Tuesday, September 5, 2017

2017 GCL Braves Review

2017 Minor League Recaps

On Friday, the Gulf Coast League Braves finished their season with a 7-0 win over the GCL Tigers East. Well, technically, they had another game on the schedule, but the game was canceled due to rain, leaving the GCL Braves at 31-28. It was the first time since 2003 that the GCL Braves finished the regular season over .500, though they did finish at .500 twice. There was some hope for a playoff spot, but a late-season three-game slide (including back-to-back losses to eventual division champ Yankees East) killed the chances that the GCL Braves would go to the playoffs in back-to-back years.

The team was a mix of some of the best talents from last year's July 2 class and some of the Braves' top draft choices from June. Midseason promotions to Danville hurt the lineup especially, but the GCL Braves still had enough firepower to enter the final day of the season with the league's sixth-best offense despite its third-youngest team. Their pitching staff was also especially young with the fourth-youngest group of arms in the league. Despite that, they closed the year with a 3.18 ERA, good for fourth in the league.

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2017 GCL Braves Pitcher of the Year - Miguel Jerez
Similar to Odalvi Javier, one of GCL Braves' top pitchers last year, Jerez isn't going to stand out when you grade his game. His stuff isn't top prospect-worthy and his velocity won't amaze bystanders. However, like Javier, the parts of Jerez's game that stand out is his ability to throw quality strikes and challenge the hitter. He opened the season with four games in the DSL, which is where he pitched last year after signing with the organization in May. By the beginning of the GCL season, he received a promotion and over 15 games, including one start, Jerez showed he could handle baseball in the states. In 39 games, he allowed just six earned runs. Don't worry, I will do the math for you - 1.38 ERA. He also struck out 35 compared to just ten walks. Jerez might not be a top prospect right now - or even a Top 50 prospect - but as long as the lefty continues to contribute, he'll continue to deserve attention.

2017 GCL Braves Player of the Year - Jeffrey Ramos
Though he spent most of August in Danville, Ramos finished with nearly a third of the GCL Braves' home runs (6 of 21) and he did that while at the tender age of 18. In a sign that the Braves liked his maturity, Ramos was signed last July 2 and less than three weeks later, he made his professional debut. He struggled considerably, slashing .230/.283/.333 - though only 13 of his 138 PA came against pitchers he was older than. That last nugget didn't change much this year (194 of 209 PA came against pitchers older than him), but that didn't stop Ramos from exploding onto the scene. Ramos was especially good right before his promotion to Danville. In his final 13 games at the GCL level, he slashed a robust .458/.526/.833, which I'm told is good. He also hit four of his six homers during the run. You can see why the Braves took pity on the Gulf Coast League and promoted him up a level. He wasn't as explosive in Appalachian League, but the outfielder still hit .278 with his seventh homer of the year in 78 PA. Ramos has done nothing but impress and will likely join Rome to open 2018.

Other Names to Remember
Yunior Severino, 2B - One of the top bats from last year's J2 class, Severino was also one of the few prospects who stuck around all season for GCL while others moved on. He slashed .286/.345/.444, which is rather impressive for a 17-year old. He also finished second to Baltimore's Will Robertson in doubles with 17 and it's worth mentioning that Robertson is five years older than Severino. The switch-hitter will have to work on strikeouts, though. Nearly 30% of all of his PA ended in a strikeout, which can be killer on a hitter once he reaches the better secondary pitches found in Double-A. That said, the Braves have to be happy with the production they did receive from the young middle infielder.

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Jean Carlos Encarnacion, 3B - Like Ramos, JCE spent most of August in Danville. Before the promotion, he was hitting .350/.374/.563. The only reason I went with Ramos for Player of the Year was that the outfielder showed more power and is slightly younger. Nevertheless, at just 19, JCE's accomplishments cannot be ignored either. JCE added eight doubles, four triples, and a pair of home runs to his stat-line before joining Danville, where he hit .290/.316/.355 with a homer. On defense, JCE has a strong arm but will need to work on accuracy. He's very nimble at third, though, and shows good instincts. At the plate, he has a big frame and should develop more power as he matures.

