Results tagged ‘ Atlanta Braves ’
By Sam Dykstra
We’ll be the first to admit it. We entered the year with some expectations for certain players based on their histories and other things you can read in a scouting report. But now that we’re about a month into the season, it’s fun to look through the stat sheets and see who is off to a better start than most of us could have imagined. So with the caveat that there is plenty of season left and that we’re only looking at these players through the lens of the first 30-plus games, here’s who we think has been the most surprising with the bats at this early juncture.
International League: Josh Thole, catcher, Buffalo – The 27-year-old didn’t do much damage with the Mets last season (.234/.294/.290, one homer, 21 RBIs in 104 games). After being sent to the Blue Jays organization in the R.A. Dickey deal and losing out on his new team’s backup catcher job this spring, he’s found a bit of a resurgence with the bat in the early going with Buffalo. His .420 OBP ranks third in the IL while his .940 OPS is ninth. His four homers in 27 games already represent his highest total since 2008 when he went deep five times for Class A Advanced St. Lucie. Even with the demotion, no one expected Thole to thrive quite like this with the bat.
Pacific Coast League: Dean Anna, second baseman, Tucson – A lot of 26th-round picks don’t even make it as far as Triple-A, but the Tucson second baseman is thriving in his debut at the Minors highest level. His 14 doubles in 37 games almost match his 129-game total of 16 from last season at Double-A San Antonio while his five home runs are half the 10 he blasted last year over a much smaller span. If he were to continue at his current rate, Anna’s .321 average and .537 slugging percentage would be 41 and 97 points higher respectively than his career highs entering the season. (more…)
By Ashley Marshall
Braves top prospect J.R. Graham exited his start on Monday after feeling some discomfort in his shoulder between innings.
He was optimistic that tests the following day would provide a clean bill of health, but on Wednesday he was placed him on the disabled list.
When I spoke with Graham about his injury immediately after the game, he voiced his disappointment at having to come out. He said he was making progress in several different aspects of his game and felt like he had been able to fix a couple minor flaws in his mechanics.
Here are some quotes from Graham that did not make it into the original story.
On making adjustments:
“I felt like I was pitching well. These past couple of games, I’ve been working hard with different pitch grips and pitching from the other side of the rubber.
“I’ve been working on some stuff in my bullpens, so it was nice to get back out on the field. I’ve been locating my pitches well and I’ve been throwing my breaking ball.”
On changing his position on the mound:
“I talked about it with pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn and I talked to [pitching coordinator] Dave Wallace and I pulled out information from Don Sutton. We talked about it and decided to pitch from that [third base] side to give the hitters a different angle and make it more uncomfortable.
“But I wasn’t locating the fastball from that side of the rubber, so I made the change to go back to the other side which worked well last year and at the beginning of this season.”
On following in the footsteps of teammate Alex Wood, who recently added a spike curveball to his repertoire:
“My changeup felt really good this year and it’s coming along. I’ve worked on my breaking ball and I’ve got more depth off of it. When I get hitters 0-2 or 1-2, I’m trying to put them away with the breaking ball.
“I’ve been trying to find a grip that works for me on a more consistent basis in any count.
“I’ve been using a spike curveball from talking with [Tim] Hudson and [Craig] Kimbrel and [Jonny] Venters. Just picking their brains on some minor stuff in big league camp and they have had successes with it. If they can, why can’t I? It gives me the location and movement I want.
“Alex Wood told me he thought it would be a good pitch for me. I was hesitant, but I bought into it and called Don Sutton and he gave me some information. He said to spin it as fast as you can, not just throw it as hard as you can — as many rotations as possible before it gets to the plate.
“There’s not much a difference [in the grip]. I just lifted my pointer finger and put more pressure on my middle finger. If you don’t get on top of it, it will slip out or go over the catcher’s head.”
By Jake Seiner
Atlanta prospect Alex Wood is dominating Double-A with a 0.82 ERA through his first four starts. In 22 innings, he’s struck out 25 batters and walked just four. Opponents have a .182 average against him, and he’s induced a 2.17 groundout-to-flyout ratio. Monday night, he struck out eight Mobile hitters over six scoreless innings, allowing four hits and two walks.
