Braves still evaluating as camp nears an end
We’ve already learned Brandon Beachy will begin the season in the starting rotation. But with five more exhibition games remaining, the Braves’ still haven’t determined who will fill the final spots on their bench and the final spot in their bullpen.
It’s no secret that Scott Proctor has damaged his odds of making the Opening Day roster. The veteran right-hander has allowed 10 runs in his past 2 1/3 innings and struggled to find command.
Proctor was scheduled to pitch this afternoon in front of his family in friends who traveled to Port St. Lucie from nearby Ft. Pierce. But the Braves opted to scratch him to give him a chance to stay at Disney to throw a bullpen session in front of veteran pitching guru Dave Wallace.
The Braves will likely give Proctor one more chance to prove himself tomorrow afternoon against the Phillies. Then they will make a decision to keep, release or trade him by Monday. If they release him by Monday, they are only responsible for a portion of his $750,000 salary.
Because Proctor hasn’t exactly made himself very attractive recently, I’m guessing the Braves will end up releasing him and beginning the season with Cristhian Martinez in the bullpen.
Jairo Asencio and Juan Abreu seem quite capable of being assets in the bullpen at some point this year. But the Braves sent them down Thursday to simply get a little more work at the Minor League level. Don’t forget, Jonny Venters didn’t begin last season in Atlanta.
Even though he has struggled since showing some promise last week, the Braves will likely begin the season with George Sherrill as their left-handed specialist. But his leash certainly won’t be long as he will need to prove much more effective against left-handed hitters than he has been in his past two outings (5 ER in 2 IP).
The final bench spot will go to either Ed Lucas or Brandon Hicks. It’s almost ridiculous that I haven’t mentioned much about Hicks until these past couple of days. He’s obviously the best defensive option among those infielders fighting for a bench spot. In addition, he has consistently swung a good bat under the watchful eyes of Larry Parrish and Lee Elia, who have both received great praise throughout camp.
If Alex Gonzalez is sidelined for more than a couple days at any point this season, I would expect Hicks would serve as his replacement. But the Braves may opt to begin the season with Lucas on their bench to give Hicks a chance to continue developing the improved swing he has shown this month.
As some of you might know already, Mike Hampton called this morning to reveal he has decided to retire. As we spoke this morning, it was nice to reminisce with an old friend who understands there are plenty of people who will always consider the eight-year, $121 million deal he signed in 2001 as one of the worst contracts in professional sports history.
During his six seasons (20003-08) in Atlanta, Hampton proved healthy enough to make 85 starts, while making more than $88 million (not all paid by the Braves).
I understand that it didn’t matter if writers or teammates attempted to tell the public how hard he worked or how much it hurt him to not be able to pitch. Fans cheer production, not effort in the trainer’s room.
But here is what Hampton said when I asked him what he thought about the contract:
“It’s unfortunate,” Hampton said. “I’ve thought about it quite a bit. Shoot, when I sign a big contract, I want to be underpaid, not overpaid. Even though I wasn’t as successful as I would have liked to have been, it wasn’t from a lack of trying or lack of work or lack of want. I did everything in my power to be on the field and help my team win a World Series. I can look in the mirror and face the guy looking back and know he’s telling the truth.”
Click here to get a full account of Mike’s thoughts about his career and retirement.
Before we end this post, here are two of my favorite Mike Hampton stories.
As the Braves were boarding their charter flight in 2003, John Smoltz attempted to have fun with his short new teammate by asking him if he would be able to reach high enough to put his luggage in the overhead bin.
Without hesitation, Hampton laughed and said, “If I’m not, I’ll just stand on my wallet.”
Then a couple of years ago as he and I were joking with each other, Hampton said, “I could do your job and be just as good as you in two weeks.”
This prompted me to reply, “Yeah, but then you’d probably get carpal tunnel syndrome a few days later.”
Hampton became a fan favorite in Houston and gained acclaim in New York when he was named the 2000 NLCS MVP after leading the Mets to that year’s World Series against the Yankees. His tenure in Atlanta will always be remembered by the fact he made just 25 starts in the final four years he spent with the Braves.
But Hampton did make some early contributions in Atlanta. He notched 14 wins for a division winner in 2003 and went 10-1 with a 2.81 ERA in his final 13 starts of the 2004 season.
Love him or hate him, the man was a fierce competitor who rose much higher than anyone ever envisioned when he was growing up in a small town along Florida’s west coast.
“I’m a small kid from Homosassa (Fla.),” Hampton said. “Whoever thought I would have made it. Nobody had ever heard where I was from, let alone was able to point it out on a map. I think with the talent and the body type, I think I pretty much got as much out of my body as I could.”