Spring Training Blog - February 22

BravesCenter's Bill Shanks shares more from his first day at Spring Training, including news on a minor league pitcher going under the knife.

Here are my observations from the first day of the full squad workouts.

* James Jurries was the sole backup to Adam LaRoche when infield practice broke out. David Kelton and Matt Diaz, both also expected to be in on the competition, worked exclusively with the outfielders Wednesday. While that could change, it did seem to signal that Jurries is a favorite for the backup position at first base.

* I always used to compare Wilson Betemit to Edgar Renteria, and after watching them side by side Wednesday, I was dead on. Betemit's a bit taller than Renteria, but the similarities are scary. While there is little doubt Renteria's going to help this club, watching Betemit still made me a little saddened that he will not get a chance to prove he can be an everyday shortstop - at least for us. But Betemit looked great at third base. If a team needed a starter at third, they'd be foolish not to look at Betemit. Plus, in the cage, Betemit was really working on hitting the ball to the opposite field, along with hitting some huge home run shots to center field from both sides of the plate.

* While he did take infield, Renteria did not take batting practice Wednesday. However, he did spend several minutes signing autographs for the fans above the Braves' dugout.

* Andruw Jones had a few monster shots in batting practice. It's getting to where Jones is an attraction to watch during BP. He hit several shots off the centerfield scoreboard Wednesday, and looked just like he did last March when the ball looked like a softball to him.

* Jeff Francoeur. Good grief this kid is scary. The fans love him. They shouted his name all day. But they also "ohed" and "ahed" after his fireworks display in batting practice. Frenchy made the fans on the left field grass busy with his constant shots past the fence for a home run. He put on a show, including hitting a ball that almost went up the entire flagpole in straight away center field.

* Ryan Langerhans had a good BP, including a couple of bombs. And Kelly Johnson is noticably bigger. He's worked out well this winter and looks filled out. Five years ago, he generated a lot of power in Macon as a nineteen year old kid. Now he looks like a man ready to bust out. This left field competition is going to be fun.

* Tim Hudson and Oscar Villarreal were the first duo to pitch live BP on Wednesday. Hudson looked great. I only saw Villarreal in the bullpen before he took off for one of the back fields to throw live. Villarreal has a lot of motion in his delivery, which combined with being brutally overworked as a young rookie in 2003, explains his arm trouble the last few years. But stuff-wise, there's little doubt that if healthy, Villarreal's got a chance to be a huge factor in the bullpen. He really chunks the ball. "The Big O" (who is really not that big) also comes at you with a sidearm delivery once in a while, which looks like it could be tricky to pick up as a hitter.

* After Hudson and Villarreal, it was John Thomson and Macay McBride. Jorge Sosa, Kyle Davies, John Foster, and Joey Devine also pitched on the big field. Sosa looked like he had put on a few pounds since the end of last season. Davies was impressive in his performance, showing good movement on his changeup.

* I asked Anthony Lerew what he was doing to jump in that bullpen competition all of a sudden. He said Roger McDowell has really helped him with his splitter. Lerew said that it was dropping two feet on Monday and that "everybody was watching me when it did that." That's what young pitchers have to do to make a good impression. Even Lerew acted a bit surprised at its effectiveness.

* While I did not see him pitch, Jose Ascanio threw a live BP on another field. I spoke with him afterward. Jose said his back is doing okay. He missed most of last season with back trouble. Ascanio said his arm has never been the problem, only his back. While the Braves still see him as a reliever, which is his choice, it's possible Ascanio could be a starter this season, either in Myrtle Beach or Mississippi. Ascanio's got a blazing fastball, and if he can stay healthy, he could be a great prospect very soon.

* Boy Mike Remlinger looks old with the grey beard and everything, but if he's healthy, it might be hard to keep him off this club.

* Eddie Perez is really in great shape. Perez can still hit, and he showed that with an impressive batting practice. You can tell he's not ready to hang it up. The question is his shoulder, and I'm anxious to see him throw.

* Speaking of not ready to hang them up, Brian Jordan is definitely in the mix for the outfield. You could tell when Bobby Cox was asked about the outfield that he really wants to look closely at Jordan. Cox just likes veterans a great deal, and he's always loved Jordan. What's going to happen if Jordan makes the team? Would Langerhans or Johnson be traded? Would Johnson be sent back to AAA? As of now, it looks like Jordan has the edge over Diaz and David Kelton, but we'll have to see how he does in the games. Jordan did not have a good BP on Wednesday, but it didn't dissuade Cox from speaking highly of his chances.

* I spoke with Billy McCarthy over at the minor league complex. McCarthy is recoving from ankle problems and his recovery is going well. McCarthy should battle for a position in Richmond this spring.

* Chris Waters had a good bullpen in front of the minor league brass. Waters came back from shoulder surgery a year ago and did well last season in Myrtle Beach. The Braves hope he'll compete for a starter's job in Mississippi, in what should be a very competitive battle.

* Right-hander Buddy Hernandez underwent Tommy John surgery on Tuesday. Hernandez will miss the entire 2006 season.

* The Braves first group of minor leaguers, other than some of the rehab guys already in camp, are due to report Saturday and will start on Sunday. Thirty-seven additional players will start their workouts, with the remaining minor leaguers set to start March 9th.

* With all these pitchers, plus the potential of having an extra outfielder, it just smells like a trade might brew late in March. We've just got too many players. Either Richmond's going to be better than any minor league team in baseball, or we're going to use some of this surplus in a deal. It's ridiculous how much depth we have. We'll see!


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 thebravesshow@email.com.


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