Ranked sixth in the Braves’ farm system by MLB.com, Wood was expected to do well in the Minor Leagues. Drafted in the second round last year out of the University of Georgia, the left-hander came into pro ball already boasting a plus fastball and plus changeup, with the command to let both pitches play up. Despite that, he dropped into the second round because he lacked even a projectable breaking pitch, and many had concerns over his unusual mechanics.
I chatted with Wood on Tuesday, and in the quotes below, you can hear him talk about those mechanics. In short, he thinks those concerns were overblown and hasn’t adjusted much of anything because, though his process is unusual, he feels very comfortable with where he is upon releasing the ball.
The real story is that Wood has finally found a formidable breaking pitch. Atlanta invited Wood to Major League Spring Training, and in camp, Wood adopted the same knuckle curve thrown by Braves relievers Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.
As Wood says below, the pitch immediately became the best breaking ball he’s ever thrown, and he’s thrown it regularly this year while dominating the Southern League.
Here’s the full transcript:
On what’s led to success at Mississippi:
I definitely think it’s because of my breaking ball. In terms of pitching and getting out there, my breaking ball has been very, very good so far this season. I’m using it to get more strikeouts, and I’m throwing it more consistently. It’s allowed me to take that next step in terms of going from A ball to Double-A. That’s definitely allowed me to have the success I’ve had here.
I’ve always felt that I had a real good changeup, and it’s been a blessing because, even with just two pitches, I was able to go out there and have success in school and even in pro ball. Having that good breaking pitch to throw with consistency in Double-A has definitely taken me to the next level. I’m really excited about where I’m headed.
On the knuckle curve:
I pretty much played with everything, every grip there is to play with for a breaking ball and slider, and I never really found one that stuck with me or that I had consistent success with and had the break you look for in a breaking ball. It just happened. I was lucky enough to go to big league camp with all those guys. I went in having a plan to ask those guys some things along those lines, and Craig [Kimbrel] and Jonny [Venters] showed me how to throw that spike curve, the knuckle curve. I tried it and I haven’t really looked back since.
Throwing a knuckle curve, it allows me to get on top of the breaking ball without thinking much about it. It’s one where, when you have consistent velocity, around 80-81 mph in my case, with that break, I can just throw the heck out of it. I guess you could say that I’m a power guy. I like to grip it and rip it, and I can do that with that breaking ball and get the speed difference and break. It fits right into my repertoire of pitches.
On how often he throws each of his pitches now:
I’m kind of different every time out, every start. I’m fortunate to get to watch — J.R. Graham throws the day before me, and he throws sort of like me with a lot of fastballs, and he has a good fastball. Based on what their lineup does against him, and how aggressive or patient they are with him — whether their going after his fastball — it gives me a good baseline about how I’ll go out the next day.
I threw last night against Mobile, and I opened the year against them, and in that game I probably threw 75-80-percent fastballs. Last night, they were a lot more aggressive and really were the whole start of the series. It really just depend on how the game goes, how aggressive they’re being.
I usually probably throw like 65-70-percent fastballs with a solid mix of the changeup and curve.
When I was in Low-A, I started with a different grip than I’d ever had. It was really inconsistent. Some days it would be decent, and some days it’d be all over the place, end up high and tight on lefties or just all over. This one, when I miss, I’m missing with a strikeout breaking ball. I might get swings and misses even when I miss. I’m throwing this one much more consistently. I can throw it for strikes or I can throw it out of the zone for a strikeout pitch. Definitely the difference for me is the consistency of it.
On slipping in the Draft amid concerns over his delivery:
In terms of the Draft and all that, I told my dad after it happened, I definitely felt that I have a little chip on my shoulder and felt like, there are all kinds of different things that go into it, but I shouldn’t have gone as low as I did. I thought I should’ve gone on the first day. My delivery is a little different, and teams didn’t know if I’d be a starter or a reliever. I never let what people think affect me. I just use it for extra drive. I’m a firm believer in everything happening for a reason, and I couldn’t be more happy with where I’m at with the Braves. It’s worked out great so far.
They haven’t messed with [my deliver] a whole lot. The thing is, you have people, when they’re talking about my mechanics and saying things about me, when you break down my mechancis on film, I have a different way of getting where I need to be, but if you break me down, I’m in about as good a position as you can be. When my foot lands, my arm is way above my shoulder, and I have good timing and hip rotation.
