I caught up with the rookie-level Danville Braves in Johnson City, Tennessee, for a couple of games against the Johnson City Cardinals. It was my first trip to this small municipal park, and it was a nice and intimate park with the stands close to the field as it should be at this level.
My parents live on the other side of Roan Mountain in North Carolina, and I bring this up to say that if you like hiking there is a ton of it around this area, whether it’s state parks or the Appalachian Trail — I was watching Appalachian League baseball at night, after all. This is one of the best stretches of the trail as it goes over the balds of Roan Mountain past rhododendron and mountain azalea. Hiking is a great activity to do during the day on any baseball trip.
Now, to the players. (Click on the pictures for larger versions… they’re from my iPhone, so they’re not the best quality, but hopefully they get the point across.)
The first guy I point out is third baseman Victor Caratini. He was the Braves second-round pick in this year’s draft as a catcher, but the organization immediately shifted him to third. He looks really good at third, as a former catcher he’s got a strong enough arm, and he made some solid plays charging in on balls as well as ranging to his right and throwing back across the diamond.
At the plate the switch-hitting Caratini has a calm stance from both sides, with a short and simple stride that lets his quick hands do most of the work of getting the bat to the ball. He seems to have good pitch recognition and plate discipline, and his swing is geared for line drives, but he’s got enough power that the home runs should come. Before seeing him I had preliminary listed him among my top-20 mid-season Braves prospects, and my opinion has only improved since.
Centerfielder Kyle Wren also stood out. I didn’t think much of him in my draft report, thinking that he would be a speed-only type of player. And while that is his best tool, he uses it in every way that he can. He’s a terrific bunter and he uses that to not only get on base, but to draw in the corner infielders and then slap hits past them down the line. You can see his polished college approach to the game. He has some power to the gaps, and he might hit one out every once in a while, but he’s not going to hit for home run power. He’s also really quick on the bases and a smart base stealer. The organization has already moved him up to Rome, where he is continuing his hot hitting.
I was excited to see outfielder Connor Lien, but came away with some concerns. I hesitate to make this comp, but Lien seems kind of Francoeur-ish. He really had a hard time putting wood on off-speed pitches, and can’t seem to recognize them in time to prevent swinging at them. He squared up a few fastballs really well, and when he does make solid contact the ball really jumps off his bat. Word should get around pretty quick about not throwing him anything but junk, so he should get a lot of practice hitting the soft stuff, and hopefully he can improve his pitch recognition and solve off-speed pitches, because he’s got all the other tools to be really good.
Craig Kimbrel’s brother Matt Kimbrel is similarly built, and looks in for the sign with the same hunched-over dangle-arm stare that his brother uses. He throws a cutter or sinker which is supposed to be real good, though it was hard to tell if he was using that at the angle I was watching him. He was missing a lot of bats with a 91-94 mph fastball (the slower end of which could have been that sinker), and mixed in a killer curveball, though he had trouble controlling it half the time. He’s got good potential, and certainly has the right genes to make one think he can be a successful reliever.
Infielder Johan Carmago has a very strange batting stance that seems like a hindrance. He starts with his hands and bat in front of him, then moves them back as the pitch is delivered. It didn’t look like it was working too well.
Starting pitcher Stephen Janas looked like a classic low-90s command and control pitcher. He should fit well in the Braves organization, and will go as far as his control takes him. It escaped him for part of an inning, and it was ugly.
Richie Tate looked good, but he certainly looked like a pitcher who needs innings and experience.
A number of relievers looked pretty good, though it can be hard to tell what they have when I’m only seeing them for one inning. There were several guys out of the pen pumping it in there in the mid-90s — Ryan Gunther, Andrew Waszak, and Jared Dettmann.
Infielder Seth Moranda looked a lot better than when I had seen him previously in the GCL two years ago — seems like he’s grown a bit and bulked up some. He looked good in the field too. He’s one to keep an eye on.
Cuban outfielder Alejandro Piloto didn’t impress me that much, though I didn’t hate him either, but I’m not sure there’s much there.
Catcher Bryan De La Rosa similarly didn’t impress me at all.
Outfielder Justin Black is a big strong kid who certainly looks the part, but like Lien he was very raw and needs reps.