Tuesday, February 28, 2006

MTM: Pre-Spring Games Buzz (Non-roster invitees)

Making-the-Team Meter for Braves non-roster invitees

This is what everyone's saying (writers, players, coaches) about a non-roster player’s chances of making the squad prior to any spring games.

The marks to the left of the player's name indicates that their chances of making the team are moving up (), moving down (), or staying even (–).

Kevin Barry, rhp / At age 27, he’s a career minor leaguer who has actually put up some decent numbers in the minors the past two years.
Wes Obermueller, rhp / He is the Dan Kolb consolation prize. He’s bounced between AAA and the majors the last four years, and he hasn’t been able to post a major league ERA under 5.00 yet. He’s impressed a bit at camp so far.
Chad Paronto, rhp / He’s a 4-A pitcher who was last in the bigs in ’03. But for a non-roster guy, he’s raising some eyebrows and may become the new Kevin Gryboski.
Travis Smith, rhp / Another 4-A pitcher, he made some spot starts for the Braves in ’04.
Sean White, rhp / Minor league starter getting a look.
Mike Remlinger, lhp / Does he have one more year in him? He’s got a lot to prove, and he’s added a pitch to try and help his chances.
Eddie Perez, c / He’s hoping some team needs an aging backup catcher, but we have Pratt and apparently no room for Eddie.
Steve Pyzik, c / The pitchers need someone to throw to in the spring.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, c / Our number one prospect, this year’s Francoeur. Already has impressed many people.
Clint Sammons, c / Solid young catcher, but we have a lot of those in the system.
Cesar Crespo, 2b-ss / 4-A speedster, he’ll be what Esix Snead was to Richmond last year.
Jonathan Schuerholz, ss / He’s got a chance to show if he can play, but he doesn’t have a high ceiling.
Brian Jordan, of / Can he make the team again? He’s trying to add value by also being a first baseman.
Dave Kelton, of / Has shown good power in the minors, but has never gotten a chance in the bigs.
Michael Ryan, of / Cups of coffee each of the last four years with the Twins, he hit 31 HR in ’02 at AAA.

. . . I will probably have another MTM update on Friday or Saturday after several spring games are in the books. . .

Monday, February 27, 2006

MTM: Pre-Spring Games Buzz (40-man)

Making-the-Team Meter for Braves players on the 40-man roster

This is what everyone's saying (writers, players, coaches) about a player’s chances of making the squad prior to any spring games. Speaking of spring games, March 1st ushers in the first scrimmage game against the Dawgs. Also note that Friday’s home game against the Dodgers is going to be televised on ESPN. (Is it too early for me to be smelling a sick day?)

The marks to the left of the player's name indicates that their chances of making the team are moving up (), moving down (), or staying even (–).

Jose Ascanio, rhp / He had a major off year in ’05, but he’s opened some eyes early at camp.
Brad Baker, rhp / Minor league closer in the Pads system, will have plenty of competition.
Blaine Boyer, rhp / Needs to bounce back from late season arm trouble.
Lance Cormier, rhp / Has not been very impressive in 1+ seasons with the D-Backs, but he’s showing signs that he may have some potential. Still has a lot to prove.
Kyle Davies, rhp / Trying to make the team as the 5th starter; James is giving him a lot of early competition.
Joey Devine, rhp / Potential closer candidate, needs to stay away from the gopher balls this spring. He’s been impressive early in camp.
John Foster, lhp / Left handed journey man will try to stake a claim in the bullpen. With McBride and Remlinger, it will be an uphill battle.
Chuck James, lhp / Lefty starter might surprise many like Horacio Ramirez did when he made the team out of spring training in ’03. He’s already raised some eyebrows.
Anthony Lerew, rhp / Power arm will compete for the closer’s job.
Macay McBride, lhp / Power lefty could become a bullpen mainstay.
Oscar Villarreal, rhp / The principal arm in the Estrada trade, should make the pen, but must prove that arm troubles are behind him. He’s already showing he’s a solid clubhouse guy, and he’s impressed several teammates with his stuff on the mound.
Brayan Pena, c / If an injury to McCann or Pratt occurs, Pena is ready to step in, but with Salty on his heels he still must impress this spring.
James Jurries, 1b / He’s had enough of AAA, but he must impress to earn a spot.
Scott Thorman, 3b-1b / Because he’s a lefty, he might not get a look as a potential 1b platoon player. But he may have an extra chance to shine in the WBC.
Matt Diaz, of / Hard-nosed outfielder who is one of the favorites for the left-field job. Also adds some value as an emergency catcher.
Kelly Johnson, of / He will have to prove that he can overcome his late season struggles and not be a streaky as he was last year. He hopes the off-season surgery he had will help his chances.