The people who got scared about my mechanics or say I have crazy mechanics — not that they don’t know what they’re talking about — but I’d compare it to in pre-Draft stuff, when they see hitters who do crazy stuff, but still end up in a good position to hit. When the results are there, you don’t care, just so long as the results keep coming. With pitchers, you see something out of the ordinary, and folks get scared. Just because it looks pretty doesn’t mean it’s good mechanics and doesn’t mean you’re going to get better results. That’s how I look at it.
MLB.com has a nice feature on Braves slugger Jason Heyward (see below). Before Heyward reached the bigs for good in 2010, he was a career .318 hitter in 238 ballgames in the Minors.
Here is a gallery of Heyward when he was merely a prospect. Click on any picture to begin the slideshow. For all past editions of Prospect Flashback, head here.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It was easy to understand why Jason Heyward escaped a frustrating 2011 season with motivation to alter his swing and dedicate himself to an intense conditioning program. His decision to remain dedicated to this rigorous program after an impressive 2012 season simply enhanced visions of him living up to his tremendous potential.
“I think Jason knows what he wants and what he wants to do,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He wants to play this game a long time and be successful. You can really see over the past years the maturity that he has gained. It wouldn’t surprise me if he emerged as one of the leaders of the clubhouse, if he’s not already there.”
Two weeks after the Braves suffered their season-ending loss to the Cardinals in the National League’s one-game Wild Card playoff, Heyward resumed the running and lifting programs that helped him shed 20 pounds between the 2011 and ’12 seasons. His efforts this past winter simply added some muscle to an athletic frame that would certainly draw the attention of football’s talent evaluators.
When Hank Aaron arrived at Braves Spring Training and saw the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Heyward, he said, “My God. Whew!”
It seems sacrilegious and ridiculous to compare any 23-year-old player to Aaron. But as Heyward rises toward greatness while occupying the same right-field position Aaron manned for two decades with the Braves, it is impossible not to draw a link.
Through their first three full seasons, Heyward and Aaron totaled an identical 428 games.
To continue reading MLB.com’s story, head here.
Thinking back on the mid-December trade that brought baseball’s No. 6 prospect (catcher Travis d’Arnaud) to a pairing with baseball’s No. 8 prospect (right-hander Zack Wheeler) got me writing. Below I project the 10 best sets of batterymates throughout the Minors this coming season. You’ll see that the hurler-catcher duos cover nine different leagues.
An advisory: Each player’s name, once clicked, will take you to his bio/statistics page. His organizational ranking as a prospect is the “No.” in parentheses. If you have questions about a particular player, ask away in the comment section and I promise to answer. Also let me know if you agree/disagree with the rankings and present your arguments.
- Mets — Triple-A Buffalo (INT): Travis d’Arnaud (No. 1 in system) and RHP Zack Wheeler (No. 2)
- Braves – Triple-A Gwinnett (INT): Chrisitan Bethancourt (No. 2) and RHP Julio Teheran (No. 1)
- Mariners — Triple-A Tacoma (PCL): Mike Zunino (No. 3) and RHP Taijuan Walker (No. 1)
- Phillies: Triple-A Lehigh Valley (INT): Tommy Joseph (No. 3) and RHPs Ethan Martin (No. 2)
- Red Sox: Class A Advanced Salem (CAR) Blake Swihart (No. 9) and LHP Henry Owens (No. 5)
- Padres: Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore (CAL): Austin Hedges (No. 5) and RHP Matt Wisler (No. 8)
- Rockies: Class A Advanced Modesto (CAL): Will Swanner (No. 8) and LHP Tyler Anderson (No. 6)
- Rangers: Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach (CAR): Jorge Alfaro (No. 5) and RHP Luke Jackson (No. 13)
- Pirates: Triple-A Indianapolis (INT): Tony Sanchez (No. 16) and RHP Gerrit Cole (No. 1). This omission was pointed out by a thoughtful reader on Twitter.
