The Atlanta Braves have signed several six-year minor league free agents to 2006 contracts, along with bringing back several of their own six-year free agents.
Travis Smith was signed to a Triple-A contract. Smith was in the Braves' organization in 2004, pitching in 16 games (4 starts) in Atlanta. He went 2-3 with an ERA of 6.20. He spent most of that season in Richmond. Last season he was in the Marlins' organization. Smith had 12 relief appearances with Florida, posting a 6.75 ERA in 10.1 innings of work. For most of the 2005 season he was in Albuquerque, going 7-8 with a 4.08 ERA. Smith has also seen major league action with the Brewers (1998) and Cardinals (2002). Smith will probably be in Richmond‘s rotation, and an emergency backup if needed in Atlanta.
Scott Mullen is back from Japan to take another shot at the major leagues. The left-handed reliever started last season with Tacoma, Seattle's Triple-A team, but was sold to the Yomiuri Giants in mid-April. Mullen pitched with the Kansas City Royals for parts of four seasons (2000-2003), his best year in 2002: (4-5, 3.15 ERA in 44 games). Mullen was then traded to the Dodgers in 2003 and pitched one game in Los Angeles. He is now on the Richmond roster.
Cesar Crespo also inked a deal with Richmond. Crespo is a speedy switch-hitting outfielder that will turn 26 years old next May. He can also play second, short, and third in the outfield. Crespo was the Mets 3rd round pick in 1997. He has seen cups of coffee in the big leagues with the Padres in 2001 and 2002 and with Boston in 2004. Crespo's career major league numbers: .192 average, 4 home runs, and 14 RBI in 261 at bats. Last season Crespo played for Indianapolis Indians: .266 average , 9 home runs, 51 RBI, 106-for-399, 31 stolen bases, and a .349 on base percentage. Crespo will probably replace Esix Snead in Richmond's outfield.
The Braves have signed former Cubs' top prospect David Kelton to a Triple-A contract. Kelton was the Cubs' second round pick in 1998, and quickly established himself as one of the Cubs' top prospects. His best season was in 2002, when he hit 20 home runs and drove in 79 in Double-A West Tennessee. But he's spent the last three years in Triple-A Iowa, and the combination of defensive troubles at third base and trying to hit too many home runs has lessened Kelton's star status. Kelton switched from third to first base, and then the outfield. He has had two short stints in the big leagues with the Cubs, playing 10 games in 2003 and 8 games in 2004. Last season, Kelton hit .283 (his best average in any full minor league season), with 11 home runs, 67 RBI, 14 stolen bases, and a .329 on base percentage in 460 at bats. Kelton is another Georgia boy, as he was drafted by the Cubs out of Troup County High School in LaGrange, about an hour west of Atlanta.
It has already been reported in the media of the signing of Michael Ryan, formerly of the Twins' organization. Ryan, a fifth round pick in 1996, has seen action in each of the last four seasons in Minnesota. He hit .231 with 2 home runs and 13 RBI in 117 at bats last season in the big leagues. He has a .265 career major league average in 260 at bats, with 7 home runs and 33 RBI. Last season in Rochester, Ryan hit .283 with 6 home runs and 26 RBI in 152 at bats.
Smith, Mullen, Crespo, Kelton, and Ryan could all receive non-roster invitations to big league camp in spring training next February.
The Braves also signed Ben Grezlovski, a right-handed relief pitcher that spent last season with an independent league. Grezlovski was with the Atlantic City Surf in 2005 and went 5-0 in 41 relief appearances with an ERA of 1.44. He had 21 saves and allowed 33 hits in 43.2 innings pitched. Grezlovski was originally drafted by the Angels out of the University of Florida in the 24th round of the 1999 draft. He played for six seasons in the Angels system, making it as high as Double-A in 2002. The 5'11", 180-pounder had 19 saves at two Single-A levels in 2001.
Atlanta also acquired catcher Cody Clark from the San Diego Surf of the Golden Baseball League. Clark will help replace Iker Franco and Cole Armstrong, two minor league catchers lost in the Rule V draft two weeks ago. The 24-year-old Clark is six-foot-two, 180 pounds. Originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, he instead played college ball at Wichita State. Clark was then drafted in the eleventh round of the 2003 draft by the Texas Rangers. He spent two seasons in their system before being released in spring training of 2005. He then signed with the Surf and hit .292 and led the GBL in all catching defensive categories to win a Gold Glove award. Clark has been placed on the Rome roster, but could compete to backup Clint Sammons in Myrtle Beach.
Several minor leaguers from last season have been brought back by the Braves: pitchers Brian O'Connor, Daniel Curtis, Chad Paronto, and Ken Ray; catcher Ray Serrano; infielders Carlos Mendez and Josh Arteaga; and outfielder Mike Rosamond.
O'Connor pitched most of last season in Mississippi, starting 19 of 30 games. He went 9-7 with a 3.65 ERA. Then O'Connor was promoted to Triple-A Richmond, where he pitched in two games and posted a 1.59 ERA. Curtis started the season in Richmond and went 3-8 in 18 games (17 starts). He was then sent to Mississippi where he was 2-2 in 9 games (3 starts) and a 2.67 ERA. Paronto pitched in 26 games for Richmond last season, going 3-1 with a 3.95 ERA. Ray was signed mid-year for Richmond's roster and went 2-4 with a 3.90 ERA in 17 games (10 starts).
Serrano, who has bounced around in the Braves' organization for many years, spent time in Mississippi and Myrtle Beach last season.
Carlos Mendez, who can catch and play in the infield, missed some time last season with injuries. Mendez hit .246 with 3 home runs and 18 RBI in 179 at bats for Richmond. Arteaga split time between Richmond and Mississippi. He put up a .248 average in Double-A in 101 at bats. And Rosamond spent most of the season with his hometown Mississippi Braves. Rosamond hit .225 with 9 home runs in 244 at bats.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Braves sign minor league free agents
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