Monday, May 30, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 5/31/11

The 2011 Amateur Draft kicks off in exactly one week. While no New Yorkers are projected to go in the first round, there are still a number of potential prospects who are likely to be drafted in later rounds (Nick Tropeano?)..hopefully Atlanta snags a few. But while the Braves put the final touches on their drafts plans, here's how the current Empire State Braves prospects performed over the past week (5/24-5/30)....

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
After two scoreless appearances this past week, Varvaro is quietly putting together a pretty effective season out of the Gwinnett bullpen. The righty-reliever has slowly but consistently improved his walk rate this year and if he wasn't behind a number of quality arms in the Atlanta organization, he might be looking at some major league play some time later this season.

This Week: 2 G (0-0), 2 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 2 K, 0 BB
Season: 16 G (0-5), 24.1 IP, 3.33 ERA, 26 K, 16 BB

Dan Jurik, RHP (High A - Lynchburg)
The Vestal, NY-native made his first start of the season this past week and made the most of it, surrendering just one run. That run was on a solo homer, the third Jurik has given up this year. Those three long balls happen to be the only runs he's been tagged for this season. Jurik's start was one half of the day's double-header, so it will be interesting to see if it was simply a spot start or if he'll now see some extended time in the Lynchburg rotation.

This Week: 1 G (0-0), 4 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 1 HR, 2 K, 3 BB
Season (Rome/Lynchburg): 8 G (0-0), 1 SV, 17.2 IP, 1.53 ERA, 18 K, 6 BB

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Braves Status Report: 51 Games (28-23)

With the two-game sweep of the Pirates at Pittsburgh, the Braves managed to go 3-2 over their 5 games during the past week. The pitching staff struggled during inter-league play against the Angels in Los Angeles and the offense had nowhere near the capability of getting the team back in the game when they fell behind early. The offense's .235/.276/.342 line was even below their season average and their HR frequency has dropped off some (3 in 5 games) since the first 6 weeks of the season. Considering the team's 2.4 R/G average, it's impressive they were able to win the majority of their games during that time frame (I feel like I type that a lot).

Despite the relatively successful end to the road trip, the emergence of the injury bug was the big story of the week. In addition to Brandon Beachy suffering an oblique strain earlier this month, Tim Hudson was diagnosed with a stiff back and was held out of his scheduled start on Wednesday. Mike Minor effectively filled in and will also make a spot start on May 31. Jason Heyward was also placed on the DL on Sunday, after the Braves spent much too long testing to see if his shoulder inflammation would heal itself with a day or two off at at time. Hopefully he comes back healthy and proves that the discomfort played a major part of his near-ineffectiveness at the plate so far this season. Jordan Schafer was called-up from Gwinnett to fill his spot, making his first return to Atlanta since May 2009. Nate McLouth also went down on Sunday, suffering an oblique strain while leading off the game against the Angels. Wilkin Ramirez was brought up to take McLouth's place. I liked what the former-Tigers prospect showed in Spring Training and I think he brings a unique skill set to the team, so hopefully makes the most of his time in Atlanta.

The Braves sit 3.5 G behind the Phillies in the NL East and will begin a three-game home series against the Reds on Friday, immediately followed by another three-game series at Turner Field against the Padres (who may actually be more offensively-challenged than the Braves). Now for the 'cheers' and 'jeers' from the past week (5 games)....


Joe Mather - With McLouth and Heyward both on the DL, Mather has certainly made the most out of his playing time. The OF went 7-17 with a double, a homer and 5 RBI. His .412/.44/.647 slash over the past 5 games is about as good as it gets and he almost single-handedly earned the Braves' only win over the Angels. While he's certainly been playing over his head for the past couple weeks, it will be important for him to continue to be productive until Heyward and/or McLouth return.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 5/24/11

Plenty of action by the Braves' Empire State prospects this past week (5/17-5/23). Let's take a look at how they performed....

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Varvaro saw playing time in one game this past week, working in the 6th and 7th innings. With Jairo Asencio being called up to Atlanta on 5/19 (and Scott Proctor already being there), Varvaro's role will likely become a bit more important. But Gwinnett relievers haven't had a save opportunity recently yet since the 19th, so it remains to be seen if he'll be tapped for that closer role.

