June 2010

Updates regarding McLouth and Lipka

Before getting this afternoon’s series finale against the D-backs started, here are a few updates from the clubhouse and the Draft.

Nate McLouth said he still had a pretty painful headache this morning.  The Braves will test him later today to determine whether he suffered a concussion when he hit his head after colliding with Jason Heyward during last night’s eighth inning. 

Heyward appeared to suffer a bruised right shin when he clipped McLouth and caused him to flip over and land hard on the outfield grass.   Before taking the field for batting practice this morning, the 20-year-old right fielder was wearing a bandage on his right shin.   

Matt Lipka has agreed to an $800,000 signing bonus and will report to the Braves Spring Training complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. on Monday.    Lipka, an athletic shortstop out of suburban Dallas’ McKinney High School, was the first player (35th overall selection) taken by the Braves in this year’s Draft. 

The Braves have also signed their seventh-round selection Matt Suschak.  The right-handed pitcher out of the University of Toledo will report to the club’s Rookie Level club in Danville on Monday. 

TODAY’S LINEUP 

Prado 4

Heyward 9

Jones 5

Glaus 3

Escobar 6

Infante 7

Ross 2

Cabrera 8

Hanson 1

Lipka gives the Braves the speed they need

Surprised that Bryce Bentz fell into their laps, I figured the Braves would take him with the 35th overall selection in this year’s Draft.  But like many other clubs, they found an option more appealing than the East Tennessee State outfielder. 

With Bentz, the Braves would have landed a proven college hitter who possesses some of the power potential they need to integrate into their Minor League system.  With Matt Lipka, they gained an athletic shortstop who possesses speed, an asset that an 18-year-old kid isn’t going to suddenly develop.

Young prospects can mature into a power hitter and correct the mechanics of their swing.  But they aren’t going to suddenly have the kind of top-notch speed that Lipka already possesses.    

A two-time All-State wide receiver in Texas’ Class 4-A system, Lipka will likely eventually become a center fielder.  Clocked at 6.4 seconds in the 60-yard dash, he will be groomed to be the leadoff hitter that the Braves haven’t been able to develop since some 19 or 21-year-old kid named Rafael Furcal arrived in Atlanta in 2000.  

When I asked Lipka about his offensive stats tonight, he asked me if I wanted his football or baseball numbers.  Then when he told me he hit eight triples this year, he made sure to let me know that he attempted to alter his offensive approach this year to help highlight his speed.

For more about Lipka, click here to read some thoughts from him and Braves director of scouting Tony DeMacio.

When the Draft starts up again tomorrow at noon on MLB.com, the Braves will have the third pick (53rd overall).  They will have another second-round pick (70th overall) and a third-round pick to give them four of the Draft’s first 101 selections. 

Look for the Braves to continue attempting to stockpile some offensive players with these selections.  But you can bet they’ll also attempt to take advantage of a Draft loaded with right-handed pitchers. 

West Virginia’s Jedd Gyorko is still available and I’m not mentioning his name yet again simply because he’s a fellow native of the Mountain State.  Gyorko is a proven hitter who I’ve heard compared to Boston’s Kevin Youkilis.

Bentz ended up going to the Red Sox with the 36th overall selection. 

During Tuesday’s selections, you’re almost guaranteed to see the selections of some players who will be playing in Atlanta within the next few years.  Brian McCann was the third player (behind Jeff Francoeur and Dan Meyer) selected by the Braves in the 2002 Draft.  And of course Tommy Hanson went in the 22nd round of the 2005 Draft, when teams could select prospects and evaluate them over the course of the next year before signing them.

Postgame quotes: After Tuesday night’s 7-4 loss to the D-backs, Bobby Cox said Derek Lowe hadn’t pitched as bad as his line (4 IP, 8H, 7 ER) might indicate.   But at the end of the day, Lowe couldn’t escape the fact that he needed 96 pitches to complete those four innings.

The Braves fell behind 7-1 through four innings and then battled back to cut the deficit to just three runs.  They utilized three ninth-inning walks to bring the go-ahead run to the plate.  But Chad Qualls found his command just in time to get Yunel Escobar to ground into a game-ending double play.  

(Derek Lowe on his outing)

“I’ve pitched a lot worse and given up seven runs.  It started off in the first inning where they hit one ball in the air and ended up scoring two runs.  It was just part of it.  Who knows what happened in the fourth (inning)…It wasn’t good.”

(Cox on Lowe’s outing)

“He’s a sinkerballer that had one of those nights where everything was hit just right, not hard, but we couldn’t make plays for him…He wasn’t hit hard.  A hundred pitches in four innings tells you something. You’ve got to get more strikes.”

