Bill Shanks

Braves’ system full of prospects

With the major league season now underway, we can also look forward to the start of the minor league season. And for Atlanta Braves fans, keeping an eye on the prospects might be just as fun as watching the big boys.

Scouts have said this spring that the Braves’ farm system has never been deeper, with more premium prospects than any other team in the game.

If you miss minor league baseball in Middle Georgia, you might want to travel north to see the Gwinnett Braves. The Triple-A team has moved to Lawrenceville after more than 40 years in Richmond, Va. And the inaugural team might be the most impressive team in the system.

Tommy Hanson will start for Gwinnett on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C. He’s arguably the best right-handed pitching prospect in baseball. Hanson dazzled the Braves in spring training, and it’s a good bet he will be in Atlanta’s rotation some time this summer.

Jo Jo Reyes, James Parr, Todd Redmond, Charlie Morton and Kris Medlen will round out the rotation. Reyes could pitch in a number of big league rotations right now after a solid camp. The other four are also excellent backup options for Atlanta.

Gregor Blanco, who lost the Atlanta center field job to Jordan Schafer, and Brandon Jones will lead the Gwinnett lineup. If the Braves need an infielder this season, they could turn to Diory Hernandez, who will start at shortstop for Gwinnett.

Brandon Hicks will be the headliner in Double-A Mississippi. The shortstop needs to cut down on his strikeouts, but his defense is big league quality right now. Gorkys Hernandez and Concepcion Rodriguez are two outfielders who could be in Atlanta in a year or two.

The Mississippi rotation will feature five pitchers who all have big league potential: Ryne Reynoso, Scott Diamond, Jonny Venters, Kyle Cofield and Deunte Heath.

Myrtle Beach, the Braves’ High-A team in the Carolina League, will feature two players who captivated coaches in spring training. Jason Heyward will play right field, but the Myrtle Beach fans need to see him early in the season. Heyward could jump to Double-A with a strong start. The Braves now wonder if Heyward could be in the Atlanta outfield this time next year.

And Freddie Freeman will play first for the Pelicans. The left-handed hitter reminds many of a young Ryan Klesko, only with more power and better defensive skills. Both Freeman and Heyward will play this minor league season at 19 years old.

Jeff Locke and Cole Rohrbough are two left-handed starting pitchers for the Pelicans who have outstanding potential.

The Rome Braves could have trouble scoring runs, but they will feature a potentially strong pitching staff. Randall Delgado is a 19-year-old right-hander from Panama who could really take off. The Braves will also count on several college pitchers from last year’s draft, including Richard Sullivan, Jacob Thompson, Paul Clemens, David Francis and J.J. Hoover.

If you haven’t followed the minor leagues in the past, you might want to start this season. The Braves have outstanding talent, which could make the next decade of baseball in Atlanta much more entertaining.

The Bill Shanks Show airs weekdays from 3-6 p.m. on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 and online at www.foxsports1670.com.

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