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The three bench spots open were claimed by Brooks Conrad, Brandon Hicks and Matt Young. Conrad gives the team a solid bat from both sides, which is more than Joe Mather or Diory Hernandez could do. While he doesn't provide good defense and should never enter a game as a defensive replacement, he gives the Braves a good pinch hitter.
Hicks came out of nowhere to Braves fans in the final days to take a spot as backup shortstop and defensive replacement. The common thought was Ed Lucas would get the nod after Hernandez was cut from camp, but Hicks provides the team with much better defense and someone capable of filling in for Alex Gonzalez with confidence. He is also a much better runner with more speed. I like this move.
I also like Young being the fourth outfielder. I called this before spring camp started due to Young's defense and capable bat. He won't wow anyone with the defense, but he is capable of playing center with confidence. He also has a good bat with patience, and he has some versatility by being able to play second base. Like Hicks, this shows the Braves are set on providing good defense from the bench.
I also agree with the move of carrying Cristhian Martinez over Scott Proctor for the final bullpen spot. Martinez is a better pitcher in every way and will give the Braves more quality innings. Proctor is a great guy and I wish him the best, but I'm glad he won't be in Atlanta to start the season. Also, Martinez is capable of going multiple innings at a time, which is key for the final bullpen spot.
Mather was placed on waivers and will likely get scooped up soon. He was pretty terrible at the plate and in the field this spring, and he pretty much played himself out of a spot. I feel this probably opened the door for Conrad making the team right now.
This means a bench of David Ross, Eric Hinske, Conrad, Hicks and Young. Best backup catcher in the league, one of the best pinch hitters in the league, a solid pinch hitter, a solid defensive infielder and a good fourth outfielder with a bat.
The Braves certainly made the most of what they had to choose from for these spots. Very pleased.
Jair Jurrjens will complete a bullpen session Monday as a first step to avoid the disabled list. If all goes well there, he will pitch in a minor league game later in the week. If he avoids the DL, he could still be moved to the fifth spot in the rotation to skip his first start, meaning Brandon Beachy will make his start in Milwaukee April 4. If he goes on the DL, Mike Minor or Rodrigo Lopez would get the nod.
The Braves made another round of cuts, one of the last before Opening Day. One has pretty much determined a roster spot that was uncertain all spring.
What does this mean? It means the announcement about Brandon Beachy being the fifth starter over Minor is now official. The Braves feel Beachy represents more value right now, and I can't disagree with that. Minor is probably the long-term option, but he has time to work in AAA as long as Beachy gives the Braves quality innings.
It also means Ed Lucas is the likely candidate for the infield role, beating out Hernandez, who I had pegged at the beginning of spring as the utility man. The Braves must feel Lucas has enough range to play shortstop behind Alex Gonzalez, and they certainly know more about this than anyone else, so I just hope it's true. He also can play the outfield in a pinch, which means more value than Hernandez in that respect. This isn't an official announcement, but it looks like the Braves are leaning this way.
Schafer, Abreu and Asencio were pegged for AAA at the beginning of spring, so these aren't surprising. Schafer needs daily work to try to return to where he was prior to his wrist surgery, and playing center field everyday in AAA will give him that. Abreu and Asencio could likely get some innings in Atlanta at some point this season, but they are a step below both Scott Proctor and Cristhian Martinez on the ladder. Where Stephen Marek fits on that ladder, who knows? That is unfortunate.
Matt Young remains, which only furthers my prediction and hope that he makes the team as the backup outfielder. He had a good day at the plate today, as well. The Braves have 33 left on the roster, so eight cuts remain before March 31.
I feel the need to say that this is mainly an observational post based on my viewpoint from Spring Training this weekend. You won't find any analysis or groundbreaking opinions, but just my view and opinion of what I saw. Also, a good deal of it is not Braves-related.
The first stop was Fort Myers for the Red Sox vs. Tigers on Friday. I was not impressed with the stadium, and I can see why they are building a new one for next season. For some reason, the game I attended was the largest attendance of spring, and if the crowds are anywhere near as close as the one I went to, it's easy to see why they are wanting something bigger.
Clay Buchholz is always fun to watch. I love his mechanics and style. He struggled with command and left the ball up, but just getting to see his mechanics in person was fun.
Adrian Gonzalez was a statue on balls to his glove side. He botched two easy grounders to that side, yet he was solid down the line. Seems like that has been the trend with him over the years.
The second game of my first day was Red Sox vs. Rays in Port Charlotte. I was very impressed with the Rays stadium. It's clean, simple and modern, like a really nice minor league field. My lack of experience in Spring Training facilities has me spoiled by Disney, but I know a good stadium when I see it, and Port Charlotte is a nice one.
Sat pretty close to Carl Crawford and saw a nice diving catch. Otherwise, not much to report from the game. I was more impressed with the field than any player.
Saturday was Red Sox minor league camp day as I did some work for a publication. I interviewed 2009 eighth round pick Shannon Wilkerson for a story I'm doing, which I will link to on here when it's published. For those interested, Wilkerson is a smart player in the field, at one point giving a teammate advice on defensive positioning with two outs, and he displays good defense. The bat may be hit or miss; he has good mechanics in the box but he hasn't really had a chance to show what he can do over a full season when healthy. He did drill a home run in the first inning.
Anthony Ranaudo started the game I watched, and I was impressed by his mechanics. He fell to the side a couple times but remained smooth through the delivery. He didn't show overly dominating stuff but it was solid.
Kolbrin Vitek received a couple plate appearances, but I didn't see much to say he's a big prospect. No one outstanding tool, but he should move up as a well-rounded player.
Sunday was Braves day. Unfortunately, the alarm on the phone decided to play a trick on me and not go off, so I completely missed minor league camp. Yay for me. I made it for the big league game and, as always, enjoyed every minute of being at the complex.
Wilkin Ramirez is fast but takes questionable routes in the outfield. I'm not sure I would have confidence in throwing him in center field. I know speed has little to do with defensive ability, but Ed Lucas is as slow as Christmas on the basepaths. He may have decent stolen base numbers, but I feel it has probably more to do with being a smart baserunner. I'm not impressed with his range, but he's smart in the field.
Not much else to report on the game. Just one of those games where nothing eye-catching happened. Dan Uggla is a tree trunk, if you didn't already know.
The one most talked about and the most surprising is Marek. The reliever was thought to have a decent chance at the last spot in the bullpen, and he really impressed in his spring outings, but he got a pretty quick hook. This means the obvious choice for the spot is Scott Proctor, who is probably worse than Marek and has no future on the Braves. Makes sense to me.
Gearrin and Varvaro weren't going to make the team out of camp. Gearrin had a poor spring, but I'm sure it doesn't change the organization's view on him. Varvaro is still a work in progress and showed that in his last few innings.
Those assigned to minor league camp were expected. We didn't see much of Flande; Castillo received a large amount of at bats and looked pretty good; Bowman is minor league filler; Clevlen continues to trudge along in AAA; Constanza had a very, very outside chance at a roster spot, but he didn't exactly impress in his at bats. He's just fast.
The Braves have their rotation plans set, as Fredi Gonzalez announced them after the 4-3 win over the Red Sox Wednesday.
Derek Lowe gets the Opening Day nod for the third straight year, facing the Nationals on the road Thursday, March 31. He seems to have carried his dominating September over to Spring Training, allowing just one run on eight hits in 14 innings. I know that's a major difference, but I'm sure it gives Gonzalez that much more confidence in naming Lowe the starter.
Lowe allowed just four runs and three walks in 30.2 innings last September, carrying the staff into the playoffs and earning the Game 1 nod in the Division Series. I have already named him as a darkhorse as far as National League starting pitching goes, and I'm sure the Braves are looking for more of that September Lowe in 2011.
After a day off on April 1, Tommy Hanson will start April 2, a Saturday afternoon game in Washington. Hanson has certainly earned a promotion to No. 2 starter after recording a 3.33 ERA and 3.31 FIP in 202.2 innings last season.
Tim Hudson starts the series finale on April 3, a Sunday afternoon game. That puts him in line to start the home opener April 8 against the Phillies.
Jair Jurrjens will start the series opener against the Brewers in Milwaukee, a Monday afternoon game on April 4. The Braves' first night game comes April 5, when Lowe will make his second start. The fifth starter will make his season debut April 6. My money continues to be on Mike Minor. Hanson finishes the series in Milwaukee April 7, and Hudson starts the home opener April 8.
The off day on April 1 (for possible rain delays on Opening Day) allows the Braves to skip the fifth starter the first time through the rotation.
3/31: Derek Lowe
4/2: Tommy Hanson
4/3: Tim Hudson
4/4: Jair Jurrjens
4/5: Derek Lowe
4/6: Fifth Starter
4/7: Tommy Hanson
4/8: Tim Hudson
The Braves announced their first round of cuts, according to David O'Brien. The list is as follows:
The minor league pitchers are quick to leave due to the innings increase by the main pitchers for Atlanta. The rotation will go five innings in each start the next time through, so innings are scarce, and there's really no room for any more showcasing.
Cordier, Hyde and Ortegano were optioned to AAA. Delgado was optioned to AA. The rest were assigned to minor league camp.
