Archive for the 'Chuck James' Category

72: Spring is about to be sprung!

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by Berigan

Well, after being revived from a near death experience, (and some nasty frostbite) Spring is about to return…unless we are about to enter a new ice age. (20 for a low Tuesday night here in the ATL!!!) I’d rather enter another gilded age, but, I don’t have a say in the matter.

Speaking of things I have no say about, your Atlanta Braves! Our Bravos are about to get paid for what many have been doing for weeks if not months already, swinging bats, and throwing the ol’ Horsehide. Or is it cowhide??? Synthetic leather like material, PETA approved???

springtraining
Whatever, the guys are getting ready for the long grind ahead of them. And that’s just spring training, never mind the actual baseball season…..and fingers crossed, post season.

One thing just about every team, save the Padres have in abundance is hope for a good season, and with a few breaks, a real playoff race to be involved in.

Remember last spring??? Me neither, but Salty reminded me in a post a few days back that we had something like 10 potential starters last year at the start of spring.
We all could imagine a rotation of Hudson, Smoltz, Glavine, Hampton, and perhaps that kid Jurrjens (If he outdueled Chucky and Jo-Jo for 5th slot) giving the Mutts and Phillies phits, err, fits. Hmm, lets, see now, which of that group was still starting in September for us???

Do I really need to recap that we lose Smoltz and Hampton, but gained Javy Vasquez, Derek Lowe, and that Japanese guy, who’s name better start rolling off my tongue PDQ??? I guess I do, if I don’t want this lead to be only 3 paragraphs long! 😉

Thats 3 guys, that if their health luck/karma doesn’t do a 180 being acox Brave, should each make 30+ starts, and go 200 + innings, which will really rest the old bullpen in May and June, and make Bobby look like he has gained 30 IQ points, and is no longer in Forrest Gump territory! 😀

A real bopper in Left will make him seem smarter than Einstein! That, and not starting McCann 12 games straight.

Anyhoo, I know we will all be writing about our hopes and dreams for the team in the coming weeks, we will get familiar with, and excited about some of the kids we only know based on their names, and what writers have written about them.

Baseball tonight occasionally does a segment where guys on the panel have to make bold predictions. Who might be a surprise MVP, what team will win the most games the 2nd half of season, etc.

heyward1My bold/crazy predictions are that if we don’t get a real left fielder in spring training, Justin Heyward will have a huge spring, sparking talk of him being the left fielder. Also, Tommy Hanson will be so impressive, and Glavine will hurt his hammy in the second to last start of spring and will go north with the club.

What are everyone else’s Batpoop crazy predictions for the Braves in 2009???

~Berigan~

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63: Throwing Caution To The Wind – part IV

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by Gil in Mechanicsville

To conclude my synopsis on the possible Braves bullpen for 2009, I will comment on the best of the rest and perhaps some other possibilities from the Braves system. Again, it is necessary to take all of what I say with a grain of salt because things can change in a hurry. A big trade, a breakthrough spring, an off-season injury can all have a profound affect on how things can shake out.

Let’s start with Manny Acosta. The tall lanky Panamanian can be a showacosta stopper at times and then “bad” Manny will make an appearance and give up five runs before he knows what hit him, or make that who. Acosta, I think, is well suited as a set up man. He still has not developed the killer instinct of a closer but he is just too good to bring in to face one batter. When he is on, he has a 95 mph fastball and devastating slider that brakes sharply away from right-handers. However, like many other young pitchers, he tries to get too cute and aims for the corners. Depending on the umpire’s definition of the strike zone, he is going to either catch guys looking or start walking people. For some reason, he will allow a few bad calls get in his head and the next thing you know, “bad” Manny shows up. Acosta had some injury issues last season which really hampered his development. Hopefully he will be ready coming out of spring training to finally become a fixture for the Braves. He has the potential to be a really valuable and dependable piece of the pitching staff as long as he can realize he really does belong on the major league roster.

bennettjeffJeff Bennett also had a bit of a Jeckle-and-Hyde personality in 2008. He was a shadow of his former self with his new and improved physic last season, he had flashes of brilliance along with just plain awful. Who is the real Jeff Bennett, inquiring minds want to know. I think Jeff was also facing some fatigue issues in 2008. I just could not fathom why Bobby Cox would call on the same guys repeatedly last year. It was like he would forget a guy had pitched 3 innings two nights in a row and then have him come in yet again. Now the last thing a fringe guy like Bennett would do is say he could not go again. No, he is going to suck it up and take the ball and pray the batter will get himself out. It’s my humble opinion the biggest thing missing in the Braves dugout is a guy like Pat Corrales to tell Bobby who is ready and who is not. I’m not sure Chino or Roger really feels comfortable enough in their roles to speak up tell the skipper he is hurting the team’s chance to win. Anyway, Bennett is a ground ball specialist as he has a nasty sinker and is a go to guy when a double play is called for. In addition, he is pretty versatile as he can also be used as a spot starter or long relief guy. He has the tools to be a reliable arm out of the pen; the question is how often should you use him.

