5 Braves Minor Leaguers Who Could See Time in the Majors This Season
Despite having to deal with injuries and a handful of slow starts from key players, the Atlanta Braves exploded out of the gate to post a 12-2 record through 14 games. That included an impressive 10-game winning streak which came to an end on Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals.
The depth of the bench has already been tested this season, specifically when first baseman Freddie Freeman was forced to join All-Star catcher Brian McCann on the disabled list. Capable fill-ins have stepped up to contribute to the hot start.
As the 2013 season continues to develop, the Braves will no doubt be taking a look down at the farm to strengthen their ranks. Whether the circumstances call for another bullpen arm, a spot start or a bat of the bench, Atlanta has some candidates waiting in the wings. There are also a few young guns who could earn September call-ups as well.
Here is a look at five players who could see time with the big league club this season.
Left-hander Sean Gilmartin competed for the fifth starter's spot during the spring, but Julio Teheran's incredible run of success effectively ended any debate about who would win that job.
While Teheran's spring numbers were among the best in baseball, Gilmartin received just two starting assignments. Overall, he surrendered 11 runs in 13 IP during Grapefruit League play, walking just three batters but seeing opponents hit him at a .386 clip.
Gilmartin was selected in the first round of the 2011 draft out of Florida State University and has moved quickly through the ranks. He opened 2013 with Triple-A Gwinnett.
The lefty has been dealing with a higher walk rate in the early going this season. After issuing just 39 free passes in his 157 innings in 2012, Gilmartin has already handed out 10 walks in 16 innings in 2013.
Gilmartin's control was just one of the reasons he was tabbed as a Southern League All-Star while with Mississippi last year. It also earned him a late season promotion to Triple-A, where he went 1-2 with a 4.78 ERA in seven starts.
He has allowed roughly a hit per frame in his career, but the spike in walks is somewhat unusual and can be traced to his April 10 start against the Durham Bulls. Gilmartin walked five batters in that four inning outing.
Atlanta has no immediate need in the starting rotation, and therefore no reason to rush Gilmartin this season. The Braves hope to get Brandon Beachy back from the disabled list around mid-season as well.
Gilmartin can go about his business in Triple-A and continue demonstrating the mound presence he has displayed throughout his amateur and professional career. If the Braves find themselves in need of a spot start, or injury should strike, the lefty could find his way to Atlanta prior to September.
Joey Terdoslavich has been a hot topic in Braves spring training for each of the last two seasons. His success there in 2012 led to an ill-fated experiment at third base which nearly derailed the prospect's path to the big leagues.
Having learned that he will not become the team's third baseman of the future, Atlanta saw Terdoslavich show resiliency upon moving to the outfield.
Last season, Terdoslavich made the jump to Triple-A from High-A Lynchburg, where he had batted .283 with 52 doubles, 20 homers and 82 RBI's in 132 games in 2011. The results were not good at all.
His 2012 season was marred by his time in Gwinnett, where Terdoslavich hit .180 and committed 22 errors in 50 games at third base. Atlanta made the decision to send him to Double-A in order to begin the process of rebuilding his confidence and moving him to a more suitable position.
After dropping down to Mississippi and changing positions, Terdoslavich responded with a .315/.372/.480 line in 78 games. He collected 24 doubles and drove in 51 runs as well.
He seems comfortable in the outfield, but he can also play first base. As we have documented, a little versatility is never a bad thing to have.
Terdoslavich is off to a respectable start in Triple-A this season, batting .262 with two homers, nine RBI and seven runs scored through 14 games. His ability to switch-hit could be another factor working in Terdoslavich's favor as he seeks a 40-man roster spot before season's end.
Alex Wood is off to a terrific start with Double-A Mississippi this season. Though he has just one win through his first three outings, Wood has allowed just two earned run in 16 innings while striking out 17 batters against just two walks.
The Braves took the hard-throwing Wood out of the University of Georgia in the second round of the 2012 draft. His pro-debut was a strong indicator that his stuff was going to translate into outs in the professional ranks.
