The Graduate: Gregor Blanco | Born: December 1983 | Outfielder
Gregor Blanco was hardly a heralded prospected coming into the 2008 season; he did not even make Baseball America’s Top 30 Braves prospect list. The Venezuelan, who signed at age 16, paid his dues in the minors and did not make his debut until this past season when he appeared in 144 games for the Braves. Blanco is going to have to use his legs more – he slugged just .309 with an ISO of .058 – if he is going to continue to play regularly. He needs to steal more than the 13 bases he swiped in 2008. One of the most promising things about Blanco is that, as a player with zero power, he understands the importance of getting on base and he walked 74 times (14.7%).
The Riser: Tyler Flowers | Born: January 1986 | Catcher
The Braves liked Tyler Flowers so much that the organization drafted him twice – in the 27th round of the 2004 draft and in the 33rd round of the 2005 draft. He finally relented and became a Brave in 2006 as a draft-and-follow. He has a ton of potential with the bat with a three-year career line of .291/.400/.488. He posted a .206 ISO in High-A ball this year and has tremendous power potential. Like Blanco, Flowers also understands the importance of getting on base and walked 98 times (19.2%) this season. Defensively, the 6’4” backstop is a good receiver but is still learning to call a game. He threw out 43 of 155 base stealers (28%).
The Tumbler: Jordan Schafer | Born: September 1986 | Outfielder
By now, we likely all know that Jordan Schafer made some bad choices and paid for it by making a late start to his 2008 season. He struggled through the rest of the season and never truly looked comfortable at the plate and was inconsistent. He hit .269/.378/.471 in 297 Double-A at-bats, but showed some power potential with an ISO of .202. Schafer is attempting to make up for lost time this winter by playing in the Mexican winter league, where he is currently hitting .343/.395/.400 in 35 at-bats.
The ’08 Draft Pick: Zeke Spruill | Born: September 1989 | Right-Handed Pitcher
There have been five players in Major League history named Zeke, and Ezekiel Spruill is looking to become the six. Drafted 70th overall in 2008, Spruill went 7-0 in his debut in the Rookie League. He pitched 40 innings and allowed 42 hits with rates of 4.00 BB/9 and 7.20 K/9. He did a nice job of keeping the ball in the park and allowed just one home run.
The ’09 Sleeper: Erik Cordier | Born: February 1986 | Right-Handed Pitcher
Erik Cordier was one of the Royals’ brightest, young pitching prospects before being derailed by Tommy John surgery. The Royals sold low on Cordier and shipped him to the Braves for Tony Pena Jr., who became the starting shortstop for the club in 2007 but was brutal in 2008. Cordier missed all of 2007 (and 2005 due to a knee injury) but returned to the mound this season for 11 starts. He was not overly sharp, but his fastball was around 92-93 mph (He was touching 98 mph before the injury) and his secondary pitches were not sharp (He showed a plus change-up before the injury). With another year separating him from the surgery, Cordier could be poised for a breakout 2009 season.
Up Next: The Kansas City Royals