Results tagged ‘ Tommy Hanson ’

Getting back to work

If you are not complaining, then you are not watching.  Or is it more appropriate to say, if you are not complaining, then you are not blogging?

Whatever the case, even if the Braves had started this season 11-4 (as opposed to 7-8), we’d all still be voicing our concerns about a specific aspect or aspects of the club.  To truly enjoy the splendor of a 162-game season, you basically have to treat every day like a new episode of “24”.

Of course in relation to “24”, we all know that Jack Bauer is going to eventually escape or overcome any and every terrorist attack that he encounters.  In the baseball world, we’re not so sure about tomorrow will bring.

The suspense of this current season has us wondering when Brian McCann might regain his optimal vision and help the slumbering Braves offense to awake.

During the last nine games, the Braves have scored 24 runs (11 in one game), batted .229, recorded a .312 on-base percentage and produced a .345 slugging percentage.   The sample size is too small to provide reason to worry.  But it is somewhat telling to see that left-handed hitters have batted just .181 during this span. 

That number is a direct reflection of the recent struggles encountered by McCann, who has just one hit in the 19 at-bats he’s totaled over the past nine games.  The Braves can only hope that his vision continues to improve to the point that he’s able to prove why many believe he’s the game’s top offensive catchers. 

We’ve all discussed how losing Chipper Jones for an extended period would be a crushing blow to this club’s postseason aspirations.  While this is true, you could argue that McCann’s presence is even more important because his absence directly affects Jones’ potential production. 

As long as opponents are fearing McCann in the cleanup spot, Jones is going to have the necessary protection that will allow him to see good pitches on a regular basis.  

If McCann continues to struggle or is forced to miss time, you’ll either see Jones’ walk total rise or his impatience grow to the point that he’s chasing bad pitches far too often.

In the event that McCann is forced to miss an extended period, Jeff Francoeur might be the best option to fill the cleanup spot.  It would be interesting to see how often opposing pitchers would be willing to challenge him to find out if he truly has turned things around. 

In a team-high 60 at-bats, Francoeur has batted .317 with a .795 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).   As long as he stays patient, the power numbers will increase as the summer progresses and you’ll likely once again see him produce another 100-RBI season.

The most encouraging aspect about Francoeur’s start stems from the fact that he’s hit .471 (8-for-17) with runners in scoring position.  While the sample size is small, there’s at least indication that he’s no longer pressing like he did when he hit .193 with RISP last year.  

(While looking for Francoeur’s stats, I noticed Andruw Jones has five hits in his first six at-bats with RISP.   It’s still amazing to think that Andruw had 128 RBIs while hitting just .207 with RISP in 2005.)

Rotation producing optimism:   Most of the optimism the Braves possessed entering the season centered around their reconstucted rotation.   So far this new group of starters has lived up to expectations.  They rank second in the National Leauge with a 3.27 ERA and the 88 innings they’ve completed are five fewer than the League-leading total completed by the Pirates. 

Javier Vazquez could have won each of his first three starts and Jair Jurrjens has been nothing but impressive since proving fortunate to win his first two outings. Derek Lowe showed his potential dominance on Opening Night and provided more reason to believe he’s at his best during big games.

The only two losses Lowe has incurred during his past 14 starts have occurred at excitement-starved Nationals Park.  But it should be noted that he pitched effectively during both of those outings. 

The Braves haven’t provided any indication that they’re going to promote Tommy Hanson within the next week.  They are in position where they can continue to let the 22-year-old right-hander gain more season at the Minor League level. 

Obviously Hanson has the potential to be a valuable asset during the stretch run and because of this, the Braves haven’t allowed him to exceed the 100-pitch limit during his first three starts with Triple-A Gwinnnett.   Unfortunately because of high pitch counts during the early innings, this has prevented him from completing at least five innings during two of those outings. 

Once Hanson is promoted to the Majors (my best guess remains first week of June), the Braves should have a rotation that would rival the Marlins for the division’s finest.   The Mets haven’t found any consistency behind Johan Santana and the entire Phillies rotation is going to have neck problems before the season is complete. 

Philadelphia’s starters have accounted for 22 of the 31 homers the club has surrendered this year.  Kenshin Kawakami has accounted for three of the seven homers the Braves pitching staff has surrendered this year.

