Archive for March, 2011

104: Beachy is just Peachy

Gil in Mechanicsville, VA – Some surprises were had as the Braves prepared to break camp and head north to begin the season for real.  The announcements to opt for performance rather than potential and also choosing a guy in Brandon Beachy who has shown both poise and skill over a guy on whom ten days ago I would have bet heavily, Mike Minor, because the Braves have a much larger investment.

As a number 7 pick in the first round draft in 2010 plus a rather healthy signing bonus with the added benefit of potentially being the only left-handed starter on an otherwise right-handed staff, The Beach just flat out-pitched his competition and won the final spot in the rotation.  I was fortunate to see Brandon pitch early in the spring against the Nationals and he had it going then.  He does not possess an overwhelming fastball but, folks, his change up is truly outstanding and his control is said to be Greg Maddux-like. That is pretty great company to be mentioned with when you are comparing control.

From my vantage point, I was unable to see exactly where the ball was pitched but I did see some really funny swings being taken by the likes of Jason Werth and LaRoache.  It is not as if Beachy is a “strike out” pitcher but I did not see one hard hit ball by the Nationals in his stint on the mound.  With his selection by the Braves as the number five guy in the rotation, I suspect that trend continued in his other games this spring as well.

Other surprised this spring may have been the selection of the diminutive Matt Young as the Braves fourth outfielder and Brandon Hicks as the utility infielder.

Young has proved he can hit for average and, with his speed, he will turn a lot of long singles into doubles.  He also appears to be able to hit in the clutch.  You don’t always need a three run homer to win ballgames.  How many times last year did we see the Braves fail to score after loading the bases with no or only one out?  The kid, and I use that term loosly as he is 28, can also play all three outfield positions and was also used at second base this spring.  He looks to be a gamer.  Every team needs a guy like this on their team if for no other reason than to ambush a pitcher who is looking into the dugout to see where the boppers are.   I guess the real  surprise has been that Young managed to play his way onto the team over Joe Mather who had been touted as the next “Great White Hope” by the Atlanta press.  Though Mather was given plenty of opportunity, he  just appeared to  play poorly while Young simply played better in every opportunity.

Brandon Hicks may have finally reached his potential.  A number three pick by the Braves behind Francouer and McCann, he has always possessed a great glove but his poor hitting has forced the Braves to keep him in AAA.  Bobby Cox has said he was one of the best young shortstops he had seen but it has always been his bat that held him back.  Perhaps the positive in the Braves opting for Hicks as their primary back-up over Diory Hernandez is Hicks’ ability to play third and Brandon appears to have added bulk this off season so a bit more power to be had with the stick.

Diory was also a bit disappointing with the bat this spring but I suspect he will be in Atlanta at some juncture during the season.  I don’t mean to paint that devil on the wall but six months is a long time in baseball and obliques get tweaked and elbows, shoulders and hammys somehow manage to be a problem for everyone at some point.

~Gil~

Comments and articles herein are the intellectual property and opinions of the writers and may not be copied without permission of the writers.

103: Observations from 2011 Spring Training

by Gil from Mechanicsville, VA –

Viera, Florida – Greetings all!  While I touched on a few highlights about the game between Atlanta’s split squad and the Nationals in the previous post, I thought I would elaborate on some of my other observations.

First would be the noticeable difference in Nate McLouth.  Honestly,  it is nearly impossible to accurately describe the difference in the player I witnessed last year in camp and the one I  saw Friday.  It is not just the fact that he is hitting the ball the other way.  Where he was not making contact at all last year, he is now striking the ball with authority and without that exaggerated uppercut he has employed in the past.  Being a bit smallish in statue, McLouth is not a prototypical home run hitter to begin with.  He is, however, exactly the kind of guy you would want at the top of your line-up if he can get on base because he has great speed in addition to good base-running smarts.

Having guys like Schafer and McLouth available as table-setters for boppers like Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla and Brian McCann add so many possibilities to the Braves offense.  In addition, having a speed guy on base increases the likelihood of the latter seeing more fastballs and can be a huge distraction for opposing pitchers, increasing the probability of mistakes.  McLouth is also throwing the ball with greater ease.  Though I do not know the reason for the change and the big difference, I can only speculate that perhaps he was hampered by some type of injury last season.

Other players I observed who stood out were Brandon Beachy, Diory Hernandez, Freddi Freeman and Shawn Bowman.

Beachy was peachy.  He had the National hitters off balance during his entire 3 inning stint. He has a lively fastball which is complimented by a plus-change.  National hitters were doing the bunny hop trying to adjust for his change of pace pitches.  The only exception was Ed Merero who guessed right on a fastball and hit a ringing double down the left field line.

Diory Hernandez looked sharp both in the field at short and with the bat.  He is starting to reach the age where the term “prospect” no longer applies and will either make it or not at this juncture. With the trade of Infante’ to the Marlins, he has the perfect opportunity to move into a super-sub role. While he is mainly a shortstop/second base type of player, he has also taken a few turns at third and could play there if called upon.

Diory’s real shortcoming has always been trouble hitting major league pitching. He has shown the ability to hit at every other level he has played so perhaps it is now just his time.  I believe the biggest difference may be in his confidence level.  Spending some time with the big club last season may have allowed him to realize that he belongs at the major league level. While he has pop in his bat, he also has gap-to-gap hitting skills and very good speed.  He is going to stretch a lot of doubles into triples.

On Friday, he and Brooks Conrad turned two double plays against the Nationals.  While not called upon to make any spectacular plays, he made the plays he was supposed to make and that in itself could be a small victory. Kudos to Brooks Conrad, too, by the way.  He made a couple of very nice plays in the field and executed the pivot position at second with authority.

Freddie Freeman plays at a level that belies his young age.  He displays excellent glove work in the field and outstanding baseball sense when it comes to situational hitting.  It is so frustrating to watch many young – or old for that matter – players who possess power but who will always be swinging for the fences regardless of the circumstances of the at-bat.  How many times have we seen players go for the glory only to be struck out because the opposing pitcher knows that a power hitter’s weakness is change of speeds.

While we know that Freeman processes power, he can also hit to all fields and seems content to hit the ball the other way.  It is a lot harder to pitch to a guy who will hit the ball where it is pitched than to a player who is always trying to pull the ball.  One of the most difficult things for a first year player to do is to hit above .250.  It is just the nature of the game for a young guy to adjust to big league pitching because major league pitchers will get the book on you pretty quick if you have a weakness.  Remember Jeff Francoeur?  He would punish any pitcher who threw him a strike until pitchers quickly realized they did not have to throw a strike to get him out.  I’m not saying opposing pitchers won’t strike out Freeman but they are going to have to throw strikes to do it.

One last comment on Shawn Bowman – a young kid who plays third base – who will not likely be playing in Atlanta this season unless things do not go well health-wise for the club.  He is a good looking prospect with a decent glove and is a good hitter.  Again, not a guy who is trying to do too much but appears to know what he is doing in the batter’s box.  He has been a late-inning substitute this spring and I expect he will begin the season playing third-base in Gwinnett. Keep an eye on him though because he will definitely be playing in the big leagues somewhere one day.

~Gil~

A few photos from Gil:

Gil, Staff Reporter, Mayor of Stuffville

Comments and articles herein are the intellectual property and opinions of the writers and may not be copied without permission of the writers.



%d bloggers like this: