At last we come to the end of the Braves System Depth series, looking at the most volatile and unpredictable part of any farm system — lower level relievers. The line between minor league relief pitcher and car salesman is a thin one, and most major league relievers were actually starting pitchers at the lower minor league levels. Nevertheless as elsewhere in the system, there are some players to watch here, especially in Rome. As always, the Danville outlook will completely be upended after the June amateur player draft, especially as a Braves draft specialty the last two years has been to stock up on college relief pitchers from small colleges with lower draft picks.
ROME BRAVES (CLASS A)
Thomas Burrows, LHP
Burrows was a 4th-round pick by Seattle in the 2016 draft out of the University of Alabama, where he is the school’s all-time saves leader. Burrows came to the Braves organization as part of the Mallex Smith trade. Burrows is a relatively polished reliever with a fastball that comes around 91-93 but with some natural sink. He backs that up with a slider that can be effective against both lefties and righties when he can locate it. His delivery has good deception that causes his stuff to play up, and he could be a fast mover in the Braves system.
Jacob Webb, RHP
Webb was an 18th-round pick in 2014 and tore his UCL 11 games into his pro career and missed all of the 2015 season. Webb came back with a vengeance in 2016, striking out 28 of the 34 batters he faced in Danville, though the Braves were careful about giving him at least 3 days rest between appearances. Presumably the kid gloves will be off Webb in 2017. Webb has a fastball that runs in around 92-94 with decent movement and a slurvy curve. Webb was a starter in college and threw a change-up, and getting that pitch might be something he’ll need to work on in 2017 to maintain effectiveness against left-handed hitters.
White is one of two Brandon Whites drafted in 2016, one after the other in the 12th and 13th rounds. This Brandon White is the 12th rounder out of Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina where his holds the single season record for saves. White had a successful pro debut pitching mostly in Danville to a 2.87 ERA with a 13.8 strikeout per 9 inning ratio. White has decent command of a mid-90s fastball and a slider, and is developing a curveball.
Connor Gilmore, RHP
Gilmore was an undrafted free agent out of the University of Central Arkansas, where he holds school records for innings, wins, complete games, and shut-outs. Gillmore has a good, heavy two-seamer, a straighter four-seamer, a curve, and a change-up that could rate as a plus pitch and he can usually puts them where he wants to. He impressed in 18 relief innings with Danville last season, walking only 2 batters on the season and striking out 19. Gilmore did have some problems with left-handed pitching.
Dalton Carroll, RHP
Carroll is a fairly polished college pitcher out of the University of Utah, picked in the 21st round of the 2016 draft. Carroll can command three pitches (fastball/slider/change-up), and he over-matched most Appalachian League hitters. While the repertoire is varied, the question for Carroll going forward is if his average velocity will continue to play at higher levels.
Grayson Jones, RHP
An 11th-round selection by the Braves in the 2015 draft, Jones started his second season in pro ball well, but faded badly down the stretch to end up with a 4.58 ERA in 57 innings for Rome last season. Most of the damage against Jones was done by left-handed hitters, so he will need to work on countering them to continue advancing. He also walks too many batters and doesn’t demonstrate enough control with his mid-90s fastball or his slider to get enough swing-and-miss to counter.
Cameron Stanton, RHP
Stanton is the son of former Braves bullpen stalwart Mike Stanton. Unlike the elder Stanton, Cameron is right-handed and seems to prefer starting over relieving. He also has a solid four-pitch repertoire (fastball/curve/slider/change) and has good control that he uses to try to generate weak contact to compensate for his lack of strikeout stuff. Stanton pitched to a 2.57 ERA in 5 starts and 6 relief appearances for Danville last season.
OTHER BULLPEN CANDIDATES
Taylor Hyssong, LHP
Hyssong was an 8th-round senior sign out of UNC-Wilmington. Hyssong started getting draft attention when he moved from the rotation to relieving his senior year and his fastball velocity jumped up from the low-’80s to sitting around 94 mph. The Braves will be working to refine Hyssong’s delivery, which has a low 3/4 arm angle that can really do a number on left-handed batters but also causes control issues.
Adam McCreery, LHP
McCreery was a 22nd-round pick in 2014 by the Angels, who traded him to the Braves early last season for Jhoulys Chacin. McCreery is 6′-8″ and is listed at 195 pounds, but looks beefier than that. He has a quick stride and low arm angle, which can cause problems for left-handed hitters but he can run into problems with control when he gets out of line and works too quickly. He does have good stuff, including a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a slider than can tie up right-handed hitters with when he hits his spots. At age 24, McCreery will need to start putting things together soon.
Taylor Cockrell, RHP
Cockrell is a 23rd-round pick by Atlanta in the 2015 draft, a big-bodied righty with a mid-90s fastball. After jumping around three levels in 2015, Cockrell pitched all of 2016 at Danville and showed improvement with his control, but was also murdered by left-handed hitters.
Ryan Schlosser, RHP
Schlosser is a (say it with me now) big-bodied righty. A 32nd-round pick out of tiny Century College in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, Schlosser started his pro career in Danville but was shaky enough in two outings to get sent down to the Gulf Coast League. Schlosser rebounded nicely and had a 1.04 ERA in 17.1 innings. Schlosser only walked two batters all season.
Bladimir Matos, RHP
Matos is an older signee out of the Dominican Republic and he made his pro debut stateside with the GCL in 2015. Matos was in the Rome opening day bullpen last season but couldn’t stick due to walking 5.1 batters per 9 innings. Matos has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s with a lot of movement coming out of a low 3/4 arm slot, and he has a tight slider with a strong horizontal break. The question is if will figure out how to throw strikes.
