The Braves are really bracing themselves for several prospects to compete for middle infield jobs next season. Tony Pena, Jr. is doing much better in his second season in Triple-A, and Martin Prado continues to hit. With questions about Marcus Giles' long-term future, Prado is definitely making the Braves wonder if he can become an everyday second baseman in the big leagues.
James Jurries has been back about a month after missing time with a knee injury, but he continues to struggle. Jurries is hitting only .204, which is a disappointment after his solid spring training. He led the entire Grapefruit League in hitting, but was still passed over by Brian Jordan for the backup first basement's spot in Atlanta. Jurries needs to bounce back, or he might lose his 40-man roster spot. The competition for the roster will be brutal this winter, and Jurries does not want to give the Braves a reason to take him off.
Richmond's offense has killed the team this season. David Kelton was already released after hitting only .216. Michael Ryan, another veteran minor leaguer, is hitting only .250, while Cesar Crespo is at a disappointing .234.
The struggles of Jonathan Schuerholz are well-documented, as he is still hitting only .151. And Bill McCarthy has been a disappointment with a .232 average. McCarthy has always been a hitter, so the struggles have been a mystery.
On the pitching side, lefty Wayne Franklin continues to put together a very solid season. The former major leaguer may be giving the Braves some thoughts about bringing him up and letting Macay McBride work out his control troubles in the minor leagues. At the least, Franklin may be earning an invitation to spring training, if he re-signs with the Braves. He's got big league time with the Giants and Brewers, so he's got to at least be an option.
Manny Acosta has gotten some attention as a potential reliever for next season, especially with his high-90s fastball. But his walk totals (30 in 35.2 innings) are a concern. If the Braves can harness Acosta's control problems, they may have themselves another solid relief option for next year.
While there's a chance Will Startup could be called up in September, the better bet is for him to be invited to spring training as a non-roster next March and compete for a job. It's not going to hurt him to remain in AAA for the rest of the season. His numbers are up a little bit in Richmond, compared to his solid work in Myrtle Beach and Mississippi. But it's good experience for him that should help out in the long run.
Yunel Escobar will play in Sunday's Future's Game in Pittsburgh. He's got a .275 average, along with 2 home runs and 33 RBI in his 306 at bats in Double-A this season. While it's not spectacular, remember this is his first full season of pro ball. With Prado and Pena ahead of him, Escobar might have trouble fighting for a job in Atlanta next season, but he has shown scouts that he is, as advertised, a hitter.
Coaches are happy with the progress of Luis Hernandez. While he's hitting .255, it is an improvement from last year. Hernandez is still a defensive marvel, and we've got to remember he just turned 22 two weeks ago.
Is Barbaro Canizares really a prospect? He's hit .304 with 4 home runs and 25 RBI in his first 60 games in Double-A. Defensively, he's still not terrific, but he's made progress. With Jurries struggling in AAA, you wonder if Canizares will compete as a non-roster player in big league camp next March.
Matt Wright might start the Southern League All-Star Game on Monday in Montgomery. Wright has regained his prospect status with a fantastic first half. His velocity has returned after missing parts of the past two years with an arm injury, and his curveball has been solid. Coaches still believe he's more of a relief prospect than a starter, but his minor league career resembles Kevin Millwood. Since he was drafted in 2000, Wright has to be protected this winter on the 40-man or he becomes a six-year minor league free agent. So the Braves will have an interesting decision to make on him.
Right-handed starter Sean White may be out a while longer. He's in Florida now trying to strengthen his shoulder. The Braves aren't sure when, or if, he'll be back this season.
Brady Endl is out for the season after having surgery on his AC join in his shoulder a few weeks ago. The Braves hope he'll be throwing again in the Instructional League this Fall.
Joey Devine has allowed two runs in his first four games, but he has only one walk and six strikeouts. The Braves are going to monitor his pitch counts and bring him along slowly. While everyone would love to see him back in Atlanta, the more likely scenario is for him to have some success in Myrtle Beach and then maybe Mississippi, before simply competing for a job next spring. There is absolutely no reason to rush him back. The Braves still believe he could be the closer of the future, so there's no problem with that starting next season.