It was nice to have a few days to visit family and relax this week. But it’s time to get back to work and see if the Braves can alter the mood of this road trip, which has so far proven to be forgettable.   

A tip of the cap to Glavine

Tom Glavine says that he’ll wait at least two weeks before determining if he’ll ever pitch again.  But as he spoke yesterday afternoon, it was hard to ignore the belief that he seemingly already knows his fate. 

In fact, I’m pretty sure he had a pretty good idea after he continued to feel some left shoulder discomfort while throwing his warmup pitches before the third inning of  Sunday’s Minor League rehab start in Mississippi. He chose to wait until Monday to discuss what had happened and how he was feeling. 

This uncharacteristic decision made by one of the most accommodating athletes I’ve ever covered immediately raised red flags.  As for the white flag, you could see it waving in the distance yesterday as Glavine spoke about how he currently considers the glass to be half-empty as opposed to half-full.

Throughout his career, which has included 305 wins and 4413 1/3 innings, Glavine has been an optimistic warrior who has battled through regular shoulder discomfort and other ailments that he’s never revealed. 

Glavine was miserable while experiencing his first three career trips to the disabled list last year.  Still his fighting spirit provided him incentive to attempt to spend one more healthy year in the Majors. 

But for the first time in his career, Glavine is facing the reality that he’s encountered a fight that he can’t win.

“This shoulder has logged a lot of innings,” Glavine said Tuesday. “Sooner or later, it’s going to tell me I can’t do this anymore. I hope this is not what it’s trying to tell me. But I’m prepared if it is.” 
 

If Glavine’s shoulder has indeed reached its physical limitations, we’ll all take time to celebrate the career of the fourth-winningest left-hander in Major League history.  We’ll all remember his two Cy Young Awards and his one-hit gem that clinched the 1995 World Series.

But most importantly, we should never forget that fighting spirit that he carried to the mound.  If he has indeed thrown his final pitch, I’ll never forget the grit he showed while limiting the Rockies to three hits in 6 1/3 scoreless innings on April 7 of last year.
 
They announced the gametime temperature to be 41 degrees and by the time the third inning arrived you had gained the sense that the Coors Field concessionaires didn’t truly need to line their Silver Bullets in ice.

Yet during what was likely the last start that he’ll ever make without any concerning aches or pains, Glavine once again showed the grit and competitive nature that Greg Maddux recognized during his own retirement speech in December.

“One of the biggest things I learned pitching with Glavine was to realize you don’t have to be 100 percent to win,” Maddux said. “You have to take the ball and you have to go out there. That’s what he taught me.

“Sometimes it’s really easy to say, ‘I need another day or two.’ But in Atlanta, we pitched. Tommy led the way with that. He showed everybody that if you go out there, if you could throw the ball over the plate, you had a chance to win, no matter how bad you felt.”

When it does indeed come time for Glavine to announce his retirement, he’ll be showered with compliments.  But none will be more fitting than the one provided by Maddux.   

Home Sweet Home:  Whatever happens, Glavine will have the comfort of making his decision while being surrounded by his family and the organization that watched develop into one of the game’s legends. 

We saw the love of hometown fans when Ken Griffey, Jr. was showered with cheers when he came to plate for the first time in Seattle this year. 

On the flip side,  this week we’ve also witnessed how an aging legendary figure will be treated when he’s forced to continue playing in a new environment.   Garret Anderson’s Atlanta debut turned ugly last night when after dropping two foul balls, he found himself hearing boos from some Braves fans. 

Had Anderson still been playing in front of the same Angels fans, who had followed him for the past 14 years, he obviously wouldn’t have received the same treatment. 

But this isn’t a matter of fair or unfair.  It’s simply the reality that a 36-year-old outfielder has to face while introducing himself to a fan base that couldn’t care less what he’s done over the course of the past two decades in southern California.

Hanson Update:
  Javier Vazquez wasn’t the only Braves pitcher who didn’t get much run support last night.  Tommy Hanson suffered his first loss while limiting Durham to three hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings of Triple-A Gwinnett’s 1-0 loss.

Through his first two starts for Gwinnett, Hanson has worked 10 innings, allowed one run, registered 17 strikeouts and issued just four walks.   I think it’s pretty safe to assume we’ll see the big redhead in Atlanta some time in May.

