The Instructional League is a combination of the end of the season and a precursor to the following season. It's a chance to get some extra work in for players who might not have played the full minor league season, and for players who just need to fine tune a bit before heading home for the winter. It's also a chance for some players to work on things they know they'll have to improve on during the next year.
Let's take a look at some of the position players who were on hand in the Instructs.
Very often in the Instructional League you will see players changing positions, and this year Carlos Guzman was that player for the Braves. Guzman has been a fringe outfielder the last few seasons in the minor league system. He hit only .229 with ten home runs and 44 RBI in 2003 for Rome. But he saw a lot of action as the team's designated hitter. Late in the season, the Braves had him working out at first base. Now, he's making the full-time switch. Guzman says he feels comfortable over there, and he hopes it will add to his versatility. The kid has shown signs he can hit, and at 6'3" 190 pounds, the 20-year old has good size. Guzman will probably head back to Rome in 2004 to get some playing time at first base, perhaps splitting time with Keith Eichas.
One of the older players in the Instructional League was Nick Green, who at 25 has just completed his fifth season in the Braves system. Nick worked a lot at shortstop in Florida, trying to show his versatility. He has played mostly at second base throughout his Braves career, but he has also seen some time at shortstop. Nick is really trying to put himself in contention for a reserve role in Atlanta next season. But if not, he'll return to Richmond getting playing time at both middle infield spots. However, Second Baseman Richard Lewis and Shortstop Kelly Johnson are both playing well in the Arizona Fall League, and both are scheduled to be promoted to AAA in 2004. Green hopes to play winter ball sometime in January, and then head to Orlando to fight for a job in Atlanta.
The Braves sent Andy Marte to Orlando so he could simply continue his development. He had a remarkable season in Myrtle Beach in 2003, and continues on pace to crack the Atlanta lineup in a few years. The Braves continue to marvel at Marte's defensive ability.
Atlanta's first round draft choice in 2001 may finally be turning the corner. Josh played very well in Orlando, and is slated to head to Rome as the starting left fielder. Burrus has adjusted well to the outfield, showing tremendous athletic ability. The Braves are still hoping he'll start to show some power, as he hit only one home run in Danville in 2004. There's little turning back now. Burrus does not need to stay in Extended Spring Training or go back to Danville. He'll get his opportunity to play everyday, and the pressure is on for him to perform consistently for the first time in his career.
After finishing his 2003 GCL season on a high note, "Salty Dog" went to Instructs and continued to impress. He was able to get more time in at catcher, and showed raw ability to call a good game and throw well to second base. The Braves are happy with his bat, as he is showing more power than they expected early on. It looks like a cinch now that he'll be the starting catcher in Rome in 2004.
He was voted as the most talented player in the Gulf Coast League, and Steve Doetsch continues to give the Braves reason to believe he is now one of their better outfield prospects. Doetsch just hits, and shows great athleticism in the outfield. He too will head to Rome in 2004. It will be interesting to see how far up the prospect list Doetsch will be a year from now.
He signed late after being drafted in the 26th round back in June, so the Instructional League was the first extended action for C.J. Bressoud. The catcher has decent size and worked a lot on his agility behind the plate. The Braves are anxious to see more on how he handles pitchers, and that will happen next spring. As for his projection, pencil him in as the Danville starting catcher in 2004.
One position battle that perhaps started in the Instructional League is first base for Rome. As mentioned earlier, Carlos Guzman has moved to first and will probably head back to Rome for a second straight season. But two other players in the Instructional League will also fight for the job. Keith Eichas, Atlanta's 17th round pick this past June, saw considerable time at first in Orlando. He played seventeen games at first in the GCL this past summer, seeing the majority of action as the team's designated hitter. Eichas is a pretty decent hitter, continuing to impress in October after hitting .345 with 5 home runs in 122 at bats with the GCL Braves. Also, Scott Schade, Danville's primary first baseman in 2003, will more than likely battle for a reserve spot in Rome. He can play first, second, and third base.
Ardley Jansen, Rome's left fielder in 2003, was in the Instructional League. Jansen missed part of the season with a wrist injury, so he logged only 373 at bats in the Sally League. It's very possible that he'll return to Rome for at least the start of the 2004 season. With Jeff Francoeur and Onil Joseph ready for a promotion to Myrtle Beach and Carlos Duran needing to return to the Carolina League to begin the season, the Braves may want for Jansen to get 150-200 at bats in Rome before being promoted. Then hopefully, Duran will make enough progress to perhaps get a promotion to Greenville late in the season. The Braves do believe, however, the Jansen is ready to turn the corner and possibly become one of their best prospects. He has shown glimpses of his great ability, but the Braves need and want to see some consistency.
Bill Shanks hosts a weekly regional television show on the Braves and its minor league system during the baseball season. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Instructional League Report: Part II
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