Results tagged ‘ Brooks Conrad ’

Roster battles still being waged

Welcome to the final full week of Grapefruit League action.  Or as those who came to camp hoping to win a roster spot might say, welcome to the one week that truly matters during Spring Training. 

The past month has certainly been important to both Chipper Jones, who has gained confidence in his knee, and Nate McLouth who has simply proven that he does once again have confidence in himself.

The early weeks of the exhibition season have also proven beneficial to Wilkin Ramirez, the extremely athletic 25-year-old outfielder who went from being a respected prospect in the Tigers organization to a player that they were willing to part with for a little cash. 

Those who have only had a chance to evaluate Ramirez based on what they’ve seen in the box scores this year are understandably excited about the 25-year-old outfielder.  But is there really any reason to put much difference in the .310 batting average he’s compiled and the .207 mark Matt Young has recorded.

Both players have compiled 29 at-bats.  Ramirez has just been fortunate to tally three more hits during this short span.

Most of you were already well aware of the fact that there is no reason to put stock in exhibition season stats.  With this being said, I do recognize that the Braves would have certainly liked to have have seen Joe Mather tally more than the four hits he has compiled in his first 36 at-bats.

But because he’s already on the 40-man roster and out of options, I still feel it’s a foregone conclusion that he will be on the roster.  

In the exhibition season-setting, you have little control over which pitchers the batters face.  Once the regular season begins, Mather will be in a position to draw most of his at-bats against the left-handed pitchers that have been much friendlier to him than right-handed pitchers in the past.

I’m also still thinking Brooks Conrad will get one of the final available bench spots.  The Braves need his bat off the bench and they can get by with using Mather in center field if necessary. 

Conrad is beloved in the clubhouse and respected by members of upper management.  If there was legitimately a better alternative, it would be much easier to send Conrad to Gwinnett to begin the season.

But even with Ramirez impressing with his great athleticism and having the ability to serve as  legit backup option in center, I still expect Conrad to get the nod simply based on the fact he proved productive in the role last year. 

Meanwhile Ramirez combined to hit .234 for three different Minor League clubs last year.  This is not to say he doesn’t have tremendous upside and could possibly be in the Majors within the first couple of months.

But Ramriez seems to be in a position where he could benefit from a little more time in the Minors.  When the Braves acquired him last year, scouts labeled him as an extremely talented player who has had trouble hitting the breaking ball. 

While I’m still thinking Conrad will get one of the two final bench spots, I really don’t know whether it will be Ed Lucas or Diory Hernandez who gets the other one. 

Last week, I thought they might go with Lucas and I will stick with that belief because he could be used in the outfield if necessary.  This becomes even more important with the assumption that Conrad will be on the roster instead of Ramirez or Matt Young.

I’ll take a closer look at the final available pitching spots over the next couple of days.  But if pressed for a guess right now, I’ll stick with Brandon Beachy winning the fifth spot.  

My reasoning for Beachy hasn’t changed. The Braves paid Mike Minor a big bonus and his upside is tremendous.  Thus with just 134 career Minor League innings under his belt, the Braves need to maximize their investment by giving Minor another month or two in the Minors to work on his secondary pitches. 

Some of you will say the Braves need a left-hander in their rotation to start the season.  That’s fine, but I think it’s more important to do whatever necessary to increase the odds that you will get the most you can from Minor. 

As for that final bullpen spot, I think Cristhian Martinez is the clear favorite.  Scott Proctor struggled Thursday night and simply isn’t able to provide as much as Martinez, whose value rests in his ability to serve as both a middle man and long reliever.

The Braves will likely trade to Proctor over the next week.  If they are unable to move him, they could release him by March 28 and only have to pay a fraction of his one-year, $750,000 contract.  

 

 

Resilent Braves attempt to march on without Prado

While limping their way toward the finish line over the course of the past month, the Braves have proven to be a maddening bunch.  But if they are preparing for a postseason series at this time next week, they’ll be heralded as the “resilient bunch that gave Bobby Cox one more chance to experience the thrill of the playoffs.”

