Spring Training Report - March 7

The Braves Show's Bill Shanks has some minor league scoop in day two of his trip to Florida.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Day two in Florida was spent on the back fields watching the minor leaguers. Yes, it was tempting to go down to Tampa to watch the big boys take on the Yankees, but since I'm getting both major and minor league content this gave me a day to watch the kids.

Since I'm a pitching guy, I was really anxious to see some of the arms in the back bullpen, especially the new guys from last year's draft that I have not seen before. One of the first guys I noticed, however, was Chad Rodgers, who spent last year in Rome before being shut down with shoulder trouble.

Rodgers is noticeably bigger, and he told me later in an interview that he's gained about 17 pounds. Rodgers spent time in Boston this winter with a trainer who helped his shoulder get stronger, and at the same time simply got his body in great shape. Keep the 21-year old lefty in your mind as a potential breakout candidate this season. He's healthy now, and he'll probably head to Myrtle Beach. If he can remain healthy, Rodgers could become a serious prospect.

Today was the first day the pitchers threw live batting practice, so I was able to watch a few in the bullpen and then follow them to the field, where they faced live hitters for the first time this spring. It's hard to be on three fields at one time, so I had to sacrifice one field and one group of pitchers so I could bounce back and forth to try and watch two guys at a time.

Richard Sullivan, an 11th round pick out of the Savannah College or Art and Design last June, took the hill. He's a big kid with a very nasty changeup. Sullivan has a couple of different changeups that had the coaches behind the batting cage wondering what he was throwing. He looks very advanced, and I'll be really surprised if he's not starting the season in Myrtle Beach this year.

One interesting pairing in the bullpen was Craig Kimbrel (last year's third round pick) and J.J. Hoover (10th rounder last June). Both were college pitchers, but they are a bit different in size. Kimbrel is only 5'10" or so, while Hoover is pushing 6'4". They both throw gas and were very impressive.

Kimbrel ended last season with two games in Myrtle Beach, and chances are he'll go back there to start the season. But he won't be there long, and I expect him to be in Mississippi before June 1st. Kimbrel does have great stuff, with a spiked, knuckle curve that can be filthy.

Hoover is unsure if they want him as a starter or a reliever. He relieved in his two games in Danville last season. Hoover thinks he can be a starter, but he doesn't seem worried if he does wind up in the bullpen.

Jacob Thompson was very impressive in the bullpen. I spoke with him at length after his day was finished. He said he really got caught up in the hype last season, and that is what caused his struggles at Virginia and him to slip in the draft. But he has worked out his mechanical flaws and really feels good about what he'll be able to do. I could see Sullivan and Thompson in Myrtle Beach this season.

Please be on the lookout for all of our audio interviews. We'll be putting them up throughout the month of March. Today I interviewed Richard Sullivan, J.J. Hoover, Craig Kimbrel, Jacob Thompson, Zeke Spruill, Ryne Reynoso, Chad Rodgers, Kala Ka'aihue, Eric Campbell, and Cody Johnson.

Campbell's story is very interesting. He's battled clinical depression the last few years, but medication is helping and he's really hoping to get back on the map as a real prospect. You'll like his story and be rooting for him when you hear it.

While I didn't see him on the mound, the reports on Julio Teheran are very good. He's healthy and the Braves are expecting big things from him this year. He's still so young. He might be in the other group pitching live BP on Sunday.

Braves coaches were also raving about Concepcion Rodriquez, who is playing for Panama in the WBC. Rodriguez had a very impressive season last year between Rome and Myrtle Beach, with 14 home runs and 69 RBI. The Braves may push him to Double-A, and he's a player to really watch this season.

Braves Director of International Scouting Johnny Almaraz is in town for a few days. He told me the team signed several new international players in January. He's going to give me the scoop tomorrow.

I've talked to a lot of coaches (major league and minor league) in the 24 hours I've been here, and there are several things we need to point out. First, we cannot underscore the impression made this spring by Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman. These two are shocking the major league staff with their maturity and raw, natural talent. Twelve months from now, yes twelve months from now they are going to be in the conversation. They are that good and that special.

I had one coach tell me he thought Heyward was "just as good as Andruw (Jones) was at that age, so I don't know why he couldn't play here in 2010." And as for Freeman, they know he's only going to get better. They think he could be the starting first baseman in two years.

The pitcher making the biggest impression in spring training is Kris Medlen, who pitched a scoreless inning with the big league club today in Tampa against the Yankees. It seems Medlen has an excellent chance at making the club as a reliever. There are some who believe Medlen is better, with his stuff, than some of the returning candidates for that pen. So watch out. If there is going to be a surprise in the pen, it could be Kris Medlen.

You may have read Bobby Cox talking about how Derek Lowe is one of the hardest workers he's ever been around. Well, the coaches love his attitude. He's evidently a goofball in the clubhouse, but when he gets on the mound he's all business. They think he can be a perfect leader for the rotation.

Sunday morning I'll be back on the minor league fields for a while before trying to get some major league stuff. The Phillies will be in town, but of course, it will be Tommy Hanson Time. Can't wait to see the big kid pitch against the World Champs. He knocks them around silly and this is going to get interesting.

Bill Shanks hosts The Braves Show Talk Show. He is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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