Wood, 22, dominated for Rome in the South Atlanta League, making 12 starts and compiling a 2.27 ERA in 52.2 IP. He struck out 52 batters while walking just 14.
While the Braves view Wood as a starter, his power arm, coupled with the fact that he throws left handed, could alter their plans.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he was impressed with what he saw from Wood in Spring Training.
“He’s an interesting guy,” Gonzalez said. “He’s a left-hander with a funky delivery, but he’s got stuff. It’s not like he’s going to try to trick you with his delivery. He’s got a 93-, 94-mph fastball that dives and sinks and does all kinds of stuff. And a good changeup.”
If Wood continues to excel in the Southern League, Atlanta could see fit to promote him to nearby Gwinnett for the second half of the season. From there, the lefty would be an extremely convenient option in September if nothing else.
Another hard thrower currently assigned to Mississippi is right-hander J.R. Graham. Like Wood, he was able to get into some games and make a favorable impression during Grapefruit League play.
Graham, 23, was selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft out of Santa Clara. Last season, he split his time between High-A Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi. He turned in a stellar 12-2 record and a 2.80 ERA in 148 innings over 26 starts combined.
Graham is a little bit more high-octane than Wood, possessing a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and touching triple digits in a spring game in late February.
Along with a sinking fastball, Graham is continuing to refine both his slider and changeup to create a pitch mix that will keep hitters off balance. With power arms always being a popular item out of a bullpen, it stands to reason that the Braves could call on Graham in relief at some point as well.
Braves general manager Frank Wren told MLB.com's Mark Bowman that he is not ready to render a decision on Graham's role, but has been impressed by his work in the rotation.
"Our guys felt he had the chance to develop into a starter," Wren said. "He's a really good athlete which allows him to do a lot of things on the mound. Some guys wilt with a regular routine and some guys get stronger. He's one of those guys who has gotten stronger. It's worked out really well for us."
While Graham and Wood are completely different cases, their road to Atlanta could prove similar. Both men are capable of making a jump to Triple-A Gwinnett at some point this season, landing just a few minutes from Turner Field. Perhaps it will even be in time to help down the stretch.
Christian Bethancourt has made a name for himself with a stellar defensive reputation since signing with the Braves in 2008 as a non-drafted free agent. However, the offensive side of his game remains a work in progress.
Bethancourt, 21, was chosen to represent Atlanta in the All-Star Futures Game last season in Kansas City. Despite the fact that injuries and inconsistency held him to .243/.275/.291 slash line in 71 games with Double-A Mississippi, the Braves are hoping the experience and the lessons learned will lead to better result this time around.
Baseball America has tabbed Bethancourt as the best defensive catcher in the Braves system in three of the last four seasons. The publication also saw fit to name him the top defensive catcher in the Southern League last year.
Already on Atlanta's 40-man roster, Bethancourt has shown a great arm as well, throwing out 39 percent of would-be base stealers for Mississippi in 2012. He has nabbed just two of his first 12 in nine games this season, but there is plenty of time for that percentage to rise.
Offense will remain a key question surrounding Bethancourt as he rises through the system. Though he is a career .265 hitter, he has just 14 homers in 1,336 minor league at-bats.
During spring training, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told Mark Bowman of MLB.com that he saw some improvements from Bethancourt in winter ball and Grapefruit League action.
"That swing has gotten better. When you listen to the reports and hear the guys talk, they always talk about his swing and say he's not ready yet. But just watching batting practice and the four at-bats I saw in winter ball, I think there is improvement there."
Bethancourt's return to Mississippi may have been affected by the emergence of Evan Gattis, who eventually made the big club with All-Star catcher Brian McCann on the disabled list.
If Bethancourt finds some offensive consistency and pairs that with his already proven track record behind the plate, he could find himself in Gwinnett by mid-season. He is another candidate to get a look as a September call-up.