Baby Braves on Display in Gwinnett

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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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.

13 Responses to “Baby Braves on Display in Gwinnett”

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  1. JT says:

    Any thoughts on Lipka and Salcedo from the game?

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    • nik says:

      They are Braves, right? I’m sure they looked delicious.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      I’ve probably seen 50-60 plate appearances from Salcedo at this point so he really wasn’t a target yesterday evening. He did hit a sharp single to left field and appears to be in excellent shape entering the season.

      As for Lipka, he was picked off twice at first base – using his speed to beat the throw to second on one occasion. Beyond plus speed, I still struggle to see the tools/skills which made him a 1st round pick in the first place.

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  2. DC Nats says:

    “I discussed his tendency to tip the pitch at length in a previous piece…”

    Not really. In the previous piece, you mention that he has excellent arm speed on the change, but “noticed a slowing of the arm motion” in another start. That’s it. It would be unfair to paint him as tipping pitches based on the one start you note, or a HR to one of the league’s best power hitters, unless there is actually a “lengthy piece” that details a habit over many starts.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      At this point, I’ve seen Gilmartin three times and he tipped the change in two of those three starts. I removed the “at length” because I had written more about it in my notes than the previous piece itself. However, if we are talking fair, let’s quote the entire statement.

      “I noticed a slowing of his arm action and his feel for the pitch wasn’t nearly as strong. These things happen, but it was a tad surprising considering his reputation as a command/control specialist from the college ranks.”

      This statement as a whole is MUCH stronger than the cherry-picked portions re-posted.

      Additionally, I didn’t just mention Uggla. EVERY right-handed Braves hitter had good swings against Gilmartin including Prado who hit two lasers.

      I like Gilmartin fine, but the cost of a lengthy piece that details his habits over many starts at the minor league level would be a waste of resources.

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      • DC Nat says:

        “I noticed a slowing of his arm action and his feel for the pitch wasn’t nearly as strong. These things happen, but it was a tad surprising considering his reputation as a command/control specialist from the college ranks.”

        This statement as a whole is MUCH stronger than the cherry-picked portions re-posted.”
        Cherry picked? I chosen the ONLY part of the statement that spoke to tipping his change. If you said that he slowed his arm motion, and perhaps showed the ball a bit more, or changed his arm angle, I would say that I cherry picked by only choosing only the “slowing the arm” part. But that’s all you commented on, other than saying he lost his feel for the pitch. Losing your feel for a pitch is NOT tipping it – so that part it totally irrelevant.

        All I’m saying is that before you start suggesting that a guy is a lefty specialist, you do, in fact, “detail his habits over many starts at the minor league level.” That is certainly not a waste of resources; it’s scouting.

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      • Ben Duronio says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        I noticed it also. It’s a minor issue that he can work on throughout the year. The pitch is solid, he just needs to alter the mechanics a bit and it will become even better.

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  3. glassSheets says:

    I watched the game on TV. My impression was that Graham had impressive potential, as mentioned above with the velocity and the Uggla pitch, but it looked like he was trying way too hard to be the most spectacularest pitcher ever. “Inconsistent” is a nice term for his breaking ball last night.

    Although he had the roughest inning, his performance stood out to me. Do you think he has the ability to be a starter, or is he destined for the pen?

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  4. Nick in ATL says:

    This Braves fan thought the article was an interesting read. Keep up the good work Mike.

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  5. Steve Cerrato says:

    Just wondering….when you mentionned “the Rome affiliate at which I scout extensively”, who are you “scouting” for?

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  6. Dan Greer says:

    Terdoslavich is a pretty unfortunate name. Also, nice article!

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  7. NateD says:

    He scouts exclusively for AssClownsRUS

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