Livan Soto, SS - All in all, it would be easy to call Soto's first season a disappointment. He hit just .225 with five doubles. But when the season began for him on June 26, he was just four days removed from his 17th birthday. Unsurprisingly, he never faced a pitcher older than him - which makes his 27 walks to 26 strikeouts a bit more impressive. Soto, another seven-digit earner from last year's J2 class, won't mash the ball but is expected to fill out the stats line everywhere else. As he matures (he was listed at 160 pounds), Soto could develop into a second-division starter or supersub with the ability to play a capable shortstop. In addition to shortstop, he also played three games across the bag at second and started one game in center field.

Braulio Vasquez, 3B - One of the few DSL performers last year who flashed a nice hit tool, Vasquez was rolling through the first 31 games of the year with a .310/.402/.380 slash. He was also doing something that is one of my favorite minor league things - more triples than doubles. However, he bottomed-out in his final 16 games with a .192/.311/.231 run. Vasquez is a bit of a fan favorite. He shows a good understanding of the strike zone, a quick first step on the bases, and a good arm at third. In what is rapidly turning into a common line, he was rather young this year at 18. To stay at third, the 6-footer is going to have to flash some pop as nine extra base hits (no homers) in 292 career PA isn't going to cut it.

Abraham Gutierrez, C - For what it's worth, it might be spelled Abrahan. However it's spelled, at just 17, Gutierrez is one of those guys who may have needed a run in the DSL. Nevertheless, there he was, slashing .264/.319/.357 and flashing his plus-plus defensive skills behind the plate in the Gulf Coast League. There's good debate whether he or Danville's Wilson Conthass have the best arm in the system, but regardless of where you fall - hard for me not to side with Conteras - both have the skills to impress at catcher. I can't wait to get to see Gutierrez next year in Danville.

Yoeli Lopez, OF - If Vasquez wasn't your choice for DSL Player of the Year last year, it was probably Lopez, who slashed .240/.382/.357. The Braves hoped for more from Lopez and started him in the DSL to give him a jumpstart, but wherever he was, he was in the midst of a disappointing season. Lopez is a bit undersized, but has a strong body and flashes good pop. He also crowds the plate, inviting a number of pitches to come in on him for a HBP. Still, he doesn't make solid consistent contact and is prone to strikeout binges. If you squint your eyes, you see a Top 50 prospect. I'm waiting for him to open my eyes, though.

Zach Becherer, RHP - A 15th rounder, Becherer was notable for his Wild Thing impression on the mound this year. In 16 games, he walked 17 in 18 innings. He only hit one batter - a small miracle - but uncorked 7 wild pitches. On the bright side, he struck out 24 of the 88 batters he faced. There is some talent here and if he can throw more strikes, the Braves might have something. Like a great movie once said, though - "We better teach this kid some control before he kills somebody."

Troy Bacon, RHP - A fourth rounder out of Santa Fe Community College, Bacon had a solid first summer as a professional with 22 strikeouts in 18.1 innings next to just seven walks. He finished off seven of the 13 games he appeared in and has all the makings of a nice reliever. At 20, though, his production doesn't have the same shine of younger performers who did comparable work as a teenager this year. Bacon might be a guy who will skip Danville to open next year in Rome as a 21-year-old.

Hayden Deal, LHP - Undrafted? No problem. Deal logged 26.2 innings out of the pen for the GCL Braves and showed impressive control with just seven unintentional walks. He also struck out 23. Like with Bacon, let's condition this by mentioning that he's already 22. In his favor was an August promotion to Rome to help out a beleaguered pitching staff. In his one outing with Rome, he went four shutout innings with four strikeouts. He returned to the GCL, but he is on the shortlist for a bump past Danville to Rome for the opening of the 2018 season.

