The Atlanta Braves have invited fourteen players to big league camp as non-roster players. The list includes five right-handed pitchers (Kevin Barry, Wes Obermueller, Chad Paronto, Travis Smith and Sean White), four catchers (Eddie Perez, Steve Pyzik, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Clint Sammons), two infielders (Cesar Crespo and Jonathan Schuerholz) and three outfielders (Brian Jordan, David Kelton and Michael Ryan).
Barry spent much of last season in Triple-A Richmond. He was 5-3 overall with a 2.85 ERA in 32 games. Barry started off the season in his regular bullpen role, but after struggling he was sent down to Double-A Mississippi. The right-hander pitched in three games and worked with M-Braves' pitching coach Kent Willis. When Barry returned to Richmond, the Braves placed him in the rotation and he was fantastic. Overall in his minor league career the twenty-seven year old Barry has an ERA of 2.72 in 284.1 innings pitched. Barry almost made the Atlanta roster out of spring training last year, and he'll get another chance to impress Bobby Cox this spring.
Obermueller was acquired by the Braves in December from Milwaukee for reliever Dan Kolb. The Braves then non-tendered Obermueller, but re-signed him as a minor league free agent. The twenty-nine year old right-hander has mainly been a fifth starter in his career. Last year he split the season between the majors and Triple-A. Obermueller did better in the minors, going 3-1 with a 2.55 ERA in 9 games (8 starts). But in Milwaukee he went back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen and finished with a 5.26 ERA. Obermueller has a career ERA of 5.65 in 62 big league games, 41 of them starts. He started 20 games for the Brewers in 2004.
Paronto started the 2005 season in the Milwaukee organization, pitching in 27 games for Nashville. The Brewers released him on June 17th and the Braves signed him four days later. The right-handed reliever spent the season in Richmond, pitching in 26 games and going 3-1 with a 3.95 ERA. He allowed 43 hits in 41 innings of work, with 17 walks and 28 strikeouts.
Travis Smith was signed to a Triple-A contract a few months ago. 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). While he'll battle for a big league job, Smith will probably be in Richmond‘s rotation and be an emergency backup if needed in Atlanta.
White, the Braves 8th round pick in the 2003 draft, split last season between Myrtle Beach and Mississippi. For the Pelicans, White went 9-3 in 18 starts with a 3.71 ERA. Then after his promotion to Double-A, the right-hander went 2-5 with a 4.11 ERA in eight starts. White was drafted out of the University of Washington.
Perez is a eleven-year major league veteran, spending nine years with the Braves. He started his career in 1995 and was Javy Lopez‘s backup catcher through the 2001 season. Then he spent the 2002 season in Cleveland and 2003 in Milwaukee. Perez returned to Atlanta prior to 2004, but has battled injuries the past two years. He‘ll compete with Todd Pratt for the backup catcher‘s role this spring.
Pyzik got more frequent flyer miles than any other Braves‘ minor leaguer last year. He played six games in Richmond, two games in Mississippi, 17 games in Myrtle Beach, and 19 games in Rome. A former Clemson Tiger, Pyzik signed with the Braves as a non-drafted free agent in June of 2003.
Saltalamacchia is the Braves‘ top overall prospect. He hit .314 with 19 home runs, 81 RBI, and 35 doubles for the Pelicans last season. The 20-year old switch-hitter will more than likely head to Double-A Mississippi for the 2006 season.
Sammons, a former star at the University of Georgia, hit .286 with 4 home runs and 62 RBI last season for the Rome Braves. The 22-year old Sammons was the Braves‘ sixth round pick in the 2004 June draft. He is scheduled to start this season in Myrtle Beach.
Cesar Crespo inked a deal with Richmond two months ago. 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.
Schuerholz started last season in Double-A Mississippi. He began the year slowly, but rebounded with a strong June to get his average up to .278 in 302 at bats. The Braves promoted Schuerholz to Triple-A Richmond, where he struggled with a .175 average in 143 at bats.
Jordan spent last season with Atlanta, but his season was cut short by injuries. He had only 22 at bats after the All-Star break. Jordan had a .247 overall average for the Braves, with 3 home runs and 24 RBI. He‘ll battle with Matt Diaz for a spot in Atlanta‘s outfield this spring.
Kelton signed with the Braves back in November. He 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.
Ryan, a fifth round pick of the Twins 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.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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