Evertz Orozco, RHP
Orozco is another big-bodied righty, signed out of Nicaragua in 2013. After a strong GCL season in 2015, Orozco pitched all of 2016 in Danville. Orozco had a 4.66 ERA and though he has shown good control with his sinker/slider repertoire, he got hit fairly hard.
Jordy Lara, RHP
Lara was signed as a minor league free agent outfielder and first baseman out of the Mariners organization. Lara had some prospect buzz after he hit 26 homers between high-A level High Desert and AA Jackson, but after hitting .226/.267/.348 for Mississippi in 56 games, Lara and the Braves decided to go in a different direction. Possessed of a strong outfield arm, Lara pitched one inning and retired the side. It was enough for the Braves to send Lara back to extended spring training to start the process of converting to relief pitching. Lara ended up with a 3.52 ERA in 7 appearances for Danville. The big-bodied right-hander has a fastball that can touch 99 and going into his age 25 season represents a fascinating project.
Dalton Geekie, RHP
Geekie is a Powder Springs, Georgia native and 22nd-round pick from the 2015 draft. After a successful 2015 pro debut that saw him rise from the GCL through Danville and end the season in Rome, Geekie had a tough 2016 season that culminated in a torn UCL in August that required Tommy John surgery. Before the injury he showed decent control and three solid pitches, but was victimized by home runs. Hopefully Geekie will be able to resume his career late in the 2017 season.
DANVILLE BRAVES (Rookie League)
Brandon T. White, RHP
White was a teammate of fellow 2016 Braves draft pick Corbin Couse at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. White had a solid pro debut in the Gulf Coast League, pitching to a 3.86 ERA in 18.1 innings. White is 6′-2″, 204 pounds and uses that size well, generating high-90s heat and getting decent bite on his slider. White is already 23 years old and could start moving up rapidly.
Tucker Davidson, LHP
A 19th-round pick in 2016, Davidson was known for a potentially plus slider out of Midland College in Texas. Pitching in the CGL for his pro debut he also gained some velocity, showing a mid-90s fastball by the end of the season. That kind of stuff from a lefty is worth paying attention to.
Parker Danciu, LHP
Similar to Davidson, Danciu had a solid if unspectacular junior year at college, then saw a velocity bump in the GCL for the Braves. Dauciu was a 39th-round pick and showed good control in his pro debut.
Gilbert Suarez, RHP
An 18th-rounder in the 2015 draft out of San Ysidro High School in California, Suarez is a raw but talented big-bodied righty who repeated the GCL and pitched exclusively in relief to good results.
Zach Rice, LHP
An 18th-round pick out of North Carolina, Rice was an interesting selection because he’d actually been dropped from the UNC roster his junior year due to control problems. Rice is a hard-throwing southpaw and also has an impressive slider, but was limited to 17.2 wild innings in Danville as the Braves try to refine his delivery to give him some semblance of control.
Anthony Guardado, RHP
Guardado is a 3rd-round pick in 2015, and the biggest head-scratcher pick of the new regime. Guardado has barely pitched at all the last two seasons in the GCL due to injuries. He played football in high school as well and injuries from his senior season seem to have had lingering effects. Has thrown handed out 8 walks in 8.1 professional innings pitched. Depending on his health, may go back for a third tour of the Gulf Coast League.
Jesus Heredia, RHP
Heredia will be going into his fifth season in the Braves organization, and has spend most of the last two seasons in the GCL. Heredia has had solid strikeout numbers and results, but has walked over 5 batters per 9 innings in his career.
OTHER BULLPEN CANDIDATES
Jasseel De La Cruz , RHP
A 19-year old out of the Dominican Republic, De La Cruz got the rare mid-season promotion from the Dominican Summer League stateside to the GCL in 2016 and impressed with 14 scoreless innings to finish out the season.
Elian Leyva, RHP
Leyva is a 27 year old Cuban defector that the Braves signed this offseason after he pitched two seasons in the Spanish League. Yes, in Spain. Quite frankly, I have no idea how or what this guy throws, but the reach and extent of Braves scouting is impressive. For his Spanish team, CB Barcelona, he had a 0.70 ERA in 64 IP with 82 strikeouts and 17 walks.
Zach Bercherer, RHP
Last but not least on the list is 15th-round 2016 pick Bercherer out of Rend Lake College. Bercherer was starting to get some serious draft buzz during a sophmore campaign that saw him strike out 14.33 batters per nine innings. Unfortunately, Bercherer blew out his UCL and had to have Tommy John surgery on April 13. The Braves of course have not been deterred by TJS, and may have gotten a 15th-round steal. Before the injury, Bercherer could run his fastball into the mid-90s with decent control. If all goes well with his rehab, Bercherer may make a few appearances in Rome in May or so before the short-season Danville schedule starts.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Well, I’m exhausted.
OFR TOP 10 RELIEF PITCHER PROSPECT RANKINGS (WITH EXPECTED LEVEL):
- A.J. Minter (AAA)
- Luke Jackson (AAA)
- Akeel Morris (AAA)
- Jacob Lindgren (MLB/DL)
- Thomas Burrows (A)
- Armando Rivero (MLB)
- Caleb Dirks (AAA)
- Corbin Clouse (A+)
- Jason Hursh (AAA)
- Devan Watts (A+)
Other entries in this series:
Starting Pitching, Part 1 (Atlanta/Gwinnett)
Starting Pitching, Part 2 (Mississippi/Florida)
Starting Pitching, Part 3 (Rome/Danville)
Relief Pitching, Part 1 (Atlanta/Gwinnett)
Relief Pitching, Part 2 (Mississippi/Florida)