(Eric Hinske on the offense)

“We kind of had (Dan) Haren where we wanted.  We had his pitch
count up pretty good.  We just couldn’t keep any runs off the board. 
Sometimes it goes that way.   It was a good team effort to get his
pitch count up and try to get to their bullpen.  But a six-run deficit is
kind of hard to come back from sometimes.  We’ll put it behind us and come
back tomorrow.  It’s just one loss in a four-game set.”

The Braves will send Kris Medlen to the mound on Tuesday night to oppose Edwin Jackson.  If they can at least win two of these final three games in Arizona, they’ll head to Minnesota needing to win two of three to secure a winning road trip. 

But if they return to Atlanta having won just five of 11 games on this long road trip, I don’t think there’s would be any reason to consider this trip to have been a disaster. 

Of course they could win each of these final three games in Arizona and feel even better about the current two-game lead they still hold over the Phillies. 

NOTES: It’s interesting that the Braves haven’t promoted Chris Resop and sent Jesse Chavez to the Minors.  Obviously Resop’s trade value is greater as a starter and you have to wonder if the club is concerned about bringing him to the Majors and potentially seeing that value drop…McCann was removed from Monday night’s game to rest his ailing quad.  He should be back in the lineup on Tuesday night…Chipper Jones also expects to return for the second game of this four-game set. 

      

 

Tough to guess who the Braves might select

Welcome to Phoenix, where the temperatures are actually a little hotter than the Braves have been over the past month and where Kelly Johnson is awaiting the opportunity to see his former teammates for the second time in less than a month.  

Ten years ago, the Braves used a sandwich selection (compensatory picks made between the first two rounds) to take Johnson with the 38th overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft.  Tonight, when they make their first pick with the 35th overall selection, they can only hope to land a prospect that proves as valuable as Johnson did during his time in Atlanta.  

Yes, Johnson had his share of struggles over the course of the past two years and was non-tendered in December.  But it’s safe to say he certainly provided more dividends than some of the other gambles the Braves have taken on sandwich round selections.  

In fact if recent history holds true, there’s a good chance that the Braves will end up trading whoever they take with their only selection during today’s portion of this year’s Draft.

Dating back to the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, the Braves have made 11 sandwich round selections.  Kelly Johnson and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are the only members of this group who made their Major League debuts with Atlanta.  Saltalamacchia is also one of the six members of this group to be traded by the Braves.  

Heading into this evening’s Draft, the Braves are hoping to utilize their first selection to find an everyday player who can enhance the limited power potential that currently exists in the lower end of their Minor League system.  

But it’s obvious that they are among the many clubs just hoping to find some serviceable talent after Bryce Harper and some of the other less-risky players are selected.  In other words, Braves director of scouting Tony DeMacio and his 29 other counterparts are entering the next three days just hoping to make some sense out of what is truly an inexact science.  

The Braves took Johnson with the 38th overall selection and Aaron Herr with the 40th overall selection in the 2000 Draft.  While Johnson was enjoying his status as one of Atlanta’s Baby Braves in 2005, Herr was finding it difficult to find employment in the baseball world.  

When the Braves took Richard Lewis with the 40th overall selection in the 2001 Draft, they didn’t know that his greatest contribution would be to serve as a trade piece that brought Juan Cruz to Atlanta’s bullpen.   The same could be said regarding Dan Meyer, who was taken with the 34th selection in 2002 and then used as the marquee piece that brought Tim Hudson to Atlanta before the start of the 2005 season.  

The last time the Braves owned the Draft’s 35th overall selection was 2004, when they used to take Luis Atilano, who would undergo Tommy John surgery and  later be traded to the Nationals in exchange for Daryle Ward.  

Saltalamacchia was chosen directly behind Atilano with the 36th overall selection in 2004. 
One year later the Braves would take Beau Jones with the 41st overall selection.   Both of these players were part of the blockbuster trade that brought Mark Teixeira to Atlanta in 2007.  
Jon Gilmore, taken with the 33rd overall selection in 2007, was part of the package the Braves provided the White Sox in exchange for Javier Vazquez.

While many of these sandwich selections taken over the course of the past 10 Drafts never
made it to Atlanta, the Braves at least used almost all of them to produce some kind of value. 

The only definite  bust among was this group was Steven Evarts, the 43rd overall selection in 2006.  Evarts’ off-the-field behavior ruined what had the makings to be a promising career.   

It’s hard to project who the Braves might take with tonight’s 35th overall selection.  With the likelihood that East Tennessee State’s Bryce Bentz will likely be long gone, they could choose to take a chance on Clemson’s Kyle Parker, whose signability is clouded by the fact that he has three years of eligibility remaining to serve as the school’s starting quarterback.  

