M-Braves Offseason Mailbag

Prospects for 2019, Bark in the Park, Trash Pandas and more highlight this weeks mailbag

By Chris Harris / Mississippi Braves | October 30, 2018 10:08 AM

This will be the first of a series of offseason M-Braves mailbags geared to answering fan questions regarding the Mississippi Braves or the Atlanta Braves. With the World Series in the rearview mirror and the Baseball Winter Meetings just over a month away, everyone in Major and Minor League Baseball is preparing for the 2019 season. 

Tweet from @jdlindsey1972: who are some of the top prospects you see starting w/ Mississippi in 2019?

Thanks for the question, John. Last season, Mississippi saw 12 of the current top 30 prospects for the Braves according to MLB Pipeline and I think that is conceivable again in 2019. OF Cristian Pache played in 29 games for the M-Braves in 2018, batting .260 with one homer and seven RBI. He posted a .294 OBP, three doubles and a triple while playing spectacular defense (see below catch). His 2019 Opening Day age will be just 20 years old and the scary thing is that Pache has plenty of room to improve. The #68 overall prospect in baseball failed to steal a base in Mississippi and had just seven in 93 games for Florida. Pache works his tail off and is extremely fast. Look for Pache to steal many more bases in 2019. In 12 Arizona Fall League games, Pache is batting .278 with two doubles, a triple, five RBI, one steal, eight runs, and .316 OBP. 

Video: Mississippi's Pache makes leaping catch in center

Expect to see that next wave of outstanding Braves starting pitchers begin 2019 in Mississippi with 20-year-old right-hander Ian Anderson leading the way and left-handers Kyle Muller and Joey Wentz also anchoring the staff. Muller and Wentz will begin the 2019 season at 22 years old, Anderson went 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA over his four Mississippi starts last season, logging 24 strikeouts and nine walks. The third overall pick in 2016 had a 2.49 ERA over 24 starts last season with 142 strikeouts and just 49 walks, proving he has solid command. He held the opposition to just a .199 batting average. Anderson was one of just 15 pitchers in Minor League baseball with 110+ innings to hold the opposition to under a .200 batting average. Despite giving up four earned runs in his final start of 2018, Muller still posted a 3.10 ERA in his five Double-A starts, fanning 27 and walking just six. In two seasons, the 6'6", 225 lefty is 11-3 with a 3.03 ERA in 25 starts. Atlanta's fourth-round pick in 2018 out of Stanford, Tristan Beck will begin 2019 at the age 22 and could potentially reach Double-A at some point in 2019. Reliever Josh Graham struggled in the first half last season, but bounced back with a solid second-half, including a 3-1 record, 2.95 ERA, .167 opponents batting average and 25/13 SO/BB ratio in 18.1 innings. Graham could start in Double-A and if successful, be on the fast track like Chad Sobotka. His stuff is that good. Another Double-A pitcher that could be on the fast track is left-handed reliever, Thomas Burrows. The all-time saves leader at the University of Alabama had a 1.42 ERA and six saves over 19 innings for the M-Braves last season. The 24-year-old had 27 strikeouts and just six walks, keeping opponents at just a .154 batting average. Right-handers hit just .106, making Burrows extremely versatile out of the 'pen. 

Video: Mississippi's Muller caps complete game shutout

Joining Pache in a crowded outfield could be #8 overall prospect Drew Waters. Atlanta's second-round pick (41st overall) in 2017 played just 30 games in High-A last season, making one think he will start 2019 back there. But, there's a good chance he will see Mississippi in 2019. Waters hit .268 with seven doubles, three triples, three RBI, three stolen bases and .316 OBP for Florida. In 84 games in Rome, Waters starred by batting .303 with 32 doubles, six triples, nine home runs, 36 RBI and .353 OBP. At 19-years-old, Waters ranked T-5th in all of Minor League Baseball with 39 doubles last season. He will turn 20 on December 30. Another outfielder that has seen plenty of time in High-A is Braxton Davidson. The 2014 first-round pick has played 360 High-A games over the past three seasons, batting a combined .202 with 56 doubles, four triples, 37 home runs, 163 RBI and 552 strikeouts. This could be a make or break season for Davidson, who did mash a career-high 20 home runs in 2018.

