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Deep system bodes well for Braves

Deep system bodes well for Braves

Before the 2008 season began, MLB.com took an in-depth look at every big league team's Minor League system. Now, it's time to recap and analyze all 30 organizations, from top prospects to the recent Draft class.

If Atlanta is going to rise to prominence again in the National League East, expect any rebirth to be influenced greatly by homegrown talent. The Braves have a deep system stocked with pitching and several strong position players who project to make an impact at every level in which they play.

That said, we are the first to admit that some of the young pitchers MiLB.com highlighted going into the season for Atlanta didn't exactly perform to the standards we set. But the Braves are so pitching-rich that even with some players falling short of expectations, there were still a host of pitchers that performed exceptionally well.

Throw in some big offensive by the likes of Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward and there's plenty to like, as always, about the Atlanta system. Here's a look back at the year that was in the deep South.

Organizational Players of the Year

MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Gorkys Hernandez, OF: The thinking in the preseason was that the newly acquired Hernandez would have a big year with his new club after coming over from Detroit in the Edgar Renteria deal. While the young outfielder had a nice season at Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League -- he hit .264 with five homers and 42 RBIs -- it wasn't Player of the Year caliber, especially his .221 post-All-Star batting average.
Hernandez on Futures Game selection
Hernandez homers for Myrtle Beach

Cole Rohrbough, LHP: Rohrbough looked like a good bet for the preseason Pitcher of the Year, especially after going 5-2 with a 1.17 ERA in 61 innings in 2007. He split this season between the South Atlantic and Carolina Leagues and didn't have nearly as much success, going 5-6 with a 4.40 ERA over 18 games (17 starts) in a season that started late and was hampered by assorted maladies, including a severe ankle sprain.
Rohrbough completes longest start of season

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

Frederick Freeman, 1B: Freeman turned 19 last month and had plenty of reason to celebrate after putting together a spectacular sophomore season in the pros. He earned Player of the Year honors after leading all Atlanta full-season affiliates with a .316 batting average. Freeman also had 18 homers and topped the organization with 95 RBIs. His offseason agenda, however, must be put on hold for the time being after a cracked rib was discovered while working out in the Florida Instructional League.
Freeman launches 18th long ball


•  Monday, Oct. 6: Washington Nationals
•  Tuesday, Oct. 7: Seattle Mariners
•  Wednesday, Oct. 8: San Diego Padres
•  Thursday, Oct. 9: Pittsburgh Pirates
•  Friday, Oct. 10: Baltimore Orioles
•  Monday, Oct. 13: Atlanta Braves
•  Tuesday, Oct. 14: San Francisco Giants
•  Wednesday, Oct. 15: Cincinnati Reds
•  Thursday, Oct. 16: Colorado Rockies
•  Friday, Oct. 17: Detroit Tigers
•  Monday, Oct. 20: Kansas City Royals
•  Tuesday, Oct. 21: Oakland Athletics
•  Wednesday, Oct. 22: Texas Rangers
•  Thursday, Oct. 23: Cleveland Indians
•  Friday, Oct. 24: Arizona Diamondbacks
•  Monday, Oct. 27: Florida Marlins
•  Tuesday, Oct. 28: Toronto Blue Jays
•  Wednesday, Oct. 29: St. Louis Cardinals
•  Thursday, Oct. 30: Houston Astros
•  Friday, Oct. 31: Minnesota Twins
•  Monday, Nov. 3: New York Yankees
•  Tuesday, Nov. 4: New York Mets
•  Wednesday, Nov. 5: Los Angeles Angels
•  Thursday, Nov. 6: Chicago White Sox
•  Friday, Nov. 7: Milwaukee Brewers
•  Monday, Nov. 10: Chicago Cubs
•  Tuesday, Nov. 11: Boston Red Sox
•  Wednesday, Nov. 12: LA Dodgers
•  Thursday, Nov. 13: Tampa Bay Rays
•  Friday, Nov. 14: Philadelphia Phillies

