembrance of what happened,” he said.

After his home run, Castro went back to his second base position the following inning and made a dazzling, diving play up the middle to rob Mets’ shortstop Ruben Tejada of a base hit.

“I feel good,” Castro said. “I contributed with the home run, as well as with my defense.”

Castro played all but one of his 89 games with Gwinnett at shortstop, but he has played second base in four games for Atlanta. (Taylor Botta)

Castro played all but one of his 89 games with Gwinnett at shortstop, but he has played second base in four games for Atlanta. (Taylor Botta)

Castro said he originally signed with Atlanta as a second baseman in August 2009, but he moved primarily to shortstop this season with Jace Peterson at second in Atlanta and No. 1 prospect Jose Peraza at the same position in Gwinnett.

Castro joined Gwinnett on May 8 for his Triple-A debut after he batted .389 (35-for-90) in 23 games with Mississippi to begin the year. His first stint with the G-Braves lasted until June 17 when Atlanta called him up for his Major League debut. He pinch hit in the seventh inning that night and notched his first big-league hit, a single off of right-handed reliever Junichi Tazawa, in a 5-2 home win over the Boston Red Sox.

Castro returned to Gwinnett the next day and remained as the G-Braves’ primary shortstop until Atlanta brought him back to the big leagues on Sept. 1. He hit .302 (16-for-53) with two doubles, a home run, three RBIs and 10 runs scored in his first 20 games for Atlanta. He batted .268 (83-for-310) with nine doubles, 36 RBIs and 19 runs scored in 89 games for the G-Braves.

“I had a good time there and worked hard,” Castro said of his time in Gwinnett. “It prepared me.”


Series Preview: Gwinnett Braves (75-66) vs. Charlotte Knights (73-68)

Pitching probables

Sat: LHP Greg Smith (6-6, 2.55 ERA) vs. RHP Hector Noesi (3-4, 3.51 ERA), 7:05 p.m.

Sun: RHP Victor Mateo (3-3, 6.03 ERA) vs. RHP Kyle Drabek (7-10, 3.66 ERA), 2:05 p.m.

Mon: RHP Jake Brigham (3-1, 4.95 ERA) vs. RHP Brad Penny (7-9, 4.26 ERA), 12:05 p.m.

RHP Jake Brigham (Taylor Botta)

RHP Jake Brigham (Taylor Botta)

The Gwinnett Braves enter their final series of the season still in contention for the International League South Division title, although they will need some help to get it. The G-Braves won three of four games in a road series Wednesday through Friday against the division-leading Norfolk Tides to cut the Tides’ lead in the standings to 2.0 games. While Gwinnett plays the Charlotte Knights, the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, for three games at Coolray Field, the Tides will travel for a three-game set against the Durham Bulls. The Bulls are last in the four-team division at 72-69 but have won 13 of their last 16 games, overall, including a two-game sweep of the G-Braves on Monday and Tuesday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Gwinnett will have to sweep the Knights and hope Norfolk is swept by Durham to win the division outright by the final scheduled day of the regular season. If Norfolk is swept and the G-Braves win two of three against Charlotte, the Tides and G-Braves would have a one-game playoff to determine the division winner. Gwinnett could also pull even with Norfolk if it sweeps Charlotte and the Tides lose two of three at Durham.

The G-Braves have struggled against Charlotte this season. They are 7-13 vs. the Knights so far despite outscoring Charlotte 90-88. They were swept in the teams’ most recent meeting during a three-game series at Charlotte from August 24-26, but Gwinnett also swept the Knights in a three-game set in their last meeting at Coolray Field from July 24-26. Norfolk has gone 12-7 against Durham this year, including 6-2 in games played in Durham.

Pitching: G-Braves’ pitchers have a combined 3.95 ERA against the Knights this season, which is better than Charlotte’s 4.10 mark. Gwinnett also has a 3.20 team ERA for the season that ranks as the third-lowest in the 14-team IL. Charlotte ranks 10th with a 3.79 team ERA. The trio of G-Braves’ starting pitchers lined up to pitch in this series are a combined 2-2 with a 4.56 ERA against Charlotte this year in six appearances (four starts). The probable starters for the Knights have gone a combined 4-2 against Gwinnett this season with a 2.66 ERA in seven starts.