. . . Tomorrow I’ll have the pre-spring games buzz for the non-roster invitees. . .

Making-the-Team Meter

With so many players, especially relief pitchers, trying to make the Braves squad this spring, I thought it would be handy to keep a hot/cold chart of what each player’s chances are. I’ll update the chart throughout the spring and try to reference why they’re moving up (), moving down (), or staying even (–) in their chances to make the team.

Here are the candidates:

Players on the 40-man roster:
Jose Ascanio, rhp
Brad Baker, rhp
Blaine Boyer, rhp
Lance Cormier, rhp
Kyle Davies, rhp
Joey Devine, rhp
John Foster, lhp
Chuck James, lhp
Anthony Lerew, rhp
Macay McBride, lhp
Oscar Villarreal, rhp
Brayan Pena, c
James Jurries, 1b
Scott Thorman, 1b
Matt Diaz, of
Kelly Johnson, of

Non-roster invitees:
Kevin Barry, rhp
Wes Obermueller, rhp
Chad Paronto, rhp
Travis Smith, rhp
Sean White, rhp
Mike Remlinger, lhp
Eddie Perez, c
Steve Pyzik, c
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, c
Clint Sammons, c
Cesar Crespo, 2b-ss
Jonathan Schuerholz, ss
Brian Jordan, of
Dave Kelton, of
Michael Ryan, of

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Around the Horn in the NL East

“Spring is in the air!”

Let me be the ninety billionth blogger to say that spring training has officially arrived.

Former Braves shortstop, Rafael Furcal, says his decision to leave the team was purely business. He also thinks that Marcus Giles will not like batting lead-off. I for one, have to agree with him. As I’ve said before, Giles slots better as a number 2 hitter and Renteria fits better as a number 7 hitter. The whole lineup works better when they hit in that order, and I have confidence that our left field platoon can become strong on-base guys.

Bobby Cox admits that he has overused Chris Reitsma in the past:

"He's had some success out there, and I think if we used him just right, he'd have a lot of success. I have a tendency to overuse him," manager Bobby Cox says. "He's got three outstanding pitches. But there's other guys out there, too."

Reistma, for his part, is approaching this opportunity as if it is wide open:

"I'd like to have the job, but I'm not looking at it like it's mine to lose," Reitsma says, adding he feels he can repeat his July performance. "I feel strong, healthy."

The Phillies new closer, Tom Gordon, is not at all sad about leaving New York and it’s media behind. His quest to prove people wrong that he is not washed up and can close again may strengthen his resolve to have a good year. He will have to live up to comparisons to Billy Wagner, which may be hard to do.

Phills’ third baseman David Bell might have some competition this spring.

Former Brave Bret Boone will either win a job with the Mets or hang up his spikes this spring. He’s pulling out all the stops, including dying his hair bleached-blond, but he will face a bunch of competition for the Mets’ few bench spots, one of them is Julio Franco.

The Marlins’ new manager, Joe Girardi, seems to be fitting in well with his new team. A scary thought on a team this young is that he might be in better shape than some of his players:

In the clubhouse a few minutes later, Olsen wrapped a cold towel around his head and marveled at how Girardi, 41, outpaced many players.

"He ran, like, 12 poles and he wasn't even fazed," Olsen, 22, said. "He might have run more than 14. I ran my 14 and got out."

The Nationals still don’t have an owner, but soon they may not have a name. Could MLB fall on their face any more when it comes to this team?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Predicting the World Baseball Classic: Finals

It’s Rocket time! And this is the type of game that Roger Clemens was made to pitch. He’s held Pujols to only one RBI in 21 career ABs, Miguel Tejada to only one RBI in 26 career ABs, Big Papi to a .211 BA, Vlad to a .188 BA, Manny a .180 BA. The Rocket may be the only man who is not afraid to face the Dominican lineup, because he knows he can neutralize it. Back up what ever he can do, for the 95 pitches he is allowed to throw, with a phalanx of relievers the likes of Brad Lidge, Chad Cordero, Joe Nathan, Huston Street, and Billy Wagner. Let’s just hope Buck Martinez can hold off using Clemens in the Semis and save him for the Finals. This game may still be very close one, though. Standing opposite Clemens on the mound could be Pedro Martinez, who is equally capable of shutting down an opponent’s offense. This game may turn out to be an All-Star game that means something (oh, wait). Still, I’m going to go with the team that can bring in multiple relievers capable of throwing 100+ mph, Team United States. Really, I’m not just picking them because I’m from the same country, I just think that a 100 mph fastball at this point in the spring is not something many batters, even the Dominican murderer’s row, can catch up with. Pitching, this kind of pitching, wins the ‘Championship Trophy’ of the first World Baseball Classic.

