January 2010

MLB.com set to reveal latest list of Top 50 prospects

Before getting into a discussion about top prospects, let’s just verify that the Braves aren’t interested in Jim Edmonds.  In related news, they also aren’t pursuing Garret Anderson or  B.J. Surhoff to fill a roster spot.

OK, now that he’s spent the past couple weeks and months talking to scouts, scouting directors and other talent evaluators, Jonathan Mayo is ready to reveal MLB.com’s 2010 Top 50 prospect list.

When this year’s list is revealed tonight (Wednesday) at 8 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, you’ll see Mayo’s shiny dome and gain a better sense about how stressful this selection process can be.

Seriously though, these lists stand as just another entertaining highlight to promote the future of the game.  Of course right now in Atlanta the future seems to be quite bright. 

When Mayo made his midseason selections on July 31 last year, he had Jason Heyward at the top of his list.  There’s no doubt the big outfielder will once again be at the top of these rankings.

But we’ll have to wait until tonight to see if MLB.com still considers Heyward to be the game’s top prospect.  Last year, the 20-year-old outfielder ranked third on this list and some kid named Tommy Hanson ranked 24th.

Because he has expired his rookie-eligible status, Hanson wasn’t eligible to be listed among this year’s top prospects. 

It will also be interesting to see if this Top 50 list includes Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino, who will likely stand as the key return in the December trade that sent Javy Vazquez to the Yankees. 

Some scouts say that Teheran is the better prospect and others think Vizcaino has the greater upside. Regardless of where you might rank them, you can’t argue that the Braves are in pretty good position to have a pair of 19-year-old hurlers with this kind of talent.

ESPN’s Keith Law ranks the Braves farm system as the game’s fifth-best in his just-released organizational rankings.  He mentions that the ranking would have been higher if not for the results of this past summer’s Draft.

It’s interesting to go back to some of these prospects list to see how the guys fared.  Here is a selection of previous MLB.com lists:  2009 ,   20082007 and 2006.

You’ll be able to find plenty of selections that make you, “what ever happened to that guy.”  Just to give you one example that will make you laugh, look at the 2006 list and see that the terribly over-hyped Andy Marte ranked four spots ahead of Prince Fielder and 14 spots ahead of Hanley Ramirez.

This is just the nature of these kinds of selections.   I had to laugh earlier this week when I looked back at Baseball America’s list of prospects at the end of the 2007 season.  They had Tommy Hanson ranked as the ninth-best prospect in the Braves system.

Here are the guys who ranked ahead of him:

1. Jordan Schafer — potentially bright future
2. Heyward –  bright future
3. Jurrjens –  on his way toward stardom
4. Brandon Jones — claimed by Pirates off waivers
5. Gorkys Hernandez  — traded to Pirates
6. Brent Lillibridge — traded to White Sox
7.Cole Rohrbough  — no longer considered a top prospect
8. Jeff Locke  — traded to Pirates

BA’s list of the organization’s top prospects heading into the 2007 season provides an even greater feeling of nostalgia.  It could also be confused as a list of young Rangers players.

1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia  — traded to Rangers
2. Elvis Andrus –  traded to Rangers
3. Matt Harrison — traded to Rangers
4. Brandon Jones — Pirates
5. Van Pope –  no longer considered a prospect
6. Eric Campbell — makes you wonder if Pete Babcock made this draft selection
7. Scott Thorman –  Brewers Minor Leaguer
8. Jo-Jo Reyes –  hanging on in the Braves system
9. Joey Devine –  the reason you still recognize Chris Burke’s name.
10. Yunel Escobar —   Hey one out of 10 isn’t bad.

Before sending this into cyberspace, I will tell you that I had lunch with Pete Van Wieren last week.  The Professor’s book, which should be a very interesting read, will go on sale on April 1.     

Material brought to you at the expense of McGwire and Kiffin

While I will admit to previous consumption of alcohol, I’m not willing to concede that this substance assisted me while I spent time at wedding receptions perfecting dance moves that have hopefully never been imitated.  

I mean, those same convulsions have occurred after an early-morning shot of V-8.   

