2012 Review: Rome Braves
It was not a typical season for the Class-A Rome Braves in 2012. After finishing the first half a pitiful 18-52, they managed to rally and win the second-half division title and make the South Atlantic League playoffs, where they lost in the first round. With an overall 62-76 record, there weren’t many intriguing pieces on this club.
Robby Hefflinger and William Beckwith were the only good hitters on the team. Hefflinger struggled making contact in Lynchburg before his demotion back to Rome, where he still struck out 24% of the time but was able to put together a .284/.362/.483 line. The left fielder also walked 11% of the time, about double his previous seasons. Turning 23 just after the new year, he will need to hit well at Lynchburg next year to keep major league hopes alive. Beckwith had a solid full-season debut, hitting .291/.360/.478 with 17 steals as a first baseman. His plate discipline was a bit iffy, with a 3:1 K/BB ratio, but he has shown better rates in the past. Having turned 22 in August, he will likely start in Lynchburg, and he may have a chance to make the majors if he learns to play the outfield.
Kyle Kubitza, the Braves’ third round pick last year, had a bit of a disappointing season, hitting .239/.349/.393. The third baseman walked over 13% of his PAs, but a 24% K rate held his average down. He has good gap power, but the nine homers won’t get it done with that high of a K rate. Rome’s second base void was filled after this year’s 18th round pick Ross Heffley was placed straight into A-ball. The diminutive Heffley hit a solid .296/.345/.412, putting the bat on the ball, but not walking much or hitting gaps too often. Both of these guys have a chance to become fringe players.
The big disappointment of the season was corner infielder Brandon Drury stumbling to a .229/.270/.333 line. He struck out 3.5 times as much as he walked, and he only mustered six homers in his 480 PA. One bright spot was his ability to play an adequate third base. He turned 20 in August, so he can turn things around, but he should be doing that when he’s repeating at Rome. My fellow Winona State alum Tony Mueller had a respectable .266 average and .335 OBP, but his eight doubles accounted for all of his extra-base hits in over 480 PA, equating to a .019 ISO. He is plenty good defensively with wheels to burn, but a complete void of power will likely hold him back from getting past AA.
Alex Wood was the bright spot of the Rome rotation, as this year’s second round pick posted a 2.56 ERA and 2.38 FIP in his 13 starts. The lefty struck out 25% of his batters, while getting over 60% groundballs, as he should be moved up to replace this year’s solid Lynchburg staff. Navery Moore had a decent minor league debut, posting a 3.86 ERA and 3.38 FIP, though his main source of success came from an unsustainable three homers allowed in just over 100 IP. The double-digit walk rate remains his biggest concern.
The bullpen has a few raw arms that could miss some bats. John Cornely walked 15% of hitters, but struck out 35%, earning him a late promotion to Lynchburg, along with Ryne Harper. This year’s 13th round pick Nathan Hyatt filled Cornely closer’s role by striking out 23 of the 58 men he faced. Wilson Rivera also had a 28% K rate, but his 15% walk rate led to a 3.50 FIP.
It is really hard to project careers as a player sits in A-ball, but persisting struggles at this level usually shows a lack of a future. Guys like Drury can still recover, but the leash is a lot shorter. There will likely be 8-10 guys on this team that make the majors at some point, with 3-4 having a somewhat established career. Pinpointing who those players are is nearly impossible, but guys like Wood and Hyatt would be my best guesses here.