If you are a Atlanta Braves fan, you’re going to watch the team in Atlanta. But it might also be smart to keep an eye on the minor leagues this season, as each of the top four affiliates will have players to watch.
The Braves have the best overall prospects in baseball, as Baseball America and others have all ranked Atlanta’s farm system at the top. So, each-and-every night, there will be a legitimate prospect playing in Gwinnett, Mississippi, Florida and Rome.
Of course, pitching leads the way, as all four rotations will be stacked. There won’t be many games when the affiliates do not have a serious prospect on the mound.
Gwinnett will have Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair leading the way. Both have big league innings, and both need to do well or get passed by younger and better prospects. The Braves aren’t giving up on these two, but they must really do well to not get forgotten about or become trade bait.
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Lucas Sims will head back to Triple-A. He was great last season in Mississippi (2.67 ERA) but struggled in Gwinnett (7.56 ERA). Sims is almost in the same boat as Wisler and Blair. It’s time for him to show consistency, or he’ll be left behind.
Sean Newcomb is the main prospect in Gwinnett. The Braves think he’s close, and as the payment for Andrelton Simmons, Newcomb is someone the Braves would love to see make it.
The position player to watch in Gwinnett will be third baseman Rio Ruiz, who had a great spring training and returns to Triple-A after hitting .271 there last season.
The Double-A rotation has the headliners, as Max Fried, Patrick Weigel, Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard and Matt Withrow will be the starting pitchers.
Fried is on the fast track to Atlanta. Fried jumps to Double-A after finishing strong last year in Rome (2.47 ERA in his final 13 starts, with 96 strikeouts in 69 1/3innings), and he was impressive in big league camp last month.
Weigel could also be close, as he was a college draft pick who dominated last year. The Braves shocked everyone allowing Soroka and Allard to skip High-A and go to Mississippi. Not since Kent Mercker and Steve Avery, in the late-1980s, have the Braves allowed high school draft picks who were serious prospects skip a level. Mercker and Avery actually skipped Low-A and went straight from Rookie ball to High-A.
The Florida Fire Frogs will have Touki Toussaint, Ricardo Sanchez, Luiz Gohara and Drew Harrington in the rotation. Toussaint was great late last season (1.49 ERA in his final seven starts), while Sanchez was one of the more improved prospects in spring training. Gohara was acquired from Seattle for Mallex Smith, and Harrington was a star at Louisville last season before getting drafted by the Braves in the third round in June.
The Fire Frogs will also have two main position players to watch, with outfielder Ronald Acuna and third baseman Austin Riley in the starting lineup.
And the Rome Braves will have four members of last year’s draft in the rotation — Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, Bryse Wilson and Jeremy Walker. All four opened eyes in spring training.
So, while you’re watching the Atlanta Braves on television or listening on the radio, go online and check out the minor league box scores from time-to-time. The future Braves are ready to get closer to Atlanta, and some may be there sooner rather than later.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.