With another solid performance on Saturday Blaine Boyer is really pushing for one of the spots in the bullpen. And Chris Resop showed 97 mph consistently on the gun Sunday and is also showing he might make the relief corps. Both pitchers are out of options, but the Braves are going to have to find room for Boyer and Resop if they continue to pitch well this month.
And then you have the two lefty relievers, Royce Ring and Jeff Ridgway. Both have pitched well this spring, especially Ridgway. The lefty acquired from the Devil Rays for Willy Aybar has shown some nasty stuff and caught the eye of Bobby Cox. Ridgway has options left, while Ring is out of options. With Mike Gonzalez coming back in late May or early June, you wonder if the team will even want to start the season with two lefty relievers. If not, Ring might be trade bait this month.
What's going to be the most interesting pitching session this week? Mike Hampton throwing a simulated game on Wednesday? Or Chuck James pitching on Wednesday at Lakeland against the Tigers? James is eager to pitch and could make things very intersting if he shows he's healthy. James might not break camp with this team, due to being behind everyone else, but what's going to happen if he's ready to go April 15th?
Cox seems to be hedging a bit on the play of Javy Lopez. There is no doubt the offense is still there, evidenced by his two home runs this spring. But Lopez is still a bit deficient defensively, which was obvious this past Saturday when he had trouble catching Jo Jo Reyes. But if Lopez does not win the job, would the Braves give it to Corky Miller or Brayan Pena? Well, Pena is out of options, but he might be even worse defensively than the 37-year-old Lopez. It does seem, however, that with two-plus weeks to go in camp the job is still open.
Sunday was the first full day of minor league camp, with all the pitchers and position players on the field. There will be two scrimmages with the Astros minor leaguers this week, and then next week the games will begin.
Right-hander Eric Cordier, who was acquired a year ago for Tony Pena, Jr., is on the shelf now with additional elbow discomfort. The Braves are getting him checked out to see if there is any connection to his Tommy John surgery from over a year ago.
Moises Hernandez, who pitched at Myrtle Beach and Mississippi last season, has had some shoulder trouble and will be brought along slowly. He will not be ready to break camp with a club for Opening Day, but the Braves are hopeful he'll be back sometime early in the season.
Jeff Locke looked good in two innings against the Astros in a scrimmage on Monday. Locke gave up a home run, but only after the umpire had squeezed him on a two-strike pitch. Locke shows an aggressive style that is not common in young pitchers.
Third baseman Eric Campbell was taking grounders at second base on Saturday, but don't read much into it. He was just spelling Travis Jones, who was also taking some ground balls. Campbell looks good at second, and considering it was rumored eighteen months ago that he might move there you wonder if the Braves would think about it again in the future.
Shortstop Brandon Hicks is going to start the season in Myrtle Beach, but don't count on him to be there for long. He's making a terrific impression on the Braves this spring, and his long home run in the big league spring training game Saturday against the Astros did not hurt matters. Hicks will probably end the season in Double-A and really make a case for a job in about a year. Of course, with Yunel Escobar very comfortable at shortstop, you have to wonder where else Hicks might fit in. Could he be a reserve, or will he have more value than that?
The Braves honored the Richmond Braves Monday morning with a ring ceremony. The Richmond team won the International League title last September. Jonathan Schuerholz was the only player no longer in uniform, and he was at the event. Schuerholz has retired from baseball and is now an assistant at Auburn for the baseball team. Several players in big league camp came over for the ceremony, including Blaine Boyer, Manny Acosta, Royce Ring, Phil Stockman, Francisley Bueno, Brayan Pena, Yunel Escobar, and Gregor Blanco.
The Braves are honoring two very important coaches, Jim Beauchamp and Mel Roberts, who passed away last year. It's not been the same without 'Beach' and 'Pops' this spring, but they are here in spirit. The Braves have their numbers on every minor league field, number 37 for Beauchamp and number 29 for Roberts.
A visitor on the Braves' minor league fields Monday afternoon created some buzz. Roger Clemens and his wife Debbie were there to watch their son Koby, who is a prospect with the Astros.
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.
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