It was announced that prospect Craig Kimbrel will start the season as the AAA Gwinnett closer, but I expect to see him in Atlanta sooner rather than later. He will be in Gwinnett to work on his control; the only thing that really needs work. His stuff is electric and with his small frame (5’11”) his fastball really sneaks up on hitters. Bobby Cox has called him “the right-handed Billy Wagner.” If he pitches anything like Wagner, the Braves are going to have a lock-down closer for many years to come.
With Kimbrel starting in AAA, it looks like the final two bullpen spots will be awarded between Jesse Chavez, Scott Proctor, Johnny Venters and Jo Jo Reyes. Proctor, who is only 11 months removed from Tommy John Surgery, will probably begin the season in AAA to assure the Braves don’t rush him back too soon. If you remember last year Peter Moylan felt great after the surgery, but it took him a month or so to really get back in the groove. From everything Cox has said, it appears one sport will go to Jesse Chavez, even though he has pitched…well, not so good this spring. He did the same thing last year, but still surprising to him, made the Pittsburgh Pirate’s roster out of spring training.
The final spot appears to be Jo Jo Reyes’. He has pitched lights-out this spring but Cox and the Braves could still opt to start him in AAA in case they need an emergency starter. If a situation like that came up, I’d rather have Kris Medlen (already with the big club) make the start. So, if Reyes gives the Braves the best results out of the bullpen, leave him there. The case could be made for Venters, however because of what Cox calls his ‘super sinker,’ a pitch that has won many pitchers a spot in the Braves roster (i.e. Kevin Grabowski, Chad Paronto, etc.).
The final bench spot will go to either Brooks Conrad or Joe Thurston. Conrad was with the Braves at the end of last season and performed well, impressing many people with his hard-nosed approach. He is a good defender and it always helps to have a guy on the bench who can switch hit. Thurston signed a minor league deal with the Braves this offseason. He spent last year as a utility guy with the St. Louis Cardinals. He has similar offensive numbers to Conrad and has played well this spring. Thurston however, is not on the 40-man roster so it may be a safer choice to keep Conrad in the majors rather than risk losing another player to waivers.
I see Jesse Chavez, Jo Jo Reyes and Brooks Conrad claiming the final three spots, but I expect to see Proctor very soon and Kimbrel as soon as they need another arm.
Opening Day Anxiety: Opening Day is just a few days away and I could not be more anxious for it to get here. The winter seems so long and it feels like the NFL scouting combine will never end. Mock Draft this and NCAA Tourney that— it lasts an eternity. But now, now it’s baseball season. Derek Lowe will toe the rubber and face Carlos Zambrano. I expect a tough 3-game series against the Cubs who always seem to play well against the Braves. The outcome of the opener may depend on which Zambrano shows up to the park that day; the pitcher with the blazing fastball and nasty slider, or the pitcher who thinks the ball is talking to him. Win or lose, I cannot wait for the season to begin; of course I’d really prefer they win. There’s no better season than baseball season!
ABT Party Time: In some news that will make the guys on the podcast happy, Manny Acosta has been claimed off waivers by the New York Mets. Now I (unlike the guys) didn’t hate Acosta that much. Sure, he’s blown a few (I say a few to be nice) games, but he does have an electric arm and has shown glimpses of brilliance. Unfortunately for the Braves, it’s been overshadowed by bad outings.
Acosta appeared in 103 games for the Braves over the past 3 seasons, posting a respectable 3.55 ERA and 85K in 114 IP—also not too bad. The problem is the 1.447 WHIP from the 59 Walks. If Acosta could have been more constant he may have been in the Atlanta bullpen, instead he will be taking a plane to Queens to be a part of the Mets bullpen—and why not? He has everything the Mets look for in a pitcher…an arm that’s healthy enough to throw a baseball.
Get Those No. 22 Jerseys Ready: I just have to touch on one more thing; all of us have heard (I assume) that Jason Heyward has made the Braves and will be their starting RF for the 2010 season, and will wear number 22, which hasn’t been formally announced since J.C. Boscan is currently wearing it this spring. I expect quite a few of these No. 22 jersey to be sold, but I have a suggestion for some of you—just take those old Marcus Giles or Casey Kotchman jerseys and replace the name. Wait? Did they even sell them? Have the Braves ever had a good player to wear 22? Let’s look back at some of the players who have worn this number for Atlanta in the past…
Willie Harris, Jesse Garcia, Walt Weiss, Geronimo Berroa, Ken Griffey Sr., Brett Butler, Bob Porter, Gary Cooper, Rowland Office, Jim Panther, Mike McQueen, Gary Hill and Dick Kelley. Well, there are a few named that you may have heard of, but we don’t exactly have an All-Star team here. I am going to go out on a limb and say Jason Heyward will be the most popular and best No 22 the Braves have ever had… just a hunch.
Well, as soon as I wrote this #22 piece, I saw something similar on the AJC website. I may have left Adam LaRoche off the list, but they didn’t have any pictures like Mike McQueen or Rowland Office. Take that AJC!
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Until Next time…Go Braves!