Tanner Allison, LHP - Completing the trifecta with guys who were solid, but too old for the GCL, here is Allison with just two walks in 16.1 ING out of the pen. A 19th-rounder out of THE Western Michigan University, Allison didn't make his debut until mid-July, but once he got out there, he showed he belonged. In addition to the control, he K'd 15 and finished with a 2.20 ERA. He's also 22, but a few months younger than Deal. How the Braves use all of these fringy arms will be interesting to watch next spring.

Yefri Del Rosario, RHP - You want a true prospect arm? Here's Del Rosario, a hard-throwing 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. The Braves continue to work with Del Rosario to clean up his mechanics and he caught too much of the strike zone at times this year, but he's a guy with high leverage relief potential or, with the development of a solid off-speed pitch, middle-of-the-rotation projection. He did strike out 29 in 32.1 innings and showed decent control with just ten walks. He'll be one of the arms to watch out for in Danville.

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Juan Contreras, RHP - Like Del Rosario, Contreras was signed in last year's J2 class out of the Dominican Republic. He received the biggest non-hitter signing bonus by the Braves at $1.2M due to his mid-90's heat and a wipeout slider. Now, can he control it? Hopefully, this year will serve as a "huh, that's odd" stat line in his career because he nearly doubled his strikeouts with walks (21 BB to 12 K) over 19.2 innings. Those numbers include an one inning, one K performance in the DSL before joining the Gulf Coast League. He might get a repeat assignment in the GCL depending on how he looks next spring (plus the roster situation in Danville), but don't sleep on Conteras. He could turn into a Top 5 arm in the system within a couple of years.

Freddy Tarnok, RHP - The 80th overall selection in June's draft wasn't given a lot of opportunities to flash his potential as the Braves heavily monitored his pitch count. He never retired more than six batters in any given start so it's hard to really get a read on him. That said, he only walked three in 14 innings, which is a good mark for a high school arm. He also K'd 10 and ended the season with a 2.57 ERA, all decent signs. Next year, we'll learn more about Tarnok, who likely will follow the Kyle Muller-path rather than a Joey Wentz one.

Guillermo Zuniga, RHP - Probably the third-best arm the Braves signed in July of 2016, Zuniga got into the action a lot quicker than his other J2 pitching classmates, appearing in five games in the DSL last year. He struggled notably this season in the GCL and as the season progressed, his control only got worse. He finished the year on a sour note, allowing five runs in 2.2 ING while walking two and hitting two others. It was his second outing of the year that he failed to strikeout a batter and things just never seemed to get going for Zuniga. The Columbian import might repeat the GCL in 2018, but I imagine he'll get pushed up to Danville where he'll look to bounce back.

Quick Stats
31-28, 6th-most in RS, 6th-fewest runs given up

RS - Severino, 27
H - Severino, 54
2B - Severino, 17
3B - Encarnacion, 4
HR - Ramos, 6
RBI - Ramos, 30
SB - Vasquez, 12
AVG - Encarnacion, .350
OBP - Zack Soria, .389
SLG - Encarnacion, .563
ISO - Ramos, .231
wOBA - Encarnacion, .433
wRC+ - Encarnacion, 162

(min. 30 ING for rate stats)
W - Troy Conyers & Deyvis Julian, 3
G - Ramon Taveras, 17
GS - Albinson Volquez, 9
SV - Allison, Bacon, Deal, 2
IP - Julian, 40.1
BB - Contreras & Julian, 21
BB% - Taveras, 4% (lowest)
K - Jerez, 35
K% - Jerez, 22.6%
ERA - Jerez, 1.38
FIP - Taveras, 2.22


  1. Tarnok reminds me of Anthony Guardado from a couple of drafts ago -- a 3rd rounder who wasn't on draft watchers' radar much until right before the draft. Hopefully it works out a little better for Freddy; it'll be interesting to see what becomes of him.

  2. Very interesting to read such an in-depth report on the Braves in the GCL. You really spotlight the developmental issues of such young players. Will be interesting to watch them grow.