WASHINGTON – A few thoughts on some of the Braves’ rapidly rising top prospects while also wondering if the organization had any idea of the potential jersey-buying frenzy they could have if their just-signed 18-year-old Korean shortstop prospect Jihwan Bae makes it to the majors, or even to big-league spring training. John "Coppy" Coppolella has a bit more youthful hipness than you might know, so I’m guessing he’s aware of the whole “Bae” thing. ...
Anyway, now to some Braves prospects already making significant impact in the minors.
We'll skip Ronald Acuna, the Braves’ No. 1-rated prospect who was just crowned Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. The 19-year-old was one of the best, if not the best, player at each of the three levels he tore through in 2017 – high-A, Double-A, Triple-A, and also the youngest player in the high minor leagues.
By the way, Acuna became only the third Brave to win that award since it began in 1981, joining Jason Heyward (2009) and Andruw Jones, who won it in 1995 and again in 1996 – the Mets’ Gregg Jefferies was the only other two-time winner. Suffice to say, my guess is that Acuna won’t have a chance to become a repeat winner, as I’m expecting him to spend most if not all of the 2018 season in the Braves’ outfield. The major league outfield.
But we’ll talk plenty more on that in later blogs.
For today, let’s take a look at the four other Braves prospects who made Baseball America’s Classification All-Star teams for their respective levels.
HIGH SINGLE-A (California, Carolina and Florida State leagues): Alex Jackson, 21, was one of the more encouraging stories in the Braves' system, after the Braves got the former first-rounder (sixth overall pick in 2014) from the Mariners in a November trade for minor league pitchers Rob Whalen and Max Povse, after Seattle had basically given up on Jackson, a former top-rated high school catcher who they converted to outfield soon after drafting him.
The Braves moved him back to catcher and saw Jackson hit .272 with a .333 OBP, .502 slugging percentage (.835 OPS) in 66 games at high-A Florida before a promotion. Jackson finished the season with a .267/.328/.480 slash line in 96 games, with 21 doubles, 19 home runs in 402 plate appearances over 96 games including 30 games at Double-A Mississippi.
DOUBLE-A (Texas, Southern and Eastern leagues): Right-hander Mike Soroka, a first-round draft pick by the Braves in 2015, didn’t turn 20 until August and went 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA and 1.087 WHIP in 26 starts at Double-A Mississippi against mostly hitters who were at least two or three years older. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Canadian posted 125 strikeouts with only 34 walks and 10 homers allowed in 153 2/3 innings.
Soroka allowed one or no earned runs in half of his starts – and two earned in six others – and had starts with 10 strikeouts and two walks in 5 2/3 innings; nine strikeouts and no walks in eight scoreless innings, and 12 strikeouts with no walks in seven innings of two-hit ball July 19 vs. Biloxi.
LOW SINGLE-A (Midwest and South Atlantic leagues): The Braves were the only team with two starting pitchers of the five total -- 19-year-old righties Joey Wentz and Bryse Wilson, also the two youngest of the five on BA’s All-Classification team.
Wentz, a 6-foot-5 first-round pick (40th overall) by the Braves in 2016 out of Shawnee Mission East High in suburban Kansas City, was 8-3 with a 2.60 ERA in 26 starts at Rome and totaled a whopping 152 strikeouts with 46 walks and only four homers allowed in 131 2/3 innings. He won his last seven decisions and allowed one or no earned runs in nine of his last 12 starts.
Wilson was a fourth-round pick in the 2016 draft out of Orange High in Hillsborough, N.C., and Braves officials have been raving about this guy ever since, after being thrilled to get him where they did in the draft. At 6-1 and 225 pounds, he’s built like a football player – for good reason; he was an accomplished linebacker, drawing got major college offers for both sports. He committed to the University of North Carolina before opting to sign with the Braves.
Wilson has a low-mid 90s fastball and good breaking ball, and he’s made significant improvement to his pitching mechanics since signing. He went 10-7 with a 2.50 ERA in 26 starts at Rome and had 139 strikeouts with 37 walks and eight homers allowed in 137 innings. He allowed two or fewer runs in all but seven starts and had 11 strikeouts with one walk in seven scoreless innings of four-hit ball Aug. 8 at Augusta.
And there you have it. Acuna got most of the headlines, and rightfully so, but plenty of other Braves prospects distinguished themselves at their respective levels in 2017 including the group above recognized by Baseball America, still the bible of the sport in the view of many.
It’s worth noting, all of the above were 19 for most or all of the season except Jackson, who was basically starting over at catcher at 21.
• Johnny Cash, in my opinion the greatest of them all, died 14 years ago today. Here's a live version of Folsom Prison Blues.
"FOLSOM PRISON BLUES" by Johnny Cash
I hear the train a comin'
It's rolling round the bend
And I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when,
I'm stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps draggin' on
But that train keeps a rollin' on down to San Antone..
When I was just a baby my mama told me. Son,
Always be a good boy, don't ever play with guns.
But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
When I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry..
I bet there's rich folks eating in a fancy dining car
They're probably drinkin' coffee and smoking big cigars.
Well I know I had it coming, I know I can't be free
But those people keep a movin'
And that's what tortures me...
Well if they freed me from this prison,
If that railroad train was mine
I bet I'd move it on a little farther down the line
Far from Folsom prison, that's where I want to stay
And I'd let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away.....