Teheran was solid in two outings, allowing three hits and no runs, no walks and one strikeout. He battled back spasms early in camp, so he may have finished an inning or two short, but it doesn't take away from how he did.
Vizcaino was perhaps the most impressive of the three, allowing four hits and no runs, no walks and four strikeouts in four innings. His fastball was very live and was said to have topped in the high-90s to 100. It's very encouraging following the elbow tendinitis that sidelined him for some time in 2010, though the injury scare is always there with his mechanics.
Delgado was also impressive, responding from a rather shaky first inning where he allowed a run by pitching two near-perfect innings after that. He didn't walk any and struck out three. Perhaps the best part of seeing these three pitch is the fact that they threw strikes. No walks, pure gas.
Oberholtzer pitched six solid innings this spring, allowing an unearned run on three hits, two walks and one strikeout. He seems to be in the conversation as best pitching prospect outside the top three, though I will hold off on that one.
Mycal Jones finished 2-10 with a double, RBI, two walks and three strikeouts. He seems to have made the transition to center field very well, and he spent the entire spring out there. Look for him in AA this season.
Tyler Pastornicky finished 1-3 with a RBI. He is someone I am high on, and I will be watching him this season to see how close he can get to the majors. I expect at least half a season from him in AAA.
Yesterday, I posted an update on two positions worth noting this spring: utility infielder and fourth outfielder. I have Diory Hernandez and Matt Young slated for the roles, with nothing changing over the first nine games. Today, I look at the last spot in the bullpen, as well as a quick update on some of the minor leaguers currently in camp.
I projected Scott Proctor as the last reliever in the bullpen coming out of camp simply due to the guaranteed money he is receiving this season. The Braves apparently want to give him every chance to earn a full-time role in the majors. So far this spring, Proctor has allowed three runs in three innings, all coming on a three-run home run by Russ Adams in his spring debut. He has also walked four. He isn't making things easy for the Braves so far, but I still have him in the spot for now.
I have been promoting Stephen Marek since before camp started for the last spot, and he has received plenty of work so far. He's also taking advantage of it, allowing one run in 4.1 innings. He has allowed two hits while walking three and striking out three. Marek has looked really good on the mound, and he's showing tons of confidence in his spring outings. I will continue to root for Marek to win the job, and he can't be too far behind Proctor right now.
Cristhian Martinez has been outstanding in 5.2 innings this spring, allowing just two hits with no runs, walking one and striking out six. Five of the six strikeouts came in two innings of work in his last outing. Martinez could not possibly do more to earn a spot in the bullpen, but with one or two already ahead of him before camp even started, it may be in vain. Either way, Martinez will be in Atlanta at some point in 2011.
Jairo Asencio has also pitched well this spring, allowing one run on two hits in six innings, walking one and striking out five. Asencio may be a year behind due to not playing last season, but he is certainly bouncing back very well so far. Like Martinez, he is probably too far behind the others to leapfrog them, but he may be seen in the majors in 2011, especially if he continues his solid pitching.
Anthony Varvaro received a fairly large amount of early work through the first nine games, but he tailed off his last couple outings and has lost some favor. He has allowed three runs on seven hits in 3.2 innings, walking three and striking out three. Varvaro looked good early, but control did him in the last two times out. He is still a minor league project who won't be in the running.
Cory Gearrin pitched well in his first three innings, but he was knocked around some in his last outing and has allowed three runs in four innings. Gearrin is pretty much done with the minors, but the Braves would have no problem sending him back to Gwinnett for another year, which will probably happen. I still say he is Peter Moylan's replacement, whenever the day comes.
Juan Abreu has allowed one run on four hits in five innings, walking three and striking out six. He has received a lot of early work, likely because he won't be in camp all the way through, and he has looked good, displaying a hard fastball while not letting the walks beat him too much. Abreu will always rack up the strikeouts no matter where he's at, but control is his weakness. He will spend another year in the minors working on it.
There are a few lesser relievers who I won't bother mentioning. The list above, and really just the top three, are your candidates.
Minor League Update:
You can find updates on Jordan Schafer, Brandon Hicks, Jose Constanza, Wilkin Ramirez, Matt Young, Ed Lucas and Shawn Bowman in the previous post from yesterday. I have just touched on Stephen Marek, Cristhian Martinez, Cory Gearrin, Jairo Asencio, Anthony Varvaro and Juan Abreu. Those not mentioned yet are below.
Mycal Jones is 2-10 with a double, RBI, two walks and three strikeouts. He has received a fair amount of at bats against major league pitching, including a start in center and leading off in one game. Jones has played all of his spring innings in center field, which makes it look like the Braves are dead set on converting him to a center fielder. By all accounts, he has played the position well so far.
J.C. Boscan and Wilkin Castillo are a combined 3-11, with two of the hits coming from Castillo. Neither is exactly playing for a big league spot, but I figured I'd get them in here anyway.
Christian Bethancourt is 0-3 with a walk. Perhaps the biggest news surrounding him was when Javy Lopez talked to him about his maturation early in camp. Bethancourt is in big league camp just to give the other catchers a breather at times, but I think it has served a purpose of helping him grow and surround himself with major leaguers.
Todd Cunningham went 0-3 in a start last week. Tyler Pastornicky is 1-3 with a RBI. Jesus Sucre is 1-3.
Brett Oberholtzer has pitched extremely well in four innings, allowing just two hits and no runs, walking one and striking out one. He has opened eyes at camp and is doing everything expected of him performance wise.
Randall Delgado is getting stronger by the outing. After allowing a run and getting knocked around some in his spring debut, he has pitched two scoreless innings since, including striking out two in a perfect inning last time out. Arodys Vizcaino has been lights out in three scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out one. Julio Teheran did well in his first spring outing, pitching around a couple hits and not letting a run score. The trio has been outstanding this spring.
Lee Hyde has pitched two scoreless innings, allowing two hits with two walks and two strikeouts. Hyde probably won't be in any running for a bullpen spot soon, but he could give the Braves a few innings as soon as this season if needed.
Jose Ortegano has allowed two runs on four hits in 1.1 innings, walking two and striking out one. Ortegano is quickly losing favor with me. The Braves might not be far behind if he continues this.
For the most part, spring training stats are meaningless. You don't want to take much from such a small sample size, not to mention so much of it is when the players are only gearing up for the season or working on different things.
However, at times, teams will use spring camp as a means of determining a roster spot. It's mostly for back of the bullpen spots or fourth outfielder type deals, but every spot on a roster is important in its own way, and these roster battles should not be taken lightly. The Braves have a couple of their own to watch.
My projected fourth outfielder entering camp was Matt Young, and I feel this is still the case. Young is 3-10 with three RBI, two walks and one strikeout. There has never been any question about his offensive ability and being able to stick in the majors, but defense as a fourth outfielder has come in question. By all accounts, Young has proven the doubters wrong with the defense, and he seems worthy as a defensive replacement, not to mention a worthy bat over the stretch of 15 games. He is also quite valuable in that he can play second and third base. Young's versatility alone could very well earn him this spot.
Wilkin Ramirez is doing everything he can to change that. The 25-year-old is 6-11 with a triple, two RBI and no walks or strikeouts. Ramirez is capable of playing all three outfield positions with enough defense as a fourth outfielder, and he has displayed good speed on the basepaths in the past. He also has the most pop of any fourth outfield candidate. It might be tough to turn Ramirez away if he continues this pace of hitting, but it's still too early to make this claim. He has at least put his name on the map.
Jordan Schafer is 5-24 with a double, RBI, one walk and five strikeouts. It's not surprising he has received the most at bats of any Brave in camp. The Braves are trying to get Schafer back on track following the wrist injury that killed his 2010 season, and the only way to do it is with constant reps. He may have gained a lot of exposure with his batting practice rounds, but as I wrote a while back when all of this surfaced, batting practice is a lot different from regular reps on the field. Schafer still has a ways to go, and he's showing that he's not ready to compete for a spot yet.
Jose Constanza had his name constantly appear through the first couple weeks of camp as he received a good amount of at bats, but despite good speed and defense, he doesn't produce much at the plate. He is 2-10 with a RBI and walk. Constanza has slapped the ball around and tried to find holes in the infield more than anything, which is his game at the plate. He's certainly capable of the role as defensive replacement in the outfield, but the others above him can do the same with better results at the plate.
Brent Clevlen is a name I mention just to give props for going 4-10 so far, including four RBI, three walks and four strikeouts. Clevlen won't be winning a job based on defense, however, and he's best suited as depth for the corner spots.
Diory Hernandez continues to be my guy after I projected him for the role at the beginning of camp. He is 5-11 with two doubles, a triple, four RBI and one strikeout. His bat has been everything needed to be to hold a spot on the roster, but so has his defense. He won't dazzle with the glove, but he provides sound defense at three positions. I've only seen his name mentioned once in print so far this spring, but I think he is quietly gaining the trust of the coaching staff.
Brooks Conrad is 2-15 with a double and five strikeouts; not exactly what he needs to regain trust. He has also committed an error. Conrad is being given a large amount of at bats and innings in the field, but he hasn't done anything with it yet.
