And now the conclusion of my series on the 2014 Atlanta Braves Bullpen Building Blocks. In previous posts I looked at Core Hold-Overs, Starters who could Relieve, Other Relievers on the 40-Man, and Non-Roster Invitees. Today I take a look at minor league relievers not invited to Major League spring training who could help the team in the next two years.
The Braves have made drafting college relievers a priority in recent drafts. This stretches back to the days of Joey Devine and the 2005 draft. Ever since then they’ve used several picks among their first 25 selections to grab college relievers. They’ve used their extensive scouting network to mine the Junior College ranks to find live arms who could fit in the pen; places like Wallace State Community College, where they found a kid with a live arm named Craig Kimbrel.
The Braves also continue to add live arms by signing non-drafted free agents, and several of the folks on this list fall into that category. All relievers are presented alphabetically.
Tyler Brosius: Drafted last year in the 21st round, he made three stops and ended the season with low-A Rome. Many people declared him the best late-round pick by Atlanta. He was the backup quaterback at NC State from 2011-2012 before transferring to Walters State Community College to play baseball again, something he hadn’t done since high school. The Braves believe he can add more velocity to his low-90s fastball with an imposing 6-foot-4 frame. He certainly didn’t have any problems with the low minors last year, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Braves jump him to double-A to start the season. We’ll have to gauge his progress as the season is underway, but he could be a good one, and he could be ready quickly.
John Cornely: A college closer who has continued closing in the minors since being drafted in the 15th round in 2011. He’s a bulldog on the mound; very intense with a ninth inning mentality at all times. His fastball has added velocity this year, and he pairs it well with a slider and changeup. He’s hard to hit and strikes a lot of people out, but like a lot of young max effort relievers he issues too many free passes. This approach hurt him in the Arizona Fall League, and he’ll face similar competition next year in double-A. If he can find more consistent control then he could help in the pen as early as this year, but more than likely he’ll contend for a job in 2015. There’s a chance he could develop into a closer, but more than likely he’ll turn into a solid setup man.
Jeremy Fitzgerald: A starter in college, the Braves drafted him in the 21st round in 2012 and put him in the bullpen with good results. His mid-90s fastball is complemented by a plus curve. He missed significant time last season with injury, but came back strong at the end of the year. He should start in high-A Lynchburg this season, and could be just a year or two away from knocking on the door in Atlanta.
Ryne Harper: A very under the radar reliever. Harper has posted a sub 2.00 ERA each of the last two years at high-A and double-A, where he took over the closing duties in the second half. He has a good low-to-mid-90s fastball and pairs it well with a sharp slider. He is dominant against right-handers and improved against left-handers last year. Harper may still have some work to do against lefties, but I’m surprised he didn’t get an invite to the AFL or to Major League spring training. He should be at Gwinnett this season, and could be a sleeper to see some action in Atlanta. Already he’s surpassed his 37th-round draft stock. The Braves drafted his brother, a college shortstop, last year in the 25th round.
James Hoyt: The Braves signed Hoyt as an undrafted free agent out of the independent leagues prior to last season. He started out at high-A Lynchburg with mixed results — good strikeout numbers, but too many runs allowed. The Braves know their players though, and they promoted Hoyt to Mississippi in mid-June, and he went on to dominate the Southern League for the rest of the season. He has an imposing mound presence at 6-foot-6 with a solid mid-90s fastball and a legit second strikeout pitch in a biting slider. Hoyt should start the season at Gwinnett, but overcrowding in the triple-A pen could bump him back to Mississippi. Regardless of where he starts he could help Atlanta this season.
Nate Hyatt: The closer for Appalachian State two years ago, he had a lot of control problems, though he seemed to solve them once drafted, but they resurfaced in 2013. He was dominant to open the season and close the season, but couldn’t get anyone out in the middle months, and lost his closing job at high-A Lynchburg. He sports a good mid-90s fastball and slider combo. His consistency will be tested as he moves up to double-A this year, but likely won’t be ready to contribute as a middle reliever in Atlanta for a year or two.
Navery Moore: A highly rated prospect just a year ago, Moore was the closer at Vanderbilt (and Mark Lamm was his setup man). But while Lamm is on the cusp of the Majors, Moore signed late and after a decent debut campaign in 2012, struggled last year before being shut down for most of the second half of the season. The Braves put Moore in the rotation for most of 2012 and the first half of 2013, this was reportedly to help him work on his secondary stuff, but he seems to have remained in that role for longer than I would have expected. He’s got a live arm, but at this point we’re waiting for him to have a breakout season. Still, the Braves will probably keep pushing him up the minor league ladder, and he should start at double-A with a good spring training. His timetable is a complete unknown at this point, but once he does figure it out, he could be very useful in the bullpen.
Ronan Pacheco: His throwing motion is similar to that of Ubaldo Jimenez, and while Pacheco’s high-90s fastball is also comparable he still needs to add more polish. As a left-hander Pacheco dominated lefty batters to the tune of a .086 BAA last year. He keeps the ball in the park, giving up very few home runs — a plus for any reliever. But like so many young relievers he walks too many people. Once he figures that out he should move very fast. He’ll probably start at double-A this year, looking to move up to triple-A at some point.
David Peterson: Another college closer, Peterson had Tommy John surgery last year and will likely be out until the middle of this year. When healthy his big 6-foot-5 frame generates a mid-90s fastball with good control. Prospect evaluators really liked this guy before he got injured, and felt that he was only a year or two away from making an impact in the Majors. It’s hard to know how he’ll come back, but he could see some time at double-A this year, with an eye towards helping out in Atlanta in 2015.
Eric Pfisterer: A highly thought of pitcher out of high school, he disappeared during college. The Braves signed him in 2012 as a non-drafted free agent, and he joined the Rome bullpen last season. All of his numbers in his debut were good: low walk total, hard to hit, lots of strikeouts. He should start at Lynchburg this season, and could see double-A at some point this year. A real sleeper, but another terrific find by the Braves scouts.
Wilson Rivera: A converted outfielder, Rivera has found the success on the mound that he could never find with the bat. He should start at double-A this season and represents yet another reliever with enormous upside once he sorts out his control problems and limits walks and hit batsmen. He’s equally overpowering against both lefties and righties, and can be very hard to hit when he’s on.
Andy Russell: The next coming of Peter Moylan. This Australian is a side-armer like Moylo. Though much like another side-armer, Cory Gearrin, Russell is terrific against right-handers, but gets hit pretty hard by lefties. He’ll be back at Gwinnett this season, and should be available to help in Atlanta if needed, though he’ll have a lot of side-arm competition in Gearrin and Luis Vazquez.
Richie Tate: A big-bodied kid the Braves drafted out of high school in 2010. He had Tommy John surgery in 2011, and didn’t pitch much until last year. He’s another guy with a big 6-foot-6 frame and good fastball velocity. He’s still young and should start the season with one of the A-ball teams. He needs innings under his belt, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Braves put him in the rotation to get more work. Still a few years away from Atlanta, but someone to keep an eye on.