As mentioned yesterday, it probably won’t be long until Kris Medlen also makes his way to Atlanta to fortify the bullpen.  I don’t want to jinx anything, so I’ll just say that the young right-hander is off to a good start during this afternoon’s start against Durham.

You can follow Medlen’s progress today on  Gameday.

Also forgot to mention you can now follow me on Twitter @mlbbravesscribe 

Goodbye Florida

Seven weeks have passed and Ken Griffey Jr. still hasn’t shown up.  If you run into any of his friends, ask them to tell Jr. that the Braves are heading home tonight and that they’ve decided to ignore his decision to play in Atlanta. 

Actually the Braves are heading home with reason to feel good about the fact that Griffey decided to play in Seattle.  We haven’t had the opportunity to see a lot of Garret Anderson.  But while watching him race into left-center field to make a catch yesterday in Lakeland, I was officially convinced that the Braves are better off with Jr. in Seattle.
 
The modern-day version of Jr. wouldn’t have gotten to that ball.  Nor can he display the kind of offensive consistency that Anderson has shown since he allowed his right calf to heal for more than three weeks.   When he’s recorded outs over the past three days, they’ve been loud ones.
 
Did I mention that we’ve been down here seven weeks?  I’m certainly not going to complain about having had the opportunity to spend the past 50 days watching baseball in the Florida sun.  But I echo the sentiments of Bobby Cox and all of the Braves players when I say that it’s time to come home.

Because I’m fatigued and anxious to return to Atlanta, this Spring Training simply feels like it’s been long.  But thanks to Jordan Schafer, Tommy Hanson, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, it will also prove to be one of the most memorable. 

Schafer and Hanson proved why many believe they could have a significant impact in Atlanta this year.  As for Heyward and Freeman, they simply exceeded any expectations you’d place on a pair of 19-year-old kids who were experiencing their first big league camp.

Tom Glavine had already notched 19 wins and compiled 65 career starts before Heyward was born.
  
While utilizing baseballmusings.com and baseball-reference.com to research these numbers, I found that Glavine actually tossed his fourth career shutout two days before Heyward entered this world. 

On that Aug. 7, 1989 night at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Glavine surrendered four hits to a Dodgers lineup that included Willie Randolph, Eddie Murray and Mike Scioscia.

Now that we’re strolling down memory lane, I’m going to reminisce about some of the most humourous things I’ve heard and witnessed over the past seven weeks.

Jeff Francoeur’s catch:  Francoeur caught a 6-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass in the pond behind the visitor’s clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium on Tuesday night.  Since then I’ve learned that the right fielder is certainly a novice fisherman, who simply found some luck after he grabbed one of the clubhouse attendant’s fishing pole and threw it into the water. 

Braves assistant clubhouse and team travel manager Chris Van Zant, who supplied the picture of Francoeur’s catch, has since told me that the right fielder initially had trouble casting his line further than five feet.

“Just like he always does, he stayed persistent and then ends up catching a fish that guys spend hours trying to catch,” Van Zant said. 

DOB’s furor
:  As I was walking toward my car in Bradenton on Feb. 28, I heard a guy across the street yelling and screaming in my direction.  I began to laugh when I realized it was the Atlanta-Journal Constitution’s Dave O’Brien, whose car had been locked in a lot at a car repair shop. 

This might have been one of those “you had to be there” moments.  But I’ll attempt to explain the humor by saying that when agitated, O’Brien can make Archie Bunker seem like a lovable teddy bear.

Tiger’s line:   For this final tidbit, I’ll simply pull these graphs from my March 13 story about Francoeur: 

After Francoeur opened the back nine at Isleworth Country Club with consecutive birdies on March 4, (Tiger) Woods asked, “Who are you?”  
 
Francoeur, quickly responded, “I just wanted to see how the world’s number one golfer reacts with his back up against the wall?”  
  
This prompted Woods to reply, “Yeah, well I was wondering how much time you plan to spend playing in Mississippi this year?”

And with that, I’ll close by saying the dramatic improvement Francoeur has shown over the past seven weeks has provided the most signific reason for the Braves to be encouraged heading into the 2009 season. 

The Florida sun has been fun.  But it’s definitely time to bring this show home.     

francoeur.jpg

Hanson scheduled to pitch exhibition season finale in Atlanta

Tommy Hanson is coming to Atlanta.  Well sort of.  Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami are scheduled to pitch next Saturday’s exhibition game against the Tigers at Turner Field. 

