Two South Atlantic League players draw raves across minors

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Two players representing the South Atlantic League are currently running away with the lead in two statistical categories over all of Minor League Baseball.

Kannapolis Intimidators second baseman Micah Johnson leads the minors with 37 stolen bases. The next highest total is San Antonio Missions center fielder Rico Noel with 28.

Johnson, a ninth-round pick in 2012 out of Indiana, entered the weekend hitting .296 with a .384 on-base percentage from the leadoff spot, providing scoring opportunities and wreaking havoc on the basepaths.

Billy Hamilton, considered the fastest player in the minors, has 21 steals for the Louisville Bats. Hamilton has struggled in his first attempt at Triple-A, hitting .222.

Charleston RiverDogs right-hander Rafael De Paula owns the highest strikeout percentage in the minors at 43.4 percent, holding a 5 percent lead over Columbus Clippers right-hander Danny Salazar in Triple-A.

De Paula is gaining attention for his high strikeout rate, totaling 69 punch outs in 39⅓ innings. He has reached double digits in strikeouts four times in eight starts, including his past two outings. He has paired the strikeouts with a 2.75 ERA, not allowing more than three runs in any start.

POTENTIAL PROSPECT: Rome Braves catcher Tyler Tewell is a small college bat flying under the radar as a potential backup type at the big league level.

The Atlanta Braves picked Tewell in the 14th round in 2012 out of Appalachian State. He combined to hit .308 with three home runs between two rookie level teams to end the year.

Tewell, a 5-foot-11 21-year-old, entered the weekend hitting .258 with two home runs for Rome in his first taste of a full-season league. But while his numbers aren’t eye-popping, Tewell has the swing and athleticism to make moves in the Braves system.

Despite a small frame, Tewell can jump on pitches and send them into the gaps, adding an occasional home run. He shows good power in batting practice from a swing that generates excellent bat speed.

“He only drew three walks between the GCL and Danville (in 2012), a trait that can be traced to his college days where he never walked in more than 8 percent of his plate appearances in any given season,” capitolavenueclub.com prospect writer Ethan Purser said. “The bright side is that he makes a lot of hard contact via a short, line-drive-oriented swing that should produce plenty of gap power.”

Behind the plate, Tewell shifts from side to side with great footwork, showing athleticism from the catcher position. He doesn’t have the normal build of a catcher, and his arm isn’t top notch, but his athleticism should keep him behind the plate.

Tewell represents a potential backup catcher in the majors. He was an outfielder in college, but the Braves liked him at catcher enough to start him there on a full-time basis. It’s paying off so far.


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