Luis Atilano is having one see-saw season. He had a horrible first start (8 runs in 2.2 innings), then had four solid starts (2.00 ERA), followed by three rough starts (21 earned runs in 12.2 innings). But since May 24th, Atilano is 3-3 with a 2.74 ERA. He still doesn't strike anyone out, but his overall progress is encouraging. Remember, the Braves believed Atilano was going to take a while to develop, so it might take him two more years before he really breaks out the way they project him to.
Reliever Nelson Payano is in Florida strengthening his elbow. He hasn't had any procedures in the past, but his arm is not as strong as the Braves would like.
Carl Loadenthal never gets a lot of press, but he continues to hit. The outfielder is hitting .337 is season and has a .409 OBP. Loadenthal has good speed (13 SB), and his defense is decent in the outfield. The lefty hitter has always hit. He had a .291 career average in 895 at bats coming into this season. You wonder if Loadenthal is developing into a potential fourth outfielder.
Clint Sammons is getting his average up after a slow start. The Pelicans' catcher is now at .232 on the season. Sammons still projects as a solid reserve major league catcher in a few years.
The second half of the season has not been as kind to the Rome Braves as the first half. They are obviously missing Isaiah Ka'aihue and Jo Jo Reyes, who were promoted to Myrtle Beach after the All-Star Break.
Jeff Lyman had a good start in his return from an injury to his side. Lyman is quietly becoming the breakout pitcher from the 2005 draft. He has the edge over Beau Jones, who is having a decent season himself in Rome. Lyman has really only had one bad start, but that was when he had to come out of the game on May 29th with his injury. Scouts are really starting to rave about the Braves' second rounder from last year.
Former Georgia Southern star Dustin Evans has been outstanding so far. He pitched six scoreless innings in his debut for Rome Thursday night. Evans has allowed only two runs in his first 16.2 innings overall, including his first two games in Danville.
Danville's pitching has been the story so far. Jamie Richmond had an outstanding Extended Spring Training and convinced the Braves he deserved a chance to start. He's rewarded the organization with three solid starts. Richmond has an ERA of 1.76 in his first 15.1 innings, with only 3 walks and 18 strikeouts.
Mike Broadway and Tommy Hanson have also been fantastic. Broadway has a 1.98 ERA and Hanson a 2.25 mark. They have combined for only 3 walks and 22 strikeouts in 25.2 innings.
Carlos Sencion, the pitcher of the year for the DSL team last year, is off to a good start. He's allowed only one earned run in his first 12 innings.
And Lee Hyde, the Braves' fourth rounder last month, has done fine in his first two games (0 earned runs in 3 innings). Expect Hyde to head to Rome next week.
The offense has been outstanding as well for Danville, led by Concepcion Rodriguez, a lean 19-year-old outfielder who was originally expected to start the season in the GCL. Rodriguez is hitting .367 so far this season, with 2 home runs and 8 RBI.
Chase Fontaine (.340), Willie Cabrera (.306), and Tyler Flowers (.305) have also been outstanding. All three players have two home runs apiece. And Larry Williams, who was suspended and missed all of 2005, leads the team with 10 RBI.
What can you say about Adam Coe? The Braves' seventh rounder is hitting like a first round pick. He's hitting .340 with 4 home runs and 16 RBI in his first 53 at bats. It will be interesting to see if the Braves promote him to Danville before the end of the season if he continues this solid hitting.
First round pick Cody Johnson continues to do well, hitting .308 in his first at bats for the GCL Braves.
The pitching has really been the story for the GCL team, especially some of the relievers. Casey Beck (8th round) and Mike Mehlich (11th round) have yet to allow an earned run in their first four games. Joe Johnson (13th round) has a 2.84 ERA in his first five games.
Chad Rodgers (1.80) and Steve Evarts (2.00) have been solid in their first few professional games.
Neftali Feliz leads the team with 12 strikeouts in 9.1 innings. Feliz is a pitcher from the Dominican that just turned 17 that has the Braves' excited about his future.
Junior Guerra, who just became a pitcher this spring after being a catcher, has a 10.50 ERA in his first four games, with five walks.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.