Noesi shut out the G-Braves across 6.0 innings in his only start against them on August 26 at Charlotte, a 3-1 win for the Knights, but they lost right-handed starter Erik Johnson, who holds the league lead with a 2.39 ERA, to the Major Leagues when the White Sox called him up on September 1. Johnson was 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three starts against Gwinnett. Smith has had the most success against Charlotte of the three starters Gwinnett will send to the mound. He is 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA in three outings (two starts), including a 7.0-inning performance on August 12 when he held the Knights to one run in an 11-1 victory at BB&T Ballpark.

The Charlotte pitching staff has fewer walks (421-to-465) and more strikeouts (1,062-to-963) than Gwinnett, but the G-Braves hold a slight advantage in saves (43-to-42) and have allowed fewer home runs (77-to-99).

Hitting: Gwinnett also had the third-highest team batting average of any team in the league at .259, while Charlotte is seventh with a .255 mark. The G-Braves also hold an offensive advantage in head-to-head matchups this year. Gwinnett hitters have batted .270 against Charlotte pitching, and the Knights have hit at a .261 clip. The Knights have slugged 17 home runs to Gwinnett’s seven, which mirrors a trend throughout the season for the G-Braves. They have hit 48 homers on the year, which is 20 fewer than the previous franchise low of 68 in 2001 and 2006, and the lowest of any team in the IL since the Tidewater Tides hit 43 in 1980. The Knights lead the league with 134 home runs.

Charlotte outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo has done much of the damage in the power department against Gwinnett this season. He has batted .268 in the 11 games he has faced G-Braves’ pitching this year to go with four home runs, which are the most of any opposing player this season. Outfielders Cedric Hunter and Mallex Smith have been answers for Gwinnett, however. Hunter has batted .329 and belted three homers with 16 RBIs against the Knights, and Smith has hit .328 and stolen 10 bases in the 15 games he has played in against Charlotte.

Both teams are among the league leaders in stolen bases. Gwinnett is second in the league with 159 steals, and Charlotte baserunners have swiped 121 bases, which is good for third in the IL. The G-Braves are at the bottom of the league in both walks (352) and strikeouts (715, more than 140 fewer than the next closest team in that department). Charlotte is tied for eighth in the league with 455 walks, but the Knights strike out more often than any IL team with 1,142 on the year.

G-Bites: The G-Braves got right-handed starting pitcher Tyrell Jenkins back from the disabled list on Friday, and he threw 1.2 scoreless innings at Norfolk. Left-handed reliever Mitch Lambson was sent to Double-A Mississippi to make room for Jenkins on the roster…Outfielder Mycal Jones also rejoined the team on Thursday after a stint at Mississippi…Right-handed relievers Danny Burawa and Brandon Cunniff both received promotions to the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday, which was the first day Major League rosters expanded from 25 to 40 players. Shortstop Daniel Castro joined them, as well, for his third stint in the big leagues this season…The G-Braves have clinched their first winning record since 2011 when they went 78-65…A playoff appearance would be the team’s first since their inaugural season in Gwinnett of 2009. They went 81-63 to take the IL Wild Card spot.


Series Preview: Gwinnett Braves (70-61) vs. Norfolk Tides (73-58)

Pitching probables

Thurs: RHP Victor Mateo (2-2, 5.47 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Wright (8-0, 2.41 ERA), 6:35 p.m.

Fri: LHP Greg Smith (6-4, 2.39 ERA) vs. RHP Elih Villanueva (3-3, 4.36 ERA), 7:05 p.m.

Sat: RHP Jake Brigham (3-1, 5.19 ERA) vs. LHP Mike Belfiore (5-11, 5.61 ERA), 7:05 p.m.

