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winter-league-update-11809 | November | 2009 Articles

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Winter League Update - 11/8/09

Written by Joe Lucia on .

So with the AFL championship game in about 2 weeks, and the second half of the Mexican, Dominican & Venezuelan league starting around the same time, I figured now would be a good time to check in on some Braves prospect who are getting their winter ball on. Let's start with the AFL...Jason Heyward was sent home after only 4 games due to any injury to his glute. Its a shame to see Heyward down with another injury, but the Braves understandably don't want to stretch him out anymore this year with the nagging injuries that have been bothering him for most of the season. Freddie Freeman had a rough year after being promoted to Mississippi, but appears to be slightly back on track in the AFL...he's not dominating like he did at Rome last year, but he's doing alright, with a .790 OPS and .143 ISO. Worth mentioning is his 31% strikeout rate...sure its a small sample size, but its scary to see. Also scary to see? The 8.5% walk rate...on its own its not horrible, but in combination with that K rate...its a little offputting. Speaking of guys that had rough years, Brandon Hicks. He was horrible this year, with a .692 OPS with the M-Braves...he's not doing too much better in Peoria, OPSing .733. One positive about Hicks this fall is that his strikeout rate has drastically fell to 15.5%, while his walk rate has risen to 11.9%. The power however, is gone. 0.53 ISO is just miserable. Pitching wise, its not exactly a great time for the young Braves. Lee Hyde is pitching pretty well, with a 3.38 ERA and a 10:4 K:BB in 8 innings. Uber reliever Craig Kimbrel is at 3.86 with a 9:7 K:BB in 7 innings, but Jeff Lyman is getting shelled to the tune of 6.97, 9:5 in 10 1/3. The final Braves pitcher in the AFL is the only starter, first round pick Mike Minor. Minor has actually pitched nearly identically to Lyman, with the same K:BB in one more inning, and a comparable BAA. The only difference is that Lyman has allowed 3 homers, and Minor hasn't allowed one, which explains the difference between Lyman's 6.97 ERA and Minor's 2.31 ERA. Minor has still not allowed a homer in his 25 2/3 inning professional career. The AFL is a slight step up in competition for him from Rome, but its good to see him keeping his head above water. Lets head to the Venezuelan league now. Gregor Blanco has been an absolute machine thusfar, with an .843 OPS, an unheard of (for Blanco at least).106 ISO, and 16 walks compared to only 7 strikeouts. If Gregor can keep this performance up in the spring, he'd make a great case for a bench spot. Ernesto Meija missed most of the year with a knee injury, and didn't look like he had his form from 2008 back when he was a Carolina League all-star. Things are clicking a lot better in Venezuela, with an .888 OPS and a fantastic .226 ISO. His K rate is still high around 27%, but thats around where it was in 2008...nothing really out of the ordinary there. Its going to be interesting to see what the team does with him and Freeman, as both should be spending 2009 in Mississippi. The only Braves pitcher worth noting in Venezuela is Jose Ortegano, who is proving to be unhittable. While his K:BB is only 9:5, he's only allowing a .203 batting average in 22 2/3 innings, leading to a fancy 3.18 ERA.  Ortegano's dream season continues, after the 3.22 ERA he posted in Myrtle Beach and Mississippi, he goes down to Venezuela and starts doing this. In his last start on Tuesday, he pitched 5 shutout innings. Well done. Next on our agenda is the Mexican League, where a couple of Braves are playing. The real ace hitter in Mexico is on base wizard Matt Young, who continues to rake. Young's OPS is sitting pretty at .977, and shockingly, he's got an ISO of .230, thanks to 14 extra base hits in 25 games. Young also has 21 walks to go with 10 strikeouts. He's a great story and by all accounts, a real nice guy...I'd like to see him in Gwinnett next year manning center field. Brett Butts has some terrible luck, with an obscene .395 BAA. But he hasn't allowed a homer, and has a decent 14:6 K:BB. I love the 14 strikeouts in 10 innings. Tim Gustafson is pitching alright, as his ERA sits at 3.99...but he's got a 17:12 K:BB. Thats a little offputting. Then theres Edgar Osuna, who hasn't done a whole lot aside from be efficient...7 hits in 8 1/3, one homer, and a 2:2 K:BB. Nothing outstanding, but nothing horrible either. Finally, we go to the Dominican...all 3 of the Braves hitters are struggling mightily, including Diory Hernandez, who is OPSing .679 in 42 at bats. Yikes. Then again, considering what he did in Atlanta this season...thats not really that unexpected. There is one other guy in the Dominican I want to talk about, and that is future bullpen ace Luis Valdez. Valdez got a cup of coffee with the Braves this year, and didn't do a whole lot of anything. He's posted back to back great years in Mississippi and Gwinnett, last season posting a 3.28 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 71 1/3 innings while only walking 19 and allowing 4 homers. But Valdez in the Dominican...ohmyfreakinggosh. Valdez has pitched 14 innings, and only allowed 6 hits. He's got 14 strikeouts, with at least one coming in all but one of his 8 appearances. He's only allowed 1 run, and oh yeah, he hasn't walked anyone. Its a small sample size of only 14 innings, but a 14:0 K:BB...just absurd. If he comes into the spring and does anything like this, he should easily seal up a spot in the Braves bullpen for 2010. And he would certainly deserve it.

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