ROME, GA — Last night wasn’t the prettiest of games for the Rome Braves, falling 14-1 to the Charleston RiverDogs.
Here’s a few takeaways from the night.
Kurt Hoekstra can play ball
A bit older than most of the South Atlantic League, Hoekstra is proving himself to be a pretty good ball player. The tall, lanky third baseman even showed his skillset on the mound in last night’s loss.
Hoekstra was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 21st round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of Western Michigan. He began his career in Danville, but then missed all but four Gulf Coast League rehab starts in 2016 due to injury.
The middle infielder by trade has become a third baseman. After an April showing the rust of a layoff, Hoekstra had a solid May batting .307, following it up with a steady June, batting .287.
The 24-year-old does have some swing-and-miss in him, striking out 47 times while walking just 15 in 231 at bats. That being said, he does have more multi-hit games than multi-strikeout games in June (nine to three). He also doesn’t seem to possess much, if any, power, with just 13 doubles and no home runs, profiling more as a middle infielder as he once was opposed to the hot corner. That probably is because he is listed at 6-foot-2 and 190, but looks taller and more slender in person.
Last night, he came on in the ninth to pitch and struck out the two best hitters in the RiverDogs lineup, Blake Rutherford and Estevan Florial. It doesn’t mean that there is a career change in Hoekstra’s future, but shows his athleticism. He won’t be moving Austin Riley off the hot corner down the road, but he has certainly become a fun player to watch.
Austin Bush is huge
Where Hoekstra is a wiry third baseman, his corner-infield counterpart is an absolute beast. Listed at six-foot-six, 265, he is bigger than that in person.
This year’s 15th-rounder came out of the gates hot. The former Gaucho came off a big junior season, hitting .303 with 20 home runs and 14 doubles. Bush went 8-for-19 in his first four professional games in Rome, before going 0-for-6 over the last two days.
Last night, Bush drew the first walk of his career on four straight pitches. Two were close, so he shows a sound eye, despite having a propensity to strike out. He did strike out twice last night, his third multi-strikeout game of his young career, and was late on the fastball in both instances.
Still, Bush hits highlight reel home runs in batting practice and could be the biggest power prospect at first the Braves have seen in awhile. Don’t forget, Bush’s season started in January, so he is hitting a wall that many draftees sometimes do. Let’s see what the Braves can do with his power bat. Wouldn’t be the first time they righted a few wrongs.
Will the real Jeremy Walker please stand up?
The Braves 2016 fifth-rounder out of Gardnder-Webb has had an up and down first run at full-season ball. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, but has also been driven out of games early, as he was last night.
I’ve personally seen Walker twice this year. Both times were against Charleston and both times he was driven from the game after just 3.2 innings pitched. And to be totally fair, both times he was the victim of some bad defense (six combined unearned runs in both of the aforementioned starts).
That being said, Walker has shown he has the stuff, but he is just too hittable and inconsistent. His two strongest outings speak volumes about what he can do. On May 6, he struck out seven and walked one, allowing just one run. Three weeks later, he tossed a career-high seven innings of one-run ball, striking out 10 and walking just one.
Walker needs to become more consistent in his delivery. He fell off the mound often last night, and struggled, as he usually does, attacking the zone, landing just 52 percent of his pitches for strikes. The delivery itself is a bit awkward, but not to the point in can’t be refined.
The Braves are certainly known for their pitching magic, so maybe Dan Meyer can figure out what’s wrong. His walk rate isn’t too alarming (2.84 per nine), and his .302 opponents batting average is definitely hurt by a .343 BABIP. It’s there, the Braves just need to find how to get the most out of it, whether that be a future long-man or maybe still a backend rotation guy.