So the AFL season is done for the Braves prospects...theres still the championship game left to be played, but since the Peoria Saguaros (the team all the Braves prospects were assigned to) is no longer active, its safe to do this now. Lets take a look.
First off, 7 Braves prospects went to the AFL. 3 were hitters (Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and Brandon Hicks), and 4 were pitchers (Jeff Lyman, Lee Hyde, Craig Kimbrel, and Mike Minor). Heyward was the best prospect in the entire league, and unfortunately for Braves fans, he left after only 14 at bats due to some soreness. Its not much of a surprise that he left after the soreness developed, because the Braves have been handling him very gently this year. At the first sign of anything at all being wrong with Heyward, he was rested. Thats probably the best move, because this is a very special player, and the Braves clearly want nothing serious to happen to him injury-wise.
Following a down year split between Myrtle Beach and Mississippi, Freddie Freeman came to the AFL with something to prove. Freddie...didn't prove a whole lot in this hitter's haven of a league. He posted an OPS of .753, with an ISO of .133. Freeman only belted 1 homer in the 45 at bats he got in the league, and only walked 4 times. Also worth noting is that Freeman only got 6 at bats after Halloween, and nothing since Monday the 9th. Freddie probably had some sort of nagging injury, as before he was benched after Halloween, he had a 6 game hitting streak going and looked to be regaining his stroke.
Brandon Hicks had a dreadful year at Mississippi with a .692 OPS and 137 strikeouts, but he got back in the groove in Arizona, with a .848 OPS and 14 walks to go with only 17 strikeouts. Hicks got 87 at bats in the league, and went 13 for his last 38 with 5 extra base hits. He also stole 7 bases this fall, which is an element of his game that stayed strong in 2009. Hopefully Brandon is able to build on his strong fall and take his 2010 season by storm and work his way back into prospect discussions.
Onto the pitchers. We'll first talk about Lee Hyde, who was just added to the Braves 40-man roster this morning. Hyde is being talked about as a dark horse candidate to make the Braves bullpen this spring, with good reason. Over 3 levels this year, Hyde struck out 45 and walked 15 in 35 2/3 innings, and had a sparkling 2.27 ERA. Also, he only allowed one home run. One more thing: .172 BAA. Pretty dang good. His fall was adequate, as he kept striking men out (13 in 12 innings), but his walk rate also ballooned as he walked 7. The unhittability was still there though, as he allowed a .167 BAA. Most of Hyde's nonsavory stats came in one game on the 23rd. If you exclude that outing, he only allowed 1 run in 11 1/3 innings and the walk total drops to 5. This is a guy you should keep your eye on going into 2010.
Lets talk about top prospect/future closer Craig Kimbrel. The big knock on Kimbrel in 2009 was his control, which was all over the place. He didn't disprove his critics, as Craig walked a whopping 16 men in 10 1/3 innings. That erm, really not good. On the other hand, he did strike out 18. Most of his damage came in 3 straight outings, where Kimbrel allowed 9 runs and walked 7 in only 1 2/3 innings. In his outing on the 11th in fact, he walked 4 without allowing a hit, and they all scored. Thats not really a good way to play ball. Kimbrel really, really needs to get his command under control, and if he's able to do that, he could definitely be a player in the back end of the bullpen with his ability to miss bats.
Lets touch on Jeff Lyman for a little. He did not have a good fall in Peoria, allowing 11 runs and 18 hits in only 14 innings. But like most of the guys...most of the damage came in a couple of appearances. On outings a month apart, October 17th and November 18th, Lyman allowed 8 runs, 8 hits, and 2 homers in only 2 innings. Lyman's only 22, and was advanced for his age, pitching in Mississippi and Gwinnett. Its too early to write him off just yet.
And finally, Mike Minor, the Braves #1 pick this year. Minor was cruising along in the AFL, allowing only 1 earned run in his first 8 2/3 innings. Then...it all hit the fan. Over his next 3 starts, totaling 8 innings, Minor allowed 14 hits, 8 runs, and 3 homers. This doesn't include him getting beaten from pillar to post in the AFL's all-star game, where he only lasted 1/3 of an inning. Minor's pinpoint control he displayed in Rome seemed a little off, as he walked 6 in 16 2/3 innings. Not totally horrible, but not great either. Combine that with his 12 strikeouts, and its easy to chalk this up to Minor being incredibly fatigued from a long year of college ball and his professional debut. He'll take the winter to rest up, and should be good go to in 2010, hopefully in Mississippi.
And now, the notes I promised.
-15 teams are supposedly interested in Mike Gonzalez. Half the league! Damn...if that many teams want him so bad, I think he's bound to get an absurdly huge offer that the Braves just can't match. We'll miss you, Gonzo.
-The Royals shockingly (lol) signed Jorge Campillo to a minor league deal. Campillo just couldn't get anything going following his shoulder surgery this year, and only pitched in 9 1/3 innings. Personally, I'm really going to miss the man I nicknamed THE REV (short for revelation, because he came out of right field to do what he did in 2008) because he did so much with so little. Campillo was the Braves second most consistent starter in 2008, behind only Jair Jurrjens. I can see why the team let him go, since there are already 6 starters on the roster, but its a shame. Best of luck to you Jorge!
-The Braves added 5 pitchers to their 40-man roster: the previously mentioned Jeff Lyman & Lee Hyde, along with Johnny Venters, Jose Ortegano and Kyle Cofield. Lyman and Hyde could possibly contribute this year in Atlanta, while Venters is more of an organizational arm with a chance to be a replacement level back end pitcher. Ortegano is special though...I really like him, and he is absolutely blowing dudes away in the winter leagues right now. Cofield is young at 22, and walks too many guys...but the ball absolutely positively does not leave the park against him, and you can always find a use for a guy like that. Also, just because they were added to the 40-man doesn't mean these guys are going to be in Atlanta next year. It just means that they won't be exposed in the Rule V draft.
-One more thought for the road. Instead of picking up a big name free agent to play first, why not shift Martin Prado there and let Kelly Johnson start at second? The team absorbs less of a financial hit and allows money to be spent elsewhere, while upgrading the defense on the right side of the infield (Prado is good at first, not so much at second, while Johnson is around league average at second), and filling the hole in the lineup with a .750-.800 OPS player. The big bat can then come in right field. The Braves don't necessarily need a 40 homer guy...I'd be satisfied with someone who could give me an .850 OPS. Its just something to think about.
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