Buddy Carlyle, honest folks, you got to love this guy. All those yearsbuddy_carlyle knocking around the minors, getting frequent flyer miles on Greyhound. He persevered and made it back to the bigs in 2007. I told folks when he came up from Richmond, way back when, that they should not expect too much out of the guy. He will never be confused with Tommy Hanson or John Smoltz but he is what he is and he can give you four or five innings of yeoman like baseball and by the time the sixth inning rolls around, you look up at the scoreboard and realize your team is still in the game. If you can just generate a little offense he stands a good chance of getting a win. The thing that puzzled me last year was he would languish for weeks out in the bullpen before Bobby realized he was still on the staff and call him in to pitch. Amazingly, he would get out of a big jam and put up a couple more goose eggs on the scoreboard and just wow the crowd with his resilience. Next thing you know, he is the pet pig and his arm falls off from over use. Now, it may not be fair to accuse Bobby of misusing his pen last year, after all, when your starting five are going three and out, night after night in April and May, it is inevitable that your bullpen is going to implode in August and September. There is a reason bullpen guys are not starters. During the course of their careers some sharp-eyed coach has figured out that some guys just have a marked drop-off in their effectiveness after a certain number of pitches. Some guys can go the distance and some guys are sprinters. It is up to the coaches to put guys in the situations from which they can glean the most success.

ridgeway Jeff Ridgeway, had an up and down year. Used primarily as a short relief, situational guy against lefties, he had some early success but really struggled towards the end of the year. He will be in camp but look for him to be on the bubble in spring training. I would suggest he get an apartment in Gwinnett for 2009 so he can shuttle between AAA and Atlanta without having to leave home.

johnstockman

Phil Stockman, big righty who has battled injuries for the past couple of years. His biggest obstacle will be overcoming the fear of getting hurt yet again. He possesses a good fastball and curve but until he can get himself back in shape, he will be a fixture in Gwinnett.

moylanPhil’s fellow Aussie, Peter Moylan, should be back next year about May. He will start some work in spring training but it will still be too early for him to do any serious work. I look for him to begin the year in Gwinnett if not on the DL until he proves he can once again get major league hitters out. The most telling thing about TJ surgery is not about the inability to throw a fastball but about hurling breaking pitches. It’s when they stop breaking that they end up in the bleachers.

Francisley Bueno and Jorge Julio are likely to be on the team next year unlessfrancisleybueno the Braves sign someone in the off-season. I don’t know who the Braves have in their system that could be called upon next year but the crop of pitchers at Richmond did not look ready for primetime. If the Braves do not trade JoJo, I would expect him to start the year in AAA. The Braves are not going to make him into a reliever. The same goes for Chuck James. Of course lots of things can happen between now and February so keep a sharp eye out for changes.

~Gil~


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60: Winds of Change are in the Air – Part II

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by Gil in Mechanicsville

Continuing with the theme of pitching options for the Braves in 2009, I mentioned in my previous post that several young pitchers currently in the Braves organization could figure prominently in Atlanta’s plans. I’ll begin with a couple who spent time on the big league roster in 2008.

JoJo Reyes, the big young left-hander has all the tools to be a big time front line pitcher. Unfortunately, he does not seem to realize that as of yet. I think his biggest problem is he gives opposing hitters too much credit. Instead of challenging opposing batters, he tries too hard to nibble at the corners and ends up in trouble with guys on base via walks and instead of the occasional solo dinger, he will give up runs in bunches. Perhaps another year in triple A will pay dividends. After all, he is only 22 years old. Still plenty of time to develop into the player the Braves envision he will be.

