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Atlanta Braves 2018 Minor League Recap: Relievers

It’s time for our annual position by position look at how the prospects in the system at a given position fared in 2018. We began with catcher and continue through each infield position, the outfield as a whole, lefty and right handed starters, and relievers as a whole in the coming weeks. This time is a look at the relievers in the organization.

To be eligible for a mention, a player had to be a prospect at the start of the season, in terms of rookie eligibility. So for example you will see Ronald Acuña Jr. listed with the outfielders because he is a rookie, but Ozzie Albies won’t be listed as he used up his rookie eligibility last year.

Prospects are listed in alphabetical order based on the highest level they achieved in 2018- so a guy who appeared at four levels this year like Bryse Wilson, would be found under the MLB section.

MLB

Jesse Biddle-The former top pick of the Phillies opened the season in the minors, but after just four games with Gwinnett made it to Atlanta for the rest of the season. Biddle had a strong rookie season overall, and at times was among the best relievers in the bullpen. He ended up with a 3.11 ERA and 1.27 WHIP plus 67 strikeouts in his 63.2 innings. That gave Biddle an ERA+ of 130 on the season. It’s safe to say that after a long trip to the show, in part due to injury, Biddle has found a home.

Shane Carle-The former Rockie prospect was claimed off waivers by the Pirates in early January, then dealt to the Braves for cash or a player to be named later in mid January. He then became the next waiver wire reliever success story of Alex Anthopoulos. Ignoring the numbers for a minute, in the early part of the year he was the best reliever on the team for a while- at a time when the pen was especially shaky. Overall he pitched in 63 innings with a 2.86 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with an ERA+ of 142.

Adam McCreery-McCreery made just one appearance in Atlanta, giving up two runs on one inning. Outside of that inning and 7.2 more in Gwinnett, he actually spent the rest of the year in Mississippi. In the minors he combined to pitch 54.2 innings with a 3.62 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, and 71 strikeouts.

A.J. Minter-Arguably the top pure relief prospect in baseball heading into the season, Minter didn’t disappoint as a rookie. He ended up with a 3.23 ERA and 1.29 WHIP to go with 69 strikeouts in 61.1 innings. That was good for a 126 ERA+ despite the fact he was forced into a closer role when Arodys Vizcaino went down- a role in which he picked up 15 saves. Minter had some struggles at times, as any rookie would, but did well overall and should be a legitimate high end reliever going forward.

Evan Phillips-Phillips saw just four games as an Atlanta Brave as it felt that when he was with the team, he didn’t have Brian Snitker’s trust. That’s not surprising for a rookie, and his 8.53 ERA in those four games didn’t help his cause. Of course he was dealt to the Orioles as part of the Kevin Gausman deal and saw five games there, but had a 18.56 ERA. As bad as his time in the show was, he was excellent in Triple A, posting a 1.99 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in Gwinnett, and 3.38 ERA and 0.84 WHIP with Norfolk after the deal, to go with a combined 12.6 K/9. Phillips has some things to work on, but he also has a real chance to be a solid longterm reliever for the Orioles.

Chad Sobotka-What a breakout season for Chad Sobotka. The 4th round pick from 2014 was coming off a 2017 season with an ERA of 6.09 and 1.61 WHIP between Florida and Mississippi. This was a big year for his future anyone would have said coming into this year, but after dominating both Florida and Mississippi and pitching well in a short stint in Gwinnett, Sobotka got his first crack at the big leagues. No surprise that it was earned by that combined 2.03 ERA and 1.02 WHIP with 77 strikeouts in 57.2 innings across the minors. Once he got to the bigs Sobotka may have been even better- putting up a 1.88 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 21 strikeouts in 14.1 innings. That was good for a 220 ERA+, and saw him thrust into some big situations after earning the trust of the coaches. Sobotka has pushed himself into the conversation for the future bullpen with this season’s success.

Lucas Sims-Sims pitched 10.1 innings in Atlanta before being dealt to the Reds in the Adam Duvall deal, and pitched 5.1 more innings with the Reds, posting a big league ERA of 7.47 on the year. He struggled as a big league reliever, but if there was a silver lining he was strong in 20 games(19 starts) in the minors, posting an ERA of 3.11 and a 1.23 WHIP between Gwinnett and the Reds Triple A team in Louisville. Sims isn’t likely to succeed as a big league starter, especially in Cincinnati’s park, but could have a future out of the pen.

