Welcome to the third week of the report on your Atlanta Braves farm system. It is official: the 2016 season is wrapped up and in the books for the Braves minor league teams. Gwinnett, Mississippi, and Rome all capped successful seasons by playing in a championship series. Gwinnett and Mississippi were unable to win their championship series. Rome, however, provided the highlight of the week and possibly the organizational highlight of the year by bringing home a South Atlantic League championship.
Rome’s rotation was phenomenal all year, and they lived up to the hype and excitement in their final series. The entire Braves system is stocked with young, potential-laden talent, and it will be very interesting to watch the group of kids from this Single A team work their way to the Major League level. Last Word On Baseball will be here to keep you up to date on the latest prospect news and promotions over the coming months. Don’t forget to keep on eye out for updates on those Atlanta Braves prospects that will be participating in the Arizona Fall League. (Prospect rankings are in parenthesis. Ranking is based on MLB.com’s Prospect Watch for the Atlanta Braves organization.)
Rome Braves Win Title Behind Dominant Starters
Gwinnett Braves (AAA)
The Gwinnett Braves looked set for a big week when they opened the Instructional League Championship Series against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Rail Riders. The Braves scored six runs in the top of the first on their way to an impressive 7-4 victory. Infielder Sean Kazmar (unranked) went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and a three-run home run in the opening game victory. Aaron Blair (unranked) went seven and a third innings but he did receive credit for four earned runs on the night.
Unfortunately, game one provided all the highlights Gwinnett would have in the series. The Braves would go on to lose the next three games and the series. The offense was completely stymied by the Rail Riders pitching staff with just a lone run scored over the final three games. Righty Chris Ellis (16th) did provide a good start on the mound in game two. Ellis posted six no-hit innings and struck out five batters. He did walk four while struggling with his command, but his outing was the lone highlight of the night.
Gwinnett did come up short in the championship series but their performance on the year is an encouragement to the organization. Times are often tough during a rebuild. Gwinnett provided a competitive team and a fun environment in the middle of a rough season for the Major League club.
Mississippi Braves (AA)
The Mississippi Braves struggled in the Southern League Championship Series against the Jackson Generals. The Braves were swept out of the series in three games. The first two games were competitive all the way with each game decided by just two runs. The loss of Ozzie Albies (second) to injury and the promotion of Dansby Swanson (first) to the Major League club seemed to catch up with Mississippi’s offense. The Braves were outscored 19-7 in the series and were shutout once.
Right-handed pitcher Patrick Weigel (28th) and outfielder Dustin Peterson (18th) were named the Braves Minor League Pitcher and Player of the Year last week. Both of these players had fantastic seasons but struggled in the championship series. Peterson went 0-for-8 with three strikeouts in the first two games of the series. He broke out of this slump with a 4-for-5 night and a solo home run in game three, but the Generals were already well on their way to clinching with a score of 11-3. Weigel’s lone bad start during his time at Double-A came in that game three loss. Weigel was unable to get out of the first inning and finished his night with a line of four earned runs on five walks and one hit. It would have been nice to add a championship ring to their seasons, but these young men have a very bright future ahead of them.
Rome Braves (A)
The Rome Braves provided the highlight of the week for the organization. Rome faced off with the Lakewood Blue Claws in the South Atlantic League Championship Series and took home the title. Rome won the series in four games behind yet another dominant performance from their starting rotation.
Things got off to a rough start for Rome in game one. Mike Soroka (seventh) took the loss in the shutout, but the loss does not tell the full story. Soroka posted seven strong innings but defensive miscues led to four unearned runs. He did strike out six without allowing a walk in his start. Justin Ellison (unranked) logged the only hit of the night for Rome. It began to look like Lakewood may dominate the series.
Rome completely flipped the script on Lakewood for the rest of the series. Rome’s pitching staff allowed two runs over the last three games and outscored Lakewood 14-2 in those games. Max Fried (11th) was once again the star in a series-clinching victory. Fried logged seven innings of one run ball while setting a new career-high in strikeouts with 13! Rome’s rotation of Soroka, Fried, Touki Toussaint (10th), and Kolby Allard (fourth) certainly turned heads this year. For this series, Rome’s rotation posted a line of 28.0 innings pitched, two earned runs, and 34 strikeouts while issuing just four walks.
Fried’s performances in the postseason were enough to earn him the title of the Last Word on Baseball’s Braves MiLB Postseason Player of the Year. Fried made two postseason starts and was overpowering in both. He went 2-0 with 14.2 innings pitched and two earned runs on seven hits. Fried struck out a mind-boggling 24 men to go along with his 1.23 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and .135 batting average against. He certainly made the most out of his time in the playoffs.