Tommy Hanson, RHP: The Braves gave Hanson a nice bonus when they selected him in the 22nd round of the 2005 Draft. He was coming out of Riverside Community College and headed for Arizona State, but took a detour to the East Coast instead. Lucky for the Braves, because Hanson went 11-5 this year and led all their full-season pitchers with a 2.41 ERA while splitting the campaign between Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi of the Southern League. He also topped the organization with 163 strikeouts.
Hanson no-hits Birmingham
Hanson records career-high 13th K

Climbed the Ladder

Jason Heyward, OF: Heyward more than lived up to expectations after providing glimpses of his talent last summer in 43 Gulf Coast and Appalachian League at-bats. He spent the bulk of this season at Rome, where we said he would barrel his way through the season. He didn't disappoint. Heyward hit .323 with 11 homers and 52 RBIs in 449 at-bats. He only struck out 74 times (49 walks), which wasn't bad for a youngster with so much run-producing potential. Heyward struggled some at the end of the year when he was bumped up to the Carolina League for a few games, but considering the length of his year and the fact that he had never played so much before, the minor travails won't be an issue.
Heyward clubs 11th homer

Kris Medlen, RHP: Medlen spent a full season at Mississippi after getting a three-game taste in Pearl last summer. He went 7-8 with a 3.52 ERA in 36 games (17 starts). Medlen had been a reliever in all 58 games he had appeared in prior to this season, but actually fared well as a starter when given the opportunity, going 6-5 with a 3.11 ERA. He had a better WHIP as a starter (1.1 to 1.4), held the opposition to a lower batting average and allowed as many homers (four) in three times as many innings.
Medlen opens with three strikeouts

Freddie Freeman, 1B: Freeman also earned the organization's Player of the Year award. You can't argue with the selection.

Tommy Hanson, RHP: Hanson was also Atlanta's organizational Pitcher of the Year. You can't argue with that one either.

Scott Diamond, LHP: Diamond was unheralded when he came out of Binghamton University in 2007. He's not so unheralded anymore after going 15-3 and leading the organization in victories. He was fourth in ERA (2.89) and fifth in strikeouts (123) while splitting time between Rome and Myrtle Beach. Diamond was 12-2 with a 2.79 ERA in 17 games (15 starts) upon his promotion to the Carolina League.
Diamond fans another P-Nat

Kept Their Footing

Gorkys Hernandez, OF: Hernandez hit .210 over his final 30 games. His .348 OBP was a shade better than the .344 he posted last year at West Michigan of the Midwest League, but he stole only 20 bases after swiping 54 in 2007. Hernandez keeps his spot on the ladder for now, but his grip is tenuous.

Jeff Locke, LHP: Locke made some adjustments as the 2008 season progressed, recovering from a 1-7 start to finish 5-12 in 25 games (24 starts) at Rome of the South Atlantic League. He posted a 4.06 ERA, but had a 3.84 mark over his final 11 starts. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (113-to-38) remained solid, though not nearly as good as the 112-to-13 that he brought into this season in 93 career innings.
Locke mows down a Legend

Cody Johnson, OF: A first-round pick in 2006, Johnson got off to a slow start at Rome, but hit .296 in the second half to finish with a .252 average. He led the organization with 26 homers and was third in RBIs (89). He struck out 177 times (once every 2.6 at-bats) and his OBP was only .307, providing the bad to balance out the good. Johnson did strike out 20 fewer times over the second half than he did in the first.
Johnson goes deep twice

Duente Heath, RHP: Heath went 13-7 with a 4.19 ERA while splitting time between Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi. He pitched much better after the All-Star break, going 3-1 with a 4.87 ERA at Pearl.
Heath strikes out side to preserve no-no

Slipped a Rung

Jordan Schafer, OF: Schafer led the Minor Leagues in hits last year, was the fair-haired child in Spring Training and had the baseball world at his fingertips when this season began. It all came crashing down in early April when he was suspended 50 games for using HGH. Schafer owned up to his mistakes and returned to action in June, but the bloom was off the flower by then. He had respectable numbers (.269 BA, 10 HRs, 51 RBIs) in 84 games for Mississippi, but it will be difficult to erase his past, at least for the foreseeable future, in the eyes of some.

