Danville Braves Season Preview

The Danville Braves start the 2006 season on Wednesday. The roster will have a solid group of pitchers, along with some position players that will be fun to watch. The Braves Show's Bill Shanks previews the 2006 Danville Braves.

STARTING ROTATION

Danville will have ten pitchers starting in a piggyback situation. That means that two pitchers will pretty much split the game. They'll be paired together, with one pitcher starting one game and the other one relieving, and then flipping roles in the next game. They'll be on a strict pitch count.

The ten pitchers who will be starting are (in their pairs) Jamie Richmond and Jaye Chapman, Mike Broadway and James Curtis, Sergio Valenzuela and Jeff Katz, Dustin Evans and Carlos Sencion, and Tommy Hanson and Kyle Cofield.

Richmond has been the talk of Extended Spring Training down in Florida. A draft-and-follow signee last summer after being drafted in the 31st round in 2004, the right-hander had eight relief appearances in the GCL last season.

Chapman is another hard-thrower, having hit 95 on the radar gun in the Florida JUCO tournament this spring. He was another draft and follow, after being drafted in the 16th round in 2005. The right-hander had 76 strikeouts in 75 innings pitched for Chipola Junior College.

Broadway had a fantastic Instructional League last fall after signing a bit late last summer. The Braves' fourth rounder in 2005, Broadway continued his solid work this spring with an impressive Extended Spring Training. He's a tall hard-throwing right-hander who could excel in the Appalachian League.

Curtis was a draft and follow signee this spring out of Manatee Community College in Florida. The right-hander has a fastball in the 88-92 range, along with a curve and slider. He has continued to make strides the last two years, and the Braves feel he can take the next step in Danville.

Valenzuela has battled arm trouble the last two years after having Tommy John surgery. He had more elbow discomfort this spring, but had a solid Extended Spring Training to earn the promotion to Danville. Valenzuela is a rangy right-hander from Mexico who was the DSL Braves' pitcher of the year in 2003 with a 0.96 ERA in eleven starts.

Katz is finally going to get a chance to rack up some significant innings. The Braves' ninth rounder in 2004 has only 24.2 innings in his two minor league seasons. But he's healthy now, and the Braves will get him a look-see this season. Katz was a converted football player, so he‘s still learning how to pitch.

Evans was the Braves second round pick two weeks ago. He's a right-hander from Georgia Southern with a power arm that can hit the mid-90s with the radar gun. While his long-term future might be in a relief role, the Braves will start his pro career by getting him some solid innings.

Sencion also has some impressive numbers from his four years in the DSL. He has 157 strikeouts in 127 innings in his 46 games (24 starts). He's also got a career ERA of 1.77 and has allowed only 95 hits. Sencion is six-foot-six, so he comes all at you from the left side. Now the Braves will see him as a starter.

Hanson was a draft-and-follow signee from the 2005 draft that was outstanding at Riverside Community College in California this year. He struck out 154 batters in 114.2 innings and had a 2.04 ERA. If Hanson dominates the Appy League any way like he did in JUCO ball, he might not be in Danville long.

Cofield was the Braves' eighth round pick out of Alabama in 2005. He is thought of as a relief prospect for the long-term, but the Braves want him to get some innings in Danville. The right-hander is six-foot-five, and is still really learning how to pitch.


BULLPEN

The bullpen will include right-handers David Williams, Kris Medlen, Marcus Covington, and Josh Ward, along with three lefties: Jorge Acosta, Donovan Hendricks, and Tyler Wilson.

Williams could be Danville's closer after pitching impressively in 20 games last season. The 37th round pick in the 2005 draft was a surprise last summer, posting a 1.76 ERA with only 4 walks and 37 strikeouts in 30.2 innings.

Medlen was the Braves' tenth rounder two weeks ago out of Santa Ana College. He's an interesting case because he's never really concentrated on pitching. He was a shortstop at the JUCO, but when he'd come in relief late in the games, he caught the Braves' attention. Now he'll be a full-time pitcher in Danville.

Covington was called up from Extended Spring Training to pitch in two games for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. He didn't give up a run, but walked four batters in two innings. Now the draft-and-follow right-hander from last season will see time in Danville's pen, where he will work on improving his control.

Ward was also a draft-and-follow signee last year, after being drafted in the 37th round in 2004. The native Georgian pitched in 15 games last year in the GCL and Rome (three games) and posted an ERA of 3.00.

Acosta has put up unbelievable numbers in his four years in the Braves‘ system. He has 102 strikeouts in 123.2 innings, along with a 2.11 ERA in his 43 career games (19 starts). Acosta appeared in nine games last summer in the GCL.

