Since Austin Riley’s promotion, you’ll have to look past Gwinnett to the unfriendly, near torturous, confines of Pearl, Mississippi to find the 2 most exciting position prospects in the Braves system.
A little history of the stadium that the Double-A Braves call home: Trustmark Park opened in 2005 and immediately made its impact known as one of the most pitcher-friendly/hitter’s nightmare stadiums in all of affiliated baseball. It ranks near the bottom (or top) every year in power suppression, averaging about 0.65 HRs per game over the course of its history. In his lone year at Trustmark, Freddie Freeman hit 2 HRs in 169 plate appearances after swatting 18 in 540 PAs the previous year, so fair warning:
Any power numbers that seem off at AA should be taken with a grain of salt.
However, on the opposite end, any player that overcomes the curse of the Southern League and maintains a good SLG% should be highly praised and two eyes, as often as you can spare them, should be used to track said player’s progress. And that brings us to the meat and taters of today’s piece…the players that are overcoming adversity to find success at Trustmark.
Top Offensive Performers, Mississippi Braves
Drew Waters– .903 with 21 doubles, 8 triples, and 4 home runs
That’s right. Switch-hitting Drew Waters is sporting an .903 OPS in the most hostile park (and league) for hitters. He’s also providing above average defense in the corners, and it shouldn’t be overlooked that he can still go get it in CF, but has moved over for Pache. At only 20 years old, the Braves have the luxury to let him stay at AA and develop with a call-up in late 2020. However, there could be a scenario where he sees time at the MLB level come September should Braves have an injury or find a need for a defensive replacement/pinch runner for the postseason, but I wouldn’t expect it.
Cristian Pache– .848 OPS with 16 doubles, 5 triples, and 8 home runs
Fangraphs #15 prospect and the player that most prospect gurus call the best defensive outfielder in the minors, Pache is worthy of our excitement. Like Waters, Pache is only 20 and is likely in the same scenario as far as timeline is concerned. He could get a September cup of coffee with visions to take over in 2020, or he could be held back until September of 2021. Regardless, he’s the CFer of the future and the numbers he’s putting up at Mississippi is a testament that he’s getting his man growth and all of those prospect gurus that said his power would come, were right.
Ryan Casteel– .817 OPS with 9 doubles and 7 home runs
Casteel spent his professional career in the Rockies and Mariners organization before coming to the Braves system this year. A true 1B/C type, Casteel has put up good numbers for his MiLB career, and is a good guy to have around the younger guys, but he’s likely just organizational depth at this point. At the time of the signing, I thought he’d have a chance to be the 5th bench spot should Braves go that route, as it would allow them to burn Tyler Flowers or Brian McCann in a PH role, but unfortunately for Casteel, that seems highly unlikely.
Tyler Neslony– .794 OPS with 4 doubles, 3 triples, and 3 home runs
Drafted in 2016 as a senior sign out of Texas Tech, Neslony has not hit much in the minors, but is breaking out at Mississippi, which is bizarre. Neslony has primarily been a RFer for his MiLB career and at 25, he’ll have to hit a whole heck of a lot these next 2 years to get a shot in the bigs.