Some Big Names Begin Blogging

Two of the top Baseball writers at ESPN have begun daily weblogs. Jayson Stark and Peter Gammons are now bridging the gap between MSM and bloggers. The only downfall for most people is that these blogs, like Buster Olney’s, is behind the paid subscription required ESPN Insider wall. I have an account that I’ve had for a little over a year now. I think I got it mainly so that I could see all the rumors on Rumor Central, but I like the access it gives me to the exclusive ESPN Insider writers (and now bloggers). With it I also receive the oversized ESPN The Magazine (which is like a regular magazine on steroids. . . huh). At any rate, this is not an ad for ESPN, I just thought I’d mention it. I’ve also added their links to the column on the right.

Predicting the World Baseball Classic: Semi-Finals

The top two teams from each of Round 2’s Pool 1 and Pool 2 play one game to determine who will go to the Finals. With single elimination, this round will be a nail-biter.

Pool 1: Japan vs. United States
The only advantage that Japan might have is that many of their pitchers have weird motions, and the US could stumble upon someone who dominates them on the mound. Many of the US players, including Derek Lee and Vernon Wells, have been to Japan in the quasi-annual MLB Japan All-Star Series. There will be some familiarity with some of their players. One of the added bonuses of the recent players like Ichiro and Matsui coming over from Japan, is that there are plenty of scouting reports floating around on the top Japanese players, many of whom should be participating in the WBC. The US pulls out a victory with a late inning rally.

Pool 2: Venezuela vs. Dominican Republic
This rematch will have been brewing for weeks, ever since the end of the Caribbean Series, a series that saw Venezuela rally in the ninth inning for a miraculous comeback against the Dominicans. But that Dominican team did not have the powerful punch that it is now carrying into the WBC. And while Venezuela will put up a good fight, it will not be enough to break the backs of the Dominican sluggers. The DR gets out to an early lead and holds off a late rally by Venezuela to win.

. . . Tomorrow, which team will I predict to take home the. . . cup? (what is the trophy called). . .

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Predicting the World Baseball Classic: Round 2

In Round 2 within each newly created pool, each team plays every other team in the pool once. The teams with the top two records from each pool advance to the Semi-Finals. My predictions from Round 1 result in the following teams making each of the pools below.

Pool 1: Japan / Korea / Mexico / United States
It is pretty easy to predict the teams that will advance from this second round pool. The US and Japan will be very strong in all aspects of the game. Korea and Mexico just don’t have enough to keep with the two most prolific baseball countries.

Pool 2: Netherlands / Puerto Rico / Dominican Republic / Venezuela
Team Puerto Rico will put up a fight, and Mulder and Haren of Team Netherlands may make some games close, but they will wither under the onslaught of batting that will be Team DR and Team Venezuela. Let me just take a moment to expand on how loaded the Dominican team is. This lineup should include Willy Taveras, Manny Ramirez, and Vladimir Guerrero in the outfield; Adrian Beltre, Miguel Tejada, Alfonso Soriano, and Albert Pujols around the infield; and to top it off, Big Papi in the DH spot. Not to mention Cy Young award winners Pedro Martinez and Bartolo Colon leading a pitching staff that consists of starters like Odalis Perez and Jorge Sosa, and a relief corps that includes Jose Mesa, Miguel Batista, and Armando Benitez. Absolutely stacked!

. . . Tomorrow, the Simi-Finals’ predictions. . .

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Predicting the World Baseball Classic: Round 1

Not all the rosters are set, but we can pretty much tell which teams will be contenders and which teams will not. In Round 1 within each pool, each team plays every other team in the pool once. The teams with the top two records from each pool advance to Round 2.

Pool A: China / Chinese Taipei / Japan / Korea
First of all, this will be the most fun bracket to watch simply to listen to the announcers try and pronounce these players’ names. The Korean team could conceivably have a lineup where every player had the last name of Kim, and the Taiwanese could field a team comprised completely of Chen’s. The picks to advance from this bracket are pretty obvious, with Japan grabbing the one seed and Korea taking the two seed.

