Spring Training Notes

BravesCenter's Bill Shanks continues his coverage from Disney's Wide World of Sports with the latest on the bullpen competition and a report from the first full squad workout from minor league camp.

  • It looks like Adam Bernero is the leading candidate to be the long man in Atlanta's bullpen. Bernero has impressed the Braves' coaches and his experience as a starter with Detroit and Colorado gives him the edge in that role.
  • Kevin Gryboski is still a question mark with his shoulder. If he's unable to go at the start of the season, either Kevin Barry or Buddy Hernandez could get the chance on the big league roster. But don't count out Jorge Vasquez, who has really been impressive.
  • Horacio Ramirez looked great Thursday and continues to show that he will be ready to go for the start of the season. Ramirez hit 93 on the Disney radar gun and his breaking stuff was very effective.
  • The Braves are sending Zach Miner to the hill Friday for his third appearance. Miner did well in his start against Georgia Tech last week and again last Sunday against the Mets. Miner still has an outside chance at making the Atlanta roster, but is more likely headed to Richmond. Even if he does start the season in AAA, his fine work this spring means Miner will probably see Atlanta sometime this season.
  • The great work of Miner and Anthony Lerew has the Braves thrilled, particularly with the trades of so many pitchers over the past 24 months. There is little doubt Kyle Davies is the top pitching prospect, but the depth behind Davies is solid.
  • The competition between Wilson Betemit and Pete Orr for the infield reserve spot is going to be very interesting. Both have played well defensively and both have hit home runs. Betemit looks much more confident than he has in previous springs, and since he is out of options he does have the advantage. But there is zero doubt that Mr. Orr is making a positive impression.
  • Kelly Johnson has seen some time at second base in batting practice. The Braves may want to help his versatility even more by playing him there. Johnson adjusted well to the outfield last season, but he came up as a shortstop and then played third a bit in 2003. The Braves still love Kelly's left-handed swing.
  • It was the first full day for the full squad on the minor league fields. The players heard from many of the minor league staff on the rules and procedures during camp and then had a workout. Minor league games start on Friday, March 18.
  • The player from the early minor league camp that everyone is talking about is 16-year-old shortstop Elvis Andrus. Signed a few months ago to a $500,000 contract, Andrus is wowing coaches with his bat and play in the field. I have yet to see him hit, but was told his swing was terrific. Defensively, you can tell he's a wiz. He looks to be about six-feet tall right now with more room to grow. Andrus is going to be in the Gulf Coast League this season, which is highly unusual for a player his age.
  • Pitcher Jang Ji Cho and outfielder Takumi Hamaoka are both in camp. Cho has a chance to win a job in Rome or Myrtle Beach, while Hamaoka is going back overseas for the year.
  • Looks like Bryan Digby might be heading back to the bullpen. He started last season in Rome to get innings, but now he might be able to skip Myrtle Beach and head to Mississippi as a reliever.
  • John Foster told me Thursday that he is thrilled to be back in a Braves uniform. Foster asked the Cubs for his release so he could re-join the team that drafted him.
  • The reason Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann, and Onil Joseph were sent down to minor league camp this early was so they could play more regularly. McCann had only played in two games, so he needs to go play. I'm sure they were a little disappointed about going down, but the reason is logical. With minor league camp in full gear, all three will get to play more to prepare for the season.
  • Gonzalo Lopez was also sent out Thursday. Lopez has had some discomfort in his shoulder, so the Braves have treated him with care the last few weeks. It's unfortunate, since this was Lopez's chance to really come in and make an impression. The Braves will check on his health before deciding on his 2005 team
  • Mark Jurich is handling the transition to first base very well. He's looked good in BP and in fielding drills. The former outfielder from Louisville will get a good test there when the games start next week. Offensively, he's got a very quick swing, and while he's not a big guy, you can tell how he generates so much power.
  • Jose Ascanio is not very big, but you can see why the coaches are raving about him. The ball just flies out of his hand. It's funny how some pitchers are simply able to throw the ball with such ease.
  • Lefty Adam Stanley is being held back a bit. He had Tommy John surgery last season, but he is still experiencing some discomfort.
  • Jo Jo Reyes, however, is doing very well in his recovery from Tommy John. He hopes to be pitching in either Rome or Myrtle Beach sometime in May.
  • Chris Waters, who had shoulder surgery last summer, is still pitching at only fifty percent in the bullpen, but he is progressing nicely and will also be released to the coaches sometime in May.
  • Left-handed pitcher Juan Alvarez, who was in Macon in 2003 before going to the Mexican League, is back in camp and is competing for a job on the Myrtle Beach roster.
  • All the position players broke into groups Thursday and I spent some time watching the catchers. Young Javier Dominiquez was impressive. He'll probably head back to the Dominican Summer League this season. But you have to be impressed with Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He's gotten bigger; he plum looks like he's about 3 years older than he actually is. His catching mechanics were very, very sound. He's one of those prospects you just can't wait to see in about two years.
  • Clint Sammons is going to be a great catcher for that young pitching staff in Rome this season. You can tell he is a leader, with great skills behind the plate. With Luis Atilano, Chris Vines, and Matt Harrison being three of the Braves' prized prospects, you'll be glad they'll have a solid receiver in Sammons behind the plate.
  • I've mentioned Charlie Morton as one of my breakout players for 2005. Charlie had a solid developmental season in Rome last year, even though his numbers were mediocre. Morton looks bigger and you can tell his frame is getting solid. Charlie learned a lot last season, and he's ready to take his game to the next level.
  • While I saw James Parr pitch a bit in the bullpen earlier in the week, I'm very anxious to see other pitchers who were drafted last year. Parr was very impressive for a young kid, but Jared Shaffer, Nick Tisone, Johnnie Wiggins, and Jonny Venters are four that I'm ready to watch pitch a bit.
  • This Adam Parliament kid is huge. We signed him late last summer after he wowed our scouts in a tournament in Atlanta. I'm ready to see him hit a bit.

Bill Shanks's new book, Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, will be out in book stores before Opening Day. You can reach Bill at thebravesshow@email.com

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