Sun: RHP Ryan Weber (4-3, 2.31 ERA) vs. RHP Terry Doyle (2-1, 3.24 ERA), 2:05 p.m.

Cedric Hunter (Taylor Botta)

Cedric Hunter (Taylor Botta)

The Gwinnett Braves and Norfolk Tides, the Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, will engage in a four-game battle at Coolray Field that features the top two teams in the International League South Division. The Tides lead the division by 3.0 games over the G-Braves, but both teams enter the series on three-game losing streaks.

The G-Braves lost every game of their three-game road series against the Charlotte Knights, and the Tides lost a home game to the Toledo Mud Hens on Monday before the Durham Bulls swept a two-game set from them at home. Gwinnett is also in contention for the IL Wild Card spot, but the Columbus Clippers have won their last three games to extend their advantage over the second-place G-Braves to 4.5 games.

The Tides have not been to the Governor’s Cup Playoffs since they won the division in 2005, and Gwinnett’s last trip to the postseason was in 2009 as the Wild Card team. The G-Braves and Tides have eight games remaining against one another. They will complete their season series with four games from Sept. 2-4, including a doubleheader on Sept. 2. The teams have split their first 14 meetings with seven wins apiece.

The G-Braves have closed the gap on the Tides in the division from 8.0 games at the end of July. Gwinnett has gone 15-10 so far in August, while Norfolk is 11-15. The G-Braves’ record for the month is the second-best in the league behind the Syracuse Chiefs (17-7). Gwinnett has gone on its hot streak thanks to an offensive surge that includes a league-high .294 team batting average through those 25 games despite nine home runs, which is tied with the Buffalo Bisons for the fewest in the league during that stretch.

Pitching: The series also includes two of the top pitching staffs in the league. Norfolk has the second-best team ERA in the league at 3.08, and the G-Braves are close behind in fourth with a 3.19 ERA. The Tides have allowed the fewest runs in the league with 435 and is tied with Columbus for the most saves with 44. Gwinnett relievers have 41 saves, which are tied for third in the league with three other clubs. The Tides and G-Braves are also tied for the fewest hits allowed with 1,043. Neither staff has struck out an abnormally high number of batters, but they have also limited the number of home runs they have allowed. Norfolk hurlers are ninth in the IL with 922 strikeouts, and the G-Braves follow in 10th with 911 whiffs. The Tides have given up the fourth-fewest home runs with 67, and the G-Braves have allowed 72, the fifth-fewest.

G-Braves’ lefty Smith has given up one earned run or fewer in five of his six starts since he rejoined the starting rotation on July 28, and his 2.39 ERA (28 ER in 105.1 IP) for the season is the second-lowest among qualified pitchers in the IL. He leads the league with a 1.12 WHIP. Brigham and Weber both entered the rotation during Gwinnett’s series at Charlotte. Baltimore right-hander Wright will open the series with his first start of a Major League rehab assignment with the Tides. Wright has bounced between Norfolk and Baltimore this season. He last pitched on July 31 and tossed a scoreless 1.0 inning of reliever vs. the Detroit Tigers.

Hitting: Gwinnett holds a slight advantage offensively with a 2.62 team batting average that ranks second in the IL. Norfolk is fifth with a .260 mark, although the Tides have outslugged the G-Braves with 70 home runs on the season compared to a league-low 45 for Gwinnett. The G-Braves are on pace for a franchise-low 49 homers, which would also be the fewest for any team in the IL since the Tidewater Tides hit 43 in 1980. Gwinnett has also yet to homer off of a Norfolk pitcher this season. Despite their even head-to-head record, the Tides have hit eight home runs against the G-Braves and outscored them 48-35. Norfolk has batted .256 in its games against Gwinnett this season compared to a .230 batting average for the G-Braves in those contests.

