Atlanta Braves 2016 Minor League Recap

By Paul Harvey – Last Word On Baseball

Welcome to the recap of the Atlanta Braves Minor League teams for the 2016 season. The Major League Baseball Playoffs are here at last. Unfortunately, the Braves have missed the playoffs for the third straight season. The organization remains in the middle of a rebuild, but the 2016 season showed promise.

Talented players like Mallex Smith, Dansby Swanson, and Aaron Blair made their Atlanta debuts, while prospects like Ozzie Albies, Sean Newcomb, and Austin Riley impressed at the Minor League level. Patrick Weigel and Dustin Peterson were named the organizational pitcher and player of the year. With that in mind, here are the pitchers and players of the year at each level of the Braves organization for 2016. (Prospect rankings are in parenthesis. Ranking is based on’s Prospect Watch for the Atlanta Braves organization.)

Atlanta Braves 2016 Minor League Recap

Gwinnett Braves (AAA)

Pitcher of the Year – Tyrell Jenkins (unranked)

Jenkins split time between Triple-A and MLB this season, but his numbers at Gwinnett were fantastic. Jenkins appeared in 17 games while making 12 starts at Triple-A. He posted a 9-3 win-loss record with a 2.47 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 83.2 innings pitched. The lone problem area for Jenkins would be walks. He issued 35 free passes, which contributed to a WHIP of 1.45. Jenkins will need to limit his walks moving forward, but his performance in 2016 gives him a great shot at making Atlanta’s roster in Spring Training.

Player of the Year – Rio Ruiz (15)

Third baseman Rio Ruiz was a September call-up to the Atlanta team, and it came as no surprise after his season in Gwinnett. Ruiz led Gwinnett in almost every offensive category, including at bats (465), hits (126), doubles (24), RBI (62), walks (61), and total bases (186), while finishing second in home runs (10). Ruiz also led the team with 133 games played. Hiss numbers speak to his consistent presence in 2016, as he finished the year with a slash of .271/.355/.400 and an OPS of .755. Look for Ruiz to begin 2017 in Atlanta with a shot at splitting time at third base with Adonis Garcia.

Mississippi Braves (AA)

Pitcher of the Year – Sean Newcomb (third)

Lefty Sean Newcomb was a workhorse for the Mississippi club in 2016. Newcomb led the Braves with 140 innings pitched while also leading in starts (27) and strikeouts (152). He finished the year with a record of 8-7 and a 3.86 ERA to go with a 1.31 WHIP and a complete game. Newcomb was fantastic after a somewhat slow start, and he continues to demonstrate his potential to be a frontline starter at the Major League level.

Player of the Year – Dustin Peterson (18)

Outfielder Dustin Peterson put together an impressive season for Mississippi. He was a mainstay in the middle of the order while appearing in 132 games. Peterson led the offense with 524 at bats, 148 hits, 38 doubles, 12 home runs, 88 RBI, and a mind-boggling 226 total bases. The 22-year old also posted a slash line of .282/.343/.431 and an OPS of .774. Peterson’s immediate future is still a little unclear, but his numbers this season are a huge indication that he is capable of making the next step forward.

Carolina Mudcats (Advanced-A)

Pitcher of the Year – Max Povse (20)

Righty Max Povse split time evenly this year between Carolina and Mississippi, but he was impressive at both levels. Povse went 5-5 over 15 starts during his time at Carolina. He posted a 3.71 ERA over 87.1 innings pitched, but the ERA does not tell the full story. Povse only allowed five home runs while striking out 91 men to just 17 walks, good for a greater than 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Povse finished off his season at the Double-A level, however, his time at Carolina was enough to earn him end-of-the-year honors. Odds are good that Povse will begin 2017 in Mississippi.

