ANDRUW JONES ATLANTA 27 YEARS OLD .261 batting average .345 on base percentage 29 home runs 91 runs batted in 149 hits in 570 at bats 34 doublesCOMMENT: Even though Andruw has averaged 158 games, 162.7 hits, 32.4 home runs, and 97.5 runs batted in over the last seven seasons, it is still perceived that he has yet to break out and become the player people expected him to be when he debuted in 1996. But there's little doubt that while he's great in most areas, there is potential still yet to be reached. The batting average needs to improve; he's got a .272 mark over those same seven seasons. He just needs to get more consistent with his offense. While the defensive stats that have been developed point to a slip in his defensive work in center, one question to the Atlanta pitchers will dispel that myth. He still saves a ton of runs every year. I think we're all waiting for it all to simply come together with one explosion of combined production, which will no doubt result in a MVP award if it happens. Andruw turns 28 three weeks into the season, so he's in his prime. It's time for him to carry this team on his shoulders. He's too good a ballplayer for it not to happen. But if he continues to be a player that simply hits 32 homers and drives in 98 every season, no one will complain.
RAUL MONDESI ATLANTA 34 YEARS OLD .248 batting average 3 home runs 15 runs batted in 33 hits in 133 at batsCOMMENT: He has come to camp in great shape, wowing the training staff and exciting the coaching staff. The problems that he had last season seem to be gone, and his main priority is to prove to people he still can be a productive big leaguer. Usually, when players do that in a Braves' uniform, they succeed. Can he return to the player that averaged 27.1 homers, 84.6 runs batted in, and 23.7 stolen bases between 1995 and 2003? Don't bet against him. If he can, the Braves lineup might be very, very dangerous.
BRIAN JORDAN ATLANTA 38 YEARS OLD .222 batting average .275 on base percentage 5 home runs 23 runs batted in 47 hits in 212 at batsCOMMENT: If Mondesi is a question mark, Brian Jordan is a huge question mark. It is being said that he should have stayed off for eighteen months from the surgery, but instead he came back in eight and was horrible in 2004. But he's back home, happier than ever, and ready for one last hurrah. The best scenario is for Jordan to settle into a nice platoon with Ryan Langerhans and get 250 quality at bats. If he can't stay healthy, the Braves probably won't wait too long since there are numerous right-handed hitting candidates to come aboard. While he's been out of the Atlanta clubhouse for three years, Jordan has the ability to once again become a veteran force, particularly to the younger players. It was a gamble to sign him, but there's not much at risk. It's definitely a low-risk, high-reward situation.
RYAN LANGERHANS ATLANTA 25 YEARS OLD .298 batting average .397 on base percentage 20 home runs 72 runs batted in 136 hits in 456 at bats 34 doublesCOMMENT: He's ready for the major leagues after a tremendous season in AAA last year. You can't really play much better in the minor leagues as Ryan did last season. The Braves wanted to see if he could hit for power, and he delivered 20 home runs. He was consistent all season, and his numbers across the board were superb. Out of options, he must make the 25-man roster or be lost through waivers, and the Braves have no intention of losing him. Again, the likely scenario is Langerhans and Jordan settling into a platoon, similar to the one Charles Thomas and Eli Marrero made so effective last season. Ryan is going to provide tremendous defense with a great arm. If he produces anything close to what he did last season in Richmond, Langerhans could be around for a long time.
BILLY MCCARTHY RICHMOND 25 YEARS OLD .324 batting average .388 on base percentage 15 home runs 65 runs batted in 133 hits in 411 at bats 25 doublesCOMMENT: Let's call Billy the anti-Jordan. He's just waiting for Brian to go down with an injury or show he's just not effective anymore. If that happen, McCarthy might be in Atlanta sooner than you can say Rutgers. This kid stayed healthy last season and just went out and hit, doing even better after he was challenged with a promotion to AAA. Billy's just a hitter; he knows what he's doing up there at the plate. Chances are slim that Brian Jordan is going to make it through the entire season without missing some time. He's just too beat up from his football days. So Billy must be ready to go. Then when he gets his chance, he needs to really show that he can hit, because he knows he's got a number of players breathing down his neck for the same opportunity.