The Braves gained a half-game lead over the Padres in the National League Wild Card standings last night and lost their most valuable player in the process.  Nobody ever guaranteed that Cox’s final days on the bench were going to be a walk in the park. 

When Chipper Jones was lost for the season in August, the Braves sat atop the NL East standings and had the comfort of knowing that Martin Prado was more than capable to serve as a reliable third baseman. 

Now with Prado sidelined for an undetermined amount of time with the left hip pointer he suffered last night, the Braves have no room for error and only reason to hope that Brooks Conrad continues to serve as their Mr. Clutch. 

While serving as Prado’s replacement at third base, Conrad should have little problem serving as a capable defender.  At the plate, he might not be able to provide the same kind of consistency. 

But given the situation, this might be the prime opportunity for Conrad to shine. 

During the first six innings of games this year, Conrad has batted just .190 (11-for-58).  In the seventh inning or later, he has compiled a .275 batting average (22-for-80).    

In close and late situations, Conrad has compiled a team-best .298 (14-for-47) batting average and tallied 16 RBIs.  Jason Heyward has notched a team-best 17 RBIs in these situations with 33 more at-bats than Conrad.    

Well the Padres are close and it’s certainly getting late, so maybe this is the prime time for Conrad to soften the blow incurred last night, when Prado limped off the field with the painful injury. 

With Prado sidelined, it seemed like Cox might finally heed the wishes of others within the Braves organization by putting Heyward in the third spot of the lineup. But Brian McCann will sit in the three hole tonight.  

Heyward has struggled recently, recording just five hits (all singles) in his past 34 at-bats. But while hitting .418 with a 1.216 OPS in the 26 games that preceded this mini-slump, Heyward certainly looked more than capable of producing in that three hole.

TONIGHT’S LINEUP

Infante 4
Heyward 9
McCann 2
Lee 3
Cabrera 7
Gonzalez 6
Conrad 5
Ankiel 8
Hudson 1

Conrad gets his first start of the season

With Chipper Jones getting a chance to rest the left groin muscle that he tweaked Saturday, Brooks Conrad will make his first start of the season during this afternoon’s series finale against Cole Hamels and the Phillies. 

It would have been interesting to see Hamels’ reaction when he looked at the injury-depleted Braves lineup that will serve as his opposition this afternoon.

With Jones and Heyward unavailable, the Braves have Melky Cabrera sitting in the third spot of the order.   Cabrera went hitless in his first 14 at-bats during this road trip before delivering an opposite-field single during Saturday’s three-run sixth inning.

Cabrera does have three hits, including a double, in six at-bats against Hamels.  Brian McCann might be able to halt his struggles against southpaws.  He has hit .367 (11-for-30) with five doubles and a homer in his career against the Phillies left-hander.   

UPDATE:   Heyward is now saying that he thinks he could return to the lineup on Tuesday night in Milwaukee.  He has been limited to pinch-hit duties since his right groin forced him to exit Wednesday’s game against the Nationals in the first inning.

Jones felt some lingering discomfort while taking some swings in the batting cage this morning.  But he said he’s hoping to be back in the lineup for Monday night’s series opener in Milwaukee.

Many of the Braves will be wearing pink wrist bands and using pink bats this afternoon to recognize Major League Baseball’s “Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer” initiative.  

BRAVES LINEUP 5/9 vs. Phils:

Infante, 6;
Prado, 4
Cabrera, 9
Glaus, 3
McCann, 2
Diaz, 7
Conrad, 5
McLouth 8
Kawakami, 1

Braves make final roster decisions

Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters made solid impressions while experiencing their first Major League Spring Training.  But the two young Braves relievers learned Friday afternoon that they will begin this upcoming season with Triple-A Gwinnett.

Manager Bobby Cox just announced that Jo-Jo Reyes and Jesse Chavez have claimed the final two available spots in his bullpen.  In addition, he revealed that Brooks Conrad won his roster battle with Joe Thurston, who will also begin the season in Gwinnett. 

Once Scott Proctor is deemed ready to return from Tommy John surgery in a few weeks, Reyes or Chavez will likely be sent to the Minors. 

The Braves also revealed that highly-regarded first base prospect Freedie Freeman will begin the season with Gwinnett.  There was some thinking that he would spend at least a month or two with Double-A Mississippi. 