With the Braves opening the season in Philadelphia the next night, manager Bobby Cox won’t want to use any of his projected relievers.  Thus  Kawakami will pitch the first four or five innings and Hanson will likely handle the next four innings.  

This will put Hanson in line to be the Opening Day starter for the Triple-A Gwinnett team that will begin its season on April 9 at Charlotte.   The relocated team will play its first game in Gwinnett on April 17.   If the schedule holds true Hanson’s first home start would occur on April 20.

Cox plans to announce his rotation on Sunday.  Kawakami’s season debut could come during April 10 home opener at Turner Field.  Or the Braves could keep projected Opening Day starter Derek Lowe on schedule and allow him to pitch that game.  This would mean Kawakami’s season debut might actually occur on April 11 against the Nats. 

While pitching in next Saturday’s exhibition game against the Tigers, Kawakami will have a chance to acquaint himself with the Turner Field mound. 

Kawakami will make his final Grapefruit League start on Monday afternoon when he faces Daisuke Matsuzaka.  The Braves hurler has only previously opposed Dice-K came during Spring Training games in Japan. 

When asked how many media members will likely cover Monday’s game, Kawakami smiled and said “It is Japan.”    Or at least that’s what his interpreter told me that he said. 

Today’s games:   Jair Jurrjens is going to face a Yankees lineup that includes Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira.   Peter Moylan is scheduled to complete one inning during a Minor League game this afternoon.   Moylan will make two more appearances within the next six days and if everything goes well, he’ll begin the season in Atlanta’s bullpen. 

After Jurrjens exits this afternoon’s game, Boone Logan and Mike Gonzalez are scheduled to pitch.  Logan has had two consecutive rough outings and Gonzalez is coming off an appearance during which he surrendered three earned runs and then raved about the increased velocity that he’d displayed.

We’ll be watching the radar readings when Gonzalez takes the mound to pitch in front of a sold-out crowd.  Fans have already covered most of the grass on the left field berm.

Left-handed relievers:  The Braves released left-handed reliever Jeff Ridgway this morning.  Ridgway battled elbow inflammation most of this month and really never figured into the Braves plans after they acquired Logan and Eric O’Flaherty during the offseason. 

O’Flaherty enjoyed a impressive rebound effort on Friday, when he recorded two strikeouts in a scoreless inning against the Tigers.  He had surrendered nine runs and nine hits in his previous outing. 

Braves general manager Frank Wren has provided no indication that he’s felt the need to explore ways to find veteran left-handed reliever to add to his bullpen mix.  O’Flaherty has had just the one bad outing and Logan will have a chance to end his recent struggles this afternoon.

There’s still a chance that both of these left-handed relievers will begin the year in Atlanta’s bullpen.

Former Angels: 
First baseman Casey Kotchman, who has been sick and sidelined since April 18, took batting practice on Saturday and might return to the lineup on Monday.   His former Angels teammate Garret Anderson is expected to return to action on Sunday.  Anderson has been sidelined since March 6 with a strained right calf. 

Today’s Lineup:
Jordan Schafer CF
Yunel Escobar SS
Chipper Jones 3B
Brian McCann C
Greg Norton 1B
Matt Diaz RF
Brandon Jones LF
Martin Prado 2B
Jair Jurrjens P 

 

Hanson, Heyward and Freeman among latest cuts

If you’re in Myrtle Beach within the next couple of months, make sure you take advantage of the opportunity to view the Heyward and Freeman show.  Of course, if you don’t catch them there, they’ll likely be performing in Pearl, Miss. before the summer is complete. 

We’ve had the pleasure of watching this act in Disney over the past six weeks and I’d have to say they’re the best teenage duo in the country right now.  I’m sorry if I’ve offended any Jonas Brothers fans.  But I’d have to say the odds of  Heyward carrying a tune seem much greater than those of Nick Jonas routinely hitting 400-foot homers. 

OK. Now that I’ve referred to the Jonas Brothers without ever knowingly ever hearing anything they’ve ever recorded, we’ll return to Braves camp, which got a little roomier on Thursday morning, when Tommy Hanson, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman learned they were being sent to Minor League camp. 

Hanson lived up to his tremendous expectations and now will spend a month or two with Triple-A Gwinnett before getting the opportunity to bring his act to Atlanta.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, Hanson could certainly be the best member of the Atlanta rotation by the time this season is complete.  But it makes sense for him to get some more Minor League seasoning.  If he started the season as Atlanta’s big league starter, he’d be scheduled to make just two starts in April. 