Player of the Year – Keith Curcio (Unranked)

Outfielder Keith Curcio proved his value as a high on-base and speed option for the Mudcats this season. He appeared in 124 games, second most on the team to Braxton Davidson (24). Curcio hit just three home runs in 2016, but he finished third on the team with 54 RBI. He also led the team with 124 hits, 29 doubles, 24 steals, and 67 runs. Curcio looks like a complete outfielder and is a legitimate speed threat, but his future in the organization is unclear. Atlanta has four competent outfielders in Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis, Matt Kemp, and Mallex Smith, with other talent prospects in the pipeline. Hopefully, Curcio will continue to progress and find a spot to contribute in Atlanta.

Rome Braves (A)

Pitcher of the Year – Patrick Weigel (28)

This award was the toughest decision of all. Rome featured six pitchers with 10+ starts on the season, with five of those pitchers posting ERAs under four. Each man in Rome’s rotation also ranks in the top-30 Braves prospects: Touki Toussaint (10), Mike Soroka (seven), Weigel (28), Ricardo Sanchez (25), Max Fried (11), and Kolby Allard (four). Weigel was the standout of this group before his promotion to AA, but his departure did nothing to slow Rome down. Toussaint, Soroka, Sanchez, Fried, and Allard pitched Rome to a South Atlantic League Championship.

Patrick Weigel was honored as the Pitcher of the Year for the whole organization, and there is no denying his impressive year. Weigel logged 129 innings over 21 starts for Rome. He posted the lowest ERA and WHIP of the starting rotation, with marks of 2.51 and 1.08, to go with a win-loss record of 10-4. Even more impressive is the fact that Weigel led the team with 135 strikeouts, despite making his final three starts of 2016 in Mississippi. Expect to see Weigel begin 2017 at the Double-A level, but he may not stay there long. Atlanta is in need of pitching and Weigel brings the type of power arm that teams covet. Do not be surprised if Weigel debuts in MLB at some point in 2017.

Player of the Year – Austin Riley (13)

Many critics of the Braves farm system blame a lack of impact position players throughout the organization. This is an inaccurate criticism of the organization. Those who have followed the system over the past few years would agree that the focus has been on acquiring pitching. That has garnered the headlines, but it merely overshadows the impact prospects at other positions. That is where third baseman Austin Riley factors in.

The 19-year-old Riley impressed people with a resilient year at Rome. The season did not start off all roses for Riley, as he was hitting just .246/.291/.372 at the end of May. Riley’s second half, however, was a different story. He found a groove and rode it the rest of the way, even finishing the year on a 19-game hitting streak. When all was said and done, Riley finished with a slash line of .271/.324/.479 and an OPS of .803. He led the team with 20 home runs, 80 RBI, 134 hits, and an incredible 237 total bases. Has Riley arrived as a player? Certainly not, but he is demonstrating a legitimate power stroke and reason for optimism moving forward.

Danville Braves (Rookie level)

Pitcher of the Year – Jaret Hellinger (Unranked)

Lefty Jaret Hellinger posted a solid year for Danville. He led the team with 13 starts, 62.0 innings pitched, and 47 strikeouts. Hellinger posted a 2-4 record alongside a 4.50 ERA while displaying quality stuff. The main cause for concern for Hellinger has been his walk rate. His 28 walks led Danville’s pitching staff and is the primary source of his increased ERA. There is room for improvement, but there is certainly time for him to work it out. 2016 marked the first full professional season for the 2015 draft pick, and at just 19, Hellinger has a promising future ahead of him.

Player of the Year – Cristian Pache (Unranked)

Centerfielder Cristian Pache split time between Danville and the Gulf Coast League this season, but the potential is visible for the 17-year-old Dominican. An international signing in 2015, Pache put up good numbers while appearing in 30 games for Danville. He posted a slash of .333/.372/.404 and a .775 OPS that was third on the team. His .372 OBP was good for fourth on the team. Pache did not register a home run, but he did have five extra base hits. Look for more power to come as he continues to develop moving forward. All-in-all, not many players can claim a .300 batting average in professional baseball, much less doing so at the age of 17. Pache is already impressive and should only get better as time goes on.

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