LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL
If you love baseball, there’s just something about spring training. There is always so much optimism, for players, for teams. Being in good weather will do that for you, especially if you’ve been anywhere on the globe where the weather has been rough for the winter months.
Tuesday I had the opportunity to talk with four players, all young prospects: catcher Tanner Murphy, third baseman Dustin Peterson and pitchers Manny Banuelos and Mike Foltynewicz.
All four represent the type of stories often heard in spring training. They are all at different periods of their baseball development, and they all hope to be in Atlanta at some point.
Murphy just turned 20 years old two weeks ago. He was a fourth round pick out of Malden, Missouri in 2013. Murphy doesn’t realize how weird it is for a catcher to have the same last name as one of the best players in Atlanta’s history. It was 40 years ago a kid from Oregon named Murphy was on the minor league fields trying to make a similar impression.
But this is Tanner, not Dale. Tanner is a confident kid. You can tell he’s almost pinching himself that he’s there. He even liked doing the interview. Let’s hope that continues. Murphy is projected to go to Rome for his first full-season team this year. He’s several years away, but his enthusiasm and excitement was refreshing.
Murphy got a taste of the big leagues this month in his first big league spring training camp. He got to hang around veterans like A.J. Pierzynski and John Buck, and Murphy got a chance to see what a kid just four years older than he is going through in taking over as the starter. Being around Christian Bethancourt was good for Murphy, but one day he would love to take Bethancourt’s job.
Peterson is one of the many newcomers, acquired from the Padres in the Justin Upton trade. He’s also just 20 years old, but he’ll head to High-A and try to prove he is a legit prospect.
That’s what every kid on the back fields at Disney is trying to do, just prove he will be the real deal one day. But for Peterson, there’s more to it. He’s linked to the Upton deal, so more people will be watching him. Plus, Dustin’s brother is D.J. Peterson, a top prospect with the Seattle Mariners.
Dustin was a nice kid, but you could tell he is a newbie. He has to get used to wearing that Braves uniform, after believing the last two years he’d one day be a Padre. That transition is not as easy as it might seem, but Peterson sounded determined to make his new team proud of the decision it made to go after him.
Banuelos is also one of the many traded to Atlanta over the offseason. He’s a bit closer than Peterson, but his story is just as unique. Four years ago Banuelos was the toast of spring training in Yankees camp. He as a 20-year-old phenom who Mariano Rivera said was the best pitching prospect he had ever seen.
But then Banuelos had Tommy John surgery and missed almost two full seasons. Last year the Yankees were careful with him, limiting him to only 76.1 innings the entire season.
That was a good thing, but now Banuelos is ready to be normal again. He started spring with an outside shot at making the Atlanta rotation, but he admitted Tuesday he’s pressed a bit, trying to make a good impression.
Banuelos must first prove to himself he’s healthy, and then show that he can still pitch. The emotional roller-coaster than many Tommy John patients go through is taxing, but Banuelos seemed ready to take that next step.
And Foltynewicz admitted that he too is pressing. Both Banuelos and Foltynewicz failed to make it out of the first inning in their last starts. The Braves even sat Foltynewicz down and told him they knew what he could do and he just needed to stop trying to impress everyone.
That’s natural for a new player, but considering the opportunities here in camp, you can’t blame a pitcher for wanting to make the team. Once Foltynewicz calms down, he’ll be fine and show us all what he can do on the mound.
Banuelos and Foltynewicz might help out in Atlanta this season, while Murphy and Peterson are a few years away. Their paths, their stories are different, but their goals are one in the same. They all want to make it to the show.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.
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