In other words, barring injuries suffered by another starter, we knew that Hanson was going to eventually be cut.  We just didn’t know when.

With Hanson in Minor League camp, manager Bobbby Cox will now have the opportunity to ensure each of his projected starters and relievers can get their necessary work during the remainder of the exhibition season.  

As for Heyward and Freeman, they exceeded every expectation that I had.  Just two years ago they were facing high school opponents.  But that didn’t stop them from spendng the past six weeks making fans wonder if they might actually get a call to Atlanta this year.

Like I’ve said in the past, now that I’ve had the chance to see these two kids play,  I’ll never say never about that possibility.  But at the same time, I think it would be more appropriate to debate whether they’re Major Leauge-ready at this time next year.

While playing for Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach and  likely Double-A Mississippi this year, Heyward and Freeman will experience a natural maturation process.  They need to test themselves against they caliber and frequency of offspeed pitches that weren’t present when they dominated the South Atlantic League last year. 

From an offensive and defensive standpoint, Heyward and Freeman handled themselves admirably among the Major Leaguers.  Also it was refreshing to see the humility that they displayed throughout camp.  They were true professionals and I’m looking forward to watching them continue to make their trek toward Atlanta. 

In this business, you pull for good people and those two kids certainly fit that category.

TV Game:  Chip Caray and Brian Jordan will serve as the broadcasters for today’s game which will be on MLB.TV and CSS, for those of you who are still watching baseball on television.

Kotchman sick again:  Casey Kotchman said he felt great yesterday and planned to return to today’s lineup.  But the first baseman, who had battled the flu most of last week, started to feel sick again this morning.  He’s fearful that he might have eaten something and acquired food poisoning.

Today’s Lineup:

Kelly Johnson 2B
Yunel Escobar SS
Chipper Jones 3B
Brian McCann C
Jeff Francoeur  RF
Greg Norton  1B
Brandon Jones LF
Jordan Schafer CF
Derek Lowe P 

What to do with Hanson and Schafer?

In a little more than a week, the Braves will announce where Jordan Schafer and Tommy Hanson will begin the season.  Despite the fact that he has the potential to end the season as the most talented member of their starting rotation, Hanson will likely begin the season with Triple-A Gwinnett. 

Hesitance to start Hanson’s arbitration clock serves as only one the reasons the Braves will likely send him to the Minors to begin the year.  The 22-year-old right-hander stands as one the key factors to the organization’s bright future, which extends far beyond the first two months of this season. 

If Hanson were to begin the season as Atlanta’s fifth starter, he would be scheduled to make two starts in April and four more in May.  While with Gwinnett, he’d have the opportunity to make five April starts and then further his maturation process with six May starts.

By the time June arrives, the temptation to bring him to Atlanta will be too great and his days in the Minors will come to a close. 

While providing this regular schedule, the Braves would also be able to limit Hanson’s innings without worrying about how early exits might affect the team’s record.  Hanson has never thrown more than 138 innings during a professional season and just 18 of his starts have occurred above the Class A level.

With five starters in place in Atlanta and Jo-Jo Reyes seemingly capable to provide assistance in Atlanta if needed during the season’s first two months, it makes sense to protect Hanson during the early months and hope that this decision provides dividends when he could make his greatest contributions during the final months and weeks of this season. 

This appears to be the approach the Rays are taking with David Price, who is the only pitcher rated as a greater prospect by Baseball America.  The Rays had enough faith in Price to use him in clutch situations during last year’s American League Championship Series and World Series. 

But they also recognize the value of allowing him to encounter a natural maturation process and thus it looks like the prized left-hander will also begin this season in the International League.  

With Schafer, the Braves have reason to possess a different mindset. The 22-year-old outfielder has provided every indication that he’s the best option to begin this season as the every day center fielder.

In addition, he’s given reason to believe that he’s the best option to use as a leadoff hitter.  In comparison to Josh Anderson, he will provide a greater on-base percentage, much beter pop and comparable baserunning skills. 

From both an offensive and defensive standpoint, Schafer appears to be much more valuable than Anderson or Gregor Blanco. And the fact that he could provide daily contributions provides the reason why the Braves should be much less reluctant to start his arbitration clock ahead of schedule. 

