Saturday, February 26, 2011

Notable performances from the Braves' first spring training game

Freddie Freeman
The 21-year-old lefty came up huge with 3 doubles in three plate appearances. This was a very encouraging sign from the Braves' Opening Day first baseman. Read more about Freeman here.

Craig Kimbrel
Kimbrel's performance was notable for the other reason - the reason he spent a few months in Bobby Cox's dog house last summer. Craig simply couldn't find the strike zone and got hit hard by the Mets' b-team. His final line included one out recorded via strikeout, 2 walks, a double, and a home run. Now, it's just spring training and maybe he's working some things out that we aren't privy to, but it was not an encouraging sign from someone that is expected to assume the lion's share of late-and-close ninth inning duty for the Braves in 2011.

Meanwhile, the other half of the closing tandem, Jonny Venters, pitched one inning with a strikeout and one hit allowed to Jose Reyes.

On the roster bubble:
RHP Cristhian Martinez entered the game in the fifth and recorded five outs in five batters faced, striking out one, and inducing a ground ball double play to get out of a jam of Kimbrel's making. Martinez pitched well in 52 AAA innings last year, and his peripherals in 26 Major League innings (e.g., xFIP of 3.18) belie his 4.85 ERA. He could be a useful bullpen piece this year.

RHP Stephen Marek, who became famous when he was traded to Atlanta with Casey Kotchman in exchange for Mark Teixeira, got off to a rough start by walking the first batter he faced. Marek eventually settled in and suffered no further damage, recording three consecutive outs to end the inning, including two strikeouts.

Brooks Conrad fielding blunder watch:
There were two errors committed by Braves second basemen. But only one of them was caused by Brooks Conrad. The other was brought to you courtesy of Ed Lucas. Who? Yeah, I don't know.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#5 Prospect: Mike Minor

Mike Minor was Atlanta's first overall pick out of Vanderbilt in the 2009 draft. The selection was widely panned as a "signability pick"; at the time, most saw Minor's ceiling as a command and control lefty without average stuff destined for the back end of a Major Leauge rotation. But the Braves' front office either got lucky or saw something that no one else did, as former Commodore's fastball velocity jumped to 94 from the high 80s/ low 90s during his first full season as a pro in 2010.

Minor's breakthrough actually began in late 2009 in a 14 inning stretch in the South Atlantic League when he allowed just one run while striking out 17, walking none, and allowing just 10 hits. At the time, Minor's performance was dismissed as the work of a crafty college pitcher beating inferior hitters with superior polish. It was widely thought that Minor's flaws would be exposed when he reached the higher levels.

In 120.1 innings across AA and AAA in 2010, Minor continued to impress, as you can see in the table below:

Courtesy of

Upon his promotion to the major leagues, Minor did not have the hoped-for results, but his skills remained intact:

Courtesy of
Minor was hurt by the the 6 HR he allowed in 40 Major Leauge innings after giving up just 9 HR in three times as many innings between AA and AAA. This phenomenon had something to do with Minor's inability to sustain the 49% ground ball rate that he enjoyed at AAA. This rate dropped to 38% in Atlanta. Minor's opponents were also the beneficiaries of a flukish .392 batting average on balls in play.

Minor has shown that he can sustain his high strikeout and low walk rates in the major leagues. If he's able to bring the high GB rate, he could prove an above average mid-rotation starter for the Braves in 2011 as well as a solid speculation play in fantasy leagues.

Minor is the favorite to nab the fifth spot in the Braves' rotation going into April, and is the most MLB-ready of any Atlanta prospects.

<< Previous (#4: Randall Delgado)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Jim Callis talks Teheran, Freeman, 2011 draft

Baseball America's Jim Callis answered some Braves-relates on his Twitter feed today:

Read Screaming Indian's analysis of Julio Teheran and Freddie Freeman here and here. Julio and Freddie were numbers one and two in our top prospects ranking.

Callis also broke down the order of the 2011 amateur draft. The Braves' first pick will be the 28th overall selection. Anyone who knows me at all also knows that I hope that by some miracle this young man is still on the board when the Braves make their first pick.

Gonzalez: Kimbrel and Venters might share closing duties

At a time of year when reports of baseball players switching from glasses to contacts pass for news, stories like the one David O'Brien broke on his Twitter feed are a veritable bounty by comparison.

O'Brien goes on to say...

So what do we do with this? Well, like every other tidbit of information we get from now until opening day, we're going to overanalyze it.

