The Shanks Report - March 21

Bill Shanks has some notes as we enter the last week of Spring Training.

Forgive me for the lack of reports and interaction on the boards this week. I started feeling bad Sunday night and have struggled with it all week long. I've now left Florida, but I brought the flu with me back to Georgia.

So John Smoltz had to miss Friday's game with shoulder soreness. Well, the Braves and Smoltz say there should be nothing to worry about, but how can we not worry just a little? This is going to be something we are going to battle with all season. Yes, it could just be spring training-itus. But we're talking about a pitcher with an alarming history. Thank goodness for the depth that has been accumulated in that rotation. And this also makes Chuck James more relevant all of a sudden.

Watching Jeff Bennett on television this afternoon convinced me he needs to be on this roster. He looked very, very good. Bennett had been just so-so for me when I was down there, but he was impressive in his three innings of work against the Indians. I'd much prefer Bennett over Buddy Carlyle for that long relief role in the bullpen.

Meanwhile Ryan Drese looked horrible Friday. He could've been in the competition with Bennett and Carlyle, but those walks killed whatever chances he might have had. You wonder if Drese might be released after that performance, but the Braves do want as much depth as possible, so it won't be surprising if they keep him and send him down to Richmond to be in the rotation as a backup option.

Blaine Boyer had another good outing on Friday. He's going to make this Braves roster, and if by some chance Boyer is traded, it is going to have to be a pretty large deal. Boyer has to have significant value right now with the way he's pitched this month. But the Braves really like Boyer and it would be a surprise if he's not on the roster.

From some of the vibes I was getting in Florida before I took off, I really feel that Corky Miller might have a great shot over Javy Lopez in the battle for the backup catcher's position. It won't shock me at all if Corky wins it. They want Clint Sammons down there so he can play everyday, and if something happened with Brian McCann they could call Sammons up to start. But Miller has again played well defensively and hit okay this month. Meanwhile, there seem to be too many concerns with Lopez's defense. Lopez still might win the job, but don't be surprised if it's Corky.

Yunel Escobar will be in the 2008 All Star Game. He's getting ready to really become a star.

The Braves released four minor leaguers on Thursday: Rich Scalamandre (acquired for Jorge Sosa in the summer of 2006), Jared Shaffer, James Curtis, and Adam Stanley.

Candidates for the Richmond Braves rotation: Chuck James, Jo Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton, Buddy Carlyle, Jeff Bennett, Jorge Campillo, Matt DeSalvo, Ryan Drese, Damian Moss, Jonathan Rouwenhorst, Dan Smith, and Francisley Bueno.

Lefty Dan Smith has had a good camp. He pitched well in the two big league games he's pitched in, and Smith just looks like he could be an option for this club at the big league level.

While Jason Heyward has deservedly received some attention this spring, we cannot forget about Cody Johnson. The 2006 first round pick is hitting the heck out of the ball. He's had some unbelievable batting practice sessions in the last week. Those have obviously got to translate on the field, but Johnson is very capable of being a Sally League MVP candidate himself this season.

In one of the most fun scenes of spring training for me, roving minor league hitting instructor Leon Roberts set up a batting practice round including Johnson, Heyward, Tyler Flowers, and Freddie Freeman. Roberts threw BP without the cage, only a background screen, and had coach Rick Albert tape each session for the four players. These four put on a show, and at the very end it turned into a home run contest between all four players. The trees past the right field fence took a beating. Johnson and Heyward were especially hot that day, and you can already see a little positive competition building between those two super prospects.

Jeff Locke pitched well against the Nationals' minor league team earlier this week, but that club had a couple of major leaguers in the lineup. Paul LoDuca and Bret Boone were both in the lineup. LoDuca reportedly turned to the Braves catcher and raved about Locke's stuff. To have a major leaguer rave about a kid that hasn't even pitched in Low-A yet is pretty impressive. Locke pitched three scoreless innings but did have two walks. The New Hampshire lefty is having a great spring.

Chad Rodgers, another on ‘the three lefties' heading to Rome, had a great three-inning performance the next day against the Tigers. Rodgers is working on a curveball and the coaches have been very pleased with its progress.

Julio Teheran had his first action in a game this spring on Thursday. The Braves limited him to just one inning, and it was a quick one. Teheran got them one, two, three and was done. The Braves scouts who have come to camp this month continue to just be amazed with Teheran. And one coach even predicted to me that Teheran will be in Rome before mid-June.

Scouts are also raving about Brandon Hicks and Michael Fisher, two college infielders the Braves took early in last June's draft. Hicks is scary good, and while he'll start out in Myrtle Beach, it's not expected he'll be there long. Hicks looks like a big leaguer now in the way he carries himself and in the way he plays. And Fisher may be more of a utility type player in the big leagues one day, but for now he's going to get a chance to play everyday in the system, probably as Rome's starter at shortstop. But considering the trades of Tony Pena, Jr., Elvis Andrus, and Edgar Renteria in the last twelve months, it's good that the system has quickly provided more options at that premium position.

Concepcion Rodriguez hit a home run in an intra-squad game Thursday morning. He's an interesting player to me. The kid is very athletic and has a good hitting stroke. Rodriguez will return to Rome to start the season, but he should be out of there and on to Myrtle Beach by midseason.

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

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