Hendricks could get a few starts later in the summer, but for now he‘s in the pen. The native of South Africa and resident Australian returns to Danville after pitching in seventeen relief appearances last summer. He had a high ERA, 6.99, and his control was a bit off.

And Tyler Wilson could also eventually find himself in the Danville rotation. He's had a solid Extended Spring Training, and the Braves could get him some more innings as a starter. Wilson is a Macay McBride clone. The southpaw pitched well in nine GCL games last summer, posting a 0.79 ERA.


CATCHERS

Tyler Flowers, one of the top two draft and follow signees this spring, will get some time behind the plate, even though the Braves want to eventually see him at first base. He improved greatly as a receiver at Chipola JUCO, but his bat will be the thing to watch. He had a .373 average with 16 home runs and 50 RBI this season at Chipola. The Braves think he has outstanding power potential. Expect Flowers to simply split time as the Danville catcher, first baseman, and designated hitter.

Phil Britton and Jerry Verastegui will also see action behind the plate. Britton will probably get the most at bats as the catcher. The right-handed hitting Britton hit .231 last year in the GCL. Verastegui signed in spring training as a free agent out of the Golden Baseball League. The 23-year-old has outstanding defensive skills.


FIRST BASE

Along with Flowers, Ernesto Mejia and Larry Williams will also see time at first base. Originally an outfielder, Mejia made the switch to first base last year and will play exclusively there this season. Mejia hit .223 with 10 home runs in the Gulf Coast League last season, and after a solid Fall Instructional League, the Braves feel he could be ready to break out as a solid prospect.

Williams was a draft and follow player from the 2003 draft that played in 2004 in the GCL (.200 average in 115 at bats), but was suspended last year and did not play. Now Williams, a left-handed batter, will get some at bats as the Braves' DH, first baseman, and even some action in left field.


SECOND BASE

Brandon Monk was demoted from Rome after struggling at the plate. He hit .209 in 172 at bats with 44 strikeouts. He'll be Danville's main second baseman, and the Braves hope he can gain some confidence back with his bat in the Appalachian League.

Jose Santos returns to Danville after playing 51 games there last year. Santos hit .228 with 2 home runs and 25 RBI in 180 at bats. Santos also has good speed and is versatile as well.


SHORTSTOP

Chase Fontaine, the Braves' second second-round pick earlier in the month out of Daytona Community College, will be the starting shortstop. The Braves think he could eventually be a second baseman, a la Chase Utley, but for now he'll concentrate on shortstop. The Braves believed Fontaine was the best hitter in JUCO ball this year, and they're excited to see how well he'll perform this summer in the advanced rookie league.

Paul Bennett, who signed as a non-drafted free agent from Elon University, will be a reserve. Bennett hit .276 with 39 RBI and 12 steals this year for the Phoenix. The five-foot-ten native of Charlotte, North Carolina can play second base, shortstop, third base, and even the outfield. His main position at Elon this year was shortstop.


THIRD BASE

Danny Brezeale will get a chance as the starting third baseman. The 19th round pick in the 2004 draft, Brezeale had only 18 at bats last year in the Gulf Coast League, so the Braves are anxious to see him get some consistent playing time. The right-handed hitter just turned twenty last month.


OUTFIELDERS

Along with Williams seeing time in left field, the outfield will see Willie Cabrera, Yohan Silva, and Concepcion Rodriguez. Cabrera was a big draft and follow sign out of a JUCO in southern California. The Braves love his bat, and even though he's seen time at third base, Cabrera will be tried in the outfield.

Silva returns to be the starting centerfielder for Danville again. He started last season in Rome, only to struggle with a .225 average. Then he hit .208 in 216 at bats for Danville. The Braves hope a return trip to the Appalachian League will help get him on track. Silva is a switch-hitter with a sweet stroke, but he needs to turn the corner a bit.

And perhaps the biggest surprise is Concepcion Rodriguez. The 19-year-old Panamanian outfielder was slated to go to the GCL, but an outstanding Extended Spring Training won him a job in Danville. The Braves are very impressed with his maturity, and they feel he can handle the jump from the DSL, where he hit .281 with 5 home runs and 32 RBI last season. Rodriguez is a rangy, six-foot-two right-handed hitter who has been the MVP of his DSL teams the last two seasons. He has an outstanding arm in right field, but the offense is what could be fun to watch with Rodriguez.


***


Like the GCL Braves, the pitching will be fun to watch on the Danville team. There are several pitchers (particularly Hanson, Evans, and Broadway) that could do well and be bumped up to Rome. But with Flowers, Fontaine, and Rodriguez, there could be three position players that could quickly emerge as solid position player prospects. But the pitching will be the key.


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. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.


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