Sunday, November 23, 2014

Reviewing Another Group of Minor League Signings

The Atlanta Braves remain active on the minor league free agent front. Because they own all but their high-A team, the Braves are routinely busy trying to add depth to their system. I've twice already went over minor league signings so far this offseason on the 12th and 18th. Chances are I'll be doing this again right before or right after Thanksgiving. It's important to note that the likelihood of any of these players inking minor league contracts ever playing for the Braves is minimal, but I find the additions often interesting if only because it means new players to fill out the minor league boxscores during the season.

As far as I can tell, none of these signings will get an invite to spring training.

RHP Jake Brigham - 26 years old - Formerly of the Texas, Chicago (NL), and Pittsburgh organizations.

Despite being heavily scouted in the Orlando area and putting up great numbers with Central Florida Christian Academy, Brigham wasn't selected until the sixth round in 2006. This was likely because he had no real wow factor. He possessed velocity around 90 mph and secondary offerings that weren't graded out high. Brigham did make some quick progression after signing, but saw his entire 2009 season wiped out by Tommy John surgery. He would go on to struggle from there. Some of that was due to the TJS, some of it comes down to the notoriously hitter leagues like the California League, and some of it simply because he wasn't good enough. The Rangers still thought enough of him to protect him ahead of the 2012 Rule 5 draft and the Cubs thought enough of him to acquire him at the deadline as part of the Geovany Soto trade. A couple of months later, the Cubs traded him back to the Rangers, where he would spend the 2013 season. Last year, he signed with the Pirates organization and he did post some of his best professional numbers, but even they are underwhelming.

Overall, Brigham is a organizational filler for Gwinnett. Tough to get a real read on him considering available scouting reports are few and far between and most of them are 2-3 years old. What appears clear is that he won't get an exorbitant amount of strikeouts, but won't walk too many either. He's always been vulnerable to home runs and that might be helped by the Gwinnett park. The one thing he has done pretty well since coming back from Tommy John is stay on the mound as he's thrown at least 89 innings in each season and has surpassed 125 innings three times in the six years since TJS.

RHP Jairo Heredia - 25 years old - Formerly of the New York (AL) organization.

A recent teammate of new members to the organization, pitcher Francisco Rondon and outfielder Zoilo Almonte, Heredia has been around for quite some time despite being only 25. He started his career in 2007 in the Gulf Coast League as a 17 year-old and had some real prospect love after 2009 when he tossed a double-header shortened seven-inning shutout at high-A ball despite being just 19. Former manager Jody Reed even did Heredia a disservice by calling him "Pedro Jr." in reference to Pedro Martinez. Set the bar high much? Since 2009, he has shuffled between starter and reliever and struggled to stay healthy, including missing all of 2012. Over the last two years, Heredia has made six appearances in AAA, including one start. There is some intrigue here because he has a strikeout arm and the control (2.8 BB/9) isn't prohibitive, but he's been too hittable and too prone to homers.

In 2013, a blog focusing on the Penn League mentioned that his velocity was inconsistent, sometimes coming in around 92 and other innings, hitting closer to 86. I've read that he has a max-effort delivery that might be difficult to repeat each pitch, which could explain that. He also throws a change-up that is difficult on young hitters, but easier to time for more seasoned players. In addition, there is a curveball that isn't very consistent. Overall, Heredia's strikeout numbers do give the impression of some potential, but will he be able to take that potential and turn it into more than a mediocre minor league resume? So far, it doesn't look good.

1B/3B Travis Mattair - 25 years old - Formerly of the Philadelphia and Cincinnati organizations.

Most of the signings so far have been pitchers with the occasional hitter sprinkled in and Mattair is today's only hitter. A surprise second-round pick by the Phillies in the 2007 draft, Mattair reminds me of Joe Leonard, another tall corner infielder who should probably have more power just based on their physical stature. I'm sure the Phillies thought they would get more out of Mattair. Interestingly, Mattair ended up missing the 2010 season as he went to college to play basketball with Boise State. "Moose" quickly came to the conclusion that baseball was his better chance to get to the top professional league, especially after being told he would likely ride the bench for a second-tier basketball program.

He joined the Reds organization as part of the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft and spent the last three years trying to impress. He did hit well in 2012 at high A Baskersfield, posting an .809 OPS, but as I said with Brigham, the California League is known for being kind to hitters. Over the last two years, Mattair has slashed .240/.309/.375 with Pensacola in the Southern League. Clearly, the Braves got a good look at him playing against the Mississippi Braves and saw enough talent to sign Mattair for depth purposes. He played mostly first base last year, but has spent most of his career across the diamond. It's an interesting story because of the basketball ties, but Mattair's offensive skillset won't amaze anyone.

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