The Atlanta Braves have signed seven minor league free agents.
ANDY VAN HEKKEN
25 years old
Van Hekken got some big league experience with the Tigers a few years ago when he started five games in a September call-up. He was 1-3 with an ERA of 3.00, 38 hits in 30 innings, 10 earned runs, 6 walks, and 5 strikeouts. He split 2003 between AA and AAA and was one of Toledo's main starters in 2004. Van Hekken went 9-7 with a 4.96 ERA in 28 games (27 starts), 179 hits in 152.1 innings pitched, 84 earned runs, 59 walks, and 101 strikeouts. A few years ago Andy was one of the Tigers Top Ten Prospects, but he's regressed a bit since then. Van Hekken is a soft-tossing lefty with a fastball that reaches 90 miles an hour, along with a decent curve ball. This is not a bad signing. He's had success in the minor leagues before, so the light bulb could come back on and make him a decent prospect.
28 years old
Bernero was the hard luck pitcher with the Tigers a few years ago when he went 1-12 in seventeen starts. Detroit traded him to the Rockies in July of 2003 where he pitched in 31 games in relief. Then in 2004 Bernero pitched in sixteen games for Colorado including two starts. He went 1-1 with a 5.57 ERA, 36 hits in 32.1 innings, 17 walks, and 21 strikeouts. Bernero also pitched in 9 games (8 starts) for AAA Colorado Springs. He went 3-2 there with a 3.17 ERA, 48 strikeouts in 48.1 innings. Bernero is another good arm that could find new life with the Braves. Bernero wasn't even drafted in 1999. The Tigers signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Division II Armstrong Atlantic. Bernero made it to the big leagues in two years.
26 years old
Childers spent the last eight years in the Brewers system and even got an eight game stint in the major leagues in 2002. Mostly a reliever, Childers did start ten of his 35 games last season in AAA for Indianapolis. He was 5-5 with a 4.87 ERA, 100 hits in 98 innings pitched, 53 earned runs, 27 walks, and 65 strikeouts. Matt is a Georgia kid. He was born in Douglas, Georgia and grew up in Augusta, graduating from Westside High School there. He's known as a power pitcher with a fastball that has touched 95. Matt has been known to give up the long ball a bit in his career, but the Braves hope they can work on some of the mechanical problems he's had over the last several years. Childers was a top prospect for the Brewers several years ago, but that was before Milwaukee improved its farm system. He's now an older pitcher with the hope of turning the corner in a different organization.
23 years old
Franco (not sure if he's related to our Franco) spent much of 2004 with the Montgomery Biscuits in the Southern League. He hit .209 with 3 homers and 14 RBI in 60 games at catcher. It looks like the Devil Rays have shared him with a Mexican League for parts of the last three seasons. He's a backup catcher type that will battle for a job in AAA and AA for the Braves.
30 years old
Mendez played 62 games at first base for the Orioles AAA affiliate in Ottawa last season. He also played 5 games at catcher. Mendez hit .256 with 4 home runs and 37 runs batted in. Mendez spent seven seasons in the Athletics organization before moving on to the Orioles, where he saw 26 games in the major leagues in 2003. The right-handed hitting Mendez will be another infield option for AAA.
28 years old
Barnes was in camp last season for the Dodgers and spent the 2004 season with their AAA affiliate. The right-handed hitter managed a .348 batting average, 9 home runs, and 43 RBI in 250 at bats in his 51 games as an outfielder. He's also spent time in the Red Sox, Rockies, Twins, and Pirates organizations. Barnes enjoyed two short stints in the big leagues in 2000 and 2001 with Minnesota. He has a .241 career big league average in 58 at bats with 2 RBI. Barnes will battle Esix Snead for playing time in AAA Richmond.
28 years old
Pratt joins the Braves after seven seasons in the Indians organization. He spent 2004 in Akron and Buffalo. Most of his at bats were in AA Akron, where he hit .267 with 4 home runs and 44 RBI in 405 at bats. Pratt is a solid utility player. He played 20 games at second base, 17 at shortstop, 5 at third base, and 35 games in the outfield last season. Pratt's best year came in 2002 when he hit 17 homers in 446 at bats. Pratt is a speedy left-handed batter who could get some quality at bats in either AA or AAA for the Braves.
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