Spring Training Blog - March 13

BravesCenter's Bill Shanks has the latest from spring training.

While our pitching staff was falling apart on the big league field (except for Kevin Barry, who quietly continues to impress), I was on the minor league fields and have some scoop.

First some notes from Phil Dale, our scout from Australia, who was in camp after helping out the Australian WBC team. Takumi Hamaoka, the outfield signed from Japan a little over a year ago, will be here for extended spring training in April. There's a chance he'll play a bit in the GCL later this season, but he might go back and prepare to do that next year. Hamaoka is getting stronger and Dale still feels strongly about his long-term potential.

Both Dale and Neil Burke, the other scout in Australia, raved about catcher Matt Kennelly. He will be here for extended spring training and back for the Instructional League. Kennelly still has a year in high school. He hit .316 in the Instructional League last year. His bat is special, and the amazing thing is he used to be a pitcher. Kennelly could be in the GCL or even Danville in 2007.

Jang Ji Cho, signed a little over a year ago, is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Dale says Cho is a very hard worker and expects him to bounce back nicely from surgery.

Dale was also excited about Phil Stockman, a six-foot-six right-hander signed over the winter by the Braves as a six-year minor league free agent. Stockman was once on Arizona's 40-man roster. He's been mainly a starter for most of his career, but the D'Backs moved him to the bullpen last season and he performed well in AA. Stockman, who also pitched for Australia in the WBC, has a 94 mph fastball along with a slider and changeup. His problem has been his command, but the Braves hope working with our pitching coaches will improve that flaw. They do believe, however, that he's found his niche as a reliever. I watched Stockman throw a live batting practice, and he was impressive. He's a big kid, and sometimes big kids pitch better out of the pen. I talked with him after his BP session and Stockman said he feels much more comfortable as a reliever.

Keep reading. I'll have more about the Australian kids at the end of this article.

So I meandered over to watch the Triple-A squad take a little batting practice this morning and came away impressed with an 18-year-old lefty who might be in the Gulf Coast League this year. Jose Ortegano is not very big and he looks twelve, but the kid can pitch. Not sure what his velocity was, but what was impressive was changeup. Dax Norris, who was catching Ortegano, went on and on about his changeup. I'll be anxious to watch him again soon.

Okay so then I went to Kissimmee to watch a group of our minor leaguers, from all levels, play the Astros minor leaguers on their big league field. We had nine pitchers pitch in the game. Jake Stevens started and allowed a hit. James Parr pitched next and had two strikeouts. Jo Jo Reyes, bouncing back from Tommy John and a torn ACL, went a perfect inning. Charlie Morton looked good, getting three ground ball outs in a row. Kelvin Villa was hit hard, allowing three runs on four hits in his inning of work. Then Steve Russell pitched next and allowed one run on one hit and one strikeout. Lefty Chris Waters allowed two hits but got a double play to get out of a bases loaded, one out situation. Chris Vines came in next, but after his fourth pitch outfielders Ovandy Suero and Jon Mark Owings collided in the outfield. Both players were injured. I'll check tomorrow to see how serious the injuries are. Todd Williams came in after Vines had to wait too long for Suero and Owings to leave the field. Williams was a bit wild, walking several players.

Van Pope displayed a strong throwing arm from third base - as advertised. And Holy Cow...Yunel Escobar! Wow. This kid can pick it at shortstop. I had one guy watching the game with me say, "If this kid is this good, Renteria ain't gonna be here long." I agree. Escobar is terrific in the field. He's really, really good.

And finally, this Peter Moylan kid, signed over the weekend. Damn. I watched him pitch a live BP session, and he was really, really impressive. I got more information on him from his scouts, but I'm going to interview Moylan and put together an article. But this kid is good. I know it's just spring training, and he wasn't exactly pitching against the 1927 Yankees, but I'm really intrigued by this guy. I'll have the story on him in the next few days. The story of how he got here is really, really neat.

There is ZERO doubt in my mind that the Braves are going to make a trade this month. It's just a question of how big that trade might be.

We'll have a chat Tuesday, but I might come in late since there is a night game at Disney. But get into the chat room around 7!

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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