It’s a new week for the Braves four minor league affiliates. Now nearly 40 games into the 2022 regular season, the farm system has played enough baseball that storylines are beginning to take shape. Let’s see how those current stories develop as we move into Week 7. Here’s a look ahead at what’s to come for Triple-A Gwinnett, Double-A Mississippi, High-A Rome and Low-A Augusta…
AAA – Gwinnett (17-19)
vs. Memphis Redbirds (STL)
Tuesday’s probable – RHP Connor Johnstone
Gwinnett’s offense overall cooled a bit last week, and as a result, the Stripers dropped its road series versus Durham (2-4). It was the veteran, journeymen bats that carried the team this time, as prospect Drew Waters (when he actually played) hit just .111 for the week (2 for 18) in four games, though both Greyson Jenista and Braden Shewmake hit rather well, each turning in an identical .400 AVG, despite neither player slugging any home runs. Hopefully the Gwinnett lineup can perform a little more consistently in Week 7, against a Memphis team that’s trending in the wrong direction lately and currently ranks within the bottom-ten in the International League this season in team ERA (4.84). At the time of this writing, the Redbirds haven’t named its starter for today’s game.
It appears the Stripers will begin the week with a bullpen game, with righty Connor Johnstone taking the bump on Tuesday. The 27-year-old doesn’t usually throw more than a few innings when he starts, though he did complete five innings back in mid-April, when he tossed a one-hitter against Jacksonville. Johnstone has been strong so far this season, and he enters today with a stingy 2.21 ERA in 20 1/3 overall innings (3 starts / 6 relief appearances).
Lefty prospect Tucker Davidson may not get a start this week with the Stripers, given the Braves are recalling him to the majors to pitch tonight’s contest in Milwaukee. Davidson is coming off one of his best outings so far this year, so he’ll certainly be a missed option for Gwinnett in Week 7. However, prospects Kyle Muller and Bryce Elder currently remain with the Triple-A club.
AA – Mississippi (14-19)
vs. Biloxi Shuckers (MIL)
Tuesday’s probable – LHP Jared Shuster
The M-Braves split its series against a solid Chattanooga team in Week 6 as it continues to push for that .500 mark overall. Prospect outfielder Michael Harris II finally returned to earth last week and was in a bit of a funk at the plate, going just 3 for 22 (.136 AVG) with no XBH in his six games.
Picking up the slack, though, was a player we hadn’t really discussed up until recently, infielder Jalen Miller. The 25-year-old Miller went off in the Lookouts series, finishing the week 9 for 20 (.450 AVG) with four XBH (1 HR) in five games. Also, Luke Waddell continued his hot start (.333 AVG last week), as did infielder Riley Delgado (.286 AVG). Following an April that featured six home runs and a solid .260 AVG for first baseman Drew Lugbauer, the power-hitter has mostly struggled so far in a dozen May games, currently with just two homers and a .213 AVG.
Mississippi will begin this week’s series with its staff ace, southpaw prospect Jared Shuster, who’s coming off one of the more dominant outings of his season so far, in terms of run prevention (6 IP, 2 H, BB, 4 K). Shuster is currently on a roll, having tallied at least five innings in all six of his starts in 2022, as opposing batters are hitting just .161 versus the lefty, which pairs nicely with his Braves system-leading 1.53 ERA overall.
On Tuesday Memphis will counter on the mound with its own lefty prospect, Nick Bennett (ranked no. 31 in the Brewers org per FanGraphs’ latest list). Bennett, 24-years-old, reportedly wields a filthy slider, graded as a 60 by FG’s Eric Logenhagen, but he hasn’t met expectations so far this year. The former sixth-round pick owns a 5.28 ERA in six starts in 2022.
Also worth paying attention to is one of the Redbirds outfielders, and Milwaukee’s second-ranked prospect, 23-year-old Joey Wiemer. This kid is tearing up Double-A and ranks third in the Southern League with nine home runs already, to go with a .302 AVG and 155 wRC+. The M-Braves would be wise to avoid Wiemer this week.
A+ – Rome (19-14)
@ Aberdeen IronBirds (BAL)
Tuesday’s probable – RHP Royber Salinas
Rome nearly swept its series in Week 6, winning its first five against Winston-Salem at home, before losing 5-1 on Sunday. This R-Braves offense has been incredible nearly all year so far, but it’s about to face an even better one in Aberdeen, who’s .809 team OPS is the best in High-A’s South Atlantic League (not to mention it’s league-best 24-7 overall record).
It’s critical that guys like Justyn-Henry Malloy, Vaughn Grissom, Landon Stephens and Christian Robinson all continue the great work at the plate, for I’m sure Week 7 will feature plenty of high-scoring affairs.
Tuesday’s Rome starter, Royber Salinas, will have his hands full against the IronBirds – an offense that currently rosters five qualified hitters who so far have been at least 20% above average with the bat, per wRC+. The 21-year-old is coming off his best High-A performance of the young 2022 season, striking out 10 Winston-Salem batters last Wednesday in an outing in which he pitched five shut-out innings and allowed just one hit. This could be an important test for the Venezuelan righty, who could find himself on some Braves prospects lists soon if he can keep up the great work.
Aberdeen will go with righty Houston Roth on the mound today, who’s a former 29th-round pick, but a kid that, as a pro, has pitched much better than that low selection. Roth has been solid thus far in 2022, working to a 3.38 ERA and striking out 8.1 per nine in his six outings. The IronBirds also wield three other starters – Connor Gillispie, Justin Armbruester and Jean Pinto – that are all each averaging over 11 K.9 so far this season, to go with sub-4.00 ERAs. In a nutshell, this is a very good Aberdeen team overall, so there should be plenty of talent on display in Aberdeen, Maryland this week.
A – Augusta (20-13)
@ Charleston RiverDogs (TBR)
Tuesday’s probable – RHP Jorge Bautista
Like Rome above, Augusta was just a Saturday loss away from sweeping its series against Columbia last week. And also like the R-Braves, the GreenJackets will face one the best teams in its respective league in Charleston. With the second-best team ERA (3.19) in the Carolina League, can prospect outfielder Brandol Mezquita continue his incredible streak of reaching base safely? (That on-base streak is at 24 entering Tuesday.)
Also, guys like infielder Caleb Durbin (.268 AVG in his last 18 games), outfielder Kadon Morton (.289 AVG in last 13) and catcher Adam Zebrowski (.308 AVG in last 11) will need to keep the hits coming as well.
Righty Jorge Bautista will start Tuesday’s series opener for Augusta. The 21-year-old just recently made his Low-A debut last week, after beginning the year in extended spring training. Last Friday, the Dominican entered in the eighth inning of a GreenJackets game and allowed one run from two hits, to go with a strikeout. Hopefully he can hold his own in his Augusta debut as a starter.
One of five Charleston starters that’s currently sporting a sub-3.90 ERA so far this season, righty Ben Peoples is the RiverDogs probable for tonight’s series opener. Peoples was a 22nd-round pick back in 2019 and is enjoying a strong start to the 2022 campaign as he has a 3.68 ERA and 11 K/9 in his first six outings. Stats-wise, this is easily the best starting rotation Augusta has faced this year.