This Week: 1 G (0-0), 2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 2 K, 0 BB
Season: 14 G (0-5), 1 SV, 22.1 IP, 3.68 ERA, 24 K, 16 BB

Dan Jurik, RHP (High A - Lynchburg)
It looks like Jurik might be earning a bit more playing time, having made two appearances this past week. He gave up just his second run of the season, again on a solo home run to the first batter faced of an outing. High A level hitters have proven to be more of a challenge for him (.286 BAA), but he's still been plenty effective and it would have been difficult to continue the dominance (.067 BAA) he experienced at Rome.

This Week: 2 G (0-0), 3.2 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 HR, 3 K, 1 BB
Season (Lynchburg/Rome): 7 G (0-0), 1 SV, 13.2 IP, 1.32 ERA, 16 K, 3 BB

Friday, May 20, 2011

Braves Status Report: 46 Games (25-21)

With the mini-series sweep the Braves suffered at the hands of the Diamondbacks, a week that began with promise ended on a bit of a sour note. Atlanta started the past week going 4-1, including a series win against the Phillies and a two-game sweep of the Astros. But a shaky bullpen and the lack of offensive support resulted in a 4-3 record for the Braves over the past 7 games. Atlanta's now 2.5 G behind the Phillies in the NL East.

The team's making this blog sound like a broken record, as the Braves' starting rotation battled to overcome a mediocre-at-best offense, fan-frustrating decisions by Fredi Gonzalez and a couple bullpen hiccups. Atlanta hitters got on base at a comparatively reasonable rate, but had no ability to convert with runners in scoring position, hitting .140 (8-57) over the 7 game span. During the two series against the the Astros and Dbacks, that number managed to drop even further to .107 (3-28). When those stats are considered, it's actually kind of impressive that the team was able to win the majority of those games.

The other persistent problem has been Fredi Gonzalez. While the offense has had trouble scoring runs, he's certainly not helping. The Braves' first-year manager bunts in nearly every situation conceivable. Now I admit - I was definitely more of a fan of the sac bunt in the past than I am now, but a quick look at this analysis should put those thoughts to rest for any objective fan. Playing devil's advocate, you might argue that it's difficult for the matrix to address specific in-game scenarios (which I can agree with), but for a team with little-to-no speed and an apparent difficulty hitting with runners in scoring position, giving up outs like Fredi does on a regular basis is only exacerbating the issue. In the interests of blog time/space, I won't really dig into Fredi's use of the bullpen, but will leave you with this one stat: Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel are all in the top 12 in the NL in appearances so far this season. Yikes.

As the Braves head off to Anaheim to begin a three-game interleague play series, followed by another brief two-game series at Pittsburgh, here are this past week's cheers and jeers....

Monday, May 16, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 5/17/11

Not many great performances by the Empire Staters over the past week (5/10-5/16). With the 2011 draft coming up in early June, hopefully the Braves add some more New Yorkers for me to track.


Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Each time it looks like Varvaro might snag some closing opportunities, another reliever jumps in. Over the past week, both Scott Proctor and Jairo Asencio finished games for Gwinnett. Varvaro's still being brought in late in games and may sneak in for a save opportunity or two soon with Proctor recently being called up to Atlanta. The Staten Island native would be a decent enough bullpen option for a pitching-deficient major league team, but he's stuck behind an awful lot of quality arms in the Braves organization.

This Week: 2 G (0-1), 3.1 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, 5 K, 3 BB
Season: 13 G (0-5), 1 SV, 20.1 IP, 3.98 ERA, 20 22 K, 12 16 BB

Dan Jurik, RHP (High A - Lynchburg)
Jurik only saw action in one game this past week, surrendering his first run of the season (a HR to the first batter he saw). I'm still a bit surprised he hasn't been given at least a few more opportunities so far this season, but maybe the domino-effect caused by Brandon Beachy's trip to the DL in Atlanta and Jacob Thompson's retirement from Gwinnett will shake things up to Jurik's benefit.

This Week: 1 G, (0-0), 1 IP, 1 H, 1 HR, 1 K 0 BB
Season (Rome/Lynchburg): 5 G (0-0), 1 SV, 10 IP, 0.90 ERA, 13 K, 2 BB

Dave Filak, RHP ( Low A - Rome)
After alternating been effective and ineffective starts so far this season, Filak put up some serious duds in his two starts this week. If there's one positive thing to take away, he walked just one batter in his second start. The Upstate, NY product still has plenty of time to turn around his season (he's still just 21-years-old), but you'd like to see a three-year college pitcher take care of Low A hitters a little bit more.

