Every summer a group of 16-19 year olds form the Atlanta Braves' entry in the Gulf Coast League. Most years the fans don't even know most of the names. But this year, one name is going to stand out.
Sixteen-year-old Elvis Andrus was the talk of Spring Training back in March. Signed last winter for half a million bucks, Andrus came to camp and wowed coaches with his advanced play. He's right at six-foot-tall, and there's no doubt he has more room to grow.
Andrus will lead the team in the Gulf Coast League this summer. The coaches believe he could be on the fast track to the big leagues. Some have even speculated that he could be in AA as soon as 2007 at the age of eighteen. His defense is tremendous, and at the plate he is extremely smooth. Most Braves fans will look for Andrus's status on a daily basis. With a name like Elvis, how can you forget him?
Andrus will be joined in the infield by this year's 7th round pick, second baseman Brandon Monk. The Braves compared him to Marcus Giles when he was drafted last week. He's bigger than Giles, but the all-out attitude is similar.
First base will be locked down by Hawaiian native Kala Ka'aihue. Signed as a free agent last week after going undrafted, Ka'aihue hit .301 for South Mountain Community College in Phoenix. He also had 10 home runs, 52 RBI, and a .435 on base percentage and starred in the NJCAA World Series last month.
Ka'aihue was a 22nd round pick by the Red Sox back in 2003 out of high school, but after two weeks Boston voided his contract when it was discovered he needed Tommy John surgery. Now he's fully recovered, and the Braves believe they may have a steal in this 6'1", 230 pound first baseman.
The additional infielders for the GCL Braves will be Danny Brezeale, Delvis Rivadeneira, and Bienvenido Disla.
The outfield will be led by Adam Parliament, a late round pick last year that impressed the Braves' scouts at a summer showcase. He's a rangy, right-handed hitter than can show tremendous power. Parliament might not be in Orlando long.
This year's third rounder, Florida prep star Jordan Schafer, will get significant playing time in the GCL. Compared to Mark Kotsay, Schafer has a smooth left-handed bat and is known as a baseball rat. Now that he's given up pitching, the Braves are anxious to see what Schafer can do concentrating on his offense.
Trevion Griffin was a draft-and-follow signee last month by the Braves. He's got good speed and baseball intellect. He'll be joined in the outfield by Ernesto Mejia and Eliazar Carmona.
Phil Britton, a draft-and-follow signees from last month, will be the primary catcher in the GCL. Britton has been compared to Rome's Clint Sammons, a solid receiver with good leadership ability and a projectable bat. Britton will share time with Juan Mota and Jose Camarena.
Three of this year's draft picks will anchor the Gulf Coast League rotation. Lefty Beau Jones (supplemental round) and right-hander Kyle Cofield (8th round) have been in Orlando for the mini-camp, while second rounder Jeff Lyman will graduate from his California high school tonight and head to camp Monday. The Braves are anxious to see what these three high school arms will do this summer.
Tyler Wilson was a 21st round pick in 2004 and signed late last summer, so he'll be making his Braves' debut with the GCL. He'll be joined in the rotation by Yelier Castro and Jonathan Tejada.
The Gulf Coast League bullpen will include several of this year's draft and follow pitchers, including Marcus Covington, Jamie Richmond, Joshua Ward, and Kyle Warren. Jared Shaffer (40th round) and Jeff Katz (9th round), two pitchers from last year's draft, will also pitch in relief. They'll be joined by Pedro Rayo, Mike Thompson, Jorge Acosta, and David Williams.
It's incumbent upon me to remind you to not get too worked up about stats in the Gulf Coast League. Many times these young kids are working on something with their game, and if it takes a pitcher getting hit around to get him to learn some new mechanic, then the stats will be sacrificed. But with the talent that has been assembled, you should also expect some solid performances this summer from the youngest kids in the farm system.
And then there's Elvis...
BravesCenter's Bill Shanks has written a book about the Braves scouting and player development philosophies. Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team is on bookshelves now. Bill can be reached at email@example.com
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