Seriously though, it was both comical and maddening to hear Mark McGwire’s unwillingness to concede that steroids allowed him to morph into one of the most powerful creatures the game of baseball has ever seen.    

As McGwire continued to speak to Bob Costas during his hour-long acknowledgement address on Monday night, I could only think that it might be time for Saturday Night Live’s producers to resurrect that “Really” skit they did about Michael Vick a few years back.

McGwire has the right to maintain his opinion that these steroids didn’t serve as performance or statistical enhancers.  But as he minimizes their benefit by saying that he simply used them in a therapeutic manner to expedite the healing process, doesn’t he also show disregard for the determination many others have shown while dealing with the daily grinds of this game.  
While watching Monday’s interview, I couldn’t help but think about Tom Glavine.  Here’s a 300-game winner who arguably came close to maximizing the potential success he could gain through the game.  But how much better might his troublesome left shoulder felt had he consumed these chemicals that allow the body to bounce back quicker than normal?  

Over the past couple of years, Chipper Jones has said that he is disturbed about the fact that history will forever look suspiciously at the statistics that he and every other player from this era produce.  
 
Like this is sad but true, so too is the fact that we’ve reached a point where very little surprises me when it comes to this subject.
 
Of course if you were to tell me that Glavine was structurally enhanced by anything more than the occasional shot of cortisone, then I’d probably respond with something like, “yeah and Lane Kiffin will become as USC’s version of Joe Paterno.”  

Cy Young Trio:  Some of you were discussing the fractured state of Atlanta’s Cy Young trio after Greg Maddux was hired as an assistant to Cubs general manager Jim Hendry.  

While I understand why some of you wonder whether this was a slap in the face to the Braves, I didn’t see this as surprising.   When he was still with the Braves, Maddux told me that the game’s business model had always led him to stay away from making anything other than Las Vegas his family’s permanent residence.

Maddux loved the Braves and his family loves the city of Atlanta.  But his earliest ties are to the Cubs and his more recent dealings have been with Cubs GM Jim Hendry.   Truthfully, I really don’t know how well he got to know Frank Wren, who joined the Braves in September of 1999 and was still the club’s assistant GM when Maddux went to Chicago after the 2003 season.  

These special assistant roles are usually reserved for guys who have strong relationships and some kind of history with the GMs.   With this in mind, I just think the better fit at this time was for Maddux to lock horns with Hendry.   

My question is, does this arrangement provide any more reason to debate which hat Maddux should be wearing when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame?

Now to round up the update on the Cy Young trio, John Smoltz took time about two months ago to begin mending his relationship with the organization.  Everything seems to be heading in the right direction on that front.  

So while Smoltz might never again throw a pitch for the Braves, I don’t think he’ll feel the desire to stay completely away from Turner Field during his retirement years.

As for Glavine, I think he still has a right to feel just as infuriated as some of those Tennessee students and fans who have creatively found ways to destroy their Lane Kiffin t-shirts.   But this guy is a class act I get the sense that his relationship with the organization will also be repaired in the near future.

Speaking of former Braves left-handers, Chuck James is expected to begin throwing for teams within the next week.  The 28-year-old southpaw missed all of the 2009 season while recovering from shoulder surgery.   

While the Braves might have a need for somebody like James to improve their organizational depth in the starting pitching department, the southpaw may still be upset about how they handled his shoulder which bothered him for more than a year before he was completely shut down.
  
Chris Resop spent the past season and a half pitching in Japan and now he’s ready to once again compete for a spot in the Braves bullpen. He has signed a Minor League contract and received an invitation to Spring Training.  

The 27-year-old right-hander, who made 16 appearances with the 2008 Braves, is excited about his arm strength and the sink that he’s recently gained with his two-seam fastball. 
 
Catch you later this week.   Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman

Snowy day in Atlanta

Thanks to the Braves newest media relations coordinator, Jim Misudek, I’ve gathered a couple of pictures of a snow-covered Turner Field. 

Keeping with the tradition of the stereotypical Atlanta pro sports fan, the snow chose not to fill the seats.

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Right Field.JPG

Braves contend their payroll will remain the same

After yesterday’s press conference that announced Troy Glaus as the Braves new first baseman, I asked John Schuerholz about the fact that it appeared the club had decreased its payroll.