But some within the organization believe he needed to be at the Triple-A level where he will likely see more strikes than he would at the Double-A level. 

Cox also revealed that catcher Clint Sammons, shortstop Brandon Hicks, outfielder Matt Young and  right-handed pitchers Jeff Lyman and Cory Gearrin will also begin the season with Gwinnett.

Check back later for other roster announcements.

Final roster decisions expected to be made today

As many of the Braves pitchers are running and throwing in the bright green Turner Field outfield grass, manager Bobby Cox, general manager Frank Wren and the members of the coaching staff are discussing their final roster decisions. 

It’s 3:15 p.m. ET and within the next hour or two we could learn who is going to fill the final two bullpen spots and whether the final spot for a position player will go to either Brooks Conrad or Joe Thurston. 

While I am pretty confident that the final two bullpen spots will be given to Jesse Chavez and Jo-Jo Reyes, I’m not going to be shocked if the Braves select Conrad or Thurston to begin the season as an extra utility player. 

The similarities between Conrad and Thurston extend far beyond the fact that their defensive abilities limit them to second base and third base.  Conrad runs a little better and draws the benefit of being a switch-hitter. 

Based solely on their offensive performances during the Grapefruit League season, Thurston would be the easy choice.  While he has finished strong and improved his batting average to .319 through 47 at-bats, Conrad has slumped and enters today hitting just .229 in 48 at-bats. 

But as you know, these decisions are never solely based on statistics compiled during Spring Training.

Despite the fact that Conrad has struggled with the bat recently, I still think his advantage comes from the fact that he was with the organization last year.  In the process, the Braves came to appreciate the work ethic and no-nonsense approach that he brought to the park every day. 

At the same time, Thurston must have been doing something right while appearing in 124 games last year for a Cardinals team that won the National League Central.   In the 64 games that he started he hit .227 and in his 61 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, he hit .216 with a .344 on-base percentage.

Reyes and Chavez will likely earn the final roster spots solely based on their experience.  Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters have much higher upsides and the need to spend a few more weeks or months nurturing their skills at the Minor League level. 

The potential ramifications of having Reyes begin the year in the bullpen have been discussed.  But with Kris Medlen available to serve as an emergency starter, the Braves seem willing to roll the dice through that they can escape the first 4-6 weeks of the season without having to deal with a rash of injuries in their starting rotation. 

Medlen is certainly capable of making a few starts if necessary.  And if the Braves were to lose two starters during the early portion of the season, they would have a problem that would trump the fact that one of their most glaring weaknesses entering the season is the fact that they don’t have any enviable depth beyond their first five starting pitchers. 

Heading down to the clubhouse.  I’ll be back shortly with the decisions. 

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman 

Roster battles taking shape

Before this afternoon’s game against the Phillies, I mentioned that I felt the final two bullpen spots would be claimed by Jo-Jo Reyes and Jesse Chavez.  A few hours later, I’m willing to make this assumption with greater confidence and also say that I think Brooks Conrad currently holds the lead in the battle for the last roster spot for a position player. 

Conrad ended an 0-for-15 slump that extended back to March 18 with a seventh-inning homer this afternoon off Chad Durbin.  But my thinking has more to do with the fact that even during his prolonged slump the Braves never soured on this journeyman, who gained a lot of favor with the work ethic he brought to the park during his short stints with Atlanta last year. 

Had Thurston been in the Braves organization last year he might have gained the same advantage.  So far he has proven to be the same kind of likable player who is very similar to Conrad in many ways. 

But if I had to guess right now, the nod will go to Conrad, who also draws the advantage provided by the fact that he is already on the 40-man roster and Thurston isn’t. 

“Brooksy did a great job for us last year,” Bobby Cox said. “He won us some games.”

Chavez at least regained his sanity this afternoon while working a perfect inning against the Phillies.  During his previous two outings, he had worked 1 1/3 innings, allowed 11 hits (all singles) and eight earned runs.

“The last two outings haven’t been indicative of the way he’s pitched,” Cox said. “He kept the ball down and he did it again today.  It was the same as the last two times for me.” 

