Braves 2021 Minor League Preview: Mississippi will feature several rising bats

Vaughn Grissom

This is the second installment of our 2021 preview of the Braves four full-season minor league teams, where I discuss some of the changes that will impact each club and list the minor league players I believe we should follow the closest this coming season. Official rosters have not been set yet for the minors, though accounting for highest-level-played and rumors allows us to project each team’s regulars somewhat accurately. While the preview below attempts to provide an overview of each of Atlanta’s farm teams, I’ve chosen to cover the players I feel are most noteworthy, so this isn’t a preview breaking down the entire roster. Once rosters are official, SportsTalkATL will come out with more pre-season analysis. 

Like Triple-A Gwinnett, who I previewed last week, the Double-A Mississippi Braves will play in a somewhat new division in 2021. Scheduled to play 120 games this year, Mississippi joins Double-A’s South league, along with seven other teams that formally made up the previous Southern League. MLB’s new Professional Development League (PDL) has shaken things up, but the competition remains mostly the same for the M-Braves. 

Something I forgot to touch on in the Stripers preview: because of the delayed start to the minor league season, all minor league levels will follow a similar scheduling format consisting of six-game series. Double-A teams will play 20 six-game series (10 home / 10 away), so there will be some clubs residing in the same division that won’t play one another in 2021; for example, Mississippi will not play one of the league’s newest members — and my hometown team — the Rocket City Trash Pandas (Angels affiliate). 

Here’s an excerpt straight from MiLB.com regarding Mississippi’s schedule this season…

“The M-Braves will play South Division rivals Pensacola and Biloxi 30 times, respectively, and Montgomery 18 times. The Braves will play a home-and-home series against North Division foes Birmingham, Chattanooga, and Tennessee.”

But enough about that, let’s look at some players to follow from the Mississippi Braves in 2021…

Outfielders to follow

Terone Harris / Justin Dean / Andrew Moritz

 

Terone Harris

  • Highest level — AA-Mississippi
  • Spring Training invite? YES

There’s an excellent chance that having already played 41 games in Mississippi two seasons ago, Harris begins his 2021 campaign in Gwinnett. However, a lot of times, big league teams prefer to use their Triple-A clubs as a place to keep their major league depth, and with Drew Waters all but guaranteed a spot with the Stripers, I don’t believe there will be enough room for Harris in Gwinnett to start the season. But this certainly isn’t a knock on the 25-year-old Mizzu product — a top 15 prospect in the organization by many. Harris has posted a wRC+ higher than 110 at every minor league level he’s played at since starting his pro career in 2018, including a 195 wRC+ in 56 games with Single-A Rome, his first assignment in 2019. 

 

Justin Dean

  • Highest level — A-Rome (what’s now Augusta)
  • Spring Training invite? YES

I am very intrigued with Dean, who stole 47 bases in 57 attempts AND hit .284 with 36 XBH (9 HR / 9 triples) in 109 games in Rome in 2019; that’s some world-class base-stealing to go along with a 141 wRC+, the third consecutive level the outfielder has posted an above-average wRC+ (above 100). Dean is built a lot like Ozzie Albies, but the power outbreak two seasons ago leads me to believe that it’s very plausible he’s made some launch-angle type adjustments to his swing. But either way, Dean is a guy to look for in Mississippi in 2021. 

 

Andrew Moritz 

  • Highest level — A+ Florida (what’s now Rome)
  • Spring Training invite? NO

Moritz raked during his final collegiate season at UNC Greensboro, hitting .428 with ten home runs and 61 RBI in 54 games, earning a sixth-round pick in the 2018 draft by Atlanta. But save for his initial 31 games in rookie ball (97 wRC+), the lefty-batter has averaged just a 74 wRC+ in two seasons combined at Rome and High-A Florida, thanks to a walk-rate that was essentially slashed in half (9.7 BB% to 4.5 BB%). From Rome to his time with the Fire Frogs two seasons ago, Moritz raised his AVG by 51 points –. 231 to .287 — so that’s at least inspiring. Double-A should be an appropriate challenge for the 24-year-old and an opportunity for Moritz to post some strong numbers in the upper minors.

 


Infielders to follow

Bryce Ball / Braden Shewmake / CJ Alexander

 

Bryce Ball, 1B

  • Highest level — A-Rome
  • Spring Training invite? YES

The fact that Ball was invited to spring camp this year, despite just 21 games above rookie ball, should be enough to tell you that this is a legit prospect in the Braves system. What else is there to say about this kid? In Danville, Ball hit 13 homers in 41 games in 2019, along with a .324 AVG (177 wRC+); and then with Rome — despite an 8.3% drop in walk rate — he continued to mash, slugging four homers in 21 games with an even better .337 AVG (163 wRC+). Obviously, Freddie Freeman’s job is safe at first base, but with the universal-DH a given in the majors soon, be sure to keep an eye on Atlanta’s next designated hitter. 

