As the season continues, Down on the Farm will look at the happenings at each of the Braves six minor league affiliates.
Working up from the lowest levels of professional baseball, we will start with the Rookie level GCL Braves.
On the season, the GCL Braves are currently standing in last place (sixth) in the Gulf Coast League North division, although they are still only 5.5 games back of the division leader. Their record on the season is 17-22.
The biggest thing to happen on the Gulf Coast for the Braves this year was on July 25 when the GCL Braves, led by starting pitcher Caleb Brewer, threw a no-hitter against the GCL Yankees.
In that game, which the Braves won 4-0, Edigson Mora threw four shutout innings in relief to get the win. Andrew Wilson also pitched a no-hit inning to finish the game off.
In a pitching dominated league (14 of 16 teams have a team ERA under 4.00) the Braves have the fourth best team batting average (.254), the most home runs (25) and are second in runs scored (184).
The Braves have the top two home run hitters thus far in the GCL, as outfielder Layton Hiller and first baseman Alberto Odreman are tied for the lead league with six.
Of the two, Hiller is the higher rated prospect, although he was drafted in the 15th round in 2008 and will have a lot to prove if he is going to play a part in the Atlanta Braves future.
Christian Bethancourt leads the GCL Braves in batting average, hitting .310 (good for 11th in the league).
Just behind Bethancourt in batting average is Kyle Rose, a centerfielder who is hitting .309 and is second in the league with 19 stolen bases. Picked in the eighth round in this year’s draft, Rose is off to a good start in his professional career.
Another hitter to watch on the GCL Braves could be third baseman Jakob Dalfonso. Although he was only drafted in the 18th round, he has been one of the better hitters in the GCL this year, hitting .287 with 16 RBI.
The highest rated prospect currently on the GCL Braves roster is probably Zeke Spruill, who has spent most of his season with the Danville Braves, but made his most recent start on the Gulf Coast.
Spruill, who was drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft, dominated the GCL last year (7-0, 2.93 ERA) and has pitched well between Danville and the GCL Braves this year (9-5, 3.14 ERA). With a great 4.18 walk to strikeout ratio, Spruill is a good young arm in a deep Braves system.
Another young pitcher to keep an eye on, Aaron Northcraft, the Braves 10th round pick in this year’s draft has been solid so far in the GCL. With a 1-1 record and 4.10 ERA, Northcraft is off to a decent start, although his control thus far has been spotty (15 walks in 26.1 innings).
Perhaps the most interesting story on the GCL Braves is that of pitcher Lance Niekro (yes, that name should sound familiar).
The nephew of former Braves great Phil Niekro (and son of Joe Niekro), Lance spent parts of four seasons in the major leagues as a first baseman with the San Francisco Giants before deciding to work on his family’s famous knuckleball.
While he has struggled thus far in 2009, posting a 1-3 record and 5.09 ERA in eight games (three starts), he still has plenty of time to develop as most knuckleball pitchers win more games in their 30s and 40s than in their 20s. Lance might be a player to watch should he gain better control of the knuckler, as his dad and uncle were both great pitchers into their 40s.