The handedness issue immediately jumps out. In just 20 2/3 major league innings last year, Kimbrel - the righty - didn't betray a discernible platoon advantage (.079/.255/.105 vs. RHB, .176/.317/.206 vs. LHB).*

The lefty, Venters, offers more data thanks to a strong rookie campaign that saw him face 349 batters. But even with a much larger MLB sample than Kimbrel, Venters also doesn't betray a platoon split (.207/.312/.232 vs. RHB, .198/.310/.260).

So where does this leave us? In short, it leaves us with two very good, very young relievers that the manager apparently intends to use frequently in close-and-late situations. Platoon advantage or no, that's something about which we can be glad.

*Obviously, Kimbrel logged far more innings in the minors last year, but if L/R splits are available for the minor leagues, I don't know where to find them.

Friday, February 4, 2011

#4 Prospect: Randall Delgado

Randall Delgado gives the Braves yet another exciting, young power pitcher. The Panamanian right-hander turns 21 on Tuesday and will probably break camp with AA Mississippi, which might have the best starting rotation in the minors if system mates Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino are also assigned there.

Delgado profiles similarly to Teheran and Vizcaino but doesn't have as high of a ceiling. He's about a year older than both of them, throws his fastball a tick or two more slowly, and his secondary offerings aren't as refined - which isn't to dump on Delgado, it's just difficult not to talk about him in relation to those two.

Randall was stellar at High-A Myrtle Beach in 2010, striking out more than 25% of batters faced while walking just 32 and giving up 89 hits in 117 IP. Like every other advanced arm in the Braves' system, it seems, Delgado struggled after a late-season promotion to AA. Delgado continued to miss bats, but he had difficulty consistently finding the strike zone (20 BB in 40 2/3 IP).

Delgado projects as a solid #3 starter or a maybe even a #2, and he would probably be a top two prospect in most other systems, but with Teheran and Vizcaino ahead of him, the Braves can afford to trade Delgado if a need arises in the majors (or if the McLouth/Schafer platoon in center becomes manifestly untenable). Alternatively, it would be perhaps more interesting to see if Frank Wren would be amenable to flipping one of the Teheran/Vizcaino/Delgado trio to address this system's only real weakness - a relative dearth of up-the-middle talent.

ETA: The Braves are too stacked with pitching depth to worry about rushing his development. Barring a rash of injuries to the major league pitching staff in the next couple of years, I don't expect to see Delgado in the majors until late 2012 or early 2013. (The Braves have a $9 million club option on Tim Hudson's contract for 2013 with a $1 million buyout).

<< Previous (#3: Arodys Vizcaino)
>> Next (#5: Mike Minor)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Renewed hope for the "Dump Kawakami" movement

Ken Rosenthal reports that Kenshin Kawakami, whom you know from his work as a near-replacement level pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, could be acquired by one of two Japanese clubs that are reportedly willing to eat half of the $6.67 million owed to the 35-year-old RHP who was granted the dubious honor of a spring training non-roster invite.

His contract is a sunk cost, and in a market where $3 million buys one year of Manny Ramirez with change to spare, you have to take any opportunity available to dump a bad contract.

The Braves' 2011 payroll obligations (approximately $83 million) are currently $3 million greater than they were during 2010.

#3 Prospect: Arodys Vizcaino

Arodys Vizcaino was the prize of last winter's Javier Vazquez trade. At the time of the trade I was unsure of how I felt about it*, but with the benefit of a hindsight that includes Vazquez' disastrous 2010 campaign with the Yankees and Vizcaino's strong showing for the single-A Rome Braves, Frank Wren is looking pretty smart for making this move.

Vizcaino brings a fastball that sits 92-94 and touches 95 (even 96, according to a Mark Bowman source), an effective but inconsistent 82 MPH curve, and a very raw 80 MPH change.

Vizcaino's 2010 season was very similar to that of Julio Teheran - except that Vizcaino is about a month and a half older and was doing it at a lower level. In 72 1/3 IP of A-ball, Vizcaino struck out 68 against 9 walks while giving up just 63 hits for a WHIP of less than one. Upon a promotion to High-A Myrtle Beach, Vizcaino continued to display solid command of the strike zone but got hit pretty hard (8 extra base hits) in a limited 13 2/3 inning run before succumbing to a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and getting shut down for the season. Luckily, Vizcaino was able to avoid Tommy John surgery, but the risk of re-injury casts a shadow over his 2011 season.