G-Braves’ outfielder Cedric Hunter opens the series on a team-best 20-game hitting streak that is also the longest in the IL this season. He surpassed Austin Romine of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders for the top spot on Wednesday with a second-inning double into right-center field. Hunter has batted .345 (29-for-84) with four doubles, two triples, two of his team-leading 11 home runs, 16 RBIs, which padded his team lead to 65, and nine runs scored during that stretch. Hunter’s streak is the longest active hitting streak in Triple-A and is tied with Franklin Gutierrez of the Tacoma Rainiers for the longest Triple-A streak of the season.

Outfielder Dariel Alvarez and first baseman Christian Walker have been stalwarts for the Tides, offensively. Alvarez is third in the IL with 141 hits, third in total bases with 217 and fifth in RBIs with 72. Walker is fifth in the league with 46 extra-base hits and 200 total bases. Overall, Norfolk’s bats have slowed in August. The team has combined for a .241 batting average that is the third-lowest in the league through their first 26 games of the month.

G-Bites: The G-Braves lost significant contributors in the last week, as the Atlanta Braves’ traded outfielder Eric Young, Jr. to the New York Mets on Saturday before they called up catcher Christian Bethancourt and right-handed pitcher Sugar Ray Marimon on Monday. Young had batted .248 (58-for-234) with 23 stolen bases in 67 games for the G-Braves after Atlanta outrighted him to Gwinnett on June 11. He was also Gwinnett’s June Player of the Month. Bethancourt hit a team-best .327 (66-for-202) with four home runs, 19 doubles, 31 RBIs and 25 runs scored in 52 games after he began the season with Atlanta. Marimon is in his fourth stint with Atlanta. He had gone 5-4 with a 3.31 ERA (30 ER in 81.2 IP) in 17 appearances (14 starts) for Gwinnett…Among those moves, outfielder Eury Perez rejoined the club when Atlanta optioned him on Monday. Left-handed reliever Hunter Cervenka and catcher Braeden Schlehuber were promoted from Double-A Mississippi, while outfielder Mycal Jones was sent down…The G-Braves will play a two-game series on Monday and Tuesday at Durham before they travel to Norfolk for their four-game tilt with the Tides. Gwinnett finishes the regular season with a three-game home series vs. Charlotte from Sept. 5-7 at Coolray Field.


Atlanta Braves Minor League Infield Coordinator Spends Weekend with Hector Olivera, G-Braves

Third baseman Hector Olivera played in the first three game of the Gwinnett Braves' four-game series against the Louisville Bats at Coolray Field. (Andrew Snook)

Third baseman Hector Olivera played in the first three game of the Gwinnett Braves’ four-game series against the Louisville Bats at Coolray Field. (Andrew Snook)

Gwinnett Braves’ third baseman Hector Olivera made his debut at Coolray Field during the club’s recent four-game series that they swept from the Louisville Bats, and he had a chance to work with Atlanta Braves’ Minor League Infielder Coordinator Luis Lopez in preparation for the 30-year-old Cuba native’s debut in the Major Leagues.

The Braves acquired Olivera on July 30 from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-team, 13-player trade that sent Major League right-handed pitchers Jim Johnson and Bronson Arroyo, and left-handers Alex Wood and Luis Avilan to the Dodgers along with former No. 1-ranked prospect Jose Peraza.

“He’s a big kid,” Lopez said of the 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pounder. “He’s a guy who might be able to hit the ball out of the ballpark.”

Olivera hit two home runs in his first 28 games in America this season, but he was on the disabled list at the time of the trade because of a left hamstring strain he suffered on June 20 while playing for the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.

He had batted a combined .348 (24-for-69) in 19 games across three levels of the Dodgers’ organization before the trade. He began a rehab stint with the GCL Braves on August 13 and went 0-for-5 in two games before he moved to Class-A Rome for four, during which he went 1-for-12 with a run scored. Olivera played in three of the G-Braves’ four games against Louisville and went 3-for-12 with a walk and two runs scored.

Olivera batted .250 (3-for-12) with a walk and two runs scored in his first three games with Gwinnett. (Andrew Snook)

Olivera batted .250 (3-for-12) with a walk and two runs scored in his first three games with Gwinnett. (Andrew Snook)

Olivera also played third base in each of those games and spent time working with Lopez, who said he was impressed with what he saw.

