The Danville Braves are in the Appalachian League, which usually has a good number of college players. But like all Braves' minor league affiliates, Danville's expected 2005 roster will consist mainly of high school and international talent, with a good sprinkle of college players as well.
The Braves are still finalizing the roster this weekend, but we'll share with you what we know.
It looks like the starting rotation will have six members, with the possibility that one or two more could sneak into a piggy-backing situation. Todd Blackford, a 13th rounder in 2004, will move from the GCL bullpen to the Danville rotation. He struggled last year in 15 games with a high ERA, but his 6'4" frame has the Braves excited about his future.
Johnnie Wiggins began the season in Rome, but struggled in a long relief role and was sent to Extended Spring Training in May. Now he'll get some solid innings in the Danville rotation. Right-hander Jairo Cuevas looks like he's 12, but he's got solid stuff. He walked only 7 and struck out 39 in 9 games last year in the GCL. Carlos Rivas was also effective in Orlando last season, now the 20-year-old lefty will join Cuevas in the Danville rotation.
Asher Demme has strong stuff, including a good, live fastball. He needs consistent innings and will get them in the Danville rotation. And finally, Eduardo Rosario, who has been strengthening his left arm in Orlando, will round out the rotation.
The bullpen will be led by a couple of 2005 draft picks. The Braves were shocked when Auburn closer Michael Nix fell to the 11th round and when Fresno State closer fell to the 12th round. Now the two will form a solid duo in the Danville pen. Jang Ji Cho, signed out of Japan back in the winter, will join the college kids, along with Nate Pudewell, Bryan Johnson, Drew Jackson, Donavan Hendricks, and Glen Richards. Nick Tisone, signed late last summer as a non-drafted free agent, will start in the bullpen but could get a few starts as well.
Max Ramirez, who played in the infield last season and was the MVP of the GCL team, has moved to catcher and has done very well. He'll share the catching duties with Jon Shehan and Junior Guerra.
Manny Rodriquez is a big, tall left-handed hitter who hit .251 last season in the GCL. He'll become Danville's first baseman this season. Ovandy Suero stole 30 bases last year in Orlando and will now move up a level to play second base.
The Braves will place Cuban defector and second round pick Yunel Escobar in Danville. When the Braves drafted him, they compared him to a young Edgar Renteria-type of shortstop. Some believe he's got AA talent right now, but the Braves have no reason to rush him. Expect him to not be in Danville long. The Braves will be disappointed if he is.
The top pick from 2004's draft, Eric Campbell, will be the starting third baseman for Danville. Campbell hit .251 in the GCL last season with 7 bombs and 29 RBI in 211 at bats. The Braves he can continue to show steady improvement this summer.
Derrick Arnold, last year's 8th rounder, and Jose Santos will round out the infield bench.
Jamie Romak is set to go as one of Danville's outfielders. Romak was a fourth rounder a few years ago, and the Braves have tried to be patient with his transition to the outfield. Romak has awesome raw power, and now he'll get his chance to show what he can do.
Jon Mark Owings survived a scary crash with the right field foul pole last summer and is now ready for the next jump up the ladder. Owings has decent power and is very projectable. He'll be joined in the outfield by Yohan Silva, who started the season in Rome, and newly signed 13th round pick Quentin Davis.
On paper, it looks like the Danville team will be a pitching-oriented team. While the starting staff is young, the relievers are a bit more polished and could dominate. The hitters are very, very raw, but there is no doubt plenty of talent is on the 2005 Danville roster.
Bill Shanks has a new book out on the Braves' scouting and player development philosophies. Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team is out on bookshelves. Bill can be reached at email@example.com
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