Ed Lucas has opened some eyes so far this spring, going 6-13 with three RBI, one walk and one strikeout. Lucas has some impressive minor league numbers, though he will be 29 this year, and it has carried over to camp this spring. I will admit I know nothing about the guy and haven't seen him play defense, so I can't say how he could handle a utility role. But I do know he has seen innings at third and shortstop, so he gives the Braves an option with versatility who has a stick. Keep an eye on him.
Shawn Bowman is 2-11 with a home run, three RBI, one walk and five strikeouts. He will be 26 this year and has yet to touch AAA, so he's a definite long shot. His best bet is AAA depth.
Brandon Hicks is 3-12 with one double, three RBI and three strikeouts, committing one error. Hicks hasn't done much to prove he has a different approach at the plate or is worthy of a permanent spot on a big league roster. He will likely continue his pattern of AAA depth and September callups as a pinch runner.
Tomorrow I look at the competition for the final bullpen spot, as well as performances by minor leaguers at big league camp.
The Atlanta Braves infield always seems to see major overhauls year after year. The only player to stay in the Braves infield for more than just a few years is Chipper Jones, who has been around for more than half my life. Otherwise, new faces pop up across the diamond on an annual basis, and this season is no different.
Brian McCann saw a spike in walks and on-base ability in 2010, posting a 13.1 BB% and .375 OBP. However, his power also saw a dip to .453 SLG and .184 ISO. The result was an increase of one win from 4.3 fWAR to 5.3 fWAR. McCann was worth more to the Braves in 2010, and he continues to establish himself as true competition for Joe Mauer as the best catcher in the game. In fact, he has a higher fWAR than Mauer in two of the past three years.
Bill James: 579 PA, .280/.366/.493, 38 2B, 24 HR, 94 RBI, 11.1 BB%, 17.5 K%, .372 wOBA, .213 ISO
Marcel: 538 PA, .279/.361/.468, 30 2B, 19 HR, 77 RBI, 10.6 BB%, 17.9 K%, .361 wOBA, .189 ISO
ZiPS: .275/.357/.469, 34 2B, 22 HR, 89 RBI, 63 BB, 91 K, 120 OPS+
The Braves are getting a definite upgrade at first base, both offensively and defensively, in Freddie Freeman. Troy Glaus hit .240/.344/.400 with 16 home runs, a .331 wOBA and .160 ISO. These are not numbers you want to see from your first baseman, especially when he runs in quicksand and plays hurt more than half the time. Freeman brings youth, energy, health, a better bat and much better defense.
Freeman hit .319/.378/.518 with 18 home runs, a .387 wOBA and .200 ISO as a 20-year-old in AAA. Freeman's two concerns: walks and power. A strikeout rate of more than 20% is reasonable to expect in the beginning, but as his minor league stats show, and according to his approach and swing, he should settle around 15-18%. His walk rate has never touched higher than 8.8%, so anything higher than that as a major leaguer is questionable. Settling at 8% is reasonable.
Freeman's power is in question due to a short, compact swing. He chokes up on the bat and puts good backspin on the ball with a downward swing, keeping his hands in well and using all parts of the field. This is not your normal report on a first baseman, but Freeman really isn't your normal hitting first baseman. But he is still developing strength at 21 years old, and he seems to be behind most at his age because he is just now working out at full max. This could be big over the next few years as he continues to gain muscle.
Freeman will struggle at times, but there really shouldn't be much question as to whether he will stick. I fully expect him to make an impact as high as sixth in the order this season, while playing solid defense at first.
Bill James: 552 PA, .282/.335/.446, 34 2B, 16 HR, 83 RBI, 7.4 BB%, 18.2 K%, .343 wOBA, .164 ISO
Marcel: 212 PA, .262/.327/.419, 10 2B, 6 HR, 23 RBI, 6 HR, 23 RBI, 8 BB%, 20.4 K%, .329 wOBA, .157 ISO
ZiPS: .272/.333/.442, 35 2B, 18 HR, 85 RBI, 45 BB, 105 K, 106 OPS+
Dan Uggla is a 30-homer second baseman with a OBP of .349 for his career. He is the right-handed pop the Braves have needed for several years, and the Braves will have that pop for five years. While I don't necessarily agree with the extension, this post is meant for this season alone, and Uggla should provide what the Braves have sorely lacked for a while.
At 31 years old, Uggla should remain at his prime numbers for a couple more seasons, which would give the Braves 30 home runs and a ISO well above .200. While I originally wrote that Uggla's power may decrease some at Turner Field, I will wait for evidence before I say it causes a drop below 30 home runs. Either way, it's power at a prime position from the right side, and the Braves will take it.
Uggla's defense is another story. He is below average at second with bad hands and limited range, and I refuse to accept any sort of bad infield argument while all you have to do is look at his fielding. Adding this to an already poor team defense will lead to runs allowed, but it's the price the Braves are paying for his bat.
Bill James: 666 PA, .256/.346/.471, 32 2B, 31 HR, 90 RBI, 11.4 BB%, 25.4 K%, .355 wOBA, 215 ISO
Marcel: 604 PA, .260/.352/.472, 28 2B, 27 HR, 83 RBI, 11.8 BB%, 27 K%, .359 wOBA, .212 ISO
ZiPS: .259/.346/.469, 28 2B, 29 HR, 87 RBI, 71 BB, 144 K, 116 OPS+
Jones is still productive. The power has almost disappeared, recording ISO numbers in the .160s the past two years. He doesn't have the bat speed to drive balls on the outer half or up in the zone like he used to, but his eye and discipline has not failed him.
Jones recorded more walks than strikeouts for the fourth straight season in 2010. His OBP has decreased over that span, but .381 isn't exactly shabby. He hit 16% on the walk rate for a third straight season, and his strikeout rate of 14.8% was below his career average. This is a productive hitter.
We know what to expect from Jones. He will sit once every week or two weeks, and he may hit the disabled list, but while he is able to play, he will continue to provide some of the best on-base numbers on the team. Don't expect some kind of rebound season from him. His numbers will remain the same while he is able to play.
Bill James: 473 PA, .288/.401/.481, 24 2B, 17 HR, 66 RBI, 15.6 BB%, 16.8 K%, .389 wOBA, .193 ISO
Marcel: 450 PA, .271/.376/.432, 20 2B, 13 HR, 52 RBI, 14.4 BB%, 17.4 K%, .353 wOBA, .161 ISO
ZiPS: .258/.370/.416, 19 2B, 11 HR, 48 RBI, 63 BB, 58 K, 111 OPS+
Alex Gonzalez's 17 home runs prior to joining the Braves in 2010 was the product of Toronto. He had a .497 SLG and 112 OPS+ with the Jays, and a .386 SLG and 83 OPS+ with the Braves. I would hope Gonzalez can do better than that over a full season in Atlanta, because if he can't, he will become a huge hole in the lineup with his lack of plate discipline. Gonzalez has recorded a walk rate of 4.7% and 4.8% over the last two seasons.
He will provide above average defense where the Braves need it badly, so like with Uggla's defense, it's the price the Braves are paying. Don't expect a lot from Gonzalez offensively, but he needs to give the team good defense.
Bill James: 430 PA, .241/.291/.405, 26 2B, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 5.3 BB%, 19.9 K%, .300 wOBA, .164 ISO
Marcel: 563 PA, .244/.291/.406, 32 2B, 16 HR, 66 RBI, 5.3 BB%, 19.3 K%, .303 wOBA, .162 ISO
ZiPS: .253/.295/.414, 30 2B, 14 HR, 61 RBI, 24 BB, 86 K, 88 OPS+
My Projected Bench:
C – David Ross
1B/3B/OF – Joe Mather
1B/OF – Eric Hinske
INF – Diory Hernandez
OF – Matt Young
Omar Infante was shipped to Florida this offseason, creating a hole on the bench for utility infielder. However, the return was pretty well worth it. Even so, the trade left a spot that will be filled in house, and Spring Training seems like it could determine who takes the spot.
The first name that popped into minds and blogs was Diory Hernandez. Diory is a soon-to-be 27-year-old who has yet to stick on the Braves bench, due in part to poor play in call ups and in part to not having a spot. Hernandez hit .319/.344/.414 in 122 plate appearances at AAA last season, walking just four times. He has never had good plate discipline and he doesn't walk, but his on-base numbers are decent enough to keep around.
Hernandez won't win a job due to his hitting, but winning a utility infielding job isn't based entirely on offense. He has a good enough glove to pass as a defensive replacement, flashing decent hands and a good arm, but his range is not quite as good as you would like. He has major league experience at all three positions, which is a big plus for his case.
Brooks Conrad is option No. 2. He hit .250/.324/.487 with eight homers, .237 ISO and .356 wOBA in 177 plate appearances last season. He provided good value as a pinch hitter with power from the left side and solid stick from the right, as well. It also helped that he had a 2.24 WPA, showing his immense value as a hitter late in games. Obviously, he won't repeat his crazy late-innings heroics so often.