While Hanson might only make 10 starts during the season’s first two months, Schafer could impact games on a much more frequent basis.  The five-tool outfielder has the ability to be a difference maker and the decision to  keep him in the Minors for the season’s first two months could prove to be the difference if the Braves were to come up just a few games short in a postseason race. 

With this being said, I won’t be surprised if the Braves start the season with Anderson in center.  He’s out of options and there are some in the organization who believe Schafer could benefit from a few more months of Minor League seasoning. 

The Braves could ultimately decide to begin the season with Anderson and Matt Diaz serving as their backup outfielders.  But to do this, they’d likely have to send Martin Prado to the Minors and I don’t think they’re in a position where it would make sense to start the year with Omar Infante as the only backup infielder.

Nor do I think they should even contemplate parting ways with Greg Norton.  Over the course of an entire season, his pinch-hitting skills would prove more valuable than whatever Josh Anderson might provide until Schafer is deemed ready. 

If Garret Anderson isn’t ready to begin the season, the Braves could begin the year with Josh Anderson, Matt Diaz, Schafer and Jeff Francoeur as their outfielders.

Or they could prevent having to send Josh Anderson through waivers by opting to begin the season with a roster that includes an 11-man pitching staff and five outfielders (G. Anderson, J. Anderson, Schafer, Francoeur and Diaz)  That would likely mean that Tom Glavine (who isn’t scheduled to start until April 18) and Peter Moylan would begin the season on the disabled list.

There are a number of options to evaulate.  But to me the most logical ones put Hanson in Gwinnett and Schafer in Atlanta to begin the year.  Whatever the case, by the end of the season they’ll likely be together in Atlanta.  

Francoeur set to face Yankees and Tiger

With the sun shining above and the Yankees in town, we have a near-perfect setting for Jeff Francoeur to begin what many would consider a near-perfect athletic experience. 

After collecting a few at-bats against the WBC-depleted Yankees, Francoeur will grab his clubs to join Tiger Woods and John Smoltz for a round of golf this afternoon.  With the Red Sox having the day off, Smoltz has driven to the Orlando area to enjoy this annual round with two of his closest friends.

When Kenshin Kawakami takes the mound against the Yanks today, he won’t have to deal with the likes of A-Rod, Jeter and Posada, who are all eithter preparing for the WBC or visiting a hip specialist. Johnny Damon and Xavier Nady are the only regulars in the lineup for the Bronx Bombers, who will utilize Juan Miranda as their cleanup hitter. 

Glavine arrives:  Tom Glavine arrived in Braves camp this morning and revealed that he’s aiming to make his first appearance in a game late next week.  The 300-game winner has recently experienced some cranky discomfort with his shoulder.  But he says the discomfort isn’t anything different than what he’s often had to deal with during Spring Training. 

“I’ve had a little bit of crankiness now that I’ve thrown batting practice and thrown a little harder.  There ‘s a little soreness with my shoulder. But I’m not surprised. I knew it was going to happen sooner or later.  It’s happened every year for the last 15 years.  But it’s more manageable and that’s what we were kind of hoping for.” 

Glavine, who hasn’t had any problems with his surgically-repaired left elbow, doesn’t seem to concerned.  He said the shoulder discomfort he’s feeling this year doesn’t compare to the discomfort he was feeling at this time last year. 

The fact that Glavine is scheduled to make just two starts in April (18th and 29th) could prove to be beneficial.  After pitching in the frigid temperatures at Coors Field in early April last year, he started to experience increased discomfort in his elbow and shoulder.

Impressed by Hanson:  Braves announcer Don Sutton was certainly impressed after getting the chance to watch Tommy Hanson face Panama yesterday.  The Hall of Fame hurler was most intrigued by the 22-year-old  top prospect’s advanced maturity.

“When you look at a talent like him, after you talk to him for five minutes, you can throw his birth certificate out the window,” Sutton said. “He has the four pitches.  He’s a quick learner, makes great adjustments.  I just wish for him good health.  I think he has a chance to be a superstar.

Thursday vs. Venezuela:  Garret Anderson is expected to make his Braves debut when Derek Lowe takes the mound to face Gregor Blanco and Venezuela’s WBC team at Disney tomorrow afternoon.  First pitch is set for 2:05 p.m. ET.  