KELLY JOHNSON RICHMOND 23 YEARS OLD .282 batting average .350 on base percentage 16 home runs 50 runs batted in 135 hits in 479 at bats 35 doublesCOMMENT: Kelly Johnson often gets lost in the shuffle in all this outfield talk, but all the left-handed hitter did last season was show once again why he's such a great prospect. The Braves moved him to the outfield, and he played like he had been there all his life. It was incredible how comfortable he looked in the outfield; Johnson was either acting or he's just that good. Offensively, a return to AA usually means the organization wants to see some progress, and that's exactly what Kelly showed. His numbers were impressive across the board, and there are still many in the organization that believes Kelly will become a solid starting outfielder in the big leagues. His ability to play short and third base won't hurt, but what will impress more than anything will be if Kelly goes to AAA and shows he's close to being ready for the major leagues. If Langerhans does not come through, Johnson might get his chance. Remember, Jordan and Mondesi are probably only here for 2005, so there could well be two outfield spots open next season. Don't count out Kelly Johnson.
JEFF FRANCOEUR MISSISSIPPI 21 YEARS OLD .278 batting average .324 on base percentage 18 home runs 61 runs batted in 113 hits in 407 at bats 28 doubles 11 stolen basesCOMMENTS: It's hard to believe the Braves could have three prospects "ahead" of Jeff Francoeur. But a strong spring could change that real quickly. No matter how well Langerhans, McCarthy, and Johnson play, Francoeur could come in and prove he's ready for the big leagues. John Schuerholz has said that he won't be shocked one bit if it happens. Francoeur is just a special player. Yes, he needs to work on his plate discipline. But he's the type of player, the type of person who will work as hard as he can to correct any flawed part of his game. There was no way he should have returned from his injury last season, when he was hit almost flush on the face with a 90-plus mph fastball. But Jeff wanted to play in AA last season, and he bounced back like the champion he is. There are so many things that make this kid special. He can hit, run, and play defense. But there is so much more than that. Jeff Francoeur is a winner. He's a player who wants to become the focal point of his hometown team and be in Turner Field for the next decade. Chances are the debut will come sometime this season, and then it might be impossible to ever get him out of the lineup again.
GREGOR BLANCO MISSISSIPPI 21 YEARS OLD .266 batting average .339 on base percentage 8 home runs 41 runs batted in 116 hits in 436 at bats 25 stolen basesCOMMENTS: Blanco returned to Myrtle Beach for a second year in a row and made some improvements in his game. He's a speedy player that knows how to take a walk, but he also strikes out a ton. Blanco is probably never going to develop into a power hitter, but it will be neat to see how he handles a much friendlier park in Mississippi this year. Gregor has great defensive skills. Right now, compared to the other outfield prospects, Blanco is a fringe player. But the skills are there to develop into something more. When a player gets to AA, it's their time to shine. So it will be Blanco's chance to separate himself from some of the others.
CARLOS DURAN MISSISSIPPI 22 YEARS OLD .261 batting average .295 on base percentage 3 home runs 28 runs batted in 61 hits in 234 at bats 13 stolen basesCOMMENTS: There is zero doubt that Duran has tremendous athletic ability, but he has yet to put together the type of consistency that some thought he could produce when he was ranked so highly going into the 2002 season. Duran battled injury problems last year with a bum arm. He came back on fire, hitting over .400, but then settled down and struggled the rest of the season. The talent is there. He has decent power, a nice lefty batting stroke, good wheels, and a cannon of an arm in the outfield. It's just a matter of putting everything together. They say consistency is what separates players, and if Duran can find that consistency, he has the ability to separate himself from others real quickly.
