32. Which young players might help out in 06?

The Braves depended heavily on their farm system in 2005, but who might be called upon next season? BravesCenter's Bill Shanks looks at some of the position players that might get a chance to help out if called upon as we continue to look at the top 35 questions facing the franchise this winter.

It's very doubtful that the Braves will see a repeat of 2005, when eighteen different rookies saw action, twelve of them for the first time in the major leagues. The contributions those kids made were historic, as their energy and production propelled the Braves back into the playoffs.

Since so many young players did see action last season, we might not see as many in 2006. But there are still some players that could get the call at some point next year. Since we've already looked at the pitchers that might get the call, let's look at the position players.
Brayan Pena was one of those twelve rookies that made a debut last year, but since he was only a fill-in will include him in this list. Pena was ok filling in, but don't expect the Braves to think he can replace Johnny Estrada. More than likely the team will bring in a veteran to back up Brian McCann, who is ready to be the full-time catcher.

Pena will probably go back to AAA Richmond, and if needed, he'll be the first option. Pena is a singles hitter that has serious defensive shortcomings. He's just not very good with the glove. This will make the Braves very careful in selecting a backup to McCann, since they will only want to recall Pena in an emergency.

Another catcher that might get a chance next season is Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who just shined in the Arizona Fall League. ‘Salty' will start out in Double-A Mississippi, but if he continues his rapid ascent up the minor league ladder, don't be shocked if he gets the call over Pena should the team need a long-term fill-in. Salty is not that far away, even though he won't turn 21 until May of next season.

But there is zero doubt that Salty is going to be a fantastic player. Of course, we don't know where he'll play yet, with the young McCann ready to be the starter. However, after watching so many young players come up and contribute last season, it makes you think Salty could copy his buddies and also do well if called upon.

We've already talked about Andy Marte and Scott Thorman, two players arguably ready, but blocked by veterans in Atlanta. If the Braves just need a bat to come up, regardless of position, either one of these two could get the call. They have a chance to be very talented, once room is made in some fashion. But until then, they'll be valuable insurance in Richmond.

We don't know who will be the starting shortstop yet, but we do know there could be several middle infielders on stand by if needed next season. Tony Pena, Jr. is a player the Braves have been waiting to turn the corner for several seasons. He strikes out too much - enough to seriously affect his game. His defense is solid, but he just has to improve at the plate before he can be a serious candidate for the big league team. Pena will go to camp with an outside chance at making the team, but more than likely he'll be in Richmond.

Jon Schuerholz had a good Arizona Fall League, and he'll probably be brought to camp as a non-roster player. Schuerholz is a hard-nosed reserve that will only get his chance if someone goes down with an injury.

Wes Timmons might be another Pete Orr. Timmons plays extremely hard at all times, and while he's maybe not the most talented player in the system, he makes up for it with a lot of heart and hustle - just like Orr. He's a player that Bobby Cox could fall in love with in spring training, and if the Braves needed an infielder, Timmons could get the call.

There are two outfielders to keep in mind for 2006. James Jurries made the move from first base and did well in the outfield. It will again be hard to imagine some team not selecting Jurries in the Rule V draft, but if he does come back, Jurries will still be behind Scott Thorman and others in the pecking order.

And if Billy McCarthy can recover from an injury-plagued 2005 season, he'll have an outside chance again at making the team. Since Kelly Johnson and Ryan Langerhans are both lefty hitters, that might give McCarthy an edge if the Braves need an extra outfielder.

The farm system is still strong, and while there might not be eighteen new players next season, the Braves still have a good number they can count on if called upon. And that is all you can ask for from the farm system.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional front office philosophies. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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