Pool B: Canada / Mexico / South Africa / United States
This is arguably the toughest pool, with three contenders and the also-ran South Africans. The US will definitely advance as the one seed (at least they better, this is their tournament), but the second seed is a close one between the bookend countries of the US, Canada and Mexico. Canada can put together a respectable lineup that includes Jason Bay, Justin Morneau, Matt Stairs, and Corey Koskie. The Rockies youngster Jeff Francis anchors Team Canada’s staff with Erik Bedard as the only other decent-ish starter. Their relief corps should be strong with Reitsma, Cormier, Quantrill, and Crain. But Team Mexico looks to be a bit stronger with Dessens, Loaiza, Mitre, Oliver Perez, and Oscar Villareal anchoring their staff, and Vinny Castilla, Durazo, and a host of other moderately good hitters on the field. Their experience in a tournament like this (the Caribbean Series) will give them an edge. So the US and Mexico advance from Pool B.

Pool C: Cuba / Netherlands / Panama / Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico will easily take the top seed here, but the rest of the field should make it an exciting battle for the second seed. No one really knows what to expect from Cuba, but they could be very good if Castro lets the right team show up. Panama has a host of fringe major leaguers to support Carlos Lee, but it will not be enough to over take Team Netherlands. As I’ve written before, this rag-tag group of islanders led by Andruw Jones and Mark Mulder are going to be a fun bunch to watch. The Dutch grab the two seed behind Puerto Rico.

Pool D: Australia / Dominican Republic / Italy / Venezuela
There are two power house teams in this pool, the DR and Venezuela. The Dominicans should easily win the top seed here, with the Venezuelans on their heels in the two seed. The games between these two teams may constitute the most exciting rivalry of the tournament. Venezuela is coming off of a surprising upset of the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Series. Of course, the monster hitters that should be on Team DR in the WBC were not on the CS team. Australia and/or Italy in any other division might have had a chance to make it out of the first round.

. . . Coming up tomorrow, Round 2 predictions. . .

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Around the Horn in the NL East

The AJC has a great story about the new Braves’ starting catcher, Brian McCann. Eventually, the blogosphere is going to have to come up with a good name for the Sophomore Braves. They are no longer the rookies they were last year when they were dubbed the Baby Braves. Hopefully they can be the Terrific Two’s and not the Terrible Two’s. If you have any suggestions, send them my way.

Peter Gammons lists some top young players who will be difference makers next season, as selected by a poll of 50 executives, scouts, managers, and coaches. McCann made the list at number 7:

7. Brian McCann, C, Atlanta: When All-Star Johnny Estrada got run over by Darin Erstad, McCann rushed in and helped the Braves finish first for the 14th consecutive full season. He had an impressive .748 OPS, handled pitchers masterfully and allowed the Braves to trade Estrada for bullpen help. Oh yes. Right behind McCann is Jarrod Saltalamacchia, rated by many as the best catching prospect in the minor leagues.

No Francoeur on the list. Don’t know if he’s too ‘experienced’ or what. Marte showed up around 22.

Macay McBride got a mention among the who do you believe will have a breakout season candidates. And Renteria got listed in 10th under the who do you believe will have the biggest comebacks question.

Even a team like the Mets still has plenty of questions entering the season. One of the big ones is Senior Pedro and his wittle huwt foowt. Minaya seems to be clipping coupons for any other pieces he can pick up before the season.

Shame, shame on MLB for not settling the Nationals ownership issue before the season starts. Their GM Jim Bowden put it best by saying unfortunately, it’s interim housing for a bunch of people with interim positions. Would they stop beating around the bush and sell the bloody team already.

It’s looking more and more like Slammin’ Steroid Sammy will not be with the Nats this year. Like his oversized head, his ego is too big for anything but a guaranteed starting role.

In other stadium news, the Marlins continue their quest to get someone to build them a stadium. This time they’re asking a local college to help foot the bill. That same story talks about the (unsurprising) drop-off in Marlins’ ticket sales. Even their new manager is having a tough time penciling in the starting lineup and starting rotation. It will be a big test for a rookie manager to not over use his young pitching arms.

It’s a bit much for the Marlins to try and hold south Florida ransom until someone down there builds them a ballpark. After the many hurricanes they have been through the last two years, and all the damage to the local economy, the Marlins shouldn’t be asking for public funds to build a ballpark. After the great success of San Fran’s privately financed park, why would any city with the financial hardships of Miami be willing to pay for a major league stadium.

By the way, I just stumbled across a great site about ballparks.