ARDLEY JANSEN MISSISSIPPI - MYRTLE BEACH 22 YEARS OLD .251 batting average .323 on base percentage 8 home runs 32 runs batted in 86 hits in 342 at bats 12 doubles 9 stolen basesCOMMENTS: Arguably the best fielding outfielder in the system, Jansen continues to get lost in the shuffle with all the outfield talent. Like Duran, Ardley shows flashes of brilliance with his play, but the consistency is just not there yet. As of now, Jansen is simply a fringe prospect, but like the others he could easily turn it up a notch and make himself a top player. He's still young, so you have to wonder if one of these kids that the Braves are waiting to bust out will blossom at 22 or 23 years old into what they actually might become in the big leagues. Place Mr. Jansen at the top of that list.
ONIL JOSEPH MISSISSIPPI 23 YEARS OLD .272 batting average .355 on base percentage 2 home runs 36 runs batted in 114 hits in 419 at bats 32 stolen bases 13 doublesCOMMENTS: And then put Onil Joseph right behind him. The Braves placed "O.J." on the 40-man a year ago for several reasons. First, at that time, the outfield depth was nowhere near it is now. Billy McCarthy and Adam Stern were both coming off injury- plagued seasons, and Kelly Johnson had yet to move to the outfield. So even though he was a long-term project, Joseph was their best option. He wowed the coaches last spring with his solid play, and then he went to Myrtle Beach and faced the offensive struggles that so many have to conquer. Joseph is a speedster who is never going to develop much power, but he could easily become a leadoff type in a few years. While 23 years old, he's still young in baseball. This is a kid that could go to AA and hit .300 with 10 homers and steal 40 bases. If he does that, with his defense, he could easily become a top prospect.
MATT ESQUIVEL MYRTLE BEACH 22 YEARS OLD .282 batting average .354 on base percentage 16 home runs 63 runs batted in 116 hits in 411 at bats 31 doubles 14 stolen basesCOMMENTS: After two years in Danville, Esquivel busted out in Rome last season for a solid first full season in the minor leagues. He's a burly linebacker-type player who can run well and plays hard. He's got a swing that can generate massive power, but he strikes out too much. Esquivel will be thoroughly tested this season in Myrtle Beach, and he'll soon learn that deep flies in Rome are infield pop ups at the beach. But Matt's got a lot of talent, and if he continues to develop, he'll be a very interesting prospect in two years.
STEVE DOETSCH MYRTLE BEACH 21 YEARS OLD .284 batting average .353 on base percentage 9 home runs 67 runs batted in 136 hits in 479 at bats 24 doubles 18 stolen basesCOMMENTS: Yet another player from Rome last season who strikes out too much, Doetsch must cut down on his K's. He had 152 strikeouts in 479 at bats with only 47 walks. The .353 OBP is not horrible, but it sure could be better if some of those strikeouts turn into walks. Perhaps, with the test he'll get in Myrtle Beach this season, Doetsch will learn how to actually become a hitter, instead of a player that goes up there looking for all or nothing. But don't be confused; Doetsch can drive the ball very well. When he makes contact, the ball travels a long way. But making contact is the trick.
JOSH BURRUS MYRTLE BEACH 21 YEARS OLD .272 batting average .330 on base percentage 11 home runs 46 runs batted in 137 hits in 503 at bats 30 doubles 30 stolen basesCOMMENTS: The Braves were waiting for Josh Burrus to break out and show everyone why they took him in the first round in 2001, and he did just that last season in Rome. Josh made the transition to the outfield and did very well. He played all three outfield positions, but looked most comfortable in left. Offensively, like all the others, he must cut down his strikeouts. But Josh has power and can run, and that's a very dangerous combination. What will he be like in two years? It's an interesting question. The speed makes him such a dangerous ballplayer, and that power is only going to develop more. Now he'll go to Myrtle and learn how to become a better hitter.
CARL LOADENTHAL ROME 23 YEARS OLD .305 batting average .388 on base percentage 5 home runs 32 runs batted in 73 hits in 239 at bats 9 doubles 12 stolen basesCOMMENTS: The Danville Player of the Year for 2004 will move up to Rome this season, after two straight solid seasons in the Braves' system. Loadenthal is not a very big kid, but he is very dangerous with the bat. Last season he showed flashes of power, which is good considering he only had 1 in the Gulf Coast League in 2003. Loadenthal does an excellent job of getting on base, and his speed is a dangerous weapon. At 23, Carl needs to move up a level. But with so many players who were in Rome last season going to Myrtle Beach, the path is a little blocked for a quick promotion. But Loadenthal can change that by simply going out and playing well.
