ROME, GA — The Rome Braves are fun again. A large part of that is thanks to a thrilling lineup that can turn on a pitch better than most in the South Atlantic League.
Whereas the 2016 Rome champion squad backed by arguably the best rotation in the low minors, the 2018 first-half champion Rome Braves are fueled by a lineup full of some of the best prospects in the system.
I spent July 2 and 3 in Rome and here’s a few guys that really stood out for better or worse.
Simply put, everything Contreras did the two days I was in Rome was sensational. The 20-year-old backstop was a menace at the plate and behind the dish.
He went 2-for-3 in Tuesday’s game and even his outs were productive. He drove in two runs in the cleanup spot, and made hard contact in pretty much every at bat. Contreras hustled out an infield single, sliding headfirst into first base. While it isn’t optimal to watch a young star slide into first, there is no denying his hustle, as he stole his first base of the year as well on the backend of a Greyson Jenista double-steal.
There isn’t much to his stance, but he certainly generates plenty of pop. Contreras is primarily a pull hitter, but can use all fields. He hit a lot of ground balls, but they were loud and he definitely has the hit tool to play as he improves.
Defensively he has a cannon.
It was a laser. Impressive arm strength. https://t.co/4nCv1MmfIk— Wayne Cavadi (@UofDWayne) July 3, 2018
He threw out Michael Hickman by a wide margin on Monday. On Tuesday, he received a pitch out and had the runner dead at first with a snap throw. Austin Bush was in front of the base and missed the tag, but the runner was as sure as out if he played it correctly.
Contreras misplayed one foul pop up over the weekend, but seemed to have a good awareness behind the plate, both blocking breaking balls in the dirt and moving. Two games does not a season make, but he put on a show for sure.
Delgado has been a pleasant surprise all season, now slashing .332/.383/.415 in his 2018 All Star campaign. He puts a consistent barrel on the ball, and doesn’t strike out, doing so just 29 times in 301 at bats. Delgado will likely never develop the home run power, but he makes a lot of contact, able to contribute even if he doesn’t fill up the stat sheets.
That’s probably the biggest takeaway. Take the July 3 victory over Kannapolis for example. Delgado went 0-for-3, but scored two runs drawing a walk and a getting on base via getting plunked. He isn’t lightning fast by any means, but he can move the bases well and is a threat to at least get into scoring position every time he is on base.
Most importantly he is stellar with the glove. He has great range, drifting all the way onto the second base side and throwing a strike to first base on the run for an out late in the game. This is more valuable when you consider the current infield situation in Rome (which will be discussed momentarily).
There is a lot of pre-pitch movement with Delgado. Everything bounces, his bat bounces in a little curl over his shoulder, his knees rock as he stands back in the box, knees shoulder width apart in a slightly open stance. I’m curious to see how the 2017 9th-rounder handles the next level and how aggressive the Braves are with him. For now, he’s a solid fixture in the Braves infield and top of the lineup.
Here’s a fact. Jean Carlos Encarnacion has a big-league bat. When he gets into one, it is a sight to see. He is not, however, a big-league third baseman.
Prior to the first game, we were told to keep an eye on him, and watch how he handles the simplest of plays right at him. He is an odd case. Encarnacion has good range and made plays on balls to his right or his left, and even made a few nice charges on weaker ground balls. But he almost backhands balls that come right at him.
He made five errors in the two games I watched and they came in every form. Twice he struggled to reach second base, throwing the ball into centerfield on attempting to get a force out. He bobbled a few, over (or under) threw a few, and simply put, really struggled. There is too much upside in that bat to get angry, but a corner outfield position is most likely in his future.
Then there is Derian Cruz. I have seen a lot of Cruz and just don’t know what to make of him. Last season, as an 18-year-old, he was understandably overmatched in his first 26 games of full-season ball, committing 16 errors and hitting .167 before finishing the season in Danville and switching positions. Now a second baseman, the 2018 season hasn’t been much kinder with a .579 OPS and 23 errors. He has the athleticism to excel, but with a lot of swing-and-miss and a little error-prone, he needs to start putting it all together eventually. Still in his teens, Cruz is not far removed from being a top Braves prospect. If he can learn just a little more plate patience and stay focused all the way through plays, it seems like he can start trending upward once again quickly.