“He’s a very intelligent gentleman,” Lopez said. “He listens. When you pay attention and pay attention to details, that will transfer into the game.”

Lopez also worked with Olivera to help instill the core values the Braves’ want to see in their infielders at every level of their organization, he said.

“To be a consistent ballplayer, you have to be able to make routine plays,” Lopez said. “That’s one of the things that we always touch on. You’re are going to make errors on aggressive plays, but you are going to become a good infielder if you make the routine plays.”

Olivera fielded each of the six grounders hit his way and did not commit an error in any the three games he played against Louisville. He has seven errors for the season, including one during his two-game stint with the GCL Braves and three while with Rome.

Lopez said he first met Olivera at the Braves’ Spring Training complex in Florida when he was there to rehab shortly after the trade, and Lopez was pleased to see Olivera appeared to be healthy.

Still, Lopez said he believes Olivera needs some time to get back in the routine of playing games every day because he went more than a month out of action because of the injury.

“I think game reps will allow him to be the guy we want him to be,” Lopez said.


Series Preview: Gwinnett Braves (66-58) vs. Louisville Bats (60-65)

Pitcher probables

Thurs: RHP Sugar Ray Marimon (4-4, 3.62 ERA) vs. LHP Brandon Finnegan (0-1, 5.79 ERA), 6:35 p.m.

Fri: RHP Kanekoa Texeira (6-3, 3.61 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Lorenzen (3-1, 1.93 ERA), 7:05 p.m.

Sat: RHP Jake Brigham (3-0, 5. 11 ERA) vs. RHP Donn Roach (2-3, 5.20 ERA), 7:05 p.m.

Sun: LHP Greg Smith (6-4, 2.45 ERA) vs. RHP Josh Smith (3-4, 3.88 ERA), 2:05 p.m.

LHP Greg Smith (Karl Moore)

LHP Greg Smith (Karl Moore)

The Gwinnett Braves return to Coolray Field to begin a four-game series against the Louisville Bats, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, after a 10-game road trip during which they went 5-5. They remained in second place in the International League Wild Card standings throughout the road trip and sit 3.5 games behind the Columbus Clippers for the lead. The G-Braves are also 6.0 games in back of the Norfolk Tides for first place in the IL South Division. The Clippers and Tides are in the middle of a three-game series at Norfolk. Columbus won the series opener 4-3 on Wednesday.

Louisville hovered around the .500 mark for much of the season and was 57-56 on August 5. However, the Bats have gone 3-9 in their 12 games since to drop to 60-65 and 10 games out of a playoff spot. They were outscored 48-20 in those contests, and the offense has struggled mightily during that stretch. The team has not scored more than four runs in any of those games, and it scored two runs or fewer eight times, including eight of their nine losses. The Bats also suffered three consecutive shutout losses from August 9-11. The first loss was 9-0 on the road to the Durham Bulls, and the final two were 2-0 and 3-0 home defeats to Columbus.

Pitching: The Bats also are tied for the second-highest ERA of any team in the 14-team International League with a 3.97 mark that equals the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Gwinnett, meanwhile, has a 3.19 team ERA that is the fourth-lowest in the league. The G-Braves’ pitching staff has also allowed the second-fewest hits in the IL with 994, which is 11 more than Norfolk for the lead in that category. Both teams rank toward the bottom of the league in strikeouts but in the top half in walks allowed. Gwinnett has the fifth-fewest strikeouts with 864, and Louisville has the second-fewest with 814. The G-Braves have walked 407 batters, which is the fifth-most in the IL, and Bats pitchers have issued 430 to have the fourth-most in that department.

