Spring Training Notes

Bill Shanks has the latest from spring training as we are now two weeks away from Opening Day.

* If the Braves decide to send Kyle Davies to AAA Richmond, it will be more about the numbers game than Davies not being ready to go. He looked great Friday in the intrasquad game and pitching coach Roger McDowell is very encouraged by Kyle's progress. With Mark Redman practically a lock and Lance Cormier pitching almost perfect baseball, the Braves will just allow Davies to go and continue to work on his mechanics with Guy Hansen, who is back this season as Richmond's pitching coach. Davies made the change to windup only from the belt instead of going over his head with his hands and is much more comfortable. So while he's done just about everything you can ask from him when he's been in Richmond, a little more time may not be too bad. But if he spends more than a month in Richmond and is doing well there, it will be a big shame. Davies is a big league pitcher and will need a slot when he's completely ready to go.

* Tim Hudson had a very good showing Sunday against the Tigers. Hudson had five scoreless innings and allowed only three hits. His ERA is now 1.80 for the spring. With Mike Hampton gone for at least a while, Hudson will be heavily counted on for the Braves rotation. The Braves are pleased with his spring progress so far.

* Mike Gonzalez told me Friday his arm is in good shape and that he's simply getting into form for the start of the season. Gonzalez missed the last five weeks of last season with elbow trouble. While he feels good now, he did have a bit slower offseason this winter as he made sure his elbow was in good shape. So he's simply preparing for the season and working on his pitches, which explains some of the trouble he's had on the mound this month. But there is no concern with his elbow, and when he's been healthy Gonzalez has always been very effective.

* Finally a Tanyon Sturtze sighting. I've been here nine days and finally saw Tanyon Sturtze. Unfortunately he was not on the mound, but instead in a golf cart being carried to his car. He's a big guy, that's for sure. And the next time I can remember I will ask about his progress. But at least I know he is here. I was starting to wonder.

* It seems inevitable that the Braves are going to trade Tony Pena, Jr., perhaps this week. He's the one out of options and Chris Woodward is now proving that he's healthy and be ready to go. Pete Orr, who still has an option remaining, will go back to Triple-A more than likely and play third base. Woodward is just a major leaguer. He carries himself like a big leaguer and when you watch him you can see the experience in his game. He's a good player and will be solid for the Braves bench. Pena is having a decent spring, but there's just no room for him. The Braves will be lucky if they can get something for him in a deal, since all the teams have to know that the Braves would have to pass him through waivers to get him back to Triple-A Richmond. Pena is good enough to be a major league reserve, but with Woodward here and healthy there's just no room. Perhaps the Braves will be able to get a decent prospect in return for Pena before spring training ends.

* If Orr and/or Pena go to Richmond, they'll probably play mostly at third base. Martin Prado will man second for Richmond, while Yunel Escobar will probably get the promotion and be tested in Triple-A as well. The sad part of this equation is that it could knock out Wes Timmons from the starting lineup. Timmons had a good, but injury-plagued season in 2006 and he's having a good spring. The Braves like Timmons, but the depth in the infield is not helping his cause. He's been up in big league camp only twice this month, so he hasn't had a good chance to impress Bobby Cox so far. The Braves believe Wes is a Pete Orr-type player. He's not as fast as Orr, but Timmons has the hustle and spirit in his game to overachieve and more importantly help his club win. It'll be interesting to see how the Braves allot playing time to all these talented infielders.

* And where in the world is Willie Harris going to play? He's done well this spring and made a positive impression on Bobby Cox. But with Prado heading to AAA to play second base, would the Braves consider inserting Harris in the outfield? Gregor Blanco, T.J. Bohn, Doug Clark, and Billy McCarthy are already penciled in to play the outfield for Richmond. Could Harris be thrown into that group and play the outfield?

* McCarthy has been called over from big league camp more than a handful of times this month, which is a good sign the Braves still have great faith in his ability. McCarthy had a bad season in Richmond in 2006, and it was the first time he's been healthy and failed to produce offensively. The Braves still believe McCarthy can hit, so they are trying to give him every opportunity to once again show he can help this club at some point in the future. McCarthy had a serious ankle problem over a year ago, and it might have contributed to his problems at the plate last season. But he knows this is a crucial year in his development.

* Lefty Dan Smith is being stretched out this spring and will definitely be in the Mississippi rotation this season. You may remember how dominant Smith was at the end of last year when the Braves threw him into the AA rotation. Now the Braves want to see what Smith might do in 25 starts.

* Does any organization in baseball have two strong double-play combinations in the upper minors like the the Braves? Escobar and Prado in Triple-A and Brent Lillibridge and J.C. Holt in Double-A. Not too shabby. Braves coaches are encouraged by J.C. Holt, who had a solid Arizona Fall League and has carried it over to spring training. Holt needs a consistent and full season. The last two seasons he's struggled early before having a solid second half.

* Van Pope has been bothered by a back strain for a few days, but it's nothing serious.

* Matt Esquivel is in good shape after being suspended for the second half of 2006. The Braves still have a lot of confidence in Esquivel, but it's unclear if he'll return to Double-A or start the season down in Myrtle Beach. Esquivel joins Josh Burrus, Brandon Jones, Carl Loadenthal, Matt Young, and Steve Doetsch as outfields fighting for a job in Double-A this spring. It's crowded, so with Esquivel missing half of last season it's not out of the question that the Braves could send him to Myrtle Beach to at least start the season.

* With Jarrod Saltalamacchia headed back to Double-A, Clint Sammons will have to return to High-A Myrtle Beach. Sammons deserves a promotion, but the Braves need Salty to at least start out back in Mississippi. Sammons has a good attitude about the situation and is not terribly bothered about having to go back to the Carolina League to at least start the season.

* Elvis Andrus is the real deal folks. The kid has gotten bigger. He's simply growing up physically. He's going to have a good test in Myrtle Beach this season.

* It looks like the Braves are going to stretch out Tim Gustafson and let him be a starter, perhaps in Myrtle Beach. Gustafson was a starter and reliever at Georgia Tech and many believe his future role could be in the bullpen if he reaches the big leagues. But he's got a good arm and the Braves may see what he does as a starter first. Gustafson signed late last summer and did not play last season, so he'll be making his pro debut in a few weeks.

* Chase Fontaine will see action at both second base and shortstop this season. He's been working out at both positions. Even though he was drafted as a shortstop, many believe Fontaine will eventually wind up as a second baseman. He looks smooth at both positions. Fontaine could push for action in Myrtle Beach before the season is over.

* Jon Mark Owings' home run Friday against Kyle Davies only shows the talent this kid has. He's a free-swinger, but Owings generates tremendous power. If he stays healthy, Owings could push 20 home runs in Rome this season.

* After serving two years in the Korean military, Sung Ki Jung is headed back to the states to rejoin the Braves' organization. Jung is 27 years old now, but the Braves still like his arm. He was instrumental in Rome winning the Sally League title back in 2003 saving 18 games. He'll be in late camp later this month and could pitch maybe for Danville this season.

* Australian right-hander Matt Timms could be in the GCL rotation later this summer. Timms was recently clocked between 88-92 mph. He's now grown to six-foot-seven, 260 pounds. The Braves are anxious to get him to Florida to see how good Timms may be.

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. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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