33. Which prospects could contribute in 2007?

In 2005 the Braves had a number of rookies make an impact when called upon. The impact wasn't as strong last season, but the organization still needs to be stacked with talent in case there is a need in Atlanta. The Braves Show's Bill Shanks looks at some of the players that might make their debuts next season.

The Braves always call on the farm system for reinforcements during a season, and there are plenty of prospects very close to being ready to contribute. Here are ten more to keep an eye on this season.

Joey Devine is out in Arizona getting more innings after missing most of the season with a back injury. Devine might need more time in Triple-A to start next season, but the Braves would probably be disappointed if he is not up at some point next summer. Devine has shown that he can be effective when healthy, but he's also got to show that he's ready to stick in the big leagues.

Will Startup is also in Arizona, but he's out there more to show the Braves how close he might be to being ready for the big leagues. Startup is struggling, but he's also probably a little tired. Startup will probably get invited to big league camp as a non-roster player, and even if he goes back to Richmond, he could get consideration if there is a need for a lefty reliever. Startup is close, and chances are he's going to contribute at some point next season.

When the Braves needed to replace Horacio Ramirez, Kyle Davies, and John Thomson last year in the rotation, Chuck James was the only one that stepped up to help. Jason Shiell and Travis Smith were Quad-A types that were not very effective. But in 2007 the Braves could have a real-deal prospect ready to step in if needed.

Lefty Matt Harrison is only 21 years old, but he was very impressive in his Double-A debut in 2006. Some scouts believe Harrison is a year away, but if he does well in Mississippi he could prepare himself for a promotion. He's projected to be a number two or three starter, so the Braves are going to be careful with him. But if one of the five starters has to miss any significant time next season, don't be shocked if Harrison is called up. His fastball has improved and he's really getting close.

Francisley Bueno is a lefty that not many talk about too often. He had trouble staying healthy in his first year over from Cuba, but he made a positive impression on many scouts. Some even believe he can be a middle-of-the-rotation starter. His 1-7 record in AA was not great, but the Braves were happy with the strikeouts (84) and H/IP ratio (77/80.1). Bueno could be a starter or a reliever, but he'll probably head to Richmond to start the season.

Dan Smith is definitely one to keep an eye on. Smith was outstanding as a reliever in Myrtle Beach before his promotion. Then he struggled a bit in the Mississippi bullpen, but when the Braves put him in the AA rotation Smith was outstanding. He's a lefty that hides the ball well and knows how to pitch, so a strong start in April could put him on the fast track.

No pitcher in the Braves' system made more progress than right-hander Zach Schreiber, who dominated the Southern League after his promotion there early in the season. Zach became a closer, and all of a sudden the Braves had a very solid prospect. Not sure if he has anything left to prove in AA, but if he goes to Triple-A he'll be just one phone call from the bullpen.

Turning to position players, no one will be watched more closely than Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who struggled with the bat in the first half of the 2006 season. But after getting his injured wrist healthy, Salty bounced back to hit .338 in the final two months. Now he's once again hitting the ball like he did in Myrtle Beach as he plays in the AFL.

There is the question of where Salty is going to play, but that'll work itself out. It will be interesting, however, if he sees any time at first base in spring training. Salty could be excellent insurance for both Brian McCann and even Adam LaRoche, and if he gets his chance he might not ever leave the lineup.

How close is Salty? Well, if he bounces back and has a good first half next season, Salty is going to be knocking on the door. If he changes positions, that might slow him down a bit. But the Braves are very confident that he'll once again bounce back and show the offensive potential he had a year ago.

Barbaro Canizares is the other Cuban signee from last February. He had a good year in AA, hitting .301 with 33 RBI in 279 at bats. Barbaro can hit, but his defense is a big question. If the Braves need a bat off the bench for a few weeks, Barbaro might be able to fill in if he's doing well in AAA Richmond.

There are a lot of middle infielders on the roster, but if there's a need Yunel Escobar could knock on the door. Escobar is hitting well this fall out in Arizona, and he's showing that he's getting close. Escobar might go to Richmond, but he might return to Mississippi and play everyday at shortstop. If the Braves need a middle infielder, Escobar could be a good option.

And finally Brandon Jones is an outfielder that could make his debut sometime next season. Jones has battled injuries, but the Braves still rate him as one of their best outfield prospects. If he does well in Mississippi, he could be considered if there is a need in the outfield.

So the depth is still solid, and the Braves have several players from the farm system that could contribute next season if needed.


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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