- Yankees — Double-A Trenton (EAS): Gary Sanchez (No. 1) and RHP Jose A. Ramirez (No. 13)
- Phillies (2): Triple-A Lehigh Valley (INT): Sebastian Valle (No. 8) and RHP Jonathan Pettibone (No. 4)
- Mets (2) Class A Savannah (SAL): Kevin Plawecki (No. 17) and RHP Luis Mateo (No. 9)
- D-backs: Class A Short-Season Missoula (PIO): Stryker Trahan (No. 11) and RHP Ben Eckels (UR)
- Pirates (2): Class A Short-Season Jamestown (NYP): Wyatt Mathisen (No. 10) and RHP Tyler Glasnow (No. 19)
- Brewers: Class A Short-Season Helena (PIO): Clint Coulter (No. 10) and RHP Damien Magnifico (No. 20)
Twenty Top 100 Prospects and Their Chances of Making Opening Day Rosters at The Start of SpringTraining
Today is Friday, Feb. 15. In baseball terms, it is the “voluntary date on which all non-World Baseball Classic position players may be invited to Spring Training.” But most Major Leaguers, from the veterans to rookies, are already in camp. It is the rooks, or would-be rooks, that we focus on here and now. Turns out that 20 members of MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects have at least a reasonable shot of cracking their first Opening Day roster. They are below. Let me know in the comment section what you think of my assessment regarding which ballplayers might/might not make their respective clubs.
A links advisory: Click on the bolded team name for the MLB depth chart; click on the player name for his bio and MiLB stats; and the number in parentheses listed after the player name is his overall ranking in our Top 100 list.
- Questions worth asking: Can Profar unseat veteran Elvis Andrus at shortstop, or do the Rangers shift him to another position (2B, CF) in order to get his dynamic talents into the Majors immediately? Still 19, doesn’t he need a full season at Triple-A to polish his tools? Speaking of positional changes, where does Olt play? He’s a very good third baseman, but isn’t Adrian Beltre, who is signed for three more years, outstanding on the hot corner? Can Olt slug his way into the starting right field spot, or should he join Profar at Triple-A Round Rock? Does Perez finally put it together in Texas’ fifth rotation slot? Can he hold off vet righty Colby Lewis to make his first April rotation?
- Chances worth guessing: Profar (50%), Olt (50%) and Perez (75%)
- Questions: At 20 and with just 23 Minor League starts under his belt, is Bundy ready? He could probably hold his own right now, sure, but would getting beat up early on hurt him down the road? How much better does he have to be than the Matusz-Arrieta-Britton types to convince Baltimore to hand him the No. 5 starter role?
- Chances: 25%
- Questions: With Matt Joyce stationed in left field and Desmond Jennings in center, why not start out with Myers in right? Does Tampa Bay want to delay initializing his arbitration clock, or would Andrew Friedman and Co. rather go with the proven Ben Zobrist out there? With perhaps the deepest starting rotation in baseball, do Odorizzi and Archer have much of a shot? Would a trade of ace David Price make sense, given the unbelievable depth in able arms? Will Odorizzi and Archer foster the Minors’ best 1-2 punch at Triple-A Durham?
- Chances: Myers (50%), Odorizzi (25%) and Archer (25%)
When the Braves pried All-Star-caliber outfielder Justin Upton from the D-backs late last month, they gave up two pitchers but neither was among their top four pitching prospects: right-handers Julio Teheran, Lucas Sims, J.R. Graham and a lefty by the name of Sean Gilmartin. I was somewhat surprised Arizona didn’t insist on one of the quartet heading westward.
Gilmartin, 22, may be the most sure thing in that group. The 2011 first-rounder (bio, stats here) excelled in 20 Double-A starts in his first pro season in 2012, then acquitted himself well at Triple-A down the stretch. He’s likely back at Gwinnett this spring, but it may not be long before he becomes a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter in a Major League rotation — the Braves’, not the D-backs’.
Here is a gallery of Gilmartin in every uni he’s donned to date. Click on any picture to begin the slideshow. For all past editions of Prospect Uniformed, head here.
Here is what I thought the D-backs could get from four teams for Justin Upton on Dec. 3.
Here is what the D-backs actually got from one team, the Braves, for Upton on Jan. 24.
