Approaching the three-week mark in Spring Training and so far, so good for the Braves. Almost. Get to that in a minute.
So, far I’m excited about Mike Hampton. He was outstanding in his first GFL start and I’ve heard nothing but positives about the way he looks thus far (from Braves and non-Braves sources alike). I hope it doesn’t prove to be false excitement. If he can go every five days and provide 5-6 innings and take his licks for the first couple of months until he heats up I think the Braves will have one of the best rotations in baseball come the All-Star Break. That is, if Glavine and Smoltz can continue to be above-average to exceptional pitchers, which I believe will be the case. Tim Hudson has been a tad bit shaky in his two GFL starts thus far, but I that’s what this time is about for established big leaguers.
Jair Jurrjens has been exceptional in his two starts so far and I believe the 5th spot is his for the taking. Chuck James is not being rushed and I don’t think he’s going to be ready to pitch every five days by the time the camp breaks. Jo-Jo Reyes seems to be the one who’s going to spend more time in AAA at this point, even though he has pitched well thus far. On that note, Richmond (soon to be Gwinnet) should have a great rotation this year.
Josh Anderson, Jordan Schafer, and Brent Lillibridge are all impressing so far. Brandon Jones has been a bit of a disappointment, which I do not find surprising since he was dubbed Matt Diaz’s platoon-mate even before a pitch had been thrown this spring. He’ll be in AAA come the end of camp. Lillibridge is my backup infielder and Anderson my fourth outfielder at this point.
Schafer is also making good early impressions but he’s not in major league camp to make the team. He’ll likely start the year at AA. We may see him in July-August.
Scott Thorman is continuing to show himself to be an occasionally powerful strikeout machine, but he’ll be the second backup infielder again this year. The Braves still want him around in the likely event that Mark Teixeira (who I’m predicting to be the 2008 NL MVP) empties his locker in October (not September!).
On that not so positive I mentioned at the beginning, Rafael Soriano, of which we had heard was battling a “stomach bug”, was revealed to have inflammation in his surgically repaired elbow. Braves officials are not worried and he was not injured when he passed his physical before signing a new 2-year/$9M deal in January ’08. Always makes you wonder, though. Regardless, he is vital to this club’s success this year and I can only hope this inflammation and soreness is only the result of not having picked up a baseball since September.
Jeff Francoeur was renewed again by the Braves after turning down a contract offer. Jeff figures to take advantage of his arbitration years and go for the prize money come his first year of free-agency. McCann gladly took the insurance money as a catchers career is never a certainty; however, if Francoeur can prove himself to have 30 HR/120 RBI power while maintaining a BA of .290-.305 and an OBP of .335-.350, “Frenchy” figures to get something on the order of $90-100M come 2011.
Martin Prado has been getting a good many at-bats this spring and I think he is on the way out. With Yunel Escobar, Lillibridge, and Kelly Johnson, Prado really has no place on the club. Pete van Weiren noted on the radio the other day that he was being scouted thoroughly and that other team scouts had been talking with Braves scouts regarding Prado’s availability. Truth or not, I think it’s a safe bet that he may be involved in a trade in the coming weeks.
I think I’m caught up. It’s time to be more regular with this thing and I think I can now that baseball will be in swing for the next 7 months. Exciting stuff.