Pitiful, Sickening, Pathetic, Horrifying. Those were the nice words in various newspaper write-ups during the first half of the 2012 South Atlantic League season in regards to the 2012 Rome Braves. To say they staggered out of the gate is far too kind.
I caught them in Greenville for a late April tilt and witnessed the worst display of baseball I have ever experienced: 6 errors, several wild pitches/passed balls (I don’t remember which was which) about 8 walks and, on offense, not a single ball out of the infield. Leonard Pinth-Garnell would have appreciated this team.
At the break the team sat at 18-52, a mere 36 games back. Then things got funky.
2012 Rome Braves Twirlers
Enter Navery Moore, a stringbean who jumped directly from the rotation at Vanderbilt to Rome. He played long man in the pen for the entire first half but was pressed into a starter’s role to start the second. He was brilliant thanks to what I now know was an utterly unsustainable 3 HR allowed in 102 innings of work. But that flyball luck resulted in an 8-3 record with a 3.86 ERA. He never got above A+ ball.
The other game changer was one Robert Alexander Wood, drafted in the 2nd round out of UGA. While he was used somewhat sparingly, averaging only 4 innings per start, Alex was masterful with a 1.01 WHIP and peripherals to match. I caught 3 of his starts and it was apparent both that he was quantitatively different (and better) than his teammates and that single-A hitters were completely overmatched by his arsenal. I am not a scout, but even I could see that Alex needed to be working way higher up the food chain.
Other pitchers of note included Internet Prospect Guru (TM) favorite Ryan Weber who had an injury-plagued season where he looked great but got no support from his fielders (he was the starter for the 6-error game). The team moved him up midway in the second half before it was apparent that the team was destined for greatness. Ian Thomas was a 25-year old with no control who would later see time with the big team and net us Juan Uribe in a trade with the Dodgers. Peter Moylan would throw 4 innings of rehab work and nobody else on the staff is worth remembering.
2012 Rome Braves Batsmen
On the position player side of things I still have fond memories of a couple guys who never made the show but were excellent for this one season. Robby Hefflinger was an outfielder who dared make the world safe for Lonnie Smith (or Marcell Ozuna for that matter). William Beckwith was a 21st round draftee who overachieved to put up the best power-speed combination in the league from first base. This was his only year as a regular. What I remember him best for is being a rare bats-right/throws-left guy. Only Ricky! got away with that one.
Kyle Kubitza, the 3rd rounder from 2011 played third and had a terrible first half but really turned it on down the stretch with all 9 of his homers coming after the break. The surprise was 2012 18th round pick Ross Heffley, who skipped rookie ball entirely. He looked 12 and couldn’t possibly have weighed anything close to his listed 175 pounds and immediately became a crowd favorite. Ross barely had the arm to make routine throws and cost the team a lot of double plays but he could get on base and that made all the difference for the offense. Brandon Drury was the only other guy on the roster to actually have a career but he was dismal all year in 2012. This fellow named Chipper Jones played 2 games with the team but I missed those :(
2012 Rome Braves: The Race
To say expectations were low after the first half hardly describes the scene. The second half opened well with the team taking 3 of 4 from the DelMarva team that was Rome’s only competition for worst in the opening half. The team scuffled a bit after that and found themselves 5 games out of it coming into a 3 game set at Asheville (first half champions and current leaders) in mid August. McCormick Field was swinging with 4k crowds for each game with most of the locals pulling for the home team.
The first game would see Alex Wood‘s longest outing of the season – 6.2 innings (I still have the scoresheet!) and he held the locals to a single 2-run homer over the park’s ridiculous right field fence (297 ft! Who do they think they are, the Yankees?) Beckwith and Drury homered for the good guys and the team escaped with a 6-2 victory.
The last 2 games were a foregone conclusion as Rome completed the sweep in fine fashion (I don’t have those scoresheets anymore, grrr). I do remember that in one of them Greg Ross pitched the best game of his life, a complete game 4 hitter where he was blowing his 88mph heat right by guys. Two behind with about 10 to play! I missed all of them but the team went 8-2 to finish the half 44-24 and a game in front of the Tourists to take the 2nd half title. Asheville swept the playoff, but what a run.
Thanks for reading Snowshine’s Favorite Minor League Teams: The 2012 Rome Braves. If you enjoyed this piece, give this piece a read on the 1981 Richmond Braves!