Scout-turned-scribe Keith Law of ESPN.com wrote this of the trade today: “Arizona’s return boils down to this: One year of Martin Prado, six years of a fifth starter in Randall Delgado, two fringy prospects and one non-prospect. If that sounds like a good deal to you, I have some beachfront property in Phoenix to sell you.” An ESPN baseball editor by the name of Matt Meyers then Tweeted: “In anticipation of Willie Bloomquist’s eventually [sic] retirement, the D-backs have acquired Nick Ahmed, his minor league equivalent.”
Of all the expert opinions you may see today on this seven-player, yet-to-be-official trade, I think those two are the most illuminating. The D-backs just didn’t get very good ballplayers (even if you think the world of Prado, who is signed only through 2013). In addition to Ahmed, Arizona also received right-handed starter Zeke Spruill (a No. 4 or 5 starter) and first baseman Brandon Drury (the aforementioned “non-prospect”). It’s very likely that none of the three will be impactful, everyday big leaguers, in my education opinion.
That explains why I’ll quickly propose three woulda-coulda-shoulda ARI-to-ATL proposals. Let me know in the comment section or on Twitter what you think.
Analysis: If you’re going to trade a star like Upton, you SHOULD acquire a potential star like Simmons. And Graham (or the further-away Lucas Sims) is a better prospect than Spruill, and Terdoslavich, who can play first or third base, can do something Ahmed can’t: develop into a very good hitter.
Proposal Two: Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson for starter Julio Teheran, Prado, Graham and Spruill as well as Terdoslavich.
Analysis: OK, if Simmons was truly untouchable in Atlanta’s mind, the centerpiece of the deal COULD have been Teheran, who despite his Triple-A struggles, will end up being a better starter than Delgado.
Proposal Three: Upton and Johnson for Delgado, Prado, catcher Christian Bethancourt, Graham and Terdoslavich.
Analysis: OK, if Simmons and Teheran were both off the table, I would recommend walking away from said table. The D-backs, however, backed themselves into a corner, and therefore WOULD have insisted on the inclusion of Betancourt, an outstanding defensive catching prospect.
Prospect Flashback: Picturing B.J. Upton, A Triple-A @DurhamBulls Shortstop, Before He Became A #Braves Outfielder
Welcome to a new series on the blog. We’re calling this one, “Prospect Flashback.” It’s very simple: At least once a week you will be treated to an archived photo of a Minor League prospect-turned-Major League stud. Click here for past editions.
Player: B.J. Upton (MiLB career stats)
Date: April 24, 2006
Caption: Upton, the second overall pick in the 2002 Draft, moved from the shortstop position not long after committing 53 errors there in 2005 and 28 more miscues in 2006 with the Durham Bulls.
Photographer: Tony Farlow/MiLB.com
Editor’s note: Lost and Found is an offseason series in which one underrated prospect from each of the 30 MLB clubs will be discussed in a short, snappy post.
Lost: Originally signed by the Nationals as a 17-year-old out of his native Dominican Republic, Juan Jaime pitched in a combined 42 games over his first four seasons as a pro. Then he missed all of the 2010 and 2011 campaigns due to ligament-replacement surgery in his right (throwing) elbow.
Found: Jaime pitched in exactly 42 more games — all in 2012. And he was good in most of them.
2012: 3.16 ERA — 18 SV — 51 1/3 IP — 73-33 K-BB — .173 OPP .AVG at Class A Advanced Lynchburg
So Jaime was lost, now he is found. Now, about the Braves’ returns: First, you may be wondering why a pitcher who couldn’t stay healthy for six years still had a job to go. This should answer that: Jaime can throw his fastball 100 mph. Can being the operative word. He has to be healthy to prove what he is capable of. He was just that in ’12, even if it was during his age-25 season facing Carolina League hitters three and four years younger than him. And as you can as see from his relatively high walk total, he still has some developing to do. The Braves appear willing to let him, having added him to their 40-man roster this week to avoid making him a Minor League free agent. Now his organization’s No. 18 prospect, Jaime will begin ’13 at Double-A Mississippi but could move to Triple-A Gwinnett quickly should he prove healthy and effective. If he is both of those things going forward, Washington may regret giving up on what appears to be the second coming of their own Henry Rodriguez, as Jaime could be a late-inning option in Atlanta by the latter half of next season at the earliest.