* I had my first day on the minor league fields Friday. I watched several pitchers throw bullpen sessions and live batting practice: Jeff Locke, Cole Rohrbough, Jonny Venters, Eric Barrett, Sung Ki Jung, and Luis Valdez. Unfortunately, I couldn't see them all (it was going on three fields) and I missed Eric Cordier.
* Locke is in great shape. He's bulked up over the winter and told me after his session that since it was so cold in New Hampshire he worked out a lot. He's still a bit rusty (still early), but there's no doubt that Jeff Locke has tremendous ability and potential.
* Rohrbough is impressive. He wasn't too happy with his session, and truth be told most of them aren't going to be happy in their first live batting practice. But he's got easy arm action and there's zero doubt the stuff is there. It was the first time for some of the coaches to see Rohrbough and they were impressed. I would be shocked if he's not in Myrtle Beach to start the season.
* Venters is still someone for me that is a sleeper. He doesn't get much ink, but he's a lefty with good size and good stuff. It'll be interesting to see if he's in Double-A to start the season.
* Barrett looks very raw. He's not as polished as some of the others. But he's got good size and has a projectable body, meaning he's going to get bigger.
* Sung Ki Jung is the same as he was in 2003 before he left for the army: he's just nasty. He almost touches the dirt when he pitches! His stuff is unspectacular, but he's so tricky with that sidearm delivery he's just hard to pick up.
* Valdez is a six-year free agent who was with the Pirates for a few seasons. Not sure why Pittsburgh let this guy go cause he can pitch. He was throwing gas in live BP today. He'll probably compete for a job in the Double-A bullpen.
* Jason Heyward, last year's first round pick, is a flop and will never amount to anything! Okay, now that I've told a boldface lie I can tell you that this guy is special. I don't know how long he's going to take to develop in the minor leagues, but it's not going to take long. He is a man amongst boys right now in the minor league camp. Coaches are talking about him and he's already causing quite a stir around Disney. He hit a ball foul today that landed in the Gulf of Mexico. I mean it was a bomb, and remember you can also show power by hitting a ball foul. Well, Mr. Heyward did that to me today. It was the first time I've seen him swing the bat and color me convinced that this kid is going to be a star. He's scary. This is not me pumping up some prospect. Just believe me - Jason Heyward is scary.
* The duo of Heyward and Cody Johnson is going to be a fun one to watch this season. They'll both start out in Rome and it will be interesting to see if they finish the season there. Don't bet on it! Johnson's power is also very impressive.
* I saw Gorkys Hernandez swing in BP a bit today. He's not as big as I expected for some reason. But one front office exec told me today that the early reports on Gorkys are tremendous. I'm anxious to see more of the outfielder acquired in the Edgar Renteria.
* The coaches are also talking about shortstop Brandon Hicks, who was a third round pick last June out of Texas A&M. I saw him take a few swings in batting practice today, and I can't wait to see more.
* Jon Gilmore and Freddie Freeman, two top picks last June, are really good-sized kids. They can swing the bat!
* I did not see Julio Teheran today. He's scheduled to pitch a live BP session on Sunday. I and everyone else are counting down the hours until his next appearance. I hope I hate the kid so I can quiet the talk down because the hype is almost out of control. But guess what? From what I've heard of this kid, I think I'm going to be very impressed.
* On the major league side I saw a little of Jair Jurrjens, but Bobby Cox was very impressed with his first appearance in a Braves' uniform. I get the feeling that Jo Jo Reyes is going to have to wow everybody to beat out Jurrjens for that fifth spot in the rotation - unless Chuck James is ready to go and that doesn't seem to be expected.
* Buddy Carlyle looked good. Yes, Buddy Carlyle looked good and Bobby Cox raved about him in the postgame presser. Might he beat out Jeff Bennett for that long reliever spot in the bullpen? It's possible - very possible - if he continues to pitch like he did on Friday.
* Damian Moss was hitting 91 mph on the radar gun at Champions Stadium (or Field or Complex or whatever they are calling it). That was surprising. Two years ago when he was in Braves' camp Moss was barely touching 88 mph. He'll be with the big league club a lot in March and he'll probably have a good chance at a rotation spot in Richmond if he has a good month.
* Not sure who this De La Cruz was for the Dodgers, but he was throwing gas in the eighth inning. I mean gas!
* What a horrible fall for Greg Miller. He was one of the best pitching prospects in the game three years ago, but injuries have held him back and he looked awful in Friday's game. But the talent is in there somewhere and I wouldn't mind trading for him. Maybe Brayan Pena for Greg Miller?
* It sure does seem that Bobby likes Kelly Johnson hitting first, Yunel Escobar hitting second, and Mark Kotsay hitting lower in the lineup. Maybe that'll change in March as the team plays more games, but he sounds comfortable with that right now.
* I said this a few weeks ago and still believe it. We thought Brandon Jones was a lock to be the lefty hitting in a left field platoon with Matt Diaz. But I still don't completely buy it. Sure, if Jones goes out and hits .400 this spring he might be a lock, but I just think this spot will have more competition. Josh Anderson is going to have something to say about that position, and the presence of Brent Lillibridge makes things interesting as well. Jones better play his butt off if he wants to split time with Diaz in left field.
* Bank on it - Javy Lopez is going to be the backup catcher. But it sure will be interesting to see how they handle Brayan Pena, who is out of options.
* Saturday I will check out some of the pitchers again on the minor league side throw side sessions. Then it will be off to Kissimmee to watch Tom Glavine wear the Braves' uniform again. It should be interesting!
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 be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Shanks Report: February 29
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