Cox has repeatedly pointed out that Chavez was marred by bad luck in those previous two outings and those who witnessed both could certainly back up my belief that this wasn’t just another case where the veteran manager was going out of his way to back up a player that didn’t deserve to be defended. 

When we approached Chavez this afternoon, he looked relieved.  Thinking back on his two previous outings, he could only laugh and say, “what did I give up like 11 singles and only about half of them even left the infield?”

“I’m not the first to say it, but I’m not a spring pitcher,” said Chavez, who was a surprise addition to Pittsburgh’s Opening Day roster last year. “But this is what it’s for.  Get them out of the way now and be ready to roll once the lights turn on.”

It was interesting to hear Cox say after today’s game that there is some concern about putting Reyes in the bullpen to start this year because of the fact that as a starter at Gwinnett he would provide insurance if one of the members of the Atlanta rotation was sidelined.

“It’s a predicament because Jo-Jo is a starter/backup guy if we send him out,” Cox said. “If we keep him, he could help us here too.”

With Reyes pitching two perfect innings today and Jonny Venters seemingly crumbling under the pressure while allowing the Phillies three runs in just two-thirds of an inning, there’s even more reason to believe the Braves would rather go with Reyes. 

Venters allowed a leadoff double to Jimmy Rollins and issued consecutive walks to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (with the bases loaded) before recording his first out.  As for Craig Kimbrel, the only thing he surrendered while going up against Utley, Howard, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino was a single by Howard. 

But the Braves seem to be shying away from sending the still-green Kimbrel to the Majors with just 14 games of experience above the Class A Minor League level.  With this being said, he’s shown enough to lead me to expect to see him in Atlanta at some point this year.

If all of this proves to be true, those final bullpen spots will go to Chavez and Reyes.  And if the Braves are really hesitant about the fact that they don’t have much depth in the starting pitching department, they could send Reyes to Gwinnett to get stretched out when Scott Proctor is deemed ready to join the Atlanta bullpen. 

While Kris Medlen is certainly capable of making a spot start if necessary, his positioning in the rotation could weaken the bullpen’s depth.  As mentioned last week, this young right-hander has proven that his versatility extends to his ability to be a detriment to left-handed hitters. 

With Medlen in the bullpen mix, the Braves could be confident carrying Eric O’Flaherty as their only true left-handed middle reliever.  

 

 

 

Tight battles for final roster spots

The Braves will be going back to Atlanta in 15 days and as things currently stand there isn’t any way to confidently state who is going to win their final available roster spots. 

We entered camp with the belief that Mitch Jones, Brent Clevlen, Joe Thurston and Brooks Conrad would battle for the one spot available for a position player.   Nearly a month later, it looks like this is a two-man race being closely contested by Thurston and Conrad.

Thurston and Conrad have enjoyed nearly identical success at the plate.  Both have hit .333 (8-for-24) with a .533 slugging percentage.   Thurston has hit one more homer (2-1) and Conrad has compiled the better on-base percentage (.448 versus .360) with the assistance he has gained through an advantage in the walk (5-1) department. 

Both of these Minor League journeyman’s defensive versatility limits them to second base and third base.  If you’re looking for a current tiebreaker, it would likely come via the number of dazzling defensive plays Conrad has played at second base. 

“He has made more great plays than anybody else in the state of Florida,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. 

Entering camp it appeared there would be two available spots in the bullpen and during the early days Jesse Chavez emerged as a favorite for one of those spots.  But after struggling in his first two outings, Chavez fell back in the heat of a competition that could be won by a couple of underdogs. 

Chavez, who hasn’t allowed a run in his past two outings, Manny Acosta and left-handers Mike Dunn and Mariano Gomez are scheduled to follow starter Tommy Hanson during this afternoon’s game against the Marlins. 

While each of these hurlers still appear to be in the mix for one of the final two spots in the bullpen, Craig Kimbrel and left-hander Jonny Venters seem to be moving to the top of the list of candidates. 

As you know, Cox has routinely praised Kimbrel, who has allowed just two hits in four scoreless innings.  In addition, the veteran manager has continued to talk about the “super sinker” thrown by Venters, who has allowed just one earned run in his 5 1/3 innings.