 

Braden Shewmake, SS

  • Highest level — AA-Mississippi
  • Spring Training? YES

In the 2019 draft, the Braves drafted a catcher from Baylor (who I’ll get to soon) as their no. 1 pick, and then second was Texas A&M star shortstop Shewmake. On draft day, the excitement was definitely more for the former than the latter… but a few months later, that began to change after Shewmake produced a 151 wRC+ in 51 games at Rome. Two years later, the now-23-year-old is already getting attention as a potential utility-infielder for the big league team. Following a showing in Spring Training for Atlanta, it just feels like Shewmake is on the cusp of making his debut. But in reality, he’s still a couple of years away, and given he only has 52 PA at the Double-A level, Shewmake will likely at least start 2021 in Mississippi. But I can almost guarantee that before the season’s end, he’ll be the Stripers starter at shortstop. 

 

CJ Alexander, 3B

  • Highest level — AA-Mississippi
  • Spring Training? YES

Despite having played just 40 games above rookie ball, the Braves were aggressive with Alexander in 2019 and moved him up to Mississippi for the later portion of the season. Following a wRC+ of 212, 147, and 142 at all three levels the season prior — in each of the GCL, Danville, and Florida, respectively — the third baseman only managed a 19 wRC+ in 24 games with the M-Braves in 2019. His short stint in Double-A two years ago featured a K rate that surpassed 30%, although with a sub-.200 BABIP, there’s a case to be made that perhaps the former 20th-round pick suffered from some bad luck, not to mention the fact that — in August of 2019 — Alexander dealt with an undisclosed injury. Now nearly 25-years-old, it’s crucial the Indiana native provides something that resembles his 52-game stretch from the 2018 campaign when he combined to post a .924 OPS and tally 17 XBH fresh from the draft.

 


 

Catchers to watch

Shea Langeliers / Logan Brown

 

Shea Langeliers 

  • Highest level — A-Rome
  • Spring Training? YES

Langeliers still needs to show more with the bat, but his pro career has gone about as good as you could hope so far. The former Baylor star bounced back nicely from a rough start in the Braves organization during his draft year, finishing the 2019 campaign in Rome with a 92 wRC+ and a respectable .252 AVG in 54 games. As mentioned above, that draft’s no. 2 guy — Shewmake — kicked off his career with the flashier numbers, but in Mississippi this coming season, it’s Langeliers that we should be most excited about following. The competition between Langeliers in Double-A and William Contreras in Triple-A should be fun in 2021 and could eventually feature both guys on the same team.

 

Logan Brown 

  • Highest level — A+ Florida 
  • Spring Training? YES

It has to be a bit discouraging for Brown, who, as a 35th round pick back in 2018, is now the Braves no. 3 catcher on the organization’s depth chart, when all he’s done in two seasons is display a rather consistent bat, logging a career 97 wRC+ across the rookie ball Single-A and High-A levels. The 24-year-old sports a career .272 AVG in the minors so far, to go with a solid 38% caught-stealing rate. Perhaps a strong 2021 season in Mississippi could make Brown a valuable trade piece for Atlanta if the big league team finds itself still in need of a right-handed reliever. 

 


 

Pitchers to follow

William Woods, RP / Victor Vodnik, RP / Hayden Deal, SP / Freddy Tarnok, SP / Nolan Kingham, SP

 

The organization’s pitching surplus starts to get thinner after Double-A, but the M-Braves should feature several up-and-coming prospect arms in 2021. 

Of the group above, only Deal wasn’t invited to Spring Training this year, although he’s coming off a 2019 season in which he posted a 3.24 ERA in 22 starts (119 ⅓ IP) with the Fire Frogs — posting a 2.17 ERA as a reliever with Rome the year prior. 

Woods and Vodnick are two relievers with some serious upside. The former had some control problems two seasons ago (5.1 BB/9), but he still managed a 3.35 ERA in 13 relief appearances for Rome; Woods also made seven starts. I’ve been talking up Vodnik for a while now, and the 21-year-old righty was exceptional in Rome in 2019, logging a 2.94 ERA and 9.2 K/9 in 23 games, which featured three starts. 

Of Tarnok and Kingham, it’s Tarnok that was expected to become the better prospect, though Kingham (12th round pick in 2018) had the better season in 2019, making it all the way to the M-Braves after he posted a 0.56 and 4.43 ERA in Rome and Florida, respectively. Tarnok — 3rd round pick in 2017 — pitched much better in 2019 than he did in ’18, but the righty finished his season two years ago in Florida with a 4.87 ERA. Both of these guys are worth the follow in 2021 as they could be part of the Braves next group of pitchers behind the likes of Tucker Davidson, Kyle Muller, and Jasseel De La Cruz, along with the trio of college guys the team drafted in 2020 (Jared Shuster, Spencer Strider, and Bryce Elder)… which we’ll cover in the next installment.

Be sure to check back later this week for the next installment of our Braves 2021 Minor League Preview. Next up is a look at the org’s High-A club — formerly its Single-A team — the Rome Braves.

 

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