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Checking in on the first place Rome Braves

ROME, GA – With only 8  games to go in the regular season, the Rome Braves are on fire and in first place. If the Rome Braves is any indication if this “rebuild” thing is working, then the answer is a yes.

The 2016 Rome Braves are a glowing reminder of how farm systems are supposed to work when built the correct way. This is what happens when an organization drafts smart and maintains a strong field staff.

I’m not going to count last night as any reflection on how the Rome Braves have played over the last couple of months. In my opinion, last night the team shouldn’t be judged too harshly for it’s loss. It was a rehab start for Williams Perez, and he simply forgot out to pitch.

Covering the Rome squad this year has been a wonderful reminder of the development aspect of young baseball players. Rome did not start the season off on their best foot. But as we’ve come to know as baseball fans, the game of baseball is a marathon and these guys are young and learning how to make adjustments.

Through adding guys like Kolby Allard and through guys like Touki and Riley making adjustments, the Rome Braves have become a force to deal with in the South Atlantic League going down the stretch.

When the season started, many wondered if Touki Toussaint was the guy he was marketed to be. He posted a whopping 9.19 ERA for the month of April much to the shock of many.

Touki’s bread and butter has been his magnificent curveball, but what he struggled with early on was his fastball command.

When I spoke to Touki back in May, he told me that his fastball command and overall control was his top priority, and as the summer progressed, Touki Toussaint kept his word.

Since the All-Star break, Touki has posted a 3.55 ERA, and in his last 10 starts, he posted a 3.15 ERA with 65 strikeouts. The future certainly looks bright for Touki and he’s been a huge part of this team making it this far.

Austin Riley also had a questionable start to the season. Austin slashed .244/.272/.419 during the month of April and he slashed .252/.299/.371 overall in the first half. The future slugger has turned things up during the second half in Rome, slashing .275/.337/.550 since the break.

Braves scouts were certain that Austin Riley had slugging potential, and it’s been great to see him prove them right. During the first half, Riley had only 3 home runs. He’s hit 14 since the break. And, with 8 games left on the season, Austin is tied with the second most doubles in the league.

A couple of under-the-radar prospects for Rome have been a pleasant surprises this year and a big part of this team’s makeup – outfielder Ray-Patrick Didder and 19-year-old SS Alejandro Salazar.

Didder started the season on fire, then had a bit of slump in June, and since the All-Star break he’s hit .288. He’s also tied for the most runs scored in the South Atlantic League with 88.

After hitting just .254 in April, Alejandro Salazar hit .381 for the month of July and has hit .358 since the All-Star break, after a brief stint on the DL. Nobody talks about Salazar, perhaps because the big club is stacked at middle infield, but keep your eye on this 19-year-old.

Another key piece to this unbelievable Rome Braves playoff run has been catcher Jonathan Morales. I did a write-up on Morales way back in May for AllOnGeorgia and talked about how I thought he has potential to be “the guy” in Atlanta one day behind the dish. Well, I still stand by what I said three months ago.

Just like any good prospect, Jonathan Morales has battled through some adjustments this summer.

In April he mostly hit for average while slashing .295/.313/.436. Then in May he picked up the offense a bit, but once June hit he really struggled. In June we saw Mo slash a measly .149/.216/.239. Once July came around, he adjusted and slashed .308/.356/.385, and August was a similar story.

Since the All-Star break, Morales has hit .298 and while he doesn’t have much power, the guy can hit and drive in runs.

And of course we can’t talk about the Rome Braves playoff push without giving credit to Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Ricardo Sanchez, Max Fried and even Patrick Weigel who has recently been promoted to AA-Mississippi.

The entire starting rotation has so much potential that it’s hard to predict who will go where and who will do what.

Kolby Allard has probably impressed me the most, while I’m still most excited about Mike Soroka’s big league potential. Since rejoining Rome, Allard’s had 46 strikeouts in 7 starts. His last start in Rome was ended in 5 innings thanks to rain, and the guy fanned 9.

As this team goes into Sunday, they’re sitting at 1 1/2 games in first place ahead of Augusta. They face Augusta on Sunday in a very important match-up then they’ll hit the road to face Greenville before ending their season in Augusta for the final 4-game series of the regular season.

Rome Braves postseason tickets are already on sale, AND all tickets are $5 if you buy them now.

 

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