This isn’t to say that Venters and Kimbrel have emerged as the definitive favorites in this battle.  But it seems pretty safe to say that both of these non-roster invitees are at least in the lead pack.   

NOTES:  Today’s game is being televised by MLB.TV, SportSouth and MLB Network. The folks at Fox Sports Net, which owns SportSouth, decided to have a split broadcast with Braves announcer Joe Simpson working in the booth with Marlins announcer Rich Waltz.

If everybody is in the sharing spirit down here in Jupiter, do you think the Cardinals could loan their first baseman when the Braves conclude their two-day swing in Jupiter tomorrow afternoon.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and yes this is why the Braves are wearing their green hats against the Marlins today.

Braves lineup for Wednesday’s game @ Marlins

McLouth 8
Prado 4
Chipper 5
Glaus 3
McCann 2
Escobar 6
Heyward 9
Diaz 7
Hanson 1 
 

Kawakami pleased with performance on split-squad Sunday

While working primarily on the two-seamer that has drawn his primary focus throughout Spring Training, Kenshin Kawakami was cruising along before experiencing a misfortune-filled fourth inning that forced him to stare at a rather ugly line on Sunday afternoon. 

Kawakami’s line read:  3.2 IP, 8 hits, 6 runs, 3 earned runs, 0 walks, 3 strikeouts.  But what Braves manager Bobby Cox saw was a successful tuneup for the regular season.

“For me, he had one of his best days ever,” Cox said.  “I don’t know how you explain errors, broken bats and groundball base hits.  There was one hard-hit ball and that was a groundball.  I thought he had a great day.” 

While Cox has been known to attempt to cover bad performances by feeding the media with surprise of a complimentary evaluation, there certainly wasn’t any reason for him to be too concerned about this outing. 

A pair of two-out doubles by Kaz Matsui and Carlos Lee led to a pair of Astros runs in the third inning.  The six-run fourth inning produced by Houston started with Braves third baseman Donell Linares allowing Pedro Feliz’s grounder to slip under his glove. 

Linares’ error was compounded when Tommy Manzella followed with a bunt single.  Another single loaded the bases before Michael Bourn delivered a two-run single.  Kawakami then uncorked a wild pitch that set the stage for his day to end with an RBI groundout off Matsui’s bat.  

“The results weren’t good, but I thought I pitched well,” said Kawakami, who has allowed 13 hits and five earned runs in the 8 2/3 innings he has pitched during the Grapefruit League season.

Manny Acosta couldn’t share this same sense of optimism.  By the time he had thrown his sixth pitch of the fourth inning, the right-handed reliever had surrendered a two-run homer to Hunter Pence and a Carlos Lee solo shot that might have traveled a mile had it not been hit into the wind. 

While this group of Braves were suffering an 8-5 loss to the Astros, the Jason Heyward Braves were constructing an 8-5 win over the Blue Jays in Dunedin. 

Heyward began his two-double performance by drilling the first pitch he saw from Brandon Morrow into the right-center field gap.  The 20-year-old outfielder, who had recorded just one unofficial at-bat (during Friday’s rainout against the Pirates) since Tuesday night, is hitting .444 (8-for-18) with a .600 on-base percentage that has been aided by the six walks he’s drawn in 25 plate appearances. 

Before Sunday’s game, Chipper Jones mentioned that Freddie Freeman was swinging the bat better than his stats might indicate.  A short time later across the state, Freeman completed a three-hit performance that improved his batting average to .350 (7-for-20).

Roster battle: Brooks Conrad improved his odds of earning the final available roster spot for a position player by going 1-for-2 against the Astros and producing his third spectacular defensive play of the week behind the second base bag.  His chief competition Joe Thurston went 1-for-4 with a homer in the game against the Blue Jays. 

McCann’s blasts: Brian McCann began the 2009 season by homering in his first at-bat against Brett Myers, who was then with the Phillies.  The Braves catcher again victimized Myers on Sunday by sending his first homer of this exhibition season over the right center field wall. 

