MLB teams use their affiliate clubs to develop future stars and store potentially useful players. When a team is struggling, it often finds itself turning towards those affiliates to bring up a hot bat or strong arm. In this week’s Minor League Report, Brandon Magee looks to see if there is any help on the way for the Atlanta Braves.
Through the first 27 games of the major league season, the Atlanta Braves are redefining the term “offensive failure.” The Braves have the worst triple slash line in the majors (.224/.292/.289), are one of two teams – along with the Baltimore Orioles – who have yet to hit a triple, and have a shocking six home runs, a full 14 fewer than the second worst Los Angeles Dodgers. While the 7-20 Braves are unlikely to turn things around and become a playoff contender, is there any help in the minor league system that can stave off their race to 100 losses?
A cursory glance at the team’s offensive stats in the International League shows that Atlanta may have some potential help in Gwinnett. The AAA Braves lead the IL in batting average at .264, but a further look shows their OBP (.324) and SLG (.362) to be middle of the pack. However, even hitting a lot of singles (199 through Wednesday) is better than what the major league club is doing. While Gwinnett isn’t exactly a power station, their 62 extra-base hits (5 triples, 11 HRs) is far better than the powerless Atlanta offense.
Unfortunately for Atlanta fans, Gwinnett’s offense is largely attributable to some old friends. 30-year-old Matt Tuiasosopo leads the team in both doubles and home runs – six and four respectively – while putting up a line of .218/.324/.425. Chase d’Arnaud at 29 years old and 28-year-old Ryan Lavarnway each have six doubles, Chase has a .672 OPS and Ryan has an OPS of .667. Former Tampa Bay prospect, 30-year-old Reid Brignac is batting .329/.422/.400 in the first 22 games of his season while 31-year-old Emilio Bonifacio is hitting .311/.366/.351. Sean Kazmar, Tyler Moore, Ronnier Mustelier, Brandon Snyder, and Blake Lalli – all 29-year-old or older – have all played at least 15 games for Gwinnett.
There are, however, two youthful pieces with the AAA Braves who may be able to help Atlanta in the future. Ozzie Albies at 19 years old and recently promoted to Gwinnett, has struggled in his first five games, hitting a single single in seventeen at-bats to begin his AAA career.
In stark contrast, soon to be 22-year-old third baseman Rio Ruiz has begun his AAA career in style. In his first 26 games in Gwinnett, Ruiz has bounded out of the gates with a line of .337/.411/.495 with five doubles, a pair of triples, and two home runs. There are a couple of concerns with Ruiz, the most prominent being his strikeout numbers – having struck out 28 times this season in a mere 99 at bats. Also of some concern is the nature of small sample sizes, as Ruiz only posted an OPS of .649 – with an OBP higher than his SLG – last season with AA Mississippi. He also happens to play at the same position as the Greek God of Singles – Adonis Garcia – who has been more productive than most for the Atlanta offense.
Unlike Gwinnett, a cursory glance of Mississippi’s place in the Southern League places them near the bottom, with a slash of .240/.307/.346. Like Gwinnett, the offense does show more potential power than that of Atlanta with 61 extra-base hits (7 triples, 12 HRs). And the offense does skew more towards youth than their AAA counterparts, with an average age of 23.
The aforementioned Ozzie Albies may have had a rough beginning in Gwinnett, but he was leading the Mississippi offense when he was promoted. Albies batted .369/.442/.512 with eight extra-base hits in his 22 games in AA. Dustin Peterson (21 years old) has begun his AA career quickly, hitting .258/.330/.419 with six doubles and a team-high three dingers. Matt Lipka at 24 years old has started his third season with the AA Braves with power that he has not shown since his 2013 season in High-A Lynchburg. Lipka leads the team with seven doubles and has also slugged a pair of triples and a home run. Unfortunately, he has only nine singles, leading to an interesting line of .229/.309/.398.
However, for this season, the only player who has a legitimate shot at helping Atlanta is newly-promoted Dansby Swanson. The first pick of last year’s draft has a a double, two singles, and one tater in his first three games in AA after batting .333/.441/.526 with a dozen doubles in only 21 games in High-A Carolina. The 22-year-old has the potential to pull a Michael Conforto and jump from AA to the major leagues only a year after he was drafted.
While the High-A Mudcats would be unlikely to be housing any help for this year’s Atlanta Braves, it is possible they hold some of the keys for Atlanta as they enter their new home in Cobb County next season. However, with a team batting line of .244/.315/.350 – which includes the aforementioned numbers from Mr. Swanson – and only eight home runs, the Braves offensive woes appear to extend through their entire system.
With Swanson promoted to Mississippi, it is birthday boy Joey Meneses – who turns 24 today – who is leading the Mudcat offense with a triple slash of .301/.366/.434 with five doubles and a triple. However, Meneses is in his second season in High-A and his sixth season in the Atlanta organization, and he can hardly be termed a hot prospect. Keith Curcio (23) is also in his second go-round with the Mudcats and is batting .300/.359/.433 with nine extra-base hits – seven doubles – in 24 games. Ryan Gebhardt, purchased by the Braves last season from the independent Long Island Ducks after being released by the Arizona Diamondbacks, is hitting .279/.385/.326 with ten singles and eight walks in the early going. Like Meneses, Gebhardt can hardly be categorized as a prospect as he’s 24 years old.
Jordan Edgerton (22) has shown a powerful bat in his first 25 games for the High-A Mudcats, with 11 of his 19 base hits going for extra-bases. While the third baseman/DH can drive the ball, more often than not he fails to hit the ball solidly, batting .192/.222/.333 in his first run of play in Carolina. Braxton Davidson (20) has also struggled to make solid contact, putting up a line of .172/.245/.276 with 34 strikeouts in his first 24 games of the season.
When an MLB team puts out a dysfunctional offense of historic proportions, as Atlanta has done this season, it only makes sense for the fans of the team to look towards the minor leagues and hope for a savior from below. While Dansby Swanson may make Braves fans sleep a little easier at night, there are still many questions marks with the youthful prospects in the farm system. It is an open question whether a prospect like Rio Ruiz or Dustin Peterson can show consistency over the full season to be considered for the Atlanta roster as they enter their new Cobb County residence next season, let alone help out this season’s wrecking crew.
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.