Today’s Lineup:
Josh Anderson CF
Yunel Escobar SS
Kelly Johnson 2B
Casey Kotchman 1B
Jeff Francoeur RF
Jason Heyward LF
Omar Infante 3B
David Ross C
Kenshin Kawakami P

 

 
 

Hanson ready to face Panama

During his 1985 rookie season, Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell learned that you had to have thick skin and a good personality to co-exist with the personalities possessed by the likes of Keith Hernandez, Wally Backman, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Howard Johnson.

That was the year that Gooden went 24-4 and the Mets finished three games behind the Cardinals in the National League East race.

As McDowell remembers, at the conclusion of that season, Hernandez hollered at Gooden and said, “Hey Doc, if you hadn’t lost those four games we would have won the division.”

Gooden’s name came up this morning, because I wanted to get a sense about whether you can get an early feel about whether a top prospect is going to truly be special.  In another words, I was chasing another Tommy Hanson angle.

Nobody is saying that Hanson will duplicate the early dominance of Gooden, who went 58-19 with a 2.28 ERA and 744 strikeouts in the  744 2/3 innings he completed during his first three big league seasons.
 
But the more you hear about Hanson, the more you want to see and hear more about him.

“I just want to buy stock in Tommy Hanson,” said 300-game winner Don Sutton, who arrived in Braves camp on Tuesday morning to prepare for the games he’ll broadcast with his new radio parter, Jim Powell, this weekend.

Sutton, who has rejoined the Braves broadcast team after spending the past two years with the Nationals, will get a chance to watch Hanson pitch against Panama this afternoon.  Maybe this time around, Carlos Lee will actually recognize that this isn’t just some run-of-the-mill prospect.  

After being frozen by a couple of breaking balls that Hanson threw in his Grapefruit League debut last week, the Astros left fielder acted like he was unimpressed by essentially limiting his comments to, “He throws hard.”

Based on the fact that Lee had just looked at a called third-strike slider, maybe he didn’t actually get a good look at the right-hander, who certainly has more than simply a fastball that has registered 99 mph.

Hanson made another good impression on the Braves coaching staff yesterday, when he showed up to throw and work out before the inter-squad game. His decision to come to the park on an off-day further proved his early fame hasn’t led to him gaining an early sense of entitlement.

Acosta set to face his country:  Manny Acosta decided last week that he won’t participate in the World Baseball Classic.  So instead of pitching for Panama on Tuesday, the right-handed reliever will be pitching against his native country’s team.  He is scheduled to throw one inning.

Walking wounded:  Jordan Schafer (shoulder), Josh Anderson (tailbone), Casey Kotchman (finger and quad) and Freddie Freeman (quad) are all nursing minor injuries that might keep them out of the lineup for another day or two.  But each of them participated in Tuesday morning’s workout. 

Prepared to play: Garret Anderson thinks he might be ready to make his Braves debut on Thursday against Venezuela.  The veteran outfielder, who signed with the Braves last week, has told Bobby Cox that he needs approximately 30 at-bats to be ready for the regular season.

Odds and ends:  Tom Glavine is expected to arrive in Braves camp on Wednesday…Peter Moylan said that he hasn’t felt any discomfort since throwing an inning against the Phillies on Sunday.  It was his first appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery on May 8.

Today’s Lineup:
Yunel Escobar SS
Omar Infante CF
Kelly Johnson 2B
Greg Norton 1B
Jeff Francoeur RF
Matt Diaz LF
Brandon Jones DH
Dave Ross C
Martin Prado 2B

- Mark Bowman  

  

Let's get ready to see this Hanson kid

If you want to figure out what all of this Tommy Hanson-hype is all
about, you should tune in today’s game against the Astros.  The big
right-hander is scheduled to throw the third and fourth innings of the
game, which will be broadcast on  MLB.TV and ESPN. 

Eddie
Perez witnessed pure mastery on those countless nights when he sat
behind the plate and watched Greg Maddux demoralize opposing batters. 
Given that he spent most of his career serving as the primary catcher
for one of the greatest pitchers to ever toe the rubber, you might
think that it would take a lot for Perez to get excited. 

But
like most us, Perez arrived at the stadium on Thursday looking forward
to the opportunity to see Hanson make his first appearance in a Major
League setting.  Baseball America lists Hanson as the game’s fourth-best overall prospect and the top right-handed pitching prospect. 

