Triple-A Trickledown: Gwinnett
For the first time since April 17, 2011, the Chiefs are at .500 (not counting 0-0, of course). After a 6-2 win over the Gwinnett Braves last night, Syracuse improved its record to 37-37. The Chiefs now have a chance to sneak over .500 for the first time since – well, April 16, 2011. So let’s meet the enemy, the G-Braves, and examine who’s where and why…
Catcher: J.C. Boscan, Shawn McGill, Jose Yepez
If it seems a little bit odd that Gwinnett is carrying three catchers, it is. Boscan – despite a .193 average – is here as the de facto third catcher for Atlanta, since he’s on the team’s 40-man roster. Yepez is a 31-year-old career minor leaguer – save a week last season with the Mariners where he didn’t appear in a game – and he’s hitting .241 with some good defensive skills. McGill’s inclusion, however, is somewhat odd – he’d played just 19 games above Single-A in his career until this season, and he’s just 4 for 27 with the G-Braves this year.
First Base: Christian Marrero, Ernesto Mejia
Mejia’s been the offensive MVP of the G-Braves this season, ranking third in the league in batting average and RBI, fourth in total bases and fifth in extra-base hits. However, he’s a 26-year-old Triple-A rookie who still strikes out at a high volume, doesn’t walk a ton, and only plays first. Mejia’s certainly a big bat to have in Triple-A, but he’s not on the 40-man roster, so who knows where his ceiling lies. Former G-Braves star Freddie Freeman – all of 22 years old – looks to have a solid grip on first base up in Atlanta. Marrero, the older brother of Chiefs first baseman Chris, was traded to the Braves from the White Sox for cash considerations this offseason. At 26 years old, he provides first base and outfield insurance for the team.
Second Base: Lance Zawadzki
Zawadzki’s a former Padre who went 7 for 35 in limited time with San Diego in 2010, though he’s been a career minor leaguer outside of that. But there’s no need to worry about this position for Atlanta, as former All-Star Dan Uggla has started all of the Braves’ 70 games at second this year. 2010 fifth-round pick Philip Gosselin could make his way up here eventually, but he’s hitting .260 with no home runs in Double-A.
Shortstop: Tyler Pastornicky, Josh Wilson
The 22-year-old Pastornicky was Atlanta’s opening-day shortstop, but the Braves sent him back to Triple-A after a .248 average in 45 games. It likely won’t be the last time Pastornicky steps on a major league field – and honestly, the move shows long-term faith in the shortstop. Pastornicky could have stayed in the major leagues in place of the .175-hitting Jack Wilson, but Atlanta would prefer regular at-bats for Pastornicky. Meanwhile, Josh Wilson (no relation) is a long-time veteran who once played for nine teams in a four-year span. He played in 60 games with Arizona and Milwaukee last year, though he’s just a .227 career big league hitter with nine home runs. Another top prospect, Andrelton Simmons, has become Atlanta’s regular starter. And he’s performed quite well, with a .323/.368/.500 slash line in 18 games.
Third Base: Ruben Gotay
This was Joey Terdoslavich’s position for most of the season, but the 23-year-old hit just .180 in 53 games before being reassigned to Double-A. Terdoslavich broke a Carolina League record last season with 52 doubles and was so impressive that he originally skipped Double-A, but it turns out the jump was a bit too high to handle. So it’s now manned by the veteran Gotay, who’s only 7 for 42 in 13 games. Former Louisville Bats infielder Juan Francisco currently owns the position of Chipper Jones’ backup in the major leagues, where he’s posted just a .243 on-base percentage, but it doesn’t appear his job’s in any sort of jeopardy.
Outfield: Jose Constanza, Luis Durango, Stefan Gartrell, Felix Pie
Unless there’s an injury, it doesn’t seem like Atlanta’s going to need anyone from here. With Jason Heyward, Michael Bourn, Martin Prado and lefty-masher Matt Diaz, the Braves are just about set up in the major leagues. Constanza would be the easy – and logical – choice to go up first. He’s the only 40-man member of this bunch, and he hit north of .300 with both the G-Braves and A-Braves (does that work?) last season. Gartrell was unleashing his case after being named the IL Player of the Month in May, but a June slump’s knocked him down to .242/.343/.422 for the season. Durango, a .280 hitter, leads the IL with 27 stolen bases, while Pie’s a former big leaguer hitting .281 in 38 games. It’s a group that’s certainly the offensive strength of Gwinnett this season.
Starting Pitchers: Erik Cordier, Yohan Flande, Eric Junge, Todd Redmond, Julio Teheran
Redmond, Cordier and Teheran are all 40-man members here, but it’s Flande who was the closest to making the Braves on Opening Day this season. The 26-year-old left-hander was still in camp when Atlanta got down to 25 players and looked to have a bullpen spot sewed up, but Atlanta then signed right-hander Chad Durbin, and Flande returned to Gwinnett. He’s still not on the 40-man-roster, so his path still isn’t quite clear.
Meanwhile, uber-prospect Teheran, who’s tonight’s starter, has made one spot start in the majors this season after being called up for a few starts last year. At 21 years old, he’s likely got a long career ahead of him, so it seems Atlanta will be as cautious with Teheran as possible. Redmond was just called up to the majors for the first time earlier in the week, though he didn’t pitch out of the bullpen. The Braves’ rotation right now is 80% complete, with the fifth spot somewhat in flux – Brandon Beachy (and his 2.00 ERA) just injured his elbow and is out for the season, so Jair Jurrjens was recalled to take his spot. Jurrjens, who struggled early this season, allowed just three hits in 7.2 innings against Boston in his return, so Atlanta will be keeping a sharp eye on that spot.
Relief Pitchers: Billy Bullock, Buddy Carlyle, D.J. Carrasco, Jaye Champan, Cory Gearrin, Dusty Hughes, Adam Russell
Chapman (3.15 ERA in 28 games) and Gearrin (1.41 in 24 games) are the two 40-man members here, part of an overall strong Gwinnett bullpen. But the Braves are equally strong in the majors, with a strong and young core of relievers. Veteran Buddy Carlyle’s also had a strong season for the G-Braves, going 3-1 with a 2.11 ERA in 16 games. But overall, it doesn’t sound like there will be too much movement bullpen-wise with the big leaguers or the Triple-A squad this year.
Hope to see you out at the park tonight for the Chiefs and G-Braves at 7:00 – or if not, we hope you tune in at 6:45 to The Score 1260.