Monday, February 28, 2011

So Spring Training Started?

So according to one or two articles I’ve read online, apparently Spring Training started recently. You could have fooled me as I look outside and still see a foot of snow on the ground. So it was a bit odd watching the Braves play the Mets in sunny Florida on tv while my heater was on full blast.

The one thing that’s starting to get me in the baseball mood is planning this season’s trips. Being a Braves fan in Upstate, NY means you really have to plan ahead to see your team play. Right now I’m looking at 1 or 2 games against the Nationals in DC during opening weekend, 2 or 3 games at Turner Field in June, 2 or 3 games against the Cubs in Chicago in August and probably a couple games against the Mets in New York throughout the season (that’s really the only same-day trip to see the team play). The Gwinnett Braves also play in Syracuse in August, so I’m hoping to catch a game or two there, as well.

But until the regular season starts, Spring Training will hold my attention from afar. Over the first few games, I’ve been pleased with how the regulars are doing and have been happy to see Nate McLouth start off strong. Outside of seeing how some of the prospects play, here are the main questions I have for the next month:

1. Who will snag the 5th starter spot?

This is really Mike Minor’s spot to lose, but a rough spring for him, coupled with some strong outings by Brandon Beachy, could see Minor start off at Gwinnett. I think the only way we see Rodrigo Lopez in Atlanta come April will be if both Minor and Beachy have such poor springs that Fredi Gonzalez is forced to send the two of them to Gwinnett to gather themselves for 4-6 weeks.

2. Who will earn the last bullpen role?

In my eyes there’s really only one spot available. I see Kimbrel, Venters, Moylan, O’Flaherty, Linebrink and Sherrill’s spots being all but guaranteed. Right now Scott Proctor’s signed, but I just can’t see him as part of this bullpen, especially considering all the great arms that the Braves have to choose. The 3-run homer that Proctor gave up on Sunday probably wasn’t the best way for him to start. I think there are two ways to go for the last spot. If you’re looking for another quality RHP, a good spring from Stephen Marek would seem to place him at the top of the list. If you’re going the long reliever route (right now the team has NO longer reliever/spot starter), Christhian Martinez and Brandon Beachy look to be the likely candidates. I’m not sure who will come out on top, but I hope to see a quality long reliever end up there.

3. What will the Braves bench look like?

We know Eric Hinske and David Ross will be there. It would seem that one of the spots is Brooks Conrad’s to lose, though probably not completely guaranteed. The team needs another outfielder, right now that battle is between Joe Mather (who can also back up at 1B) and Jordan Schafer. My guess is that unless Schafer has a spring that rivals 2009 (and maybe even if he does), he’ll be sent back to minors to get some ABs, considering all the time he’s missed over the past 1-2 seasons due to injury/ineffectiveness. My one wild card is Wilkin Ramirez. Ramirez is 3-4 with 2 R and a 3B in this early spring. He’s got pop and some impressive speed for a guy his size. I think the final bench spot has to be a back-up SS. At 34 years old, Alex Gonzalez isn’t exactly young and even though his defense isn’t as bad as he showed in the playoffs, Brooks Conrad isn’t exactly a specialist with the glove. It looks like the battle will be between Diory Hernandez and Brandon Hicks. I think Hernandez starts out with the edge, but a strong spring could mean Hicks begins the regular season in Atlanta.

Whoever ends up making  the team, I just want the regular season to start because that means no more snow here in Upstate, NY…probably.

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