This Week: 2 G (0-2), 7.2 IP, 11 R (10 ER), 10 H, 2 HR, 7 K, 6 BB
Season: 7 G (1-3), 28 IP, 6.75 ERA, 20 K, 22 BB

Cory Brownsten, C (Low A - Rome)
Brownsten's still on the DL and hasn't played since April 17th.

This Week: DNP
Season: 3 G, .182/.250/.273, 0 HR, 0 RBI

Brendan Rowland, C/OF (Gulf Coast League)
Rowland is indeed listed on the GCL Braves' roster, so it looks like he'll have another season to apply his craft with the Braves organization.

Season Has Not Yet Begun

Friday, May 13, 2011

Braves Status Report: 39 Games (21-18)

The Braves were just a handful of outs Thursday from finishing the past week with a massive dud. After completing what was one of the two most impressive series for the Braves this year (the other being the sweep of the Giants) with 2 wins at the Phillies this past weekend, the defense collapsed on Tuesday and the bullpen followed suit on Wednesday. Martin Prado’s grand slam in the 7th inning and Brain McCann’s walk-off single in the 10th on Thursday helped avoid the sweep at the hands of the pesky Nationals. The Braves went 3-3 over the past two series and now sit in 3rd place in the division, 4.5 games behind the Phillies.

After a solid series in Philadelphia, including the major league debut of top-prospect Julio Teheran, the Braves starting pitching regressed a bit against the Nationals (14 ER). The offense followed up a quality previous week with a slip back to mediocrity over the past 2 series. The team hit .243 and struck out an alarming 56 times. That included a 16 K performance by Cliff Lee, 9 K from Cole Hamels and an 11 K outing Thursday by Jordan Zimmerman. Braves hitters had more strikeouts than hits over the past 6 games, with nearly a third of all their outs coming by way of the K.

While the Braves’ set of starters are playing well-enough at this point, the three losses continued to expose the team’s weaknesses. Outside of Eric Hinske and David Ross, the bench options have proven themselves to be a real liability both offensively and defensively. The bullpen has some talented young arms, but the lack of confidence in two or three relievers limits Fredi Gonzalez’s options and is leading to high usage levels among some of the more effective pitchers. There are bullpen options in Gwinnett (and it looks like moves will be made soon) but the Triple A level doesn’t offer much to strengthen the bench. It’s probably a bit early now, but as May becomes June and June becomes July, I assume Frank Wren will be actively scanning the trade market for some quality back-ups.

As the Braves get ready for another weekend series against the Phillies, followed by a two short two game tilts against the Astros and D-Backs, here are the highlights of the past 6 games….

Monday, May 9, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 5/10/11

A number of strong performances over the past week (5/3-5/9) by the Empire Staters...

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
With top-performing prospect Stephen Marek on the DL and headed for Tommy John surgery, it looks like Varvaro may have (at least unofficially) taken over the closer role for Gwinnett. Since the news about Marek came out, Varvaro saw action in the 9th inning of a tie game and then came in for an old-fashioned three inning save a few games later. I may have jinxed him last week when I mentioned his shockingly impressive BAA, as he surrendered nearly twice as many hits over the past week as he previously had all season. Still another solid week for the St. John's University product.

This Week: 2 G (0-1), 1 SV, 3.1 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 4 K, 3 BB
Season: 11 G (0-4), 1 SV, 17 IP, 3.71 ERA, 17 K, 13 BB

Dan Jurik, RHP (High A - Lynchburg)
The 2010 draftee continues to impress in his limited opportunities. Jurik's managed to remain at the same level for an entire week for the first time all season. We shall see if his spot with Lynchburg is still temporary once various DL assignments get cleared up. Either way, he's certainly performed well enough to earn a permanent spot (well, at least until Mississippi comes calling).

This Week: 1 G (0-0), 3.1 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 5 K, 1 BB
Season (Rome/Lynchburg): 4 G (0-0), 1 SV, 9 IP, 0.00 ERA, 12 K, 2 BB

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Giants World Series Trophy Visits Upstate, NY

While this post isn't directly Braves-related (unless you'd like to relive what the team's 2010 season could have been), it remains as an informational post for baseball fans in Upstate, NY and fans of the history of baseball, in general.