As impressive as McCann’s second-inning shot was, it paled in comparison to the one he hit in the fifth inning against Astros right-hander Tim Byrdak.  This no-doubt blast found its way into the small pond located beyond the right field wall at Osceola County Stadium.

Notes: Nate McLouth struck out in his last two at-bats against the Astros and is now hitting .045 (1-for-22) with 10 strikeouts… With starters (all but Jair Jurrjens) now scheduled to work at least four innings, there are a limited number of innings available for all of the pitchers in camp.  So expect to see a number of young pitchers included in the first round of cuts that will be announced on Monday…James Parr surrendered five runs during his first inning against the Blue Jays and then found himself credited with a win after holding them scoreless during his next two innings…Omar Infante’s three-hit game against the Astros improved his batting average to .250 (5-for-20). 

Conrad and Thurston could stage a tight battle

If the battle to earn the last roster spot for a position play ends the way it has started, Brooks Conrad and Joe Thurston are going to force the Braves to make a tough decision. 

Conrad has been displaying some power  (two doubles and a homer) while hitting .462 (6-for-13) during his first six games of the Grapefruit League season.  Thurston’s .500 batting average has come courtesy of the four singles he has recorded in his eight at-bats. 

“Conrad has been playing great and Thurston, the same thing,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

From a defensive standpoint, Thurston and Conrad possess similar skills.  Both have seen most of their playing time at second and third base and also shown the ability to play the outfield if necessary.

The starting lineup for Monday afternoon’s game against the Tigers had Conrad at second base and Thurston positioned at third base.

NOTES:

Javy Lopez has arrived in camp this week to serve as a special assistant, which basically means he’s in town to have some fun, soak up the atmosphere and catch up with some old friends from the organization. 

Lopez made the trip to Lakeland this afternoon and immediately started talking to Miguel Cabrera about using some of the bats his company, Bones, manufactures.  The former Braves catcher also wants Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman to test some of his bats. 

Chipper Jones wants to get an early look at Roy Halladay during tomorrow night’s game against the Phillies.  The Braves third baseman was hurt when Halladay faced the Braves last year and he has just two career regular season at-bats (with both coming in 1999) against the former American League Cy Young Award winner.

But Cox indicated that he may opt to show some precaution with Jones, who has been sidelined since jamming his right thumb on Friday.   

“We’ll see,” Cox said. “You know jams don’t go away that quickly.” 

There might be another change in the schedule for Jair Jurrjens.  Cox now says the 24-year-old right-hander will throw his second round of live batting practice tomorrow.   This was the projected schedule until Sunday, when the Braves revealed he would wait until Wednesday to throw again.

Check back after the game to get clarification about Jurrjens’ schedule.

BRAVES LINEUP for Monday’s game
Infante 6
Cabrera 8
Heyward 9
Glaus 3
Hinske DH
Diaz 7
Ross 2
Conrad 4
Thurston 5
 

 

Barton clears waivers to make room for Hudson

Tim Hudson has been activated from the 60-day disabled list and the Braves made room for him on their 40-man roster by placing outfielder Brian Barton on waivers.  Barton cleared waivers on Monday and was outrighted to the Triple-A Gwinnett roster. 

Hudson’s start against the Marlins tonight will be his first Major League appearance since July 23, 2008.  The veteran right-hander is coming back from Tommy John elbow ligament transplant surgery.

Barton has hit .261 in 108 games for Gwinnett this season.  His three-hit performance against Durham on Monday night aided the club’s postseason push. 

Gwinnett is one game behind Durham in the International League’s South Division and they currently lead the Wild Card race with a 3 1/2-game advantage over Syracuse. 

Monday night’s victory was also aided by the five-hit performance provided by center fielder Gregor Blanco, who could possibly be added to the Atlanta roster later this month. 

But with the defensive range he’s displayed over the past couple of days, Omar Infante has provided the Braves more confidence in his ability to man the center field position until Ryan Church or Nate McLouth prove healthy enough to play on a consistent basis. 

As mentioned last night, infielder Brooks Conrad, right-handed pitcher Luis Valdez and catcher Clint Sammons have been promoted from Gwinnett and will join Atlanta’s expanded roster today. 

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