Like many of you, I had been putting these salaries in a data base and essentially finding a payroll that added up to something in the neighborhood of $85-87 million.  During the 2009 season, the Braves spent closer to $95 million.

When Schuerholz responded, “(The payroll) won’t be diminished at all”, I basically knew I’d be spending a portion of the evening trying to dissect his words to determine how he was expressing a falsehood in a truthful manner.

But after a few more conversations this afternoon, I was led to believe it’s time to put “PayrollGate 2010″ to bed.  

While the Braves spent approximately $95 million last year, a portion of this total was utilized via insurance funds provided courtesy of the fact that Tim Hudson missed the first five months of the season. 

When you subtract these unspecified funds, it’s easier to see why the Braves say their payroll will once again rest around $90 million.

Of course at the end of the day, does it really matter whether they’re spending $86 or $94 million?  I mean if they don’t make the playoffs again next year, I’m going to have to guess there won’t be anybody saying, “yeah, but at least they tried by spending that extra $8 million.”  
 

Happy New Year

As we acquaint ourselves with 2010 and prepare for the expected confirmation of the Troy Glaus signing later today, let’s make a few predictions about what this new year will bring. 

1) Chipper will bounce back:  If Glaus can remain healthy, Jones won’t be hindered with the undue pressure that he placed upon himself during the 2009 season.  The veteran third baseman hit .335 with eight homers and a 1.017 OPS through June 9.  Other than a slight decline in power, his numbers were basically identical to those he’d produced over the previous 2 1/2 seasons.

While, I can’t say there’s one particular reason why he was so miserable at the plate over the course of the next four months, I think it’s pretty safe to say his skills didn’t just evaporate overnight.

2) Heyward will begin the year in the Majors:  Some writers are already asking whether they should tab Heyward as their preseason NL Rookie of the Year prediction.    For now, I’m just responding with the belief that this 20-year-old outfielder will indeed win a roster spot coming out of Spring Training.  

Heyward will play right field on a regular basis.   When going up against a tough left-handed pitcher, the Braves will likely choose to start the versatile Melky Cabrera in right.

3) McCann will gain a fifth consecutive All-Star selection:
  Hey I needed an easy prediction just to increase the odds of getting something right.   Seriously, I basically threw this one out there to make the prediction that Mac’s batting average will rise above .300 again this year.

Considering that McCann hit .225 against left-handers last year, it may have been a minor miracle that he actually ended up hitting .281 on the season.  One year earlier, he had hit .301 vs. RHP and .299 vs. LHP. 

Last year marked the first time that these splits were considerably different for McCann.  Now with his glasses put away and his eyes powered by a second Lasik surgery, we’ll see him once again find the consistency that will push his average back up above .300.

4) Yunel Escobar will gain his first All-Star selection:  With Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzski, Jimmy Rollins and Miguel Tejada providing competition, it won’t be easy for Escobar to gain a spot on this club.   But there were plenty of nights last summer when I would have said Escobar was just as good as any of those other shortstops.

Offensively, he can’t match what Ramirez and Tulowitzki offer.  But when you factor defense, you can at least make the argument that Escobar is the NL’s most complete shortstop. 

We saw Escobar show some enhanced maturity down the stretch this past season and if his peers around the league begin to see that he can be a likeable personality, then you’ll see him start to get some of the attention he deserves when opposing players and coaches vote for such things as All-Star selections.

5) Tommy Hanson will be a 15-game winner: This prediction could also easily apply to Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson or Derek Lowe.   But seeing how Jurrjens is the “old” 23-year-old, it just seemed like this prediction about the “kid”  would stir more debate. 

Given that Hanson threw 56 more innings than he had during any previous professional season, there will be some who may predict that he won’t be as impressive as he was during his rookie season.  But after watching him limit opponents to a .191 batting average in his final six starts and allow one earned run or less four times during this same six-start span, I’m taking the opinion that the “kid” wasn’t battling any kind of alarming fatigue issues that will carry over to this upcoming season.

There were a number of other predictions I could have thrown out there. But I don’t see any need to make postseason predictions and all of that until we actually see what transpires during Spring Training.

 

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