The problem with Conrad lies with his defense, which rose to epic proportions during the playoffs in just pure terribleness. He has good range but terrible hands, and he has yet to prove he can bounce back from a mistake. It's not his fault in that he shouldn't have even been out there in the late innings of the playoff games, but that in itself shows he isn't capable of being a defensive replacement. Added to that is the fact that Hernandez was the option that should have been in for Conrad.
Brandon Hicks pretty much proved his worth is nothing more than a solid defensive infielder with no bat. He barely hit .200 last season in 287 plate appearances at AAA. When he was a highly regarded prospect a couple years ago, he relied on power to overcome a poor on-base ability and high strikeout rate, but the power disappeared in the upper levels while the poor plate discipline remained.
Hicks has always flashed good defensive ability across the infield, but especially shortstop. He could easily handle the position as a defensive replacement, and he has nothing more to prove in the minors. But if offense has any impact on the decision, it will show when Hicks is held down. It's bad to say, but I would trust 15 days of Hernandez's bat over Hicks'. But one good thing I have noticed so far this spring is the Braves are giving Hicks some work at third base in an attempt to broaden his value, which shows they still have faith in him providing value to the big league club.
The Braves are also carrying Shawn Bowman, Ed Lucas, Mycal Jones and Tyler Pastornicky this spring. I know absolutely nothing about Bowman and Lucas and can't even provide an opinion, but I will guess they won't make the club. Jones and Pastornicky will both begin 2011 at AA and are just getting experience in big league camp. Pastornicky could play for a big league spot as soon as next year, and so could Jones, though I have the opinion that he may take a tad bit longer.
There really isn't a lot to sift through regarding the utility infielder role. Hernandez is likely to be the favorite at this point, with Hicks and Conrad about the same. If it was up to me, I would take the safe route and go with Hernandez out of the gate, but Hicks should be very close by throughout the season.
The Atlanta Braves begin their Spring Training schedule Saturday at 1:10 against the Mets in Port St. Lucie. Everything you want to know for the opener is right here.
Starting Lineup (found here):
1. Jordan Schafer, DH
2. Nate McLouth, CF
3. Jason Heyward, RF
4. Brian McCann, C
5. Eric Hinske, LF
6. Freddie Freeman, 1B
7. Brooks Conrad, 2B
8. Brandon Hicks, 3B
9. Diory Hernandez, SS
Jair Jurrjens, SP
Bowman also says Randall Delgado will get a couple innings. The Braves are throwing Delgado and Brett Oberholtzer out there quickly, and that's always a sure sign of confidence and intrigue.
Jurrjens will step foot on the mound for the first time since Sept. 14 of last year. There is no doubt he will have his adrenaline pumping. Obviously, don't take much if anything from anyone's first game, but especially Jurrjens. He will go two innings, followed by the youngsters and the two late-innings relievers.
According to David O'Brien, Chipper Jones bounced back with a good day Friday after a not so great day Thursday, which included fluid buildup in his knee. He had his first sliding drill and says he's feeling good. Jones won't play in the opener Saturday, but he's shooting for Sunday, which is a couple days ahead of the schedule laid out earlier this week.
You can watch the game on MLB.tv if you are a subscriber. For Atlanta area residents, the game will be on the radio on 680 AM and 93.7 FM.
The Atlanta Braves spring training broadcast schedule with TV and radio can be found here. Everyone loves a baseball game on the radio, especially during spring training when it's a little tougher to follow the games. Notable games on national TV:
3/3: vs. Tigers, 1:05 (ESPN)
3/6: at Nationals, 1:05 (MLB Network)
3/8: vs. Yankees, 1:05 (MLB Network, tape delay)
3/16: vs. Red Sox, 1:05 (ESPN)
3/17: vs. Nationals, 6:05 (MLB Network)
3/18: at Mets, 1:10 (MLB Network)
3/25: vs. Phillies, 1:05 (ESPN)
3/27: vs. Phillies, 1:05 (MLB Network)
Again, you can find the complete spring schedule here, which includes games on SportSouth and CSS.
And regular season games on national TV:
4/9: vs. Phillies, 1:10 (FOX)
4/16: vs. Mets, 4:10 (FOX)
4/23: at Giants, 1:10 (FOX)
4/30: vs. Cardinals, 1:10 (FOX)
5/8: at Phillies, 8:00 (ESPN)
5/28: vs. Reds, 7:10 (FOX)
5/29: vs. Reds, 8:00 (ESPN2)
6/18: vs. Rangers, 4:10 (FOX)
7/9: at Phillies, 4:10 (FOX)
7/23: at Reds, 4:10 (FOX)
8/27: at Mets, 4:10 (FOX)
That's a solid number of games for the Braves on national TV. They're always one of the most viewed teams in baseball during Spring Training due to their facility and the fact that broadcast teams probably want to go there. FOX gives the Braves a good number of games during the regular season, many of which come on Saturday at 1:10 instead of the usual 4:10. ESPN broadcasts are always subject to change. I would expect more as the season goes on.
The Atlanta Braves are coming off a season in which they posted solid pitching numbers, including several that led all of baseball. The bullpen was a big part of it, recording the third best bullpen ERA in baseball at 3.11 and the second best bullpen FIP at 3.18. They were the only bullpen in baseball with a K/9 above 10, and they had the best groundball rate in baseball at 49.7%. Repeating in 2011 is a tall order, but the Braves seem to have what it takes.
Naturally, the bullpen is the most difficult area of the team to project and predict. Relievers fall off the map in a matter of weeks, while others jump out at you unexpectedly. Trying to give a rundown of how the Braves bullpen will fare is not exactly a science, but it's fun to look at anyway.
Kimbrel is already well-known in the baseball world for his Billy Wagner-like tendencies, including a 100 mph fastball, deadly slider and short stature. The difference (aside from Kimbrel being a righty) is that Kimbrel has control issues, and at times they are major. Kimbrel's two biggest innings amounts in the minors were 26.1 innings at A+ Myrtle Beach in 2009 and 55.2 innings at AAA Gwinnett in 2010. At the beach, his BB/9 was 9.57. At Gwinnett, it was 5.66. Even in his successful 20.2 innings in Atlanta at the end of 2010, his BB/9 was 6.97.
Yes, Kimbrel set a major league record for K/9 in at least 20 innings of work with 17.42, and it definitely isn't a fluke, but neither are the walk rates. There is no denying his ability, and I have little doubt that he will become a great closer, but the walks are still a concern going forward.
The Braves will use Kimbrel as the main closer in 2011, but Jonny Venters will get the save opportunity if the situation calls for it (lefties due up in the ninth). It's also worth noting that Fredi Gonzalez may have a fairly quick hook on Kimbrel if he falters and Venters is lights out, but Kimbrel is still the long-term guy.
Bill James: 63 IP, 2.57 ERA, 2.75 FIP, 6.71 BB/9, 14.29 K/9, 0.29 HR/9, 25 SV
Marcel: 35 IP, 3.47 ERA, 3.39 FIP, 3.86 BB/9, 9.77 K/9, 0.77 HR/9
ZiPS: 63 IP, 3.53 ERA, 115 ERA+, 54 BB, 92 K, 5 HR
Just to get this out of the way, Venters will see some regression in 2011, but I don't think it will be as drastic as people want to make it. His one home run allowed in 83 innings last season will not be repeated, and a difference between a 1.95 ERA to 3.10 xFIP shows he is due for regression (4.23 BB/9 is a big reason for that), but predictions seem to be ignoring his stuff and strikeout ability. That K/9 of 10 last season should not be dipping very far, and neither should the 68% GB%.
Venters will more than likely see a rise in ERA closer to the xFIP, but if he maintains his strikeout and groundball rates, and he works some on his walk rates, nothing should change much. He will get save opportunities when a lefty duo is due up in the ninth, but otherwise he will get the bulk of the eighth inning spots. As I mentioned above, if Kimbrel slips pretty drastically in his rookie season, Venters will be Plan B for the ninth inning.
Bill James: 74 IP, 4.14 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 4.86 BB/9, 7.42 K/9, 0.36 HR/9
Marcel: 67 IP, 3.16 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 3.63 BB/9, 8.87 K/9, 0.54 HR/9
ZiPS: 83 IP, 3.66 ERA, 111 ERA+, 44 BB, 78 K, 6 HR
Since Moylan's Tommy John Surgery:
2009 – 73 IP, 2.84 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 4.32 BB/9, 7.52 K/9, 0 HR
2010 – 63.2 IP, 2.97 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 5.23 BB/9, 7.35 K/9, 5 HR
The elbow surgery affects pitchers' command on different levels. Moylan has yet to reach his pre-surgery command, and it seems to be getting worse. He is also on the wrong side of 30 to develop his command all over again. On the bright side, Moylan had a better groundball rate and lower line drive rate in 2010. If the above trends continue, he may not have a job for long. He already posted below replacement level last year.
Bill James: 63 IP, 3.71 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 4.57 BB/9, 7.29 K/9, 0.43 HR/9
Marcel: 64 IP, 3.59 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 4.08 BB/9, 7.45 K/9, 0.7 HR/9
ZiPS: 51 IP, 3.88 ERA, 104 ERA+, 27 BB, 43 K, 4 HR
O'Flaherty dealt will illness that limited to 44 innings in 2010, but he still showed what he can do against LHB, recording a 2.61 FIP and 8.02 K/9. He will continue to be used strictly as a LOOGY, especially with the emergence of Venters as an option against both sides. O'Flaherty should be back to full strength and provide the Braves with more solid numbers against lefties.
