M Braves open season tonight at Trustmark Park
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 1:00 PM
PEARL - The Mississippi Braves, Double-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, will open the 10th year in Pearl tonight at Trustmark Park. As ranked by Baseball America, the M-Braves club features the Atlanta Braves' third and fourth-best prospects, J.R. Graham and Jason Hursh.
Graham began the season with the M-Braves last year but was placed on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain in May and missed the remainder of the season. According to Baseball America, Graham has the best control of all pitchers in the Braves system. Hursh, a first round draft pick out of Oklahoma State University last year, went 1-1 with a 0.67 ERA in nine starts for Low-A Rome last season.
In addition to Graham, five others return to the Mississippi Braves pitching staff. Right-handed pitchers include Ryne Harper, James Hoyt and Shae Simmons. Lefties include Ronan Pacheco and Chasen Shreve. New arms for the M-Braves include Lay Batista, David Bromberg, John Cornely, Hursh, Carlos Perez, Williams Perez and Ryan Weber.
Harper went 6-3 with a 1.79 ERA in 41 games for the M-Braves last season. His 11 saves ranked tied for third among all Braves farmhands. Hoyt ranked eighth among all Braves minor leaguers last year with a .187 opponent's batting average and ranked 10th with 105 strikeouts. Baseball America ranks Hoyt as the No. 30 prospect in the Braves system.
Simmons moved to Mississippi in August last year after posting a 1-1 record with a 1.49 ERA in 39 appearances out of the Rome bullpen. Selected as Rome's 2013 Pitcher of the Year, Simmons also led all Braves minor leaguers in saves (24). He enters the season ranked as the Braves No. 16 prospect according to Baseball America.
Cornely ranked second in the Carolina League in games finished (34) and third in saves (11) last year. W. Perez was selected as Lynchburg's 2013 Pitcher of the Year. He combined to go 11-6 with a 3.53 ERA in 23 outings between High-A Lynchburg and Low-A Rome.
Behind the plate, M-Braves fans will see two familiar faces in Matt Kennelly and Braeden Schlehuber. Infielders Barrett Kleinknecht, Emerson Landoni and Joe Leonard return to Double-A along with outfielder Robby Hefflinger. New faces to the 2014 team include infielders Kyle Kubitza, Seth Loman and Gustavo Nunez. Outfielders Cedric Hunter, Matt Lipka and David Rohm are also new.
Kubitza (22), Lipka (24) and Hefflinger (29) all rank among Baseball America's Top 30 Braves Prospects. Hefflinger spent the second half of 2013 in Mississippi. Named Lynchburg's 2013 Player of the Year, Hefflinger was named Home Run Derby Champion and MVP of the California-Carolina League All-Star Game. He combined to hit 27 home runs, second-best in the Braves organization.
Baseball America also ranks Kubitza as the Best Infield Arm in the Braves system. Kubitza finished the year ranked among Carolina League leaders with the fourth-best on-base percentage (.380). He also led the league with 80 walks. Lipka ranked fourth in the Carolina League in stolen bases (37) while hitting .251 in 131 games at High-A Lynchburg. Rohm was selected as a Carolina League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star in 2013. He also posted the league's fourth-best batting average with a .302 mark. Rohm also ranked second in hits (150) and triples (8).
The M-Braves also have four players on the disabled list to start the 2014 season: right-handed pitchers Ryan Kelly, Aaron Northcraft and Benino Pruneda and infielder Elmer Reyes. Northcraft enters the season ranked by Baseball America as the 25th-best prospect in the Braves organization. He went 8-8 with a 3.42 ERA in 26 starts with the Double-A club last year.