While the Atlanta Braves were busy snatching a win over Colorado on Friday night, the Gwinnett Braves were in action in the metro area themselves, playing in a game that was closer than the final 12-5 score would indicate (after all, Norfolk did put up a 7 spot in the ninth inning). And, while yes, I enjoy baseball any and everywhere, this was the first time I had really been to a G-Braves game and I watched for prospects to see how close the could possibly be to get a call-up. Naturally, the three I had my eye on last night were Tommy La Stella, Christian Bethancourt and Todd Cunningham.
Tommy La Stella didn’t have too many opportunities to shine on defense, although he did make a great diving stop to hold a hitter to an infield single, and keep a run from scoring (not that it would have mattered in the end anyway) and turned a double play with ease – made a fantastic throw while still standing on a bag with a sliding runner coming towards him. Offensively is where he impressed me the most, as TLS reached base three times, and twice were via the base on balls. He showed great patience at the plate, and swings when he deems necessary. Although, as much as it pains me to say this, he is potentially not ready to face major league arms on a regular basis (although he did face Heath Bell last night).
Christian Bethancourt had an interesting night. He finished with a hit, walk and run scored and caught a solid game, but he came up to the plate with the bases loaded and two out – thrice – and drove in zero runs. Not good. Also, Bethancourt doesn’t leave his stance. He believes he can pick anything out of the dirt with his glove, and to his credit, he did a fair job of that for the most part. But, there were a couple of times a ball unnecessarily went to the backstop because Bethancourt didn’t move his body in front of it to try and stop it. However, the thing I was most impressed with was his speed, especially for a catcher. He looks more like an outfielder or shortstop than a back stop, and he is fast around the bases. He’s very much so a work in progress, but is almost there and will be ready to take over the reigns from Evan Gattis in a couple or so years.
Finally, there was Todd Cunningham, who went 2-for-5 with a run scored, and RBI and a strikeout in the lead off spot. There was nothing spectacular or incredibly disappointing about him, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, all three outfielders last night – Cunningham, Derrick Mitchell and Brandon Boggs - all really impressed me in how solid they are, and if (god forbid) anything happens to a current Braves outfielder and the bench needs an outfield guy, any one of the three could take the spot and not miss a beat. Mitchell showed off his arm at one point, throwing past a cutoff man right to Bethancourt. The most disappointing thing came in the opening inning, when a bloop single was hit in mid-center field that Cunningham played a little to lackadaisical for my liking. Had he put some speed behind him, he could have at least had a chance to make a play.
While the big league Braves have been playing well as of late, so not many people are calling for replacements, it’s nice to know that the Braves really do have the best available on the field. It might be tough to hear it, but simply put, TLS isn’t ready to play major league 2nd base, Bethancourt isn’t ready for a major league pitcher, and the outfield has no room to budge (although, if something were to happen to Jordan Schafer, then we can start talking). Gwinnett, who have been putrid over the past two years for some reason, are sitting pretty in first place in their division, and while the pieces are there, they just don’t fit in the Ted. Yet.