The Linebrink trade would be considered very questionable if it was intended to be a move for a late innings guy, but Linebrink should not see very many outings later than the seventh inning. The move out of Chicago will certainly benefit his outrageous home run rates, which in turn should help lower the FIP a tad from the 4.33 mark last season. His extreme flyball tendencies are only getting worse with age, but as long as he maintains a K/BB similar to last year's 3.06, Turner Field should help him remain a dependable middle innings guy. He's replacement level making too much, but you could do worse.
Sherrill is greatly misunderstood, especially when it came to being traded to the Braves. He has incredibly bad overall numbers, but he still maintains decent numbers against LHB. He posted a 3.32 FIP, 8.41 K/9 and 0.44 HR/9 against lefties last season. It was a small sample size, but going back to 2009, he posted a 1.38 FIP, 11.19 K/9 and zero home runs against lefties. The problem is when batters from the right side tee off against him, yet the manager continues to run him out there against them. It's idiotic. Hopefully Fredi will know better. It will also help that he is the second LOOGY in the pen behind O'Flaherty, so he probably won't make a huge impact either way.
Proctor is likely to get the best shot at the final spot in the bullpen. He is replacement level and could just as easily implode as stick all season, so there's really nothing to go on. My one issue with Proctor is the fact that several arms are ready in AAA, yet the Braves are giving him first shot. It doesn't make sense to me, but no one really knows how much it will matter within a month or two.
Notables to watch this spring:
Stephen Marek – As ready as he'll ever be. Marek will likely get first shot at a bullpen spot if injury or failure occurs. Follow him as you would a regular in the pen.
Cristhian Martinez – Has proven capable of maintaining a back-end spot in the pen. Most already know what he possesses, but also watch him like he's a regular.
Jairo Ascencio – I valued him pretty highly just a couple years ago, and a strong spring will put him right back where he was. He should get major league innings this year.
Cory Gearrin – Also as ready as he'll ever be.
Erik Cordier – Don't have a lot of confidence in Cordier, but he's a distant option for this season.
Juan Abreu – Still developing in the minors, though he isn't far away. A very distant option for this season.
Anthony Varvaro – Electric stuff and strikeout rates, but control is holding him back. Also a very distant option for this season.
Lee Hyde – Pretty much done with the minors. Similar situation to Gearrin and Marek, but I don't have quite as much confidence in him. I assume he is the next option for lefty reliever behind Sherrill.
What We're Looking At:
CL – Craig Kimbrel
SU – Jonny Venters
MR – Peter Moylan
MR – Scott Linebrink
MR – Eric O'Flaherty
MR - George Sherrill
LR/MR – Scott Proctor
David O'Brien has the pitching plans for the first few games of Atlanta Braves Spring Training. In the words of Lou Brown: "It's startin' to come together." Ok, that doesn't exactly apply, but I like it.
Saturday, 2/26 vs. Mets: Jair Jurrjens
Sunday, 2/27 vs. Mets: Rodrigo Lopez, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy
Monday, 2/28 vs. Astros: Derek Lowe
Tuesday, 2/29 vs. Astros: Tommy Hanson
Wednesday, 2/30 vs. Red Sox: Tim Hudson
None of this determines the rotation for the regular season, as you can see. They're pretty jumbled up. But it is interesting to see Lopez, Minor and Beachy all pitching Sunday. I guess Fredi Gonzalez wants to see them all at once the first time around. They will each get two innings.
Gonzalez says he still has no clue about the Opening Day starter. I can believe that.
Remember, you can find the complete spring schedule here. None of these first few games will be on TV, but according to Jim Powell, the first games that weekend will be on the radio. So you can look for that.
Link-o-rama from the past couple days of camp:
David O'Brien's things learned from the first week. My reactions:
Jason Heyward gained four pounds and supposedly came in more muscle bound. Freddie Freeman gained 15 pounds and added muscle, as well. They combine to weigh almost 500 pounds. That's two big boys on the right side.
Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy are said to be in a battle for the fifth spot, with Rodrigo Lopez right behind. I've already reacted to this at length, and I do not feel there is any real battle here. Minor is the favorite, and Beachy is there as an option in case of collapse or injury by Minor. I feel like it will take a ton to unseat Minor.
We knew Julio Teheran is the real thing, but O'Brien gives some solid quotes from David Ross about Teheran's mindset and thinking. It's good to know our best pitching prospect has things straight in the brain.
Fredi Gonzalez is encouraged by Chipper Jones' progress. Jones suffered from a sore knee Saturday, but he seems to have rebounded, saying he hasn't had two bad days in a row yet. Jones said if he isn't ready by the opener Saturday, he should be by the middle of next week.
Also on that link is the news that Gonzalez will announce his pitching plans for at least the first three to four games on Tuesday. The Braves open Saturday against the Mets.
Be careful of batting practice hype. That's all I ask.
David O'Brien of the AJC has a piece up on Jordan Schafer, who is reportedly feeling and looking better than ever. Noted accomplishments in batting practice so far have been a home run off Jonny Venters and line drives off Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado. This without a game played.
I am one of the most excited people in the world at having baseball back, and I know emotions run high when you first see the photos of the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, but remember that those emotions tend to get in the way of evaluating a player during Spring Training. Don't buy into the "best shape of his life" stories.
Schafer is still a long way away from returning to his prospect form. Following his well-documented failures in 2009, Schafer fell off the map in 2010 as he tried to regain his strength and swing. He hit .200/.254/.253 with one homer and eight RBI in 209 AAA plate appearances, including a walk rate of 6.7%. Schafer will always strike out at a high clip, but the fact that he had little to no plate discipline is concerning, no matter how much his strength is zapped.
Schafer will be 23 during the 2011 season, so as a center fielder with 195 major league plate appearances, he really isn't behind in that regard. Where he is behind is in confidence from everyone else. It will take a return to an ISO of close to .200 and walk rate close to 12% before he is back on my map.
From the Braves' standpoint, it may take less depending on Nate McLouth's performance during the season. If McLouth tanks early, Schafer is probably not the guy to go to so soon; Matt Young may be better suited, unless they go outside the organization. If McLouth tanks late, Schafer could very well get a call. This all depends on Schafer's performance. One thing he does have going for him is there are no other options around him or in the future aside from Young, and McLouth is on his way out soon. The Braves will give a 23-year-old center fielder with major league experience every chance to get back on his feet.
I'm not saying it's not possible, because it certainly is over the course of a long season, but Schafer needs a lot of things to go his way to return to the majors in 2011. He may have the batting practice hype right now, and he may even rake this spring, but he still needs consistent minor league at bats to get back to where he was.
Day one of Atlanta Braves Spring Training came and went with a few notes worth mentioning.
Fredi Gonzalez had his first opening speech as manager of the Braves. Nothing new or different was said, but a small difference was that it was held outside in center field instead of inside the clubhouse where Bobby Cox did it all those years. Fredi said he felt it would do better outside so everybody wouldn't be cramped.
According to David O'Brien, Chipper Jones had a rough day Saturday, fighting soreness in his knee. He had a successful three-day stint this past week by working out with little soreness, but it seemed to catch up with him this weekend. Jones is aiming for a Spring Training debut by the end of the first week of games, and he has high hopes for starting on Opening Day. It looks like he still has a long way to go.
The final two position players arrived for the first day of camp, as shortstops Alex Gonzalez and Diory Hernandez showed up. I hadn't realized Gonzalez had maturity issues early in his career, but it shows how much he has grown up. By all accounts, he is a great teammate. Also mentioned in the piece is that Kenshin Kawakami and Yohan Flande are still being held back due to visa problems.
And if you haven't already noticed or heard, Chipper is wearing his socks high like in the old days. A picture can be found here and here. Normally I wouldn't bother with such things, but this does bring back good memories.
Finally, a photo gallery of the first day of camp from the AJC. This makes me happy.
It’s not exactly a complicated idea. Leveraging relievers means using your best arms in the most important situations. It is the idea that has led to so many grumbles and groans regarding the closer’s role and how much they should be valued in the market.
It is those situations when a manager throws out every arm under the sun in an attempt to hold a slim lead in the seventh inning, yet he never goes to the closer because it isn’t the ninth inning, therefore the team gives up the lead while the best arm rots in the bullpen. This is a drastic example, but it happens more than people realize, and managers still don’t understand that it’s not illegal in all 50 states to use your closer before the ninth.
Enter the pair of young relievers for the Atlanta Braves. Jonny Venters is coming off a rookie season where he posted a 1.95 ERA, 2.69 FIP and 3.10 xFIP in 83 innings. He recorded a BB/9 of 4.23 and K/9 of 10.08 while allowing just one home run. He also recorded a groundball percentage of 68.4% compared to a line drive rate of 15%.
