Minor League Notes: 3/18

Editor Bill Shanks has the latest news and notes from the Braves Minor League Camp in Orlando - Could <B>Tony Pena Jr.</B> be the shortstop of the future? Plus - <B>Jeff Francouer</B> mashes, <B>Charlie Morton</B> turning heads, and much more in this free preview of content available to our premium subscribers.

- Just a prediction: Atlanta's next starting shortstop – Tony Pena Jr.

- Some of the bright spots of the Minor League camp include RHP Charlie Morton, who is slated to go to Rome this year. Morton has added significant upper body strength to his frame and has impressed coaches so far in practice.

- Matt Harrison and Paul Bacot have also added upper body strength and look bigger than last year.

- Despite battling back problems RHP Asher Demme also looks good in camp. Demme will more than likely stay behind in extended spring training and head to Danville in June.

- OF Cory Aldridge is working on a new swing. Aldridge says coaches are trying to get him to go back to the swing he had before he had shoulder surgery in 2002.

- 3B Cole Barthel looks good after battling back problems most of last season. Barthel could open the season as Rome's starting 3B.

- The Braves really would like to see Ryan Basner as a starting pitcher. But room is a problem. Where will he go? Basner was the 7th round draft pick last year out of Western Carolina and performed well in Danville.

- LHP Matt Coenen has been told by the Braves that he will be in Greenville's bullpen.

- Carlos Guzman is making terrific strides at 1B. He could be Rome's Opening Day starter there in April.

- OF Jeff Francouer, slated for Myrtle Beach, is showing great power in camp thus far.

- SS Dean White, signed in 2001 as a Free Agent out of Australia has tremendous size for a middle-infielder. He shows good promise defensively, and has great speed. He may be the modern day Glenn Williams, in that he is still searching for his hitting stroke.

- The Braves will have the advantage of having two sidearmers in the bullpen with Brad Nelson and Glenn Tucker. Nelson was a 10th round pick and Tucker was a 11th round pick. Both could skip Rome and go to Myrtle Beach.

- Two pitchers whose last names begin with V are ones to watch this season : Sergio Valenzuela and Chris Vines. Valenzuela, a 6'footer out of Mexico is a rangy right-hander with good size for a 19 year old. Chris Vines, last years 5th round pick out of Alabama came into camp an inch and a half taller than he was at the time of last year's draft at 6'5. The Braves rave about his ability.

- Jamie Hemingway, last year's 23rd round draft pick is showing tremendous power in camp. He was popping them out of the park in BP several days ago. Hemingway looks like a football player, and is slated for Rome this season.

- Rubi Koko signed last July by the Braves out of Curacao could be the fastest player in Minor League camp. The amazing thing about that is that he is 6'3, 190 pounds. Koko also has tremendous power potential. The Braves are dreaming about another potential "find" from Curacao. Koko will be starting outfielder for the GCL Braves when their season begins in June.

- There are several Braves in camp who could go down to AAA. Tim Drew, Ryan Glynn, CJ Nitkowsi, Chuck Smith, Matt Whiteside, and Travis Smith are six pitchers with Big League experience who could be on Richmond's staff. Nitkowski still has an outside chance to be in Atlanta, but Andy Pratt currently has the edge for a Major League spot. Bubba Nelson and Brett Evert could be the only younger players in the Richmond rotation.

- Another logjam will be at the middle infield position at the AA and AAA levels. Kelly Johnson and Richard Lewis really need to move up to AAA, but Nick Green and the loser of the Wilson Betemit/Jesse Garcia battle could make things interesting in Richmond. Betemit, Green, and Garcia are all versatile, and Johnson has also seen some action at 3B this spring. Richard Lewis, however, is pretty limited to secondbase. Johnson could benefit from time in Greenville, but the Braves need to move Tony Pena Jr. up from Myrtle Beach. Also, Aaron Herr needs to move up to AA so Lewis is almost destined for Richmond.

- If Betemit wins the utility role, Jesse Garcia would most likely be released with Jorge Velandia headed to Richmond. Betemit told me that he is swinging the bat very well from the right side (his natural side.) He would not be against batting exclusively from the right side, but the Braves want him to be switch hitter.

- One of the new Minor League coaches making an impact is Jack Voight, "Baserunning and Bunting Rover." Voight is working exclusively with the pitchers on bunting and more emphasis is being placed on bunting than in years' past.

- LHP Paul Weichard hopes to be ready for opening day in Myrtle Beach. Weichard experienced severe shoulder pain early in Spring Training, but tests showed no serious damage. The Braves have him on a throwing program to hopefully be ready to resume throwing in April.

- Danville's starting rotation could be exceptional: Chris Vines, Jake Stevens, Paul Bacot, Luis Atilano, and possibly Asher Demme or Sergio Valenzuela.

- Brian McCann was the winner of the Wimbledon Ping Pong tournament held March 11th in Orlando.

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