For that reason I think hope the Braves will be very conservative with Arodys in 2011. I expect him to be placed with Myrtle Beach or maybe Double-A Mississippi, depending on how good he looks as a spring training NRI. But I'd put his chances of reaching the big leagues at "approaching 0%" simply because the Braves have pitching depth and there's no reason to rush him. Barring injury, I expect him to show up in the big leagues by mid-2012 or Opening Day 2013 (the first game the Braves will play with Derek Lowe's contract off of the books).

Check out this video of Vizcaino throwing last June:

*In the article that I link to, I mention that the trade looks a lot better for the Braves if Melky Cabrera ends up getting traded or non-tendered, which I only bring up because I find it amusing.

>> Next (#4: Randall Delgado)
<< Previous (#2: Freddie Freeman)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Braves: Conrad, Proctor, Mather out of options

Newly anointed Baseball Prospectus author R.J. Anderson put an interesting piece out yesterday on players who are out of options. The Braves have three players on their 40 man roster who are currently out of options: Brooks Conrad, Scott Proctor, and Joe Mather.

Basically, the upshot is that if they don't make the 25 man major league roster for opening day, they will be placed on waivers.

Braves' full list of non-roster invitees

Hat tip to David O'Brien:

Julio Teheran
Arodys Vizcaino
Kenshin Kawakami
Johan Flande
Brett Oberholtzer
Michael Broadway
Rodrigo Lopez
Jay Sborz
Christian Bethancourt
J.C. Boscan
Wilkin Castillo
Braeden Schlehuber
Jesus Sucre
Shawn Bowman
Ed Lucas
Tyler Pastornicky
Brent Clevlen
Jose Constanza
Mycal Jones
Wilkin Ramriez

Teheran and Vizcaino included among Braves' non-roster invitees

David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports via his twitter feed that hard-throwing RHP prospects Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino are among the Braves' spring training non-roster invitees.

Check out the Screaming Indian's profile of Julio Teheran here. Look for a profile on Arodys Vizcaino later today.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

#2 Prospect: Freddie Freeman

By all accounts, Freddie Freeman will be the Braves' opening day first baseman. No Brave that still qualifies as a prospect (save perhaps Craig Kimbrel) is as ready to contribute to the major league roster as Freeman.

Many (including me) were puzzled by the decision to send Freeman to AAA to begin 2010 given his struggles in 169 plate appearances at AA in 2009 (.208/.308./.342), but Freeman surprised by putting up a robust triple slash line of .320/.378/.522 in 518 PA.

Freeman struggled mightily in limited big league at bats, going 4/24 with 8 strikeouts and no walks. He'll have to do better in 2011 if the Braves are going to avoid having first base be an offensive sink hole as it has so often in the post-McGriff era.

Freeman profiles as a John Olerud type minus the exceptional defensive play. Freddie doesn't walk a lot, but his high contact rate and gap power give him a chance to provide some offensive value. At his peak he should hit for a high average with about 20-25 HR and 30 doubles a year.

I'd say his upside in 2011 is something along the lines of Gaby Sanchez's 2010. Bill James projects an ambitious .282/.335/.446 line while Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster has him pegged for a more realistic .271/.322/.429 showing.

Freeman was ranked the #17 overall prospect by and the #43 prospect by Keith Law.

>> Next (#3: Arodys Vizcaino)
<< Previous (#1 Julio Teheran)

Tuesday Links

Mark Bowman blogs that Jason Heyward still has limited range of motion in the left thumb that he injured last May. Heyward had this to say:
"I still can't bend it anywhere close to where it was before.  I don't know if I ever will be able to do that.  But I know it's not holding me back from hitting."  
It's worth keeping an eye on, but if he managed to hit .273/.393/.456 when it was hurting him, then it's probably not something we should be too worried about at this point.

In front office news, the Braves signed veteran RHP Rodrigo Lopez to a minor league contract on Monday. Dave Cameron of quipped that the "Braves essentially got Bronson Arroyo Lite for free, while Bronson Arroyo Home Premium cost as much as much as Paul Knoerko... A lot of teams could have used a guy like Rodrigo Lopez at the back-end of their rotation, especially at an asking price not that far over the league minimum."

Dave O'Brien reports that Craig Kimbrel's stuff was looking pretty nasty during a Tuesday throwing session.

Oh, and some guy named Chipper says that he'll be ready to play on opening day.