The Braves are clearly pushing Julio Teheran by starting him in Triple-A. If he has half the season this year that he had last season, Teheran will not be in the minor leagues long. It'll just depend on how the Braves can make room for him in the major leagues. But this shows how close the Braves believe Teheran is to being ready for the big leagues. He's very, very good, and even though he's only 20, Teheran is going to make the conversation interesting by midseason.
Jacob Thompson is the other Gwinnett starter I'm anxious to watch this season. He had a great second half last season, and coaches were saying in Florida that Thompson has turned a corner and is now a legit major league prosepct. Right now, he's viewed as a potential swing man in the majors, but a full season starting in Triple-A could change that. Could he be this year's Brandon Beachy? Maybe.
The Gwinnett bullpen is pretty impressive. Watch Juan Abreu. Coaches feel he's advanced quicker than most any other relief prospect, and Fredi Gonzalez mentioned him to reporters late in spring training and one that really impressed him in big league camp. He'll get some closing chances with Jairo Asencio, who saved 27 games two years ago in Gwinnett as Luis Valdez.
In Double-A, the Braves will have a great rotation, with Randall Delgado, J.J. Hoover, Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens and Kenshin Kawakami. What a shame Kawakami has not been traded yet. He is not that bad, but the salary is keeping teams away. Has there ever been a more expensive Double-A pitcher? Let's hope he buys dinner for his teammates when they are on the road!
Billy Bullock was acquired for Scott Diamond last week. How good is this guy? That's the question the Braves are wondering. He saved 27 games last season, so he could be a legit relief prospect.
Tyler Pastornicky will be the position player in Mississippi to keep an eye on this season. Will he be good enough to be a candidate to replace Alex Gonzalez in Atlanta next season? They'll watch him closely.
Arodys Vizcaino will get innings for now as a starter, but his future is clearly in the bullpen. If he dominates the Carolina League, how long will the Braves wait before moving him up to Mississippi? This kid could be ready next season. He's that close. Think Neftali Feliz with a better breaking ball.
Coaches were excited about the progress of Dimaster Delgado in spring training. A year ago he was in a horrific wreck with multiple injuries. He's recovered and throwing the ball as well as ever. Before his wreck, Delgado was believed to be in the second tier of Braves prospects. Could he regain that status this year?
Zeke Spruill has had some anger issues, mostly just immaturity, over the past few seasons. But the stuff is really impressive, and some of the coaches late in camp were saying that Spruill could get big league hitters out right now. The stuff is that good. But can he put together a full season and become an elite prospect? If he gets 25 starts, he just might.
Willie Kempf is an interesting prospect. They say if one senior sign in a draft can become a legit prospect, it's a good draft. Well, Kempf may be that player. He had a 1.70 ERA in 15 games between the GCL, Danville and Rome last season. The Braves feel he is ready to play in the Carolina League. He doesn't feature overpowering stuff, but Kempf is an interesting prospect to keep an eye on this season.
And now that Cory Rasmus has his first full, healthy season under his belt, what will he do now in Lynchburg? Rasmus is finally healthy, and he will get more than the 124.1 innings he had last season in the Carolina League. Last season Rasmus made eigh starts there, so if he does well early on he might be moved up to Double-A.
David Hale is going to pitch in the big leagues. That's what every coach you ask about will tell you about the former Princeton pitcher. What's funny is Hale wants to be a reliever, even though he probably has the stuff to be a starter. But his splits last year told the Braves, and Hale, that he belongs in the bullpen. He will get that chance in Lynchburg, and this is a guy that if he does well could be in the big leagues in another year.
One of the most impressive players in spring training was Andrelton Simmons. Man, he can pick it at shortstop. Plus that arm is outstanding. Simmons silenced some critics about his bat with several impressive showings, including a home run off Tommy Hanson in a scrimmage game. Simmons will play at short in Lynchburg, and he's going to be fun to track this season.
Phil Gosselin and Joe Leonard are two college draft picks from last June that really impressed the Braves. Now they'll be in their first full season. The Braves will be particularly interested to see if Leonard can show solid power. They may need a third baseman in a year or two.
And let's keep our fingers crossed that Adam Milligan can stay healthy. He missed last season with a rotator cuff injury. Milligan has great power, but he's yet to stay healthy. The Braves want to see what he can do in 450 at bats.
As for the Rome rotation, Carlos Perez will be front and center. This kid is for real. Remember, he was rated the best player in the Appy League last season. He's a baby, so the Braves will be careful with him. But Perez has the ability to have a Teheran-like breakout season this year.
Dave Filak was a good draft pick last June. Now he'll get his start in Rome. Caleb Brewer is finally healthy. He's never had arm issues, but other health issues have limited his time in the minors. And what will Steve Kent do as a starter? He was outstanding last year as a reliever, so the Braves are going to give him some innings as a starting pitcher. They won't overuse him, but Kent will be given a chance to impress.
Don't be worried about Christian Bethancourt going back to Rome. The Braves just want him to work on a few things there before going up to Lynchburg. Bethancourt is still considered to be a premium prospect, but he's still a baby.
While Matt Lipka and Edward Salcedo are big names, don't discount Elmer Reyes' talent. He was originally a shortstop, but he's moved to second base. Reyes will also play at short and third a bit in the rotation of infielders, but coaches love the way he plays shortstop.
Salcedo needs to go to the outfield. Maybe he can play third base, but he's overwhelmed at shortstop. The instincts are just not there. Again, it'll be interesting to see how he handles third, but shortstop for him in the future is out of the question. It'll be either at third or left field. The kid can hit, so let's see what he does in his first full season.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
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