“I
haven’t seen a pitching prospect like this since I started coming to
big league camp and guys like Steve Avery and John Smoltz were getting
started,” said Perez, who now serves as Atlanta’s bullpen coach.

Braves
manager Bobby Cox compares Hanson’s slider to the one thrown by Smoltz.
When you consider that many consider Smoltz’s slider to be the best in
the game, that’s pretty lofty praise.

Chipper making the trek to Bradenton:  When
Kenshin Kawakami makes his Braves debut against the Pirates on Friday,
Chipper Jones will be there to play alongside the Japanese hurler and
reminisce about his earliest days in professional baseball.

This
will be the first time that Jones has returned to Bradenton since
playing rookie ball there after being selected by the Braves as the top
overall selection in the 1990 Draft.  The first curfew punishment he
received that summer came after he was caught by current Braves first
base coach Glenn Hubbard, who had just started his professional
coaching career.

Chipper on managing
:  When I told
Chipper that some of you were talking yesterday about the possibility
of him one day serving as the Braves manager, he laughed and said
something like, “my wife would divorce me so fast that it’s not even
funny.”

“The managing part is more time consuming than playing,”
Jones said.”Quite honestly, I don’t know if I have the patience to put
up with everything that you have to put up with.  Whether it’s with
young cocky players, the media and what not, I think I’d be better
suited to be an instructor.

Today’s lineup:
Jordan Schafer CF
Kelly Johnson 2B
Chipper Jones 3B
Casey Kotchman 1B
Yunel Escobar SS
Jeff Francoeur RF
David Ross C
Brandon Jones LF
Greg Norton DH

Jorge
Campillo, Hanson, Boone Logan, Jeff Bennett, James Parr and Mike
Gonzalez are all scheduled to pitch against the Astros, who will send
Roy Oswalt to the mound to start the game.

- Mark Bowman

Thoughts from Lakeland

When some scouts were comparing Jordan Schafer to Grady Sizemore last year, I didn’t exactly see the comparison.  But I guess that’s why they’re paid to project and I’m paid to use their thoughts in an attempt to display intelligence. 

While Sizemore and the Indians have abandoned their former Spring home of Winter Haven, his clone returned to Polk County on Wednesday and showed why Baseball America has rated him the game’s 42nd-best prospect and the seventh-best center field prospect.

Schafer showed off his arm with a strong first-inning throw, displayed his speed with a fifth-inning stolen base and then flexed his muscles while hitting a seventh-inning homer.  

“There isn’t a tool this kid doesn’t possess,” said Matt Diaz, who spent the winter training with the young prospect who is going to bring Schafe-mania to Georgia next month. 

One exhibition game obviously doesn’t change the fact that in some ways it makes sense for Schafer to start this season at Triple-A Gwinnett.   But at the same time, when you see how natural this kid looks when he’s on the diamond, you can’t help but wonder how long the Braves can seriously keep this gem at the Minor League level.

<b> Garret update:  </b>  Garret Anderson worked out at Disney today and Cox thinks his new outfielder might be able to make his exhibition season debut early next week.   I’m still of the opinion that Anderson was a solid pickup and possibly the best bargain of the offseason. 

But when you just get a taste of what Schafer can do on the field, you get a better idea about why some of the Braves felt they would be fine if GM Frank Wren didn’t land an additional outfielder.

<b> Here comes Hanson:  </b>  This is my ninth season covering the Braves and never before have I been more excited about seeing somebody pitch.  Tommy Hanson is scheduled to throw two innings against the Astros tomorrow and when he takes the mound, it might mark one of those rare occasions when every media member is simultaneously actually paying attention to what’s going on during an exhibition game.

<i> Baseball America </i> has rated Hanson as the top right-handed pitching prospect.  He ranks fourth on the overall list, just one spot ahead of Braves outfielder Jason Heyward, who is rated the game’s top corner  outfield  prospect. 

The five Braves listed in BA’s top 100 list include: Hanson (4), Heyward (5), Schafer (42), Gorkys Hernandez (62) and Freddie Freeman (87).

Brandon Hicks, a non-roster invitee who hasn’t received enough attention during the early days of camp, is rated as the game’s 10th-best shortstop prospect. 

“He’s a Major League shortstop,” Cox said while Hicks was showing his power potential during batting practice on Wednesday.

  

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