Veterans Texeira and Smith have led the G-Braves’ pitching staff in the second half of the season. Texeira has won a career-high six consecutive starts since July 20 and has a 3.63 ERA (14 ER in 34.2 IP) in that span. The G-Braves have won each of Smith’s five starts since he rejoined the rotation on July 28 from a stint in the bullpen. He has tallied wins in three of those starts with a 1.95 ERA (6 ER in 27.2 IP). His 2.45 ERA (27 ER in 99.1 IP) for the season ranks second in the IL among qualified starters, and his 1.10 WHIP leads the league.

Finnegan, Lousville’s starter for the series opener on Thursday, was acquired by the Reds from the Kansas City Royals on July 26 as part of a four-player trade that sent right-handed starter Johnny Cueto to Kansas City. Finnegan, a 22-year-old, has made four starts for Louisville since the trade. He also appeared in 14 games for the Royals earlier this season, going 3-0 with a 2.96 ERA (8 ER in 24.1 IP). Finnegan made his Major League debut with the Royals on September 6, 2014 after they selected him in the first round (17th overall) of the June free agent draft earlier that season out of Texas Christian University (Fort Worth, TX). He also pitched in seven postseason games for Kansas City during its run to the World Series a year ago.

Hitting: The Gwinnett offense was dominant in the five victories during the road trip. The G-Braves scored eight or more runs in four of their five wins, but they were held to three runs or fewer in each of their losses. Overall, the G-Braves have a .260 team batting average that ranks fifth in the league but is .001 behind three teams tied for second in that department. Louisville ranks ninth in that category with a .255 average.

Gwinnett is still in the basement of the league home run totals with 43. The G-Braves are on pace to hit 50 this season, which is still fewer than any other IL team has at this point and would be the fewest since the Tidewater Tides hit 43 in 1980. Louisville has the fourth fewest homers with 59. The G-Braves lead the league in stolen bases, however, with 149, which is three in front of the second-place Indianapolis Indians in that category. The Bats have the fifth-fewest steals in the IL with 76.

Center fielder Mallex Smith hit .381 (16-for-42) with six steals and nine runs scored from the leadoff spot during the road trip, but that was just the third-highest average on the team during that stretch. Catcher Christian Bethancourt led the club with a .424 average (14-for 33), and outfielder Cedric Hunter batted .395 (15-for-38). Bethancourt also had six doubles, a home run and seven RBIs during the trip, while Hunter two doubles, a home run and 10 RBIs to push his team-leading total in that category to 64. Hunter also leads the club with 11 homers. Additionally, Smith is 25-for-29 in steal attempts through 50 games with the G-Braves and has 48 stolen bases on the season combined with Gwinnett and Double-A Mississippi, where he began the season.

Louisville’s top hitter has been outfielder Brennan Boesch, who boasts a .331 batting average (59-for-178) in 48 games with the Bats, although outfielder Ryan LaMarre leads the team with 88 RBIs and is tied with infielder Yorman Rodriguez for the team lead in home runs with eight. The Bats’ offensive struggles in August have led to a league-low .203 average during the month, and they do not have a batter who has hit better than outfielder Juan Silva’s .244 mark during through the first 17 games of the month.

G-Bites: Infielder Joey Terdoslavich has returned to Gwinnett after his fourth stint with the Atlanta Braves this season to open a spot on the Major League roster for first baseman Freddie Freeman, who completed his rehab assignment with the G-Braves on Tuesday. Freeman batted .375 (3-for-8) with a double, two RBIs, two walks and three strikeouts in two games with Gwinnett…The G-Braves also added three relief pitchers during the road trip, although two had been with the team previously this season. Right-hander Ryan Kelly was optioned from Atlanta on August 13, and fellow righty Brigham was optioned on August 16 when the Braves recalled right-hander Peter Moylan. The Braves also claimed Danny Burawa off of waivers from the New York Yankees on August 14, and he joined the G-Braves’ bullpen on Monday but has yet to make an appearance…Once their four-game set against Louisville is complete, the G-Braves will go back on the road for a three-game series against the Charlotte Knights at BB&T Ballpark. They will come back hom on August 27 to start a four-game series vs. Norfolk.