The Rome Braves have had a stacked team this season, with some of the bigger prospects in the organization playing a big part in their turnaround. The pitching staff has been phenomenal with names like Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, Max Fried, Touki Toussaint and the recently promoted Patrick Weigel coming of age and showing that the talent seen in them may be more than potential. Austin Riley is maturing into the best third base prospect in the system while being arguably the biggest bat on the pipeline behind a huge second half.
Having taken in quite a few Rome Braves games this season, primarily to see the names above, a couple other prospects — though much lesser known — have shown steady improvement seemingly each and every time I visited State Mutual Field.
Castro has had a nice season in Rome, and came alive appropriately when Rome did in the second half. He’s a big swinger, and somewhat older than most of the pitching he faces, but the 22-year old, right handed hitting first baseman has certainly found his power stroke.
The catcher turned first baseman idled around the Dominican Summer League for three seasons after being signed out of La Romana in the Dominican Republic for the 2012 season. He broke out so to speak last season for the Danville Braves, slashing .319/.340/.412 but hit a mere one home run while striking out 42 times and walking just eight in 204 at bats. Not exactly the bat profile you’d like to see from your starting first baseman.
Castro looked lost in the first half of the season with his promotion to Rome, slashing .181/.209/.458 in the first two months, striking out 25 times and walking twice. Fueled by a red hot August, Castro has turned around his season and is starting to look like a player who could provide some organizational depth for the long haul.
Castro’s past ten games in particular have been amazing as he is hitting .359 with three home runs and 12 RBI. His issues at the plate, which will likely prevent him from any significant big league time without improvement, are still looming as he has struck out eight times and walked none over that same span. Still, his second half has been fun to watch as he has slashed .302/.336/.503 with nine home runs and 40 RBI.
It also seems that Castro may be better in a platoon role as he advances in the ranks as he struggles mightily against lefties. He has hit .176 with just one of his 15 home runs on the season against southpaws, striking out 14 times and walking just twice. His defense has improved at first base as well. Castro won’t be making a jump to the top of the Braves prospect charts in such a deep organization, but he has certainly made you begin to wonder if he can put it together.
Ray Patrick Didder
Every time I have been out to Rome this season, it seems as if Didder is doing something productive. His numbers don’t jump off the page, but the speedy outfielder has come along nicely in his highest level of play in his brief career.
Signed out of Aruba before the 2013 season, Didder started his career as a middle infielder, slowly transitioning to outfielder over three seasons at Rookie Level ball. He showed little power and didn’t seem to use his speed to his advantage as he climbed from DSL to GCL to the Appy League, registering just 26 extra base hits in 515 career at bats, including a goose egg in the home run column. That has all changed this year.
Now 21 years of age, the right handed hitter is having a breakout season. He is slashing .271/.382/.382 and seems to have found a little bit of pop and base path awareness that he has become one of those "toolsy" players. He currently leads the Sally with 88 runs scored and has posted a career high 15 doubles, nine triples and six home runs to go along with swiping 36 of 47 stolen base attempts atop the first place Rome Braves lineup.
He certainly could improve in the plate discipline department. He has struck out 97 times and walked 47 in 542 at bats. Didder would be even more of a threat on the bases and to the bats behind him if he drew a bit more walks from his regular leadoff or two-hole spot. Still, there is no denying his improvement this season.
Last night was more of the same as Didder seemed to just make something out of nothing. With Kevin Josephina on third base, Didder came up and ground out the other way, nearly legging out the hit but getting Josephina across the plate for Rome’s first run of the night.
I would expect Didder to make the jump next season to Carolina and possibly even Mississippi to see how he can handle advanced pitching. If he keeps up the improvements he has shown this season, he could be one of those exciting fourth outfielder sparks down the road.
It is also necessary to point out Jared James. Last time I was out at Rome, James hit his second game winning home run in as many days… and had played two career games at that point. Since he was drafted this season, he hasn’t really "improved" per se, but he also hasn’t stopped hitting.
James had another RBI triple last night in Rome and is now slashing .314/.367/.543 with three doubles, two triples and three home runs on his Rome season. He is certainly making you wonder if he may turn out to be the best draft pick to come out of the 34th round.