Charlie Morton, another bright spot for the Brave this year, he has long had the stuff to be a major league pitcher but like many other young players, he was not sure he belonged. Guy Hanson, the pitching coach for the Richmond Braves had worked hard trying to instill the type of mental toughness required for him to be successful in the bigs. A tired arm slowed him down late in the season. After all,  those innings pitched in the Arizona Fall League and in Triple A counted too. He once again looked sharp when used for two innings of relief at the end of the season. I predict he will be one of the last pitchers to be cut at the end of spring training if the Braves make a few trades for a starter or sign a top line free agent. It should be a real dogfight between him and JoJo and Jorge for the final slots on the Braves staff.

Chuck James is still seeking the true meaning to life, or at the least his long lost ability to throw pitches that are not immediately struck with such force that his head snaps back as he watches the ball sail into the dark of night. If he was a golfer, you could describe his problem as having a case of the yips. A condition that arrives without warning and causes its victim to lose all confidence in his ability to play and makes even a two-foot putt an adventure. Chuck himself has stated he needed to re-learn how to pitch this year. From my observation his mechanics are so out of whack because he continues to try to throw across his body. It is really difficult to consistently throw a pitch to the spot you are aiming when you are changing the release point on every throw. Walks are a nemesis for him and when you combine that with his propensity to give up the long ball, an ERA that resembles the score of an Olympic gymnast is likely. He is still searching for that elusive third pitch that would prevent batters from waiting on his change-up. You can get away with only having two pitches if you also have the control necessary to keep the ball off the sweet spot of the bat but the inability to perform as needed usually results in a short afternoon for the starter and a long afternoon for the bullpen.

Anthony Larew, looked to have turned to corner and had a great future ahead of him with Atlanta. Unfortunately for him, his arrival in Atlanta coincided with a blown out elbow and the need for Tommy John surgery. Bummer…. I am happy to say he returned to the Richmond club late this season and looked good for a guy coming off rehab. he had a couple of shaky starts the first week in August but started to come around after that. I expect he will continue to improve his arm strength and be ready to challenge for the final spot in the rotation for the big Braves. If not, he will be a short cab ride away in Gwinnette and likely be one of the first call ups should the Braves staff revert to 2008 form next year.

Up and coming Tommy Hanson is going to be on a lot of Atlanta Braves fans’ short list next year. I would expect quite a few folks will want to rush him to the big leagues considering his good numbers in Pearl this year. More likely for him will be a year or at least beginning of his Atlanta stay in the yet to be named Gwinnette stadium. I would suggest that he be allowed to learn how to pitch before he is thrown into the lion’s den. After all, a mistake made in the minors is a life lesson not often repeated in the majors. No need to ruin him mentally when he has such a great future. Often folks forget that the quality of the hitting in the minors is much less than the majors. Instead of pitching around a good prospect, a pitcher is faced with a line-up of guys who can put the bat on the ball.

In part III, I will sum up my take on the bullpen prospects for 2009.

~Gil~

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59: The Change We Need, Change We Can Believe In, A Change For The Better… Part I

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By Gil In Mechanicsville…

In this season of political spin, as politicians once again play us for fools and subscribe to the old Lincoln adage that you can fool all of the people some of the time, or at least long enough to get elected, I thought we would turn away from the posturing and one-upmanship for a few moments and talk about something that really means something to us, speculation of how the Braves line-up might look in 2009.

Let’s start with that most critical element of any successful major league franchise, pitching. First let’s assume that the Braves will at least try to bring back some of the reliable arms of the past. Tom Glavin may once again be a part of the starting rotation; the surgery to repair his balky elbow may be a resounding success. We likely won’t know until late march if he can be relied upon for one final hurrah in a Braves uniform but I suspect he would like to make one more attempt at glory.

John Smoltz may be the biggest question mark. The type of shoulder surgery he endured has not been known to have a high degree of success. Only the grit and determination, which he has shown repeatedly during his long career with the Braves, makes him a possibility to be a part of the Braves staff. While he may or may not be able to perform as a starting pitcher in 2009, I doubt he would be willing to serve in a support role in the Braves bullpen and I further doubt he would sign a contract for less than real market value. We will know by next March if we will see John on the field or in the broadcast booth.

Tim Hudson will be a non-factor next year unless the Braves are still in the pennant race in September. It is unlikely he would return to form in less than a year and his spot in the rotation is one of the huge voids that Braves need to filled this winter. We shall see just how good Frank Wren is as a GM if he can duplicate the type of deal his predecessor put together when he brought free agent Greg Maddux to Atlanta.

