The Atlanta Braves released Richmond outfielder David Kelton Monday night, in the start of a series of moves at the midway point of the minor league season.
Kelton never got on track as a Braves’ farmhand. He went to big league camp with an outside chance at a spot on the Atlanta roster, but struggled in March. Kelton hit only .225 in 17 games in spring training, and the Braves then sent him to be a starter in Richmond. But Kelton could never get his bat going. He hit only .216 with Richmond and had only one home run and 10 RBI in 153 at bats.
The LaGrange, Georgia resident was a top prospect for the Cubs for many years before signing as a six-year minor league free agent last winter. Kelton, who played in 22 big league games for Chicago, has a career .269 minor league average entering this season, but was never able to click in a Braves’ uniform.
The release of Kelton opened the door for the promotion of Gregor Blanco from AA Mississippi. Blanco made great strides this season in his return to Double-A. After hitting .252 last season with the Braves, he returned to Pearl and hit .287. The lefty-hitting outfielder had a .397 OBP (sixth best in the Southern League) along with 17 stolen bases (fifth best in the league). Blanco does not have much power, but his ability to get on base should help the Richmond lineup, which will have to reconfigure now with Scott Thorman in Atlanta.
Blanco was replaced on the Mississippi roster with Brandon Jones, who was having a solid season in Myrtle Beach. Jones was hitting only .257 with the Pelicans, but he had 7 home runs and 35 RBI. The Braves are clearly pushing Jones, but they feel he is one of their better prospects and can handle the challenge of going to Double-A.
Joining Jones on the Mississippi roster in a few days will be Matt Harrison, who was having a superb season for the Pelicans. The lefty from North Carolina was 8-3 with a 2.59 ERA in 12 starts. He had allowed 69 hits in 76.1 innings, with only 13 walks, and 58 strikeouts. In Harrison’s 63 career minor league starts, he’s 27-15 with a 3.31 ERA, and has only 62 walks in 348.1 innings.
Harrison will comprise a very solid starting rotation in Mississippi for the second half, particularly with the demotion of Anthony Lerew to Double-A over the weekend. Lerew, who battled back problems in the first half of the season in Richmond, will be brought along slowly. He’ll probably piggyback with Dave Coggin, a former big leaguer trying to comeback from an injury. They will join Matt Wright and lefties Chris Waters and Francisley Bueno in the rotation. Plus, Sean White, currently on the DL with a shoulder strain, should be back soon as well.
Replacing Harrison in Myrtle Beach’s rotation will be Jo Jo Reyes, who will start the Sally League All-Star Game Tuesday night. Reyes has been outstanding in Rome, posting an 8-1 record with a 2.99 ERA in 13 starts. The lefty has allowed 62 hits in 75.1 innings, with 25 walks and 84 strikeouts. Finally healthy after having Tommy John surgery two years ago and tearing his ACL last summer, Reyes could be on the Chuck James fast track up the minor league ladder. He and Harrison are the Braves’ top two lefty pitching prospects.
Joey Devine will join the Myrtle Beach bullpen when they start the second half with a series in Salem. Devine has been rehabbing a back problem down at the Braves’ complex in Orlando. He pitched in four games in Myrtle Beach last season after being drafted in the first round out of N.C. State. Devine pitched in two games for Atlanta the first week of the season, but was hit around hard and then was diagnosed with the back problem.
Lefty Devin Anderson will also be added to the Myrtle Beach roster. The reliever was 2-0 for Rome in 18 games with a 1.46 ERA. He allowed 31 hits in 37 innings pitched, along with 27 strikeouts.
Anderson will be replaced in the Rome bullpen by Brad Nelson, who had pitched in three games for Myrtle Beach after being called up from Extended Spring Training a few weeks ago. Nelson pitched in 20 games for Rome in 2004, but missed most of last year with an arm injury.
With Brandon Jones gone, the Pelicans will need a big bat for their lineup, and they will get one with the pending promotion of Rome first baseman Isaiah Ka’aihue. Sometimes called “little Big Cat” for his resemblance to Andres Galarraga, Ka’aihue had a monster first half for the Rome Braves. He was tied for the league lead with 15 home runs, first in slugging percentage (.622) and OPS (1.083), second in OBP (.461) and walks (51), third in average (.333), and fourth in RBI (49).
Ka’aihue will play tonight in the Sally League All-Star Game, but will report to Salem later this week to play for the Pelicans.
Manny Rodriguez will take Ka’aihue’s spot at first base for Rome. Rodriguez was called up a few weeks ago from Extended Spring Training and has hit only .213 in his first 47 at bats. Rodriguez could eventually be joined by Josh Morris, Atlanta’s 12th round two weeks ago. Morris’s Georgia Bulldogs got kicked out of the College World Series Monday, so he could sign with the Braves later in the week.
Brandon Monk was demoted to Danville Monday, so Rome will now have Robert Marcial and Derrick Arnold see time for them at second base.
And finally, with Jo Jo Reyes heading to Myrtle Beach, Rome’s pitching staff will be juggled a bit in the second half. Jake Stevens, demoted to Rome last week, and Jairo Cuevas will be on their own in the rotation. But the other three spots will be in a piggyback situation. Beau Jones will now piggyback with right-hander Jose Santiago, who has pitched 12 games out of the Rome bullpen so far. The Braves will move lefty reliever Adam Stanley into a piggyback with Asher Demme, who should be back off the disabled list later this week. And Carlos Rivas, who has been outstanding in his first three starts, will piggyback with Jeff Lyman, due back soon off the disabled list.
A piggyback is when the Braves try to get multiple pitchers significant innings. Pitchers paired together will usually swap back and forth as the starter and reliever when their day is up. The limit is based solely on pitch counts, but it allows a number of pitchers to get good action.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.