Craig Kimbrel posted a 0.44 ERA, 1.53 FIP and 2.59 xFIP in 20.2 innings. He did walk 16, but he also recorded a major-league-record 40 strikeouts. He has maintained strikeout rates above 13 per nine throughout his minor league career, but he has also had walk rates ranging from two per nine to nine per nine. It is no secret that Kimbrel’s weakness is control.
Braves fans know what the team has in Kimbrel and Venters. Kimbrel touches 100 mph with a deadly slider and is capable of league-leading strikeout numbers from a reliever along with high walk rates. Venters has one of the most effective power sinkers in the game and is equally tough against both sides.
So how should they be used?
Beginning in the seventh or eighth, put them in the situation that calls for it the most. Venters had a 1.97 FIP and 14.79 K/9 against left-handed batters in 2010, so he should most definitely be in for those at bats. However, he also had a 3.06 FIP against RHB, so the Braves aren’t limited in what they can do with Venters. If Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are due up in the ninth, Fredi Gonzalez will go to Venters for the save and Kimbrel will pitch the eighth. If Howard and Utley are due up in the eighth, Kimbrel will have the save opportunity.
This is a major step toward leveraging relievers to their best use. The Braves are fortunate to have the opportunity to do this because very few teams have a reliever from both sides who is capable of closing. This is why they received so much attention this offseason. It is something that should be fun to watch this season.
It may not even last a full season if one steps up more or one falters, but I will enjoy it while it lasts. This is putting your players to use in the best way possible.
If not for the Philadelphia Phillies and their hyped pitching staff, the Atlanta Braves would be in the spotlight due to a strong rotation that is returning four of the five after leading all of baseball in FIP last season. The Braves will likely fly under the radar because of the Phillies, but they should not be taken any lighter.
1. Tim Hudson: Hudson posted his best ERA since 2003 at 2.83. His FIP (4.09) and xFIP (3.87) were both much higher due to a .249 BABIP, but if you watched his season you would know he pitched to that low batting average balls in play number. He had a career-best groundball rate at 64.1%, a career-best line drive rate at 13.6%, and a solid flyball rate at 22.3%. All of this in his first full season back from Tommy John Surgery is pretty incredible. However, 228 innings at 34 years old coming off elbow surgery does raise a few concerns.
I would not bet on Hudson repeating his 2010 numbers, but that doesn't mean he won't continue to be a number one-type pitcher. The projections seem to agree, raising his ERA to the mid-3s with a FIP that stays around four. As long as he keeps his walks down, which he always has, he will always produce enough grounders to be effective. Expect him to continue carrying the load for another year.
Bill James: 3.50 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 2.63 BB/9, 5.46 K/9, 0.72 HR/9
Marcel: 3.41 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 2.98 BB/9, 5.92 K/9, 0.81 HR/9
ZiPS: 3.70 ERA, 109 ERA+, 49 BB, 92 K in 148 innings
2. Tommy Hanson: My Hanson analysis here. He posted a 3.33 ERA, 3.31 FIP and 4.04 xFIP over 202.2 innings in his first full season in the majors. Hanson has a lot more riding on his 2011 season than people may think due to what I talked about in my analysis. He is beginning to hit his development peak, meaning he is about to hit his prime soon, and his durability and stamina are in question according to his velocity rates from last season. If he is able to gain strength and handle a 200-inning workload better over the next two years, the Braves have a starter capable of taking over the No. 1 spot. If nothing changes, he is No. 2 at best on good days.
The projections are predicting a return to his normal K/BB rates while maintaining the same ERA and FIP. I have to agree.
Bill James: 3.41 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 2.92 BB/9, 8.51 K/9, 0.74 HR/9
Marcel: 3.31 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 2.74 BB/9, 7.97 K/9, 0.67 HR/9
ZiPS: 3.10 ERA, 130 ERA+, 62 BB, 192 K in 203 innings
3. Derek Lowe: My Lowe analysis here. Lowe is someone Braves fans should keep an eye on in 2011. His trends last season, as I analyzed in the linked piece, spell a pitcher who may have figured something out as the season wore on. He posted a tremendous 1.17 ERA in September, and he seemed to be pitching with more aggressiveness and in a shorter amount of time on the mound. Despite being 38 in 2011, Lowe has a chance to be the surprise of the staff, but the projections seem to think he will stay close to last season's numbers, or worse.
Bill James: 3.87 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 2.66 BB/9, 5.74 K/9, 0.75 HR/9
Marcel: 4.19 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 2.81 BB/9, 6.14 K/9, 0.82 HR/9
ZiPS: 4.39 ERA, 92 ERA+, 62 BB, 118 K in 184 innings
4. Jair Jurrjens: My Jurrjens analysis here. Jurrjens was hindered by injuries for much of the season, but he gave some good outings when he was on the mound. He is key to the Braves in 2011 because if he can stay healthy that gives them four mid-to-front starters, which only a few teams can say they have. Jurrjens is said to have lost weight and gained strength in an attempt to prevent those injuries from happening again, so he's on the right track. I still would not go anywhere near him with an extension, but I think he could provide solid value in 2011 as he gets closer to his prime. Look for him to get back to his usual numbers.
Bill James: 3.82 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 3.24 BB/9, 6.54 K/9, 0.73 HR/9
Marcel: 3.57 ERA, 3.73 FIP, 3.09 BB/9, 7.01 K/9, 0.77 HR/9
ZiPS: 3.82 ERA, 106 ERA+, 62 BB, 135 K in 176 innings
5. Mike Minor: My Minor analysis here. Minor is the clear favorite for the fifth spot in the rotation, and his 2010 season gave him every right. He dominated the minors all the way to Atlanta in his first full season as a pro, showing improved velocity and strikeout numbers. If given 150+ innings, Minor should be able to provide very good numbers as a fifth starter. As with any rookie, he will hit his bumps, but he is in a great position as a rookie starting pitcher. The projections look pretty solid for Minor, but I am confused by ZiPS giving him such a high walk total.
Marcel: 4.44 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 2.96 BB/9, 8.29 K/9, 1.07 HR/9
ZiPS: 4.33 ERA, 93 ERA+, 74 BB, 162 K in 158 innings
6. Brandon Beachy: My Beachy analysis here. Beachy also vaulted up the minor league ladder in 2010, though he was a relative unknown heading into the season. If not for Minor, Beachy would probably be given first crack at the fifth spot, and I fully believe the Braves have enough confidence in him to give it to him out of spring training. Beachy will likely be the first option out of Gwinnett, and he should see plenty starts in Atlanta.
Marcel: 3.90 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 3.36 BB/9, 7.79 K/9, 0.81 HR/9
ZiPS: 3.91 ERA, 104 ERA+, 33 BB, 86 K in 99 innings
7. Rodrigo Lopez: My Lopez analysis here. Lopez is likely the second option out of Gwinnett. If he remains AAA filler and doesn't see major league innings, it means the Braves are lucky injury wise. An injury disaster is the only reason Lopez should see time in the majors, but he's nice to have just in case.
Bill James: 5.04 ERA, 4.78 FIP, 2.57 BB/9, 5.57 K/9, 1.39 HR/9
Marcel: 4.92 ERA, 4.88 FIP, 2.83 BB/9, 5.78 K/9, 1.44 HR/9
He concedes he's not fully recovered from surgery on his left knee, but still believes he can make a significant contribution if he's at least close to 100 percent.
This is just a reminder that Braves fans should not expect a miracle from Jones this season. He is a soon-to-be 39-year-old coming off knee surgery, and he wasn't in that great of health prior to the injury. You will read plenty of stories of Chipper's progress and expectations of returning to 100 percent, but just remember his age and health history before you start predicting a return of the old Chipper, production wise.
Not to say the current Chipper is washed up. The guy tied for first in all of baseball in BB% at 16% in 381 plate appearances in 2010, and he maintained a .381 OBP. His power has steadily dropped, but he still provides the Braves an on-base machine, and at his age that's all you can ask.
A side note: Chipper and Martin Prado are allowed to participate in the first workouts because they were injured at the end of the season. The rest of the position players are to report Feb. 18, and the first full-team workout is Feb. 19.
A few tidbits from David O'Brien of the AJC:
- Jair Jurrjens has lost 12-14 pounds from last season, weighing in at 198 now. He's hoping to stay in better shape while gaining strength in an attempt to prevent the same injuries that riddled his 2010 season.
- Prado wasn't too thrilled by the move to left field, but he took it in stride and he's working hard at it. Prado is a great guy to have on the team, both on the field and in the clubhouse. When you talk about a team player, this is it.
- Fredi Gonzalez was up and going at 3:45 a.m. Tuesday in preparation for the first day of workouts. He arrived at the park at 5:00, and Bobby Cox was right behind at 6:00. The main difference between Cox's routine and Fredi's so far is the workouts. The players are more spread out on different fields to get more repetitions instead of focusing everything on the main field.
Derek Lowe has faced a lot of criticism since signing his deal with the Braves prior to the 2009 season. Coming off four straight seasons with ERA's below four, it was expected for Lowe to anchor the rotation with more mid-3 ERA's and good groundball numbers.