MARK JURICH ROME – MYRTLE BEACH 24 YEARS OLD .281 batting average 16 home runs 47 runs batted in 57 hits in 203 at bats 10 doublesCOMMENTS: Mark Jurich is going to get a chance to play first base this spring. The Braves will see how the experiment goes before deciding his future. The outfield crunch is the main reason, but playing first base would also give Jurich a better chance at skipping Rome and moving up to Myrtle Beach, which he needs to do with his age. Jurich had a remarkable month of August for Danville last season, and if he continues to hit like he did the final three weeks of the season, the Braves will find a bat for him in AA before the season is over. Mark impressed the coaches last season, and when the organization determines where he's going to play, he'll be an interesting player to watch. As a power hitter from college, Jurich is one that could really fly through the minors.
BRANDON JONES ROME 21 YEARS OLD .297 batting average .366 on base percentage 3 home runs 33 runs batted in 62 hits in 209 at bats 4 stolen basesCOMMENTS: Brandon Jones is going to get a full season at Rome in 2005, after an impressive debut last year in Danville. The Braves feel he will develop more power, and they are convinced he can really be a dangerous hitter in many different ways. Jones is a player that you supposedly have to see a lot of to truly appreciate. The test of playing a long season will be a good one for him, and by October we should have a better idea of exactly what type of prospect Jones may be for the Braves.
JOHAN SILVA ROME 20 YEARS OLD .258 batting average .347 on base percentage 7 home runs 27 runs batted in 51 hits in 198 at bats 10 stolen basesCOMMENTS: Here's a kid that is interesting. Silva really played well in the Gulf Coast League last year, and he got a late-season promotion to Rome to finish his year. Silva has decent speed and developing power. He could pass a few other outfielders with a solid season in 2005.
JON MARK OWINGS ROME 20 YEARS OLD .226 batting average .304 on base percentage 3 home runs 7 runs batted in 28 hits in 124 at bats 5 stolen basesCOMMENTS: A horrific injury in the Gulf Coast League ruined Jon Mark's initial season. But he's recovered and ready to show the Braves they were right in taking a late round chance on him last season. Jon Mark was a 5th round talent napped late in day one. The Braves feel he's a great athlete and very projectable. He's got to first prove he is healthy, but when he does, he should get some time in Rome this season.
ADAM PARLIAMENT DANVILLECOMMENTS: This kid shocked the Braves by putting on a power display at a mid-summer tournament last year. They thought he might be a draft-and-follow, but after his outstanding performance, the Braves signed him on the spot. More than likely, the Canadian will stay in Extended Spring Training and head to Danville, but don't be shocked if he sees some time in Rome this season as well.
A year ago the outfield depth was a question mark in the Braves' organization. But now it's a tremendous strength. The Braves signed a couple of draft-and-follows, got some players healthy, and drafted two more that look like serious long-term projects. Plus, there's an excellent shot that they'll get Adam Stern back from the Boston Red Sox this spring. There are questions with Mondesi and Jordan in Atlanta, but the candidates to come in and pick up the slack are waiting their turn. Francoeur is the best all-around prospect, but there are so many other players who are good enough to play in the big leagues one day that you almost fear some will get lost in the shuffle. This is a huge example of how building up a certain position on your depth chart can strengthen the entire organization. It doesn't look like the Braves are going to have to acquire an outfielder from outside the organization any time soon. That doesn't mean they won't or that there won't be some outfielder that will be too good for John Schuerholz to pass up, but it does mean that there should be numerous options available to the team to choose from the minor league system. That's its purpose, and the strength of the outfield shows how the Braves do things pretty well.
Bill Shanks is the Editor of BravesCenter.com. His new book, "Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team," will be out this April. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org