Saturday, January 10, 2015

Braves Add a Pair of Minor League Signings

The Atlanta Braves, who again own all but one of their minor league affiliates, have to be very active in the minor league free agent front. Not only for guys who can contribute this spring and maybe surprise some people, but also for guys who will fill out some rosters. On Saturday, we learned of two more additions, both with a major league callup in their past.

First, there is right-hand hitting outfielder Joe Benson. A second rounder out of Joliet Catholic Academy in Illinois, Benson signed with the Twins in 2006 and was in the Minnesota organization until mid-way into the 2013 season. He experienced both the extremes of huge expectations built on impressive numbers and the struggles of being able to repeat those numbers. After a relatively quiet beginning to his career, Benson broke out in his fourth professional season. Though injuries limited him to just 82 games, all but two with the Fort Myers Miracle, he posted a stout .414 OBP on his way to his first season with an OPS over .800. However, Benson would do even better the next year as the outfielder, who had hit just 19 homers since he signed with the Twins, exploded for 27 homers in 123 games during the 2010 season, including 102 in AA. He struck out a lot and his OBP fell 70 points, but that raw power made many take notice and push Benson up their prospect charts. Baseball America ended their Top 100 list after the season with Benson and he ranked fourth in Minnesota's system from the same publication.

Benson's 2011 season saw more of the same. He slashed his way to .285/.388/.495 in 111 games at AA and was rewarded with a 21 game cameo in the bigs where he amassed seven extra base hits, though no homers, and struck out 21 times in 74 PA. Benson, who was rated the Best Athlete in the Twins system after 2011, needed only to produce at AAA.

Three years later, that last caveat remains. While he hasn't necessarily got a lot of chances, he has slashed .182/.260/.289 in 75 games at AAA. The Twins lost their faith in him and the Rangers and Marlins haven't been thoroughly impressed with him either. We know Benson has the athleticism to play anywhere in the outfield, though his arm probably is best suited for left field. He has enough speed and can crank out double digit homers, but will he hit at AAA? So far, so not good.

Also added is southpaw Leyson Septimo. I imagine a scout got to see Septimo pitch live because you'd think he would be rushing off into retirement after just eight appearances last year for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the Atlantic League, where he walked a quarter of the batters he faced (10 of 40). Septimo opened his career with the Diamondbacks as an outfielder in 2005. He struck out a lot and did little else and after three seasons, though he was rated as having the Best Outfield Arm in two of the leagues he played in. Perhaps that influenced the D'Backs to move Septimo to the mound in 2008. He has routinely logged big strikeout numbers to coincide with nearly as high walk totals. He still made it to the majors for 21 games in 2012 with the White Sox and struck out 14 in 14.1 ING with six walks, largely shielded to face left-hand batters. They didn't get many hits off him (just five in 36 PA), but when they did, they went a long way judging by the trio of homers he gave up.

Septimo is the kind of pitcher that excites and frustrates pitching coaches. He can hit triple digits, but can he harness it? Pitching coaches in the Arizona and Chicago White Sox organizations had little luck. Roger McDowell and the Braves? You get next crack.

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