While his ERA's have been worse than his actual performances, there have still been a hail of critical remarks shot Lowe's way. As a major leaguer, Lowe has never had a groundball rate below 60% until he came to the Braves, and he has given Atlanta seasons of 56.3% and 58.8%. The HR/9 and HR/FB have not changed much, but it's fair to say Lowe has not been as productive in a Braves uniform as the organization hoped. But with two years remaining on the contract, Lowe at least stands a chance to still be the pitcher he was signed to be.
First of all, his overall numbers give this indication, if only slightly. From 2009 to 2010, his ERA dropped from 4.67 to 4.00. His FIP dropped from 4.06 to 3.89. His xFIP dropped from 4.19 to 3.65. His K/BB increased from 1.76 to 2.23. His GB% increased from 56.3% to 58.8%. He gave up fewer flyballs. Lowe did give up more line drives, but as I will show in a minute, there is a reason not to get worked up over this. So overall, Lowe's numbers saw improvement from his first year as a Brave to his second.
The biggest reason why I believe Lowe still has better production left in him is his monthly splits in 2010. From April to July, Lowe's sinker produced a line drive rate (against RHB) of 19.1%; a groundball rate of 56.5%; a flyball rate of 24.4%. Against LHB, Lowe threw more off-speed stuff, and it had mixed results. His slider produced a 50% line drive rate and only 31.8% groundball rate. However, his changeup produced a groundball rate of 70.6% and line drive rate of 8.8%. His sinker had very similar results against LHB as against RHB.
From August to the end of the season, Lowe's sinker (against RHB) produced a line drive rate of 6.6%; a groundball rate of 80.3%; a flyball rate of 13.1%. Against LHB, his sinker produced numbers similar to the ones above, so things did not change there. Despite having such good success against lefties with the changeup, he threw it far less toward the end of the season, though it continued to have solid batted ball rates. However, his slider fared much better against lefties, including a 16.7% line drive rate.
As a result, Lowe's ERA from April through July was 4.66. From August to the end of the season, it was 2.75, and that includes an unlucky August that drove his ERA up more than it should have. In August, Lowe allowed just seven walks to 23 strikeouts in 33.1 innings. In September, he had a 1.17 ERA, three walks and 29 strikeouts in 30.2 innings. Lowe was a completely different pitcher down the stretch, and he became the go-to arm for the Braves in their pennant run.
Obviously, different months in a single season is a small sample size, but such a major difference is clear to see. His sinker did a complete turnaround against right-handed batters in the final two months, and while it did not change against left-handed batters, his off-speed stuff continued to produce good results, and his slider improved dramatically. It's safe to say Lowe was a different pitcher down the stretch, and it leaves you wondering if he has that in him over a longer period. Many will count him out as he reaches his 38th birthday, but I wouldn't give up on him reaching his former production level again.
Mark Bowman and David O'Brien are your go-to sources for pitchers and catchers reporting day, which is today. Be sure to follow them throughout the day as they provide some entertaining photos and tweets from the first day of camp.
A great photo of Champion Stadium in the morning.
Part two of the interview with Fredi Gonzalez. A quote or two to focus on:
Q. So you’re not going to make a lineup based solely on sabermetics, on things like WAR or VORP. (Laughter.)
A. No, or – what’s the other one — DIPS? No, we’re not going to do that. Or hit the pitcher eighth. I’m not there yet.
Q. But you don’t consider yourself a dinosaur when it comes to that stuff, either?
A. No, no, no. I look at all that kind of stuff. I really do. [But] you can really get really confused or paralyzed during the course of the game if you get caught up in all that.
Yeah, but remember two years ago when Bobby had Mike Gonzalez and [Rafael] Soriano [as co-closers]? Then he would kind of flip-flop them. I remember reading the box score and seeing that Soriano pitched the ninth inning one day, then the eighth the next day when Gonzalez pitched the ninth against lefties. We could do that, and kind of break with that until somebody steps up as that main guy.
O'Brien: "Jurrjens on #Braves' mood: We got so close to the goal that we all wanted to accomplish. You can see a different environment this year, everybody’s so hyper to get started and try to get in the playoffs again.""
The Jason Heyward effect: Tents covering the front office cars to prevent more sunroof bashing. Love it.
Bowman: "Uggla, Prado and McClouth are among the position players who have already arrived this morning."
Bowman: "The fantasy football belt has already been moved to Hudson's locker."
Tommy Hanson reached the 200-inning mark last season at the age of 23, turning in 202.2 innings to be exact. The year before that, between AAA and the majors, Hanson logged 194 innings at 22 years old. These are solid numbers for a pitcher following Hanson's path, and it shows the Braves are doing everything in their power to keep him healthy while building durability. But as he reaches his development peak, it is time to start seeing better stamina from the big righty.
Hanson obviously blew AAA hitters away in his 66.1 innings in 2009, sporting a 1.49 ERA and 12.21 K/9. His 127.2-inning debut to end '09 was also good, recording a 2.89 ERA and 3.50 FIP. However, we saw a slight decrease in fastball velocity from early June to the end of the season. Now, we did see an improved slider by September, both in velocity and movement, and he held his line drive rate steady the entire way, so there was nothing mentioned regarding his durability.
Hanson received his first full season in 2010, and it was everything the Braves could expect. He had a 3.33 ERA, 3.31 FIP and 4.04 xFIP, all solid. He also lowered his walk rate to 2.49 BB/9, which was below his minor league average and quite surprising. However, the problem began with the strikeout rate, which ended at 7.68 K/9. Hanson's lowest K/9 in the minors was 9.6, and while they are two completely different levels, it is not unreasonable to expect a K/9 at least halfway close to that during Hanson's career. After all, minor league K/BB is one of the best indicators of potential major league performance.
So what caused the downswing in strikeouts? Hanson's second half. The most telling stat for this claim is this:
First 102 innings - 104 strikeouts
Remaining 100 innings - 69 strikeouts
Hanson pitched to contact much more in the second half. In his first 20 starts, he averaged 2.9 LD/game, 6.1 GB/game and 6.8 FB/game. In his final 14 starts, he averaged 2.7 LD/game, 7.7 GB/game and 7.6 FB/game.
Hanson had just a slight decrease in line drives over his final starts, but the difference is too small to consider. However, his grounders and flyballs allowed are eye-opening. This, along with his strikeout totals, makes it obvious that Hanson lost the ability to get whiffs as the season wore on.
The first thought that popped into my mind when going over these numbers is Hanson's stuff and durability, and how it played down the stretch.
First 20 starts - 93.3 mph, 84.7 contact%, 14.7 whiff%, 40 GB%, 16.2 LD%, 43.4 FB%
Final 14 starts - 92 mph, 91.4 con%, 5.8 whiff%, 47.6 GB%, 18.3 LD%, 34.1 FB%
For the sake of time and space, just believe me when I say the rest of his pitches have similar trends. It is obvious Hanson lost zip and snap on his stuff as the season progressed. He averaged more pitches per start in 2010 than in his shorter stint in 2009. He threw at least 100 pitches in 12 of his first 20 starts, and he reached 100 pitches in just four of his final 14 starts.
Velocity trends like these are not rare for a pitcher under 25. Hanson may be huge, and he may have filled out since the minor leagues, but his body and muscles are still developing. Inconsistencies will happen at this age. However, he is nearing the point where velocity will level off according to his peak, and it may come as soon as 2011. This is why development between the ages of 18 and 24 is so important for a pitcher. If a pitcher is allowed to stretch his workload a little at the time during these years without overuse, he can hit his peak. If he is overused, or even underused, during this period, it is certainly possible that he never reaches his full durability peak. It happens all the time.
When breaking down the numbers, Hanson's durability seems to be the main concern heading into this season. He will turn 25 in August, meaning he is hitting his development peak. That means 2011 and 2012 could show whether the Braves have a true workhorse capable of maintaining durability down the stretch. Despite the inconsistency in velocity in 2010, I think Hanson is on track to hit his peak.
Handing a rookie a starting job before Spring Training is usually not in a team's best interests. Expectations run higher due to the player being seemingly on an island, and the player pushes himself to reach expectations that are usually unreasonable if it is a highly ranked prospect. Having competition, no matter how competitive it may be, is important to keep the rookie's outlook in perspective.
The Braves are likely doing this with Mike Minor. The lefty is the clear cut favorite to win the fifth spot in the rotation out of spring camp, but the Braves are not handing it to him. Brandon Beachy will be getting plenty of innings, and Rodrigo Lopez was signed to provide a veteran presence. While Beachy is a step below Minor, and Lopez is best suited as AAA filler, they at least give Minor something to think about as he prepares in Florida.
Minor's 2010 season turned a lot of heads and added a large number to his bandwagon. He was considered by many to be the safe pick by the Braves in the 2009 draft, not providing a big ceiling as a mid-to-end of the rotation type talent. However, added velocity and good strikeout rates changed opinions quickly.
Minor's scouting report from the draft had his fastball velocity in the high 80s to low 90s, with a good changeup and decent curve. In 2010, he ranged from low-to-mid 90s with the fastball and had his changeup rated as a plus pitch. The results are in the numbers.