Last week, the Giants 2010 World Series trophy visited Upstate, NY, making a stop at Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy, NY. Bruno Stadium serves as the home of the Tri-City ValleyCats, the Houston Astros' short-season Single A team. For those unfamiliar with the story, you might be asking yourself why the San Francisco Giants' World Series trophy would be in Upstate, NY.

Well, the visit was prompted after a local newspaper, the Troy Record, reported in-depth on the Giants' historical connections to the area. The Troy Trojans were a major league baseball team that played for four season in the area from 1879-1882. Following multiple years of poor attendance, the National League began negotiations with the Troy franchise to sign away the team (the same conversations were going on with the franchise in Worcester, MA). The history of those conversations remain a bit murky, but the story is that Troy agreed to effectively close the franchise with the understanding that league owners agreed to make Troy an 'honorary member' of the National League. The legality of such a move is still up in the air, as the NL charter said that only teams that did not complete their regular season schedule could be removed. Both Troy and Worcester fully completed their schedule.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Braves Status Report: 33 Games (18-15)

The Atlanta Braves are officially heating up! The team's riding a 5-game winning streak after a rare 4-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers and are now 10-3 over their past 13 games. The Phillies also continue to win, so the Braves are still 4.5 G behind the division leader.

It's clear that the offense has jump-started over the past 7-10 games and are now approaching league-average in a number of categories. But while the offense has noticeably improved, the great pitching also continues to get better. The hurlers are at or near the top of most pitching categories in the NL, including ERA, WHIP and K/BB (along with PHI and SD). Opponents are only scoring 3.09 R/G against the Braves, good for best in the majors.

America's team heads to Citizens Bank Park on Friday to begin a quick three-game weekend series before heading back to Turner Field for a few games against the Nationals. They will also have the benefit of an off-day on Monday.

So, without further ado, here are this week's (7 games) "Cheers and Jeers"....


Nate McLouth - The speedy centerfielder has absolutely been on fire the past 7 games. His 9-21 performance included his first 2 HR of the season and 4 RBI. Perhaps most importantly, he had 7 walks against just 2 strikeouts. While facing so many RHP starters recently has certainly helped, he's putting some better swings on balls and seems to be thriving at the 8 spot in the order. With Nate getting on-base at such a high clip, he's effectively turning into another lead-off hitter for the 1-3 hitters in the order.

Martin Prado - The Braves' lead-off hitter did his best clean-up performance going 11-31 with 8 RBI over the past week. He now has 18 RBI on the season..good for 2nd on the team behind Chipper. The 11 hits included 3 doubles and Thursday's game-winning HR. His 5 K to 0 BB isn't exciting, but he's never been much of a walker and if he can hit for a high average then it alleviates some of the OBP-related need for walks. With him hitting lead-off, not walking much and serving as Chipper's back-up, I wouldn't be surprised to see him lead the league in AB at the end of the season.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 5/3/11

Lots of developments this week (4/26-5/2) for the Empire State Braves Prospects...


Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Anthony saw quite a bit of action this week, earning time in three games. He's still being used mostly late in games, with mainly 7th and 8th inning appearances. While his control issues are keeping him from being truly dominant, he's been nearly unhittable with a .073 BAA (3-41).

This Week: 3 G (0-1), 5.2 IP, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 H, 8 K, 4 BB (2 IBB)
Season: 9 G (0-3), 13.2 IP, 3.95 ERA, 13 K, 10 BB

Dan Jurik, RHP (High A - Lynchburg/Single A - Rome)
I'm not sure Dan has had a chance to unpack his luggage at all so far this season. With the Hillcats' David Hale being placed on the 7-day DL (retroactive to 4/28), Jurik was called up to fill in at Lynchburg. It's likely temporary until Hale's eligible to return on Thursday, but it's still nice to Jurik given a chance to perform at a higher level. His outing on 4/29 was a bit shaky, but aided by a GIDP and a timely pick-off.

This Week (Lynchburg): 1 G (0-0), 1 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 0 K, 0 BB
Season (Rome/Lynchburg): 3 G (0-0), 5.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 7 K, 1 BB