Video: Braves' Waters homers to right

The younger brother of former Southern Leaguer and Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, William Contreras, Atlanta's #13 prospect is the next catching prospect on the way behind Alex Jackson. Contreras hit .285 between Rome and Florida last season, including 24 doubles, 11 home runs, and 49 RBI. While he didn't hit a homer in 23 games for Florida, the soon to be 21-year-old has some pop and can be an above average defender. Someone that is also intriguing is #13 prospect Greyson Jenista. It's not quite certain what his position will be, but with a lack of offensive power in the system, the 49th overall pick last season has room to move up. He played at three levels in his draft season last year and a move to Mississippi isn't out of the question. He's not considered a prospect, but Alejandro Salazar can't fly under the radar much longer. The 22-year-old hit .301 over 54 games in Mississippi last year. Despite not homering, Salazar played exceptional defense and contributed eight doubles and a triple. Most of Salazar's production was in clutch situations, batting .405 with runners in scoring position.

Video: Jenista slugs first South-Atlantic League homer

For fun, a potential 2019 lineup could look like this:

CF Pache
2B Salazar
RF Neslony
1B Marlette
LF Waters
SS Didder
C Contreras
3B Lockhart/Valenzuela
P Anderson/Muller/Wentz/Sanchez/Mader

Tweet from @timothycbarnes: Can we have multiple bark in the park events? Always my favorite

DONE!

Well, I would not be the one making that final decision, but Bark in the Park is always fun. Biloxi and Montgomery had dedicated days of the week to Bark in the Park in 2018, so there is definitely a demand for it. This will be something that will be discussed and I would encourage anyone with ideas to share them with us. Why not have pup be a full-time bat boy? 

Video: Miss Lou Lou Gehrig tries to take bat from Santos

Tweet from @K26dp: Have you heard anything about progress for Matt Withrow? And what kept him out all season in the first place?

Hi Andy, the Braves have not disclosed his injury, but Matt was with the club at the beginning of the season and even pitched well in spring training. The older brother of Chris Withrow, Matt missed two months in 2017 with what was listed as an ankle contusion. He's experienced some tough luck on the injury front and hopefully, once healthy, the big right-hander can get back on the path to being a prospect. The Braves drafted Withrow the same year they acquired his brother in 2016, out of Texas Tech. 

Tweet from @revkevinwalker: In light of the new #TrashPandas logos being released... Will the M-Braves ever re-brand to something different?

I am glad someone asked about the newest Minor League baseball moniker and logo. First off, congratulations to the fine folks of the Tennessee Valley on what has been an extremely successful rollout of a new team and logo. Having been a part of this process with Biloxi in 2015, it's not easy to create a new identity. Not opening until 2020 gives them time to make sure everything is in place. 

Madison, a suburb of Huntsville will be the new home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas, which will become the Double-A, Southern League affiliate of the Angels after the 2019 season. The Mobile BayBears were sold to BallCorps LLC last year with the intention of relocating to North Alabama. With the help of the talented folks at Brandiose, they unveiled logos the past week and most everyone had an opinion. I am somewhere in the middle on this new phenomenon of creating new, "unique" branding for Minor League teams. It was in 2017 when Jacksonville rebranded from the Suns to Jumbo Shrimp and caused a change.org petition to be created that garnered over 10,000 signatures. However, the overall success of the rebranding efforts have been well documented. Since 2014, we've seen these club names come into existence: El Paso Chihuahuas, New Orleans Baby Cakes, Gwinnett Stripers, Akron Rubber Ducks, Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Hartford Yard Goats, Biloxi Shuckers, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, Down East Wood Ducks, Daytona Tortugas, Florida Fire Frogs, Tampa Tarpons and Vermont Lake Monsters. The new teams in Amarillo, TX, and Fayetteville, NC don't yet have names, but I am sure they will be doozies. 

Tweet from @MiLB: 🗑🐼🗑🐼🗑🐼🗑🐼🗑🐼 pic.twitter.com/E32ANCa3Fd

They are lighting up social media right now and yes, they have an online store that is open. Not set to start until 2020, they are creating a lot of momentum right now. 

But, to answer your question. You never know. Gwinnett surprised everyone with their rebranding from the Braves to the Stripers in 2017. The 2019 season will be the 15th season in Pearl and different names have even been talked about within the office. Mostly in jest and not serious, but something like the Mississippi Mudbugs, Mississippi Blues (Elvis was born in Tupelo), even Mississippi Potholes, which needs no explanation. 

As always, if you have any questions for the next Mailbag tweet @mbraves or @charris731! Have a great week! 

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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