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Spring training questions: Atlanta Braves

Feb 27, 2010, 6:42 PM EDT

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking at a few of the questions facing each team this spring.
1. Will Jair Jurrjens be OK for the start of the season after showing up to camp with a bum shoulder?
Jurrjens, who finished third in the NL with a 2.60 ERA last season, reported soreness immediately after reporting to spring training. An MRI turned up no structural damage, and the Braves are currently cautiously optimistic that he’ll be ready on time. Whether the story ends there will be determined over the next several weeks. Jurrjens has a clean delivery, but he’s thrown a lot of pitches for someone who just turned 24 last month. With their lack of starting pitching depth, the Braves would be hard-pressed if they lost him for any length of time.
2. Is Jason Heyward ready to take over as the everyday right fielder?
The games haven’t even started, yet the hype machine is working overtime already. Some thought that Heyward, baseball’s best position prospect, should have been given a callup in the second half of last year. He ended up hitting .323/.408/.555 in a season spent mostly at Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi. The now 20-year-old Heyward bulked up over the winter and has reportedly been crushing the ball in batting practice. He’s advanced enough as a hitter that few doubt he’d be able to hold his own in the majors right away. Whether he’s really enough of an upgrade over Melky Cabrera to make it worth carrying him on Opening Day is another question, particularly once the financial ramifications are taking into account (by keeping him in the minors for another two months, the Braves could delay his arbitration and free agency eligibility by a year).
So, yeah, I think Heyward is probably ready to be an average or maybe an above average regular for the Braves. But given that Cabrera is a pretty average regular himself, the team may want to give Heyward the Tommy Hanson treatment anyway. Hanson was kept in the minors last year just long enough to ensure that he wouldn’t be super-two eligible after 2011.
3. Will the Braves have to go get themselves one more pitcher?
This really goes along with the first two questions. As is, the Braves rotation fallbacks are disappointing left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes and right-hander Kris Medlen, who should be a key cog in the bullpen. Unlike most seasons, there aren’t any quality prospects ready to step in, though I think Medlen would do just fine if needed. Also complicating the matter is that Reyes is out of options and might be picked up by another team unless the Braves opt to carry him as a reliever.
In a perfect world, the Braves would have one more rotation option behind Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami. And they have a seemingly ideal trade candidate in Cabrera if they opt to make Heyward their right fielder. Should the right situation arise next month, the Braves may well use Cabrera to improve their depth elsewhere. Or it’s something they could try to do in June, though Cabrera’s value would take a hit if he plays behind Heyward.

  1. longtimebravesfan - Feb 27, 2010 at 7:37 PM

    Jo-Jo Reyes is NOT out of options.
    Actually I feel that the Braves have more pitching depth than in previous years, with Medlen ready to step in. Very few teams have a reliable sixth starter. The Braves do, as Medlen was better as a starter in the minors than he was as a reliever. And the Braves have a number of young, up and coming relievers ready to step up should Medlen have to go the starting rotation.

  2. Windu - Feb 27, 2010 at 7:51 PM

    Yeah Jo-Jo is not out of options, he apparently missed the cut off date by a single day lol. The only player out of options for the Braves is Melky. And if Heyward makes the team then Diaz and Melky will probably platoon in LF. If he doesn’t then Melky will play RF and Diaz LF. Not sure who would be the 4th outfielder though.

  3. David - Feb 27, 2010 at 10:32 PM

    Don’t forget Eric Hinske. He’s a better candidate to platoon with Diaz in left. He has more pop and better splits against RHP than Melky.
    The Braves are a lot better off pitching depth wise than people think. Kris Medlen can easily fill a rotation spot if needed. He won’t be stuck in the pen his entire career, that’s for sure. He’s a solid starter.

  4. Jack - Feb 28, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    Arbitration and Free Agent service time are two different things. I thought it only took a couple weeks in the minors to prevent it from counting as a Free Agent year.

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