But having already signed Dominican shortstop Edward Salcedo to a $1.6 million deal in March, the Braves likely aren’t going to take a gamble on somebody like Parker, who will be looking for a signing bonus higher than Major League Baseball’s recommendation.   

The Braves could select West Virginia shortstop Jedd Gyorko, who will likely end up as a second baseman, or Texas high school star Matt Lipka.   Both of these signable talents could also still be around when the Braves make the 53rd and 69th overall selections.  

A couple of local talents drawing interest from the Braves are Mill Creek High School right-hander Matt Grimes, who has committed to Georgia Tech, and South Forsyth High School infielder Zach Alvord

I’m heading down to the ballpark.  Stay tuned for updates throughout the evening.

Tonight’s lineup:
Prado 4
Infante 5
Heyward 9
McCann 2
Glaus 3
Hinske 7
Escobar 6
McLouth 8
Lowe 1

 
Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman.

Will June prove to be as memorable as May?

Broadcasters  John Smoltz and Tom Glavine have combined for as many wins as Kenshin Kawakami and Jair Jurrjens.  Projected leadoff hitter Nate McLouth’s batting average has rested above the Mendoza Line for a total of three days since April 10.   The ever-consistent Matt Diaz was healthy long enough to tally six more hits than Tim Hudson has recorded this season.

Still through the first two months of this season no other member of the National League East has proven to be as successful as the suddenly rejuvenated Braves. After vaulting into first place with yesterday’s 9-3 win, Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus spoke with the kind of tempered excitement you would expect from veterans who understand that they will experience a number of different plot twists over the course of the next four months.  

“There will be more low points during the season,” Jones said. “The key will be to limit the length of the downswings a lot better than we did in April.”

There wasn’t any reason for the Braves to be overly-excited about the fact that they moved into the top spot of their division with 111 games remaining.  The Rangers and Brewers led their respective divisions on June 1 last year and ended up at least 10 games back by the time the season concluded.  

But the Braves did have reason to feel good about the fact that they had tangible proof that they have managed to essentially negate what was a horrendous April.  While losing just eight of their 28 games in May, they notched their first 20-win month since August of 2004.  

When I asked Jones if this season reminds him of any of the previous ones he has experienced, he responded with, “dude, I’m old.  I can’t remember what happened yesterday.”

Like the Braves managed to brush off the frustration created during April’s nine-game losing streak, they must quickly move away from yesterday’s excitement and focus on attempting to take advantage of a slumbering Phillies offense over the course of the next two days.

Attempting to maintain their half-game lead, the Braves will send Tim Hudson to the mound tonight to oppose Cole Hamels, who went 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA in five May starts.   Hudson proved to be a little better, going 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA in the six starts he made during the season’s second month.   

When the Braves lost to Hamels on May 9, they fell to 3-7 in games which the opposing team started a left-handed pitchers.   Since then they have won six of the seven games played while opposing a left-handed starter.  

During this successful span that dates back to May 11, Jason Heyward has hit .385 (10-for-26) with a 1.121 OPS against left-handers.   Entering May 10, he had  just .222 (6-for-27) with an .808 OPS against southpaws.

This seems to be further evidence that Heyward has the unique ability to quickly make adjustments and adapt to this Major League level that was supposed to provide him a greater challenge.   
Heyward enters Tuesday ranked second in the National League with a .988 OPS and his 10 homers are just three off Corey Hart’s league-leading total.   

It will be interesting to see where Heyward ranks among NL outfielders when the latest All-Star balloting results are released tomorrow.  The 20-year-old phenom is certainly making a strong case to receive a starting assignment.    

A tale of two schedules:  When looking at the great turnaround the Braves made in May, you can’t overlook the fact that just four of the 23 games they played in April were contested against clubs that currently have a sub .500 record.  

In May, the Braves played 14 of 28 games against clubs that are currently below .500.   Another nine came against teams that currently own a .500 mark.    In other words, they played just five games this past month against clubs with a winning record.  

During their 28-game slate in June, the Braves are scheduled to play 13 games against clubs that currently possess a winning record and another three against a .500 club that is about to add Stephen Strasburg to its starting rotation.   

With Strasburg scheduled to make his Major League debut on June 8 for the Nationals, it appears that he could in line to start at Turner Field during a three-game series that runs from June 28-30.

Freeman update:   Freddie Freeman was scheduled to have his right knee examined via an MRI exam this afternoon in Atlanta.  The highly-regarded prospect tweaked his knee while stretching to grab a throw to first base during the second inning of the no-hitter that Todd Redmond completed for Triple-A Gwinnett on Friday night.  

Freeman has hit .261 with five homers and a .762 OPS in 43 games with Gwinnett this year.  

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