Minor among the many getting antsy for the start of camp
As the clubhouse staff moved boxes Thursday morning at Turner Field and players debated whether to travel to Florida next Thursday or Friday, it really started to feel like it is time to put an end to the offseason and welcome the start of Spring Training.
Braves pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex by Feb. 19. After playing catch this morning, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor decided they will likely start driving to the Orlando area next Tuesday or Wednesday. Yep, the single dudes can do whatever they want whenever they want without much plan.
“I’m much more excited to get down there than I was the past two years,” Minor said. “Last year at this time I was still relaxing, playing Xbox and that kind of stuff. This year, I’m really excited to get going.”
Minor seems so much more comfortable and confident than he was a year ago. The 24-year-old left-handed pitcher seemed a little hesitant when he arrived at Spring Training last year to compete with Beachy for the fifth spot in the rotation. He did not impress during the Grapefruit League season and looked like a deer in headlights when he made a spot start for Jair Jurrjens on April 6 in Milwaukee.
At the time it was not ridiculous to wonder if he would need an entire year at the Minor League level to build his confidence and give him time to find at least a hint of consistency with his breaking ball.
Looking back at where he was last year, Minor admits he came to Spring Training comfortable with the prospect of having to spend some more time in the Minors. He had totaled just 29 professional starts at that point and four of those were made as he was rebuilding his arm strength in 2009, after the Braves took him with the seventh overall selection in the First-Year Player Draft.
To his credit Minor quickly took advantage of the opportunity to develop a little longer in the Minors. He worked with talented Triple-A pitching coach Marty Reed and started to show promise when he returned to the Majors for a couple starts in late May. He proved even more impressive as he posted a 3.83 ERA in the nine starts made for Atlanta in August and September.
Minor made tremendous strides last year and Braves fans should be encouraged to learn that he has found comfort with the feel of his breaking ball over the past few weeks. He said Beachy has been providing him encouraging feedback while the two have been playing catch.
“It feels like it did at the end of last season,” Minor said. “Hopefully I don’t eat my words and struggle with it in Spring Training. But it’s really been feeling good out of my hand.”
It will be interesting to see exactly who is in the Braves rotation at the beginning of this season. I’ve been projecting Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Beachy and Minor. But it’s starting to sound like Hudson knew what he was talking about back in early December when he was telling close friends that he did not think he would be ready for the start of Spring Training.
Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said last week that he would be prepared if Hudson needs some additional time to recover from the surgical procedure performed on his back (herniated disc) in late November.
“We’ll progress as the doctors say he can progress,” McDowell said. “Whether it’s the middle of April or first of May, we’ll probably be a little more cautious so that we can have him at the end. There’s no reason to rush things and then have a setback.”
Fortified with the depth Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado provide, the Braves will not be concerned if Hudson is limited to 25-30 starts this year. It is more important to allow him to fully recover and be ready to stay healthy once he returns to action.
Had the Braves traded Jurrjens, Hudson might have felt greater pressure during his rehab. But he can now go through the recovery process with the comfort of knowing Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are both confident they will be at full strength at the start of the regular season.
Jurrjens’ troublesome right knee should benefit from a knee brace and Hanson has attempted to take stress off his shoulder by strengthening his back and refining his delivery.
Chipper Jones has produced the most interesting nugget over the past couple weeks. Shocker, right? Anyhow, I’ m referring to the comments he made about Jason Heyward last week.
“When the ball jumped off his bat [in 2010], there was a sound unlike you had ever heard,” Jones said. “I didn’t see that at all last year. It’s due to some of things he was doing mechanically. The ball is jumping off his bat now close to the way it was in 2010.”
It was obvious Heyward was committed to turning things around in November when he discussed the workout schedule and diet he had been sticking to since the end of the season. Yes, he lost 20 pounds and gained a leaner frame. But more important this commitment allowed him to stay focused and regain some of the confidence he lost last year.
As an avid North Carolina fan, Braves head trainer Jeff Porter has long had a great appreciation for Roy Williams. That appreciation now extends beyond the basketball court.
Porter was touched a few weeks ago when Williams sent him a letter to express his condolences regarding the tragic passing of Porter’s wife, Kathy, who was killed in an auto accident on Dec. 31.
Williams is just one of the many who have reached out to help Porter in some way. But one individual who really deserves to be recognized is Dr. Joe Chandler, who stayed with Porter and his 19-year-old son, David, the night of the accident and remained by their side for much of the next week.
Chandler will always be recognized as the man who helped keep Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and so many other Braves on the field as they battled aches and pains. But the man has proven to be so much more over the past year while selflessly providing support to Porter and Luis Salazar as they dealt with traumatic experiences.
Starting next week this blog will once again be updated with multiple entries on a weekly basis. I figured it was time to produce a new entry when within a span of 12 hours, my mother and Chipper Jones both pointed out that I had been slacking.