Monday, February 13, 2006

McDowell Exposed

When I heard Roger McDowell was going to be the pitching coach, I remembered a picture that had stuck in my head from my old baseball card collecting days. So I went over to my archives (my parents’ house) and dug through my old Becketts. It didn’t take too long to find it, the April ’92 edition with the Big Hurt on the front and good ‘ol Ron Gant on the back. Those were the days when a ’91 Upper Deck Todd Van Poppel rookie was a robust $2.75, with an emphasis on the ‘bust.’ Anyway, this is a great picture of McDowell as a player. He was known as quite the jokester, and this photo was taken during the spring of that year. By the way, flipping through an old Beckett is a nice trip down nostalgia lane. Click on the picture for a larger view.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

World Baseball Classic Update

While I have proposed that the Braves use a bullpen by committee over at Talking Chop, I still feel that Chris Reitsma is our strongest and most reliable reliever (when healthy), and the best option if we choose one closer. It seems almost certain, now that Gagne has dropped out of the WBC, that Reits will be the closer for team Canada. This will be a better audition than closing out games in spring training.

For all of the flack that the WBC is taking, it may give certain players a chance to shine on a major stage with better competition than they would face in spring training. Spring games are exhibitions after all, while WBC games are supposed to mean something (I believe its nationalistic pride, but I’m not quite sure yet).

I wonder how worn out people will be after watching the Winter Olympics and rooting for their ‘country.’ Will they have any more of that ‘nationalistic pride’ left? And will it be an odd thing when they boo team USA in a bar in Boston as the lineup is read that includes Jeter, A-Rod, and Damon, and cheer for a Dominican Republic team that features Ortiz and Manny.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Book Excerpt

Via Baseball Musings, an excerpt from Dayn Perry’s new book is online at Fox Sports. This chapter deals with the rise of Ted Turner and how his other business dealings lent themselves towards purchasing the Braves. It’s a nice trip down memory lane. As for the book, the excerpt was mainly historical with only one paragraph of slight analysis. That’s not enough to judge the book as good or bad on the analytical side.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A New Gig

So apparently (1) people are reading this blather I spew on a regular basis, and (2) some people actually like it. I’ve been asked and have accepted a gig blogging for Talking Chop, another daily Braves blog. And not for nothing, that is and has been the first link posted on the right hand column of my blog.

I will continue to update this blog as well, as I think chronicling my season ticket misadventures is a worthy one. But I will be posting quite a bit of stuff over at Talking Chop as well. My first post is already online.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Free Music, WooHoo!

So I got my latest issue of Paste magazine, and along with the free music sampler that is usually included, was a little card that offered 50 free songs form eMusic. I went ahead and signed up, gave them a credit card, downloaded my 50 free songs, and canceled my account before the 14-day free trial was up (critical), and didn’t get charged a cent. Go to www.emusic.com/paste to sign up. I’m not getting any kickbacks from this, I just thought I would pass along the love.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

FanFest Comes and Goes

I stopped by the Braves Winter FanFest for a couple hours today. It was a decent day, kinda cold and windy, but not too bad. I stopped by the ‘Fest mainly for a clubhouse tour, and a stroll on the field, but I only got one out of two. They were apparently not set up for the clubhouse tours, which was a bit disappointing.

I’m not a big autograph hound so I wasn’t really going to get any signatures, and good thing because the lines were monstrous. The line to get Smoltz’ signature wound about a third of the way around the back of the stadium, at least three hundred yards or so.

The picture below was the line to get Renteria’s autograph. Not a bad sign for the new Brave.

One of the best events were the Q&A’s with Braves players and coaches. I saw John Thompson and Joey Devine answering questions as I walked in. Later on John Smoltz and Roger McDowell took to the stage to answer questions. I realized as I was standing there that I should have brought a pen and some paper so that I could write down some of the more interesting things they were saying and relay them to you here, but I forgot, damn. I’m sure the AJC will do a good job of relaying the important quotes. The fans were asking a bunch of questions about how hard the players thought it would be to keep up with the Mets after all of their off-season acquisitions. I also recall that one of the last questions Smoltz answered during his Q&A session received the most applause. He was answering a question about when he first got serious about baseball as a kid. He ended it by saying that ‘[parents these days push their kids too hard in little leagues, and that they should just let them have fun and be kids. High school is the time to get serious about sports.]’

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Camp Roger

Everyone seems to be responding well to the Braves new pitching coach, Roger McDowell. There is also the scent of anti-Leo sentiment in the air. Tim Hudson doesn’t seem to have lost any sleep over Leo leaving, as he has implied several times. The big differences between McDowell and Mazzone seems to be that Leo was an ‘old school’ kind of coach, who may have been looked down upon sometimes because he never pitched in the big leagues. Whereas McDowell is one of the new breed of pitching coaches who worries just as much about the pitchers’ mental ability to throw as his physical delivery of pitches. He also seems to be getting more instant credit for having been a former Major League pitcher.