In the first of what hopes to be a yearly tradition in the Atlanta area, the Braves matched up against an all-star team of prospects from the organization. And while the nearly 10,600 fans in attendance were there to catch a glimpse of Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and company, my interest was a handful of top prospects in the organization who had spent little-to-no time at the Rome affiliate at which I scout extensively.
The eye-opener of the evening had to be J.R. Graham, who had the least success versus big league hitters, but easily showed the most velocity in the park. From my vantage point in the auxiliary press box, I was forced to rely on the stadium gun, but feel pretty comfortable reporting velocities considering both Sean Gilmartin and Mike Minor, whom I’ve scouted previously, had readings in line with previous reports. And in Graham’s inning, every fastball was 95-96 MPH, touching 97 on two occasions. Amped up on adrenaline, the command was non-existent and the pitch was flat, but his loose arm action, combined with plus velocity, leaves him a prospect to watch intently throughout the 2012 season.
Graham also mixed in a hard, 83-85 MPH breaking ball which was inconsistent, but showed promise – including a true plus offering low-and-away to strike out Dan Uggla swinging. Graham wound up taking the loss as he was hit hard in his single inning of work, but the final line matters little other than to serve as a lesson that big league hitters (a) handle any velocity if it’s straight and (b) sit and wait for a mistake if the command is not present.
Speaking of pitchers, Sean Gilmartin also threw a couple of innings with mixed results. On one hand, he easily handled big league lefties to the point where the Braves might be comfortable calling him up as a lefty specialist later in the season as he approaches his innings limits, or a series of injuries leaves the pen short. On the other hand, every right-handed hitter Gilmartin faced seemed to put good wood on the ball including a monster home run allowed to Dan Uggla on a telegraphed changeup. I discussed his tendency to tip the pitch in a previous piece, but it was on full display against the big club. And with the changeup being Gilmartin’s best pitch, he will be ineffective versus righties if this continues. At the double-A level, his splits will be worth monitoring against more advanced hitters.
On offense, 2011 second rounder Nick Ahmed was my “must scout” of the evening as the Braves have a tendency of skipping college players to high-A from the short season Danville affiliate and the young shortstop is no exception. On defense, Ahmed showed smooth movements between innings and flashed an arm strong enough for the left side of the infield. Unfortunately, he was not tested in game action, but the combination of size and skills was enough for me to be intrigued.
At the plate, his swing lacked strength and Ahmed showed more of an inside-out approach. In his first at bat, he chased multiple changeups low-and-away from Mike Minor, resulting in a strikeout. Subsequent plate appearances ended in a pop up to the catcher and bloop single to right field. On the bases, he was picked off after the pitcher had already made multiple attempts to first base. It was a “doh” moment, but Braves pitchers picked off three Baby Braves on the evening, illuminating just how much better pick off moves are at the big league level than in the lower levels of minor league baseball.
Joe Terdoslavich did little to stand out as the third-oldest position prospect involved in the game. It’s not that the third baseman was bad at anything, he just didn’t shine in a game where I would expect him to. Admittedly, it may be a blind spot in my scouting conscious as I felt the same way about Ryan Lavarnway and Jordan Pacheco, among other athletically challenged prospects, but other Baby Braves hitters piqued my interest. Terdoslavich did not.
With one swing, 19-year -old Brandon Drury became the Rome Braves prospect I’m most looking forward to scouting extensively this season. In lacing a double to the right-center field gap off of a big league pitcher, he flashed plus bat speed, present gap power and strong plate coverage. It was a glimpse of Drury at his best and the most memorable moment of the evening. At a listed 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Drury possessed a near perfect baseball build, but his playing first base gave me slight pause. It’s likely he will play the corners, as well as DH in 2012, so the bat is really going to need to play at high level.
Even with the game being called in the bottom of the seventh due to lightning and heavy rains, the night was a resounding success. With the Braves owning both the Gwinnett and Rome affiliates, evenings like this leave me wondering if other organizations will follow suit? Having the Braves present and future in the same park no more than 40-minutes from Turner Field really promotes a sense of family between the Braves and their fan base. And with the Braves developing a number of homegrown talents in recent years, the hope is that sense of family keeps the turnstiles in motion for years to come.
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