Spring Training Report - March 9

How far did Jason Heyward's home run off Kenshin Kawakami go? The Braves Show's Bill Shanks has the details.

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Okay, after talking with Kenshin Kawakami, through his interpreter, on Sunday it was time to take a look at the Japanese star. One thing is for certain, he was a huge star over there, as evidenced by the contingent of Japanese media following him around.

The Braves were off Monday, but they scheduled a four-inning simulated game on the big league field. They brought over some minor leaguers to just play defense, had four relievers to pitch in the other half innings, and selected a few special offensive players to get some swings against KK and the other pitchers.

The first thing that strikes you about KK is his small build. You would think since I was right next to him on Sunday when I interviewed him that would have hit home, but seeing him on the mound is a whole different thing. He's just not very big, but it also doesn't take long to see how comfortable Kawakami is on the pitching mound.

There is experience there. He didn't look nervous. He just looked comfortable. KK seemed to get stronger with his fastball as he went along, and it was obvious he's still working on his pitches to prepare for the season.

Here's how he fared, batter-by-batter:

Matt Kennelly - Double
Barbaro Canizares - Sacrifice - Kennelley to third
Josh Anderson - Ground out - Kennelley scores
Diory Hernandez - Infield hit
Freddie Freeman - Flyout

Diory Hernandez - Ground out to first
Alvin Colina - Fly out to center
Freddie Freeman - Ground out 3-1

Freddie Freeman - Double to right
Brandon Hicks - Line out to third
Jason Heyward - Two-run HR to center
Brooks Conrad - Fly out
Fly out

Brandon Hicks - Walk
Alvin Colina - Single to left
Jason Heyward - Fly out to center
Brooks Conrad - Force out
Matt Kennelly - Two-run double
Josh Anderson - Fly out

Okay, first the good. Kawakami has a hammer of a curveball. It's going to make some people look silly. It's just a great curve.

I am not real too concerned about guys like Heyward and Kennelly and Freeman getting hits off Kawakami. Those kids can hit. Kawakami got ahead of many of his hitters. His command was just a bit off and he kept the ball up too much. I think he got a little tired in the fourth, but he also rared back and threw the ball harder in that last inning.

I don't think this guy is going to be a star, but I can see why the Braves signed Kawakami. I think he's got a shot to be a very decent middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, which is exactly what the Braves got him for.

As for Heyward, well, what can I say. Before his first home run (he also hit one off Emiliano Fruto), he fouled a ball off that went 380 down the right field line. Then next pitch, boom, to straight away center field. It was a shot.

But the homer off Fruto is the one we'll be talking about for years. It was his first of the two, and it went to right field and at first we thought it went over the second wall - the one where the Braves executives park. You've seen that second wall on television. None of the people around me saw the ball bounce off the cement, so we all assumed he hit it beyond the second wall. Well, we later learned it didn't, but it does not diminish what a bomb it was. If it had been hit in Turner Field it would have hit that aisle leading down to the section nearest to the outfield wall.

I tell you, Jason Heyward is going to be a star. He's scary. Forget any prospect the Braves have had since Andruw Jones. Forget Furcal or even McCann. This kid is going to be special.

Freddie Freeman is not far behind Heyward. I could even see Freeman finishing his career with more home runs than Heyward, who could one day win a batting title. They're different players, with Heyward just the better all-around player. But Freddie is a beast. They are both man-childs. They're going to be the nucleus of the future of this franchise.

Heyward is going to play in the big leagues this season. I could really see it happening. He'll start in Myrtle, and then he'll be up in Mississippi pretty quickly. I could see him being out of High-A by mid-May. Then if Heyward does well in Double-A, he could find himself in the big leagues before the end of the season. Everybody I've spoken with does not believe this is out of the question.

One coach asked me, "Were there really thirteen scouting directors who passed on this kid? They should lose their jobs."

Of the other hitters, Diory Hernandez and Matt Kennelly stood out. Hernandez has, 'hit everything hard all spring,' according to one coach. He'll be in Gwinnett, but if the Braves need a middle infielder, Hernandez will be up.

Kennelly will more than likely be the starting catcher in Rome. Signed several years ago out of Australia, Kennelly will turn 20 next week. He is developing into an offensive catcher, so when people wonder if the Braves have a catcher coming up the pike, Kennelly is the one to mention. He's got great potential, and coaches are impressed with his development behind the plate.

Anthony Lerew was one of the four pitchers to go on the other side in the simulated game. Lerew had Tommy John surgery over a year ago, so he's looking to make a comeback. He looked good, showing a decent fastball. Lerew could be in jeopardy after being taken off the 40-man roster, bu the Braves will likely have him in Gwinnett.

Rafael Cruz does throw hard! Not sure what he was hitting on the gun today, but his reputation is correct. He throws gas. Cruz will be in Gwinnett's bullpen this season.

Here are the players I interviewed today: Lerew, Paul Clemens, Adam Milligan, Willie Cabrera, Wes Timmons, Matt Young, and Travis Jones. We'll have all the audio interviews up in a few days.

Tuesday it's more minor league time in the morning and then off to Kissimmee to watch Derek Lowe against the Astros. That's a great park, so I'm looking forward to the game.

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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