At AA, Minor posted a 3.84 ERA and 3.16 FIP in 82 innings, including a 3.51 BB/9 and 11.3 K/9. A relatively low left-on-base percentage of 63.9% helped cause a slight uptick in ERA, but he kept the ball in the park and opened a lot of eyes with the tremendous K-rate in AA. He threw 33.1 innings for AAA in 2010, posting a 1.89 ERA and 2.45 FIP, including a 3.24 BB/9 and 9.99 K/9. He also allowed just one home run over the 33.1 innings. He seemed to get better as he progressed through the minors, and the Braves were ecstatic by Minor's performance, giving him a late promotion to the majors.
Minor saw 40.2 innings for Atlanta, recording a 5.98 ERA, 3.77 FIP and 3.86 xFIP. He had a 2.43 BB/9 and 9.52 K/9. Minor continued his solid rates despite the high ERA, but he allowed six home runs in the short amount of time. I feel much of that is due to the fact that he ran out of gas by the end of the season, which is something the Braves must consider if he pitches an entire season in Atlanta. Minor has seen just one full season as a pro, and the effects were evident after his promotion to the Braves.
This is where Beachy comes into play. Like Minor, Beachy opened a lot of eyes with his 2010 season, shooting up the ladder from an unknown reliever at AA to a starter throwing big innings for the Braves down the stretch. He posted insane numbers at AA and AAA, including ERA's of 1.45 and 2.17. Beachy also flashed big strikeout ability, recording marks of 12.11 K/9 at AA and 9.46 at AAA, while posting walk rates of 2.66 and 1.18. His strikeout ability continued in the majors over 15 innings, striking out 15. However, Beachy gave up a lot of line drives in the small sample, and his ability to stick in a major league rotation over a full season remains in question.
Beachy proved his worth as the Braves' first option in AAA should a starting pitcher go down with injury, or to spell Minor down the stretch. He is not on the same level as Minor, but he is better than Lopez, and he can give the Braves 50-100 dependable innings, at the very least. Because his talent level is not the same as Minor, he should not be in a battle with Minor for the fifth spot, but he does give the Braves a backup option that they aren't afraid to use over long periods of time.
Lopez is not on the same level as Minor or Beachy, but he also provides a backup option with major league experience, should disaster occur in the rotation. His 2010 season with Arizona is a great indicator of his true talent, recording a 5.00 ERA, 5.21 FIP and 4.70 xFIP in 200 innings. He recorded a 2.52 BB/9 and 5.22 K/9, including a 1.67 HR/9 and 13.3% HR/FB. Lopez gives up a ton of fly balls and does not have strikeout ability, which is a lethal combination. He will give you innings (hopefully, considering he had Tommy John Surgery) when you are in a squeeze, but he is not worthy of over 50 innings in the majors.
Lopez is third in line behind Minor and Beachy, and there is a good chance he does not see the majors in 2011, but at least his veteran presence is there during camp, and starting pitching depth is never a bad thing if used correctly.
Minor's rearview mirror has a good backup plan and AAA filler in it, so you can't really consider this a three-way race for the fifth spot. But you can consider it a good idea by the Braves to give Minor at least something in the mirror.
Consider this your primer to the Spring Training storylines series between now and the first spring game.
Position battles are always the focus of spring. If there is not a clear cut favorite for a starting job, it is naturally the most important thing to follow. However, the Braves are lucky enough to not have that problem this year.
The starting lineup is set across the board. Brian McCann will man his usual post behind the plate; Freddie Freeman is slated to begin his reign at first base full time; Dan Uggla was brought to Atlanta to fill the second base spot for several years; Alex Gonzalez is in his second year as starting shortstop; Chipper Jones is working his way back to full strength to man third base another year; Martin Prado is making the move to left field for Uggla; Nate McLouth is getting one more shot in center field; and Jason Heyward has right field on lock.
The starting rotation is equally locked by Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Mike Minor. Minor is slated to win the fifth spot, and the Braves will give him every opportunity. It would take a complete collapse or injury in spring camp for the Braves to not come out of Florida with him in the rotation.
The bench is where things are not as concrete. David Ross remains the backup catcher. Eric Hinske is back as a corner infielder/outfielder/pinch hitter. The Braves picked up Joe Mather to do much of the same from the right side of the plate. The remaining two spots – utility infielder and fourth outfielder – are not as certain. Diory Hernandez is the favorite for the infielder job, and while he provides decent enough defense, his bat is well below average, even for a utility infielder. However, the only other in-house options are Brandon Hicks, who has fallen out of favor with a terrible bat, and Brooks Conrad, who has fallen out of favor with everyone except the city of San Francisco. Look for the performances of these three in spring.
The other spot on the bench not for certain is the fourth outfielder. Matt Young is the favorite among those in the Braves community, but his defense is decent at best as a fourth outfielder. He has proven himself worthy with the bat, and he should get every chance to win the job. The other conceivable option is Jordan Schafer. He will have to prove plenty to earn a spot on the Atlanta roster out of spring, and even then I don't know if it would be enough. The Braves have not given up on him as a center field prospect, and rightly so, but he has a long way to go, and he is probably best suited in the everyday lineup at AAA Gwinnett. Even so, this is worth watching.
The bullpen is almost locked, but there are several relievers worth watching this spring. Craig Kimbrel is getting his shot at the closing job; Jonny Venters is getting his shot as the setup man; Peter Moylan will resume his role in the seventh inning and double play situations; Eric O'Flaherty will most likely take the LOOGY role with Venters stepping into the eighth; Scott Linebrink will perform middle relief duties; George Sherrill is the second LOOGY, which the Braves have frequently used the past few years; and Scott Proctor is supposedly getting a shot as the last reliever.
There are others to watch, though. Brandon Beachy will be getting starts this spring and should come out as the top starter at Gwinnett. Rodrigo Lopez will be getting starts and should be right behind Beachy at Gwinnett. Juan Abreu, Jairo Ascencio and Cristhian Martinez are three hard throwers who have seen time in the majors or are close. Cory Gearrin, Erik Cordier, Lee Hyde and Stephen Marek are all also either close or are already major league ready.
You also can't forget the prospects who are getting their taste of big league camp. Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado, considered by most to be the top two pitching prospects in the system, will be with the big league team in Florida.
The Braves Non-Roster Invitees:
Position Players -
C Wilkin Castillo
3B Shawn Bowman
SS Mycal Jones
3B Ed Lucas
SS Tyler Pastornicky
OF Brent Clevlen
OF Jose Constanza
OF Wilkin Ramirez
The light is slowly emerging at the end of the tunnel. As mid-February rolls around, it is time to start getting into gear for Atlanta Braves Spring Training. As any baseball fan would know, spring camp is a completely different season from the one that begins March 31 in Washington. It is long in itself, but a daily focus is required just like during the regular season.
Position battles are determined, fringe players make their cases for roster spots and prospects get a taste of big league opposition. It is not a time to get in shape, but rather it is a time to reach peak season shape in order to prove to the coaches and front office that the player deserves a spot. Some teams on the lower end use Spring Training to bring in as many players as possible and make a roster out of it. Competing teams use it to get their players finely tuned for the season.
The Braves fall under the latter. They are entering 2011 with expectations equal to or higher than last season, and their roster is pretty much set. I will dig much, much deeper into the roster throughout the upcoming weeks, giving a series of posts on different roster possibilities, basic profiles and projections, and storylines for spring. When the Braves begin their spring games, I will provide recaps. Consider this your go-to resource for all things Braves Spring Training.
Grapefruit League Schedule:
Cactus League Schedule:
Atlanta Braves Schedule:
Pitchers and Catchers: Feb. 14
First Workout: Feb. 15
Position Players: Feb. 18
First Full Workout: Feb. 19
2/26: at Mets, 1:10
2/27: vs. Mets (SS), 1:05
2/28: vs. Astros, 1:05
3/1: at Astros, 1:05
3/2: at Red Sox, 1:05
3/3: vs. Tigers, 1:05
3/5: vs. Mets, 1:05
3/6: at Nationals, 1:05
3/7: at Marlins, 1:05
3/8: vs. Yankees, 1:05
3/9: vs. Cardinals, 1:05
3/10: vs. Cardinals, 1:05
3/11: at Yankees (SS), 1:05
3/12: vs. Mets, 1:05
3/13: vs. Astros (SS), 1:05
3/14: at Cardinals, 1:05
3/15: at Cardinals, 1:05
3/16: vs. Red Sox, 1:05
3/17: vs. Nationals, 6:05 on CSS
3/18: at Mets, 1:10
3/19: at Tigers (SS), 1:05 … vs. Mets (SS), 1:05
3/20: vs. Astros (SS), 1:05 on CSS
3/21: at Mets, 1:10
3/23: vs. Marlins, 1:05
3/24: at Blue Jays, 1:05
3/25: at Phillies (SS), 1:05 … vs. Tigers (SS), 6:05
3/26: at Mets, 1:10 on CSS
3/27: vs. Phillies, 1:05 on FSS
3/28: vs. Nationals, 6:05 on FSS
3/29: vs. Twins, 7:05 on SportSouth (Turner Field)
3/30: vs. Twins, 12:05 on SportSouth (Turner Field)
3/31: at Nationals, 1:05
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