Brent Lillibridge, SS: Lillibridge may have reached the Major Leagues this season, but it wasn't because of his bat. After hitting a combined .282 last season at Mississippi and Triple-A Richmond and then hitting .378 in the International League playoffs, Lillibridge collapsed at the plate this year. He hit .220 in 355 at-bats at Richmond and .200 in 80 at-bats with the parent club.

Steve Evarts, LHP: Evarts has been impressive when he's been on the mound, going 8-2 with a 2.30 ERA in 22 games since the Braves made him a supplemental pick in 2006. But after going 2-0 in three starts this season, Evarts went down with elbow issues, didn't pitch again and had Tommy John surgery in June. See you next summer.

Chad Rodgers, LHP: Rodgers was supposed to be a major part of what was supposed to be a big staff in Rome. Didn't happen. He went 2-10 with a 4.53 ERA in 20 games (16 starts), missing most of July with a shoulder strain.

On the Radar

Julio Teheran, RHP: Teheran made headlines last year when the Braves signed him to a lucrative deal ($850,000) out of Columbia. He turned 17 in January, stayed in extended Spring Training and began his season in June at Danville. He missed a little more than a month with shoulder tendinitis but also showed flashes of brilliance, finishing 1-2 with a 6.60 ERA in 15 innings.
Teheran snaps off a curve

Todd Redmond, RHP: Redmond was acquired this spring from Pittsburgh in the Tyler Yates deal and it would seem the Braves got a nice arm in the trade. Redmond went 13-5 at Mississippi with a 3.52 ERA in 28 games (27 starts). He finished third in the organization with 133 strikeouts and was named its Double-A Pitcher of the Year.
Redmond baffles Barons in playoffs

David Francis, RHP: A 12th-round selection from Walters State Community College, Francis jumped from joining the rank and file of this year's Draft to the radar screen after leading the organization with a 2.35 ERA. He was 5-3 for Danville and struck out 69 in 53 2/3 innings following a college career that saw him go 55-9 and lead WSCC into the Junior College World Series.
Francis fans sixth P-Ray

2007 Draft Recap

1. Brett DeVall, LHP: DeVall wasn't chosen until the 40th pick. The Florida prep star didn't see much action after signing, either, but was effective, posting a 0.93 ERA with seven strikeouts in 9 2/3 Gulf Coast League innings.

2. Robert Stovall, LHP: Stovall was selected 24 picks later out of an Alabama high school and saw a bit more action, going 1-1 with a 6.30 ERA in 20 Gulf Coast League innings.

3. Ezekiel Spruill, RHP: Spruill was also sent to the Gulf Coast League after earning praise as a Georgia prep star. He excelled by going 7-0 with a 2.93 ERA in 10 games (three starts). Spruill struck out 32 and walked eight in 40 innings.

Others of Note: RHP Craig Kimbrel (96th overall), the first collegian taken by Atlanta, was 3-2 with an 0.51 ERA on three levels. He pitched 35 1/3 innings in the Appy, Sally and Carolina Leagues, striking out 56 and not allowing a homer. ... C Braeden Schlehuber (130th overall) hit .268 with 11 RBIs in the GCL. ... RHP J.J. Hoover (310th overall) pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings over two appearances at Danville. ... SS Travis Adair (400th overall) hit .289 with 20 RBIs in 197 GCL at-bats. ... RHP Casey Hodges (700th overall) was 4-5 with a 2.47 ERA and one shutout in 69 1/3 innings over 12 starts in the Appy League. ... RHP Adam Bullard (1,300th overall) was 1-2 with a 6.23 ERA in 15 games in Danville and Rome. He struck out 27 in 30 1/3 innings, but allowed the opposition to hit .326.

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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