WHO IS DOING WELL?
Who is not doing well? Look at these ERAs: Kenshin Kawakami (1.86), Jo Jo Reyes (2.08), Derek Lowe (2.45), Tommy Hanson (2.45), and Jair Jurrjens (2.87). Those five had made all but one of the starts for the Braves this spring, coming into Thursday's game against the Tigers.
Reyes needed a good spring to make an impression, in case Tom Glavine is not ready to go on April 18th as the fifth starter. The still-young lefty has done exactly what he needed to do, winning two games and allowing only three runs in 13 innings. With Glavine's status still up in the air, Reyes could be apart of the rotation, or at the least in the bullpen until Glavine returns.
Lowe and Kawakami have done well in their debuts, although Kawakami was unable to pitch Thursday due to ‘shoulder fatigue.' Jurrjens got off to a slow start, but his six scoreless innings on Tuesday was a good sign. Jurrjens' improved slider gives his critics hope the breaking ball will make him even better.
Right now, the biggest weakness on the team last season looks like a strength. Kawakami's situation will have to be monitored, and the Braves need to see Javier Vazquez more now that he's back from the WBC. But the early returns are very promising.
Like the starters, most relievers are doing very well this spring. Blaine Boyer and Buddy Carlyle have yet to give up a run. Both could be either cementing their spot in the bullpen or increasing their potential trade value.
Even though they were sent out to minor league camp, lefty Francisley Bueno and right-hander Stephen Marek also did not give up a run this month. They will probably be at the top of the list if a replacement is needed from Triple-A.
James Parr was a surprise early demotion, considering his 0.00 ERA in three games. Parr showed a better fastball coming out of the bullpen, but the Braves wanted to stretch him out to get ready for the Gwinnett rotation.
The battle for the second lefty job in the Atlanta bullpen is getting intriguing. Eric O'Flaherty, acquired off waivers from Seattle, has a 1.59 ERA in five games. His main competitor, former White Sox reliever Boone Logan, has a 2.25 ERA in four games. It will be interesting to see whom the Braves select if they both continue to pitch well.
Kris Medlen has perhaps been the most impressive young pitcher in camp. He's making a strong case to be considered for a spot in the pen with a 1.80 ERA in four games. Medlen has shown major league stuff and great composure out of the pen, and if the Braves trade away a veteran reliever Medlen could get a spot on the Opening Day roster. Manny Acosta, who was the rookie to make the impression last March, has done well with a 2.08 ERA in four games.
Two pitchers coming back from injuries, Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan, have both pitched well so far this month. They both say they will be ready for Opening Day, and there's no reason to doubt them at this point.
Clint Sammons is having a great spring, hitting .412 in 17 at bats with two home runs. You wonder if the Braves regret signing David Ross over the winter with Sammons doing well. But even with his solid work, Sammons will head to Triple-A Gwinnett.
The two main backup infielders, Omar Infante and Martin Prado, have done very well at the plate. Infante is hitting .343, while his younger version Prado is hitting .351. Both have gotten extra playing time this spring with Chipper Jones in the WBC. They will form a strong duo for the bench this season.
Diory Hernandez has convinced the Braves he could be an option as a reserve infielder if needed this season. Hernandez has hit .280 and has hit the ball hard all spring. The coaches have been very impressed and feel Hernandez has a future in the big leagues as a backup.
Of the regulars, Casey Kotchman (.333), Kelly Johnson (.297), and Yunel Escobar (.273) are all doing well. The only mystery is where they will be in the batting order once the bell rings on a new season.
Freddie Freeman is only 19 years old, but his first big league spring training will go down as the month where he made Bobby Cox know exactly who he is and what he can do. Freeman convinced the Braves he is their first baseman of the future and could be a star.
Like the starting pitchers, it's hard to find an outfielder who is not doing well. Most of the guys are putting up great numbers, which will make it interesting when it comes to shaping the roster.
Jordan Schafer missed about ten days with a shoulder injury, but he's come back with a purpose to show the Braves he might be ready to be the team's Opening Day center-fielder. Schafer's average is above .400, and he leads the team with four stolen bases.
Everybody was curious at how Jeff Francoeur would bounce back, and so far he's done well. Francoeur has a new stance and a higher batting average. He's hit .333 in his first 14 games with only one strikeout. The power hasn't been there, as Francoeur had only singles coming into Thursday's game. But the Braves have been happy with his adjustments and feel Francoeur's put himself in position to bounce back.
The battle for left field, if Garrett Anderson can't be in the Opening Day lineup, is interesting. Both Matt Diaz (.375) and Brandon Jones (.394) have hit the ball very well. Diaz could be the fourth outfielder, but these two could be the platoon in left field if Garrett Anderson is not ready. Jones has perhaps been the most pleasant surprise of the spring.
Jason Heyward, like his best friend Freddie Freeman, has made one heck of an impression this spring. He is a future star for this club.
WHO IS NOT DOING WELL?
So far every pitcher in the starting rotation is doing well this spring. Knock on wood, but so far, so good.
There's not been much negative for the relievers, either. Jeff Bennett has an 11.81 ERA in his five games, but most of his seven runs came in one inning. You can't panic about a pitcher giving up runs in one game, since he might be working on something to prepare for the upcoming season.
You might want to be concerned about closer Mike Gonzalez, but it would really be a waste of time. Yes, his ERA is 4.91 in four games, but Gonzalez has gotten better as he has pitched. The Braves are not concerned about Gonzo being ready and being productive for Opening Day.
Jeff Ridgway has been slow in coming back from shoulder surgery, but he was slated to go to Triple-A anyway.
David Ross is hitting only .130 in his first 23 at bats, which is a concern. While Ross does have power, he did hit only .239 last season and is a career .222 hitter in the big leagues. After a year of Corky Miller, the last thing the Braves need is a light-hitting backup catcher. Ross has been helped by spending extra time with the pitchers, thanks to Brian McCann being in the WBC.
The only worry with the infield is the injury to Chipper Jones. His oblique is hurt again, and the last thing the Braves need is for him to miss some significant time this season. They need his power and his leadership. Jones still has seventeen days to get ready, so the Braves are still confident he can be ready to go on April 5th in Philadelphia.
Josh Anderson's batting average has been around .250 all spring. If Jordan Schafer continues to hit well, Anderson's going to be in a dicey situation. Anderson needs to do well in the last two weeks to be the Braves Opening Day center fielder.
Gregor Blanco has only six at bats, so that doesn't help his chances to be on the roster. Blanco is probably headed for Triple-A.
The Garrett Anderson experiment is on hold, since he's missed two weeks with an injury. They need to see him in the lineup to determine if he'll be ready for Opening Day.
Bill Shanks will host 'The Bill Shanks Show' starting Monday, March 23rd on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon. 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. Email Bill at email@example.com.
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