News and Notes

With two weeks before opening day, Bill Shanks has some news and notes from spring training.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL


While Mike Minor has the edge in the battle for the fifth starter, there is strong support for right-hander Brandon Beachy. Both have pitched well this spring, and both deserve to be in a big league rotation. Since Minor is a lefty, and none of the other Atlanta starting pitchers is a lefty, he's get the edge. But coaches and scouts have been extremely impressed with Beachy.

Fredi Gonzalez admitted Wednesday that the loser of the competition will not be on the major league roster. So, in other words, if Beachy loses out, he'll be starting in Gwinnett. They'll have him ready in case a starter has to miss a start with the big league team. They could have been tempted to put the loser of the competition in as the long reliever, but Gonzalez said instead they'll have that player stretched out as a starter in Triple-A.

Remember, the Braves almost traded Beachy this past winter for outfielder Lorenzo Cain. But since he's still here, Beachy is making things very interesting. And what a contrast it is, having these two pitchers do so well. Minor was the seventh pick in the draft two years ago, while Beachy wasn't even drafted out of Indiana Wesleyan. Now here they are on the same path and with possibly similar futures.

Now that Cory Gearrin and Stephen Marek have been sent to Triple-A Gwinnett, you can go ahead and give the last spot in the bullpen to Cristhian Martinez. He's been terrific this spring. Martinez was being stretched out to start last year in Gwinnett when he was called back up to Atlanta to be in the bullpen. He did well, and the Braves are convinced he's going to be a valuable piece in the pen.

Bench coach Carlos Tosca, who was the Richmond manager ten years ago before leaving for Toronto, is in charge of spring training. From all accounts, everything has been well-organized and just a bit more structured. Not that Bobby Cox ran a lazy spring, but he did let veterans get away with a little more than was probably necessary. Tosca and Gonzalez have done little things to change - like making all veterans stay and watch the first five innings of every spring training game before taking off for the day.

On the minor league side, Arodys Vizcaino and Brett Oberholtzer pitched in a scrimmage Thursday. Also, Michael Broadway was on the mound. Broadway was sent to the Arizona Fall League last year but had a little discomfort in his elbow. It turned out to only be tendonitis. He's fine now and is expected to be in the Gwinnett bullpen.

The Mississippi rotation is really going to be something, with Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Oberholtzer and J.J. Hoover. Teheran might not be there long, however. If he does well, he could be in Gwinnett before Memorial Day. Prediction: Teheran goes to Gwinnett by Memorial Day and will be replaced in Mississippi by Vizcaino, who will start the season as Lynchburg's main starter. And then everyone will wonder how long it will be before Teheran breezes through the International League and proves he's ready for Atlanta.

One of the college pitchers drafted last year was Willie Kempf, out of Baylor. He wasn't a high pick, but the Braves pushed him through the Gulf Coast League, through Danville, and he even got some time in Rome before the year was out. Kempf doesn't have impressive stuff - his fastball is in the low 90s - but he seems to have a great idea how to pitch. Kempf had a bad junior season at Baylor and was not drafted, but he figured some things out in his senior season and was much more effective. Don't be shocked if the Braves send him to Lynchburg as a more veteran member of that rotation.

Reliever to watch in the system this season: Steve Kent. He's the Australian lefty who has had shoulder issues and had his first full season in 2010. Coaches have been very impressed with Kent, and he'll likely be in Lynchburg to start the season. Don't be shocked if he finishes the season in Double-A and is in big league camp next March. Kent looks like a potential lefty reliever for Atlanta down the road.

I watched Matt Lipka in a running drill, and last year's top pick is really, really fast. He's also working out at second base, along with shortstop. Expect Andrelton Simmons to be at shortstop in Lynchburg, while Edward Salcedo will probably return to Rome and split shortstop duties with Lipka. When Salcedo is at short, Lipka will be at second base or as the designated hitter. Elmer Reyes will also be in Rome as a second baseman. It will be fun to watch how they work out playing time, as all of a sudden there's a good group of middle infielders in the farm system.

The Braves had originally planned to move Mycal Jones to second base. But right after the new year they called him and said he was going to play center field this season. Jones has played shortstop the last few seasons, and he told me Thursday he has no problem playing any of the three positions. But with Dan Uggla locked in at second for the next five years, and with a little less stability in the long-term outfield picture, Jones can probably make the big leagues quicker by playing the outfield.

Adam Milligan missed most of last year with left rotator cuff surgery. He's completely healed and has been a beast in batting practice. Coaches hope Milligan can have a full season this year and show how good a power-hitting prospect he might be for the Braves.

Ernesto Mejia is back in camp. He was a Braves prospect a few years ago before being released. Mejia then spent time in the Kansas City farm system. He's in camp for minor league depth at first base.

While Tosca runs the major league camp, the minor league side has been run by new field coordinator Dave Trembley. Like Tosca, Trembley is a former major league manager. He was with the Orioles before being fired last year. Trembley has brought in some new fresh ideas and the camp is going very well. Trembley is a very nice man, who signs autographs for fans back on the minor league fields. He's brought great structure to the organization, and he is well-respected by the players and staff.

Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, GA and The Atlanta Baseball Talk Show. Shanks writes columns for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.


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