Jair Jurrjens was a real bright spot for the Braves this year. A true gem, for one so young to become the ace of the staff is too great a burden. Hopefully the Braves will spring for a true front line starter so Jair can continue to progress and mature without over using his arm. Too many innings on a young pitcher has repeatedly been shown to be a precursor to a shorten career.

Mike Hampton… yes, I know, so many feel he has stolen the money paid to him for the last three years but look at it this way, he was hurt while pitching. He worked like a dog to get back to where he can be considered to be a major league pitcher. Well, after watching him for the past few months, I think he has proven himself pretty well. As he becomes stronger and he regains velocity, he is going to once again be a valuable addition to the staff. I have no idea the type of contract he might be offered by the Braves but I do know one thing for certain, he is going to be on someone’s big league roster next year and the Braves will regret it if they do not re-sign him for 2009. He is still fairly young as pitchers go and if you compare him to Glavin and Smoltz, he is a virtual teenager.

Others who have a real chance at making the roster next year…. Jorge Campillo appeared to fade a bit down the stretch this year but for a while he really was a lifeline for the Braves. While he will never be confused as an ace, he was quite serviceable and hopefully he will rest his arm some during the off-season and be ready for action next April. Now while I will admit he is more likely the type of pitcher to be found on the National’s roster than the Braves, he has been much more solid than some of the other experiments Atlanta has tried the past few years. If he can learn to keep his change up down in the zone, he could easily be a 15 game winner for the Braves.

There are some other young hurlers in the Braves organization who have a chance to break through next season, Charlie Morton, JoJo Reyes, Anthony Larew, and Chuck James all have an opportunity to step into a role next year. I will give my prospectus of them as well as other young Braves hurlers in the organization plus the bullpen in my next contribution.

~Gil~

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48: An Observation from an Interested Spectator

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By Gil

MECHANICSVILLE, VA – As we approach the magic one third mark of the season, most major league teams take stock of their situation to see where they stand as far as personnel and what is needed going forward. Often times this is the time when teams decide if they are buyers or sellers and if they have a chance to be serious contenders or view the likelihood of being an also ran and begin building for the next season.

The 2008 version of the Atlanta Braves had reason to believe they were a team with which to vie for the National League East and even a possible shot at returning to the World Series. Good pitching depth and a strong offensive line up was in evidence. The Braves only apparent weakness was a lack of bench strength. Funny how the wheels began to fall off even before the start of the season.

John Smoltz began the season on the DL with what we now know as likely a career ending injury. Perhaps we should think back to the night he pitched magnificently against the Astros in the Braves last appearance in the NL playoffs and a shirtless Smoltz revealed a tremendous amount of bleeding around his right shoulder. For him to pitch the past two years has been a testament to his grit but the ravages of time have apparently taken their toll and it seems to many that John has made his last pitch as a major leaguer.

Mike Hampton was never really counted on this year like he was in 2007 but all seemed ready for the stoic lefty to finally justify the $13 million due to him this year. Alas, it was not to be, another freak injury claimed him and who knows if he will ever pitch again effectively although the return of even a mildly capable Mike Hampton could yet salvage the season for the Braves.

Chuck James went down early. Never a pitcher with a large repertoire of baffling pitches to keep opposing batters off balance, his inability to keep pitches down combined with a diminished speed deferential between his fastball and his change up, he began giving up homeruns at an alarming rate. This led to his demotion back to AAA Richmond and a mind set that he has to reinvent himself as a pitcher.

The cause of Tom Glavin’s woes have finally surfaced: a sore elbow. Who else besides me sees this as a deal breaker for a 41 year old pitcher who has been know as an innings eater throughout his career? It also explains the loss of movement on his pitches and to me may be the harbinger of a season to forget for the Bravos.

The loss of Peter Moylan and the limited availability of Soriano have also put a tremendous strain on the Braves’ bullpen. There is a correlation between the effectiveness of a team’s bullpen and the number of innings they are forced to pitch. Manny Acosta is just not capable of pitching everyday and I don’t think any other pitcher on the Braves staff is either.

So, what do you have when 4/5th of your projected starting staff and three of your most effective relievers are out with injuries? A club that more closely resembles the Washington Nationals than one that resembles the Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves cannot afford to slip much further behind the front runners if they expect to have a chance this year but counting on young pitchers like Charlie Morton to come to the rescue may be placing too much of a burden on a young rookie who is only now finding success. Steve Avery comes to mind when making a comparison of expectations by the Braves Nation and the likelihood he will struggle in his début season.


~Gil~

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