Dan Winkler-Winkler is another guy who for a time was the best pitcher out of the pen- which is a great story if you’ve followed his long and ugly injury history. The stuff that this guy has made it back from is extremely impressive, and to be back at a level where he can post a 3.43 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with 69 strikeouts in 60.1 innings. That was good for an ERA+ of 118. This is the first time Winkler pitched 60 innings or anything even remotely close since all the way back in 2014, so the fact his second half numbers fell off a bit from his excellent first half isn’t completely unexpected.

AAA

Corbin Clouse-The Braves best relief prospect outside of A.J. Minter coming into the season didn’t disappoint. He was dominant in Mississippi, posting a 1.84 ERA and 1.20 WHIP with 65 strikeouts in 49 innings. His long awaited promotion to Gwinnett took a little more time than expected, but he pitched 16 innings over seven games(including three starts), posting a 2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 18 strikeouts. On the year that’s 65 innings with a 1.94 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 11.5 K/9. Look for him in the big leagues at some point in 2019.

Jason Hursh-At first glance the former first round pick didn’t have a bad season, posting a combined 3.71 ERA between Mississippi and Gwinnett- but both stops saw him post a WHIP of at least 1.50 thanks to a combined five walks per nine innings rate. He’s running out of time to make it to the big leagues for more than a cup of coffee in the Braves organization, as he will be in his age 27 season in 2019.

Jon Kennedy-Kennedy finally reached the upper minors this year after spending the bulk of his season in Florida. His time in Florida was very strong, as the 2.43 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over 55.2 innings indicate. However he did struggle in his four games with Gwinnett, posting a 7.59 ERA in a very small sample size.

Phil Pfeifer-It was nearly a mirror year for the lefty to his 2017, splitting the year between Gwinnett and Mississippi and pitching just under 60 combined innings. Even the overall stats had some similarities with his 1.50 WHIP last year and 1.60 WHIP this year, inflated by more than six walks per nine innings in each season. Pfeifer has the stuff to make it to Atlanta, but will really need to work on his command to reach the big leagues.

Kelvin Vasquez-Vasquez made just one appearance in Gwinnett along with just one in Florida, spending almost the entire year with Mississippi. He didn’t have the best year statistically, with a 5.16 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, but Vasquez has the stuff to take a big step forward if he’s able to improve upon his command(5.3 BB/9).

Jacob Webb-Webb finally got close to the big leagues, starting in Mississippi and spending more than half of his season with Gwinnett spending what seemed like months on the verge of getting called up. Though that call never came, Webb’s success has definitely earned him a shot in 2019. His time in Mississippi saw him post a 3.18 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 22.2 innings, striking out 35 and saving seven games. He then pitched 31.2 innings for Gwinnett and improved his numbers- putting up a 3.13 ERA and 0.98 WHIP while striking out 34 and saving 11 games. On the year that is a 3.15 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with over a strikeout per inning while pitching mostly out of a closer role.

AA

Thomas Burrows-After bizarrely spending all of 2017 with Rome despite being a 4th round pick with high level of SEC success and a solid pro debut in 2016, the year opened with it appearing Burrows had some enemies from within as he began back with Rome. Luckily he lasted all of one appearance with Rome before moving to Florida. He pitched 46.2 innings there with a 3.28 ERA and 1.46 WHIP as he struck out 55 batters before another promotion. That promotion took him to Mississippi, where he pitched 19 innings with a 1.42 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 27 strikeouts. Combined in all three stops that’s a 2.66 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 86 strikeouts in 66.2 innings.

Josh Graham-The Braves 4th rounder from 2015 had an uneven season this year, starring poorly in Mississippi, succeeding after a demotion to Florida, and finding some success after a promotion back to Mississippi. His Mississippi start of the season was as bad as you could imagine, putting up a 10.13 ERA and 2.34 WHIP over 21.2 innings with just 16 strikeouts. In Florida his ERA was 3.86 and he had a 1.24 WHIP with 33 strikeouts over 23.1 innings as he adjusted to what didn’t work in Double A. He returned to Mississippi to pitch 18.1 innings, posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, striking out 25 batters. Graham is a perfect example of why you can’t just look at a reliever’s stat line to judge him as his 5.71 ERA on the year fails to account for both how good and how bad he was at different points of the year.

High A

Troy Bacon-Bacon was the 4th round pick last year and had a weird year to say the least. He started in Florida and was very good, posting a 2.68 ERA and 1.27 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 37 innings. That’s when he received a surprising demotion to Rome, where he went on to pitch 17.1 innings while posting a 2.08 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 19 strikeouts.

Chase Johnson-Mullins-One of the most interesting relievers in the system is the 6’8”, 270 pound lefty Chase Johnson-Mullins. CJM was a 13th round pick in 2015, a fairly high pick, along with having big stuff. Unfortunately he has struggled to stay healthy and was limited to 19.2 innings this year, putting up an ERA of 3.20 and WHIP of 1.83, numbers that are tough to judge because he didn’t see a ton of action and dealt with injury. He’s a guy that could see the lightbulb go on in 2019 and make a Chad Sobotka-like jump.

Low A

John Curtis-After two dominant outings in Danville, Curtis was quickly promoted to Rome. Curtis pitched 37.2 innings, which includes three starts, and posted an ERA of 4.06 with a 1.12 WHIP as he struck out 33 to just four walks. Curtis was an eighth round pick last year with some stuff, and has a chance to become a middle reliever.

Zach Daniels-The Braves 19th round pick debuted in Danville and was decent in 17 innings, but got a promotion to Rome and looked good there. Daniels went a combined 25.1 innings with a 2.13 ERA and 1.34 WHIP, striking out 20 hitters. He’s an interesting reliever with a middle relief possibility.

Hayden Deal-An undrafted free agent last year, Deal has made the most of his opportunity. He reached Rome this year and appeared in 27 games- including 5 starts, going 9-1 with a 2.17 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 82 strikeouts in 78.2 innings. Deal is going to need to keep proving himself as he moves up the system, but there is a chance he is the Braves next undrafted free agent success story.

Cutter Dyals-Last year’s 17th round pick spent the year in Rome and pitched 47.2 innings as he posted a 3.02 ERA and 1.34 WHIP to go with 43 strikeouts.

Brooks Wilson-The Braves seventh round pick was a dominant closer and middle of the order bat for Stetson this year as a senior. What he wasn’t is a true senior sign. Wilson is actually a very legitimate prospect with an upside of a setup man. After 10 games with Danville, Wilson finished with seven games in Rome, dominating at both stops. Combined he pitched 27.2 innings and posted an ERA of 1.30 with a WHIP of 1.05, also striking out 25 hitters. Wilson could move up fast next year as a talented and advanced reliever.

Short Season

Jake Higginbotham-The Braves 11th round pick out of Clemson may end up getting a chance to start, but with his smaller stature, long injury history, and lack of a resume due to injury he feels destined for the pen. Higginbotham was excellent after signing, posting a 2.65 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with 36 strikeouts over 34 innings of work. Higgy was actually even better than the numbers suggest, but giving up seven runs in two and a third innings towards the end of the year inflated his numbers. Higgy represents a promising lefty with some stuff and some feel for pitching, and will be a guy to watch in 2019.

Rookie

Cameron Kurz-The Braves 18th round pick saw just three games of action before getting injured and seeing his season end. Kurz gave up two hits and a walk in 4.1 innings, and if healthy he has a considerable ceiling as a reliever.

Yoeli Lopez-Last year Lopez was a toolsy outfielder with a huge arm but not enough hit tool. This year he became a reliever. The results were predictably not great, but that’s expected for a guy pitching for the first time. He’s got plenty of time to grow into pitching and developing a little more feel for his command. The good news is despite the 8.79 ERA, Lopez struck out 18 over his 14.1 innings.

Gabriel Rodriguez-The comments on Lopez can almost be mirrored here as Rodriguez was the Twins 11th round pick as a two way prep player in 2017, but chose not to sign. The Braves drafted him late this year and decided to use him as a power armed reliever rather than a toolsy outfielder, and saw their late round flier post a 1.64 ERA but a 2.27 WHIP. That’s right, his WHIP is higher than his ERA, but that’s what happens when you walk 22 in 11 innings- but he did also strike out 22 and gave up just three hits.

Victor Vodnik-Vodnik was a bit of a steal on day three of the draft, a guy who was a day two talent but slipped down the draft board a bit. He signed at the deadline and after a long layoff, he debuted late in the season and struggled in four games posting a 9.64 ERA. Vodnik is likely a reliever longterm and he’s got real potential, but he may take some time to develop.

DSL

There aren’t any true relief prospects of note in the DSL this year and DSL stats are very misleading in general, so there won’t be any DSL relievers listed.

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