Today is the first day of play in the 2010 Arizona Fall League, baseball's premier winter league for top prospects to refine their game, and the Braves will send seven players out to Arizona to suit up for the Phoneix Desert Dogs, who will be managed by Yankee legend, and future Dodgers manager, Don Mattingly.
Freddie Freeman is Atlanta's best position prospect and the 21 year old first baseman played like it this season, garnering International League Rookie of the Year honors as he hit .319 with a .898 OPS, 35 doubles, 18 home runs, and 87 RBI for Gwinnett. He didn't fare as well in his first taste of the Majors, hitting just .167 with a .500 OPS in 24 September at bats, but all indications are that he will be Atlanta's opening day first baseman in 2011.
Tyler Pastornicky was acquired from the Blue Jays in the trade that sent Yunel Escobar north of the border just after the All-Star break. The 20 year old shortstop hit .258 with a .724 OPS and 24 stolen bases in 77 games for Single A Dunedin before the trade, and after coming to the Braves he was promoted to AA Mississippi where he hit .257 with a .699 OPS and 11 steals in 38 games. Pastornicky is a solid defender who needs to use his time in Arizona to refine his skills with the bat.
Cory Harrilchak was one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2010 season, as the 23 year old centerfielder was named a South Atlantic League All-Star after hitting .306 with a .773 OPS and 18 stolen bases in 60 games for Rome. After a promotion to High A Myrtle Beach, he hit .269 with a .735 OPS in 58 games. The lefty swinger is a plus defender and a solid hitter, but he needs to work on driving the ball more, slugging just .400 on the season.
Michael Broadway has slowly but steadily worked his was up the organizational ladder since being drafted out of high school as a 4th rounder in 2005. The 23 year old righty, who stands at an imposing 6'5", 225, started the year at AA Mississippi, where he had a 3.45 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP in 31.1 innings in relief, striking out 10.9 batters per 9 innings. He made his AAA debut in July and went on to pitch 22 innings with Gwinnett, compiling a 5.73 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. While in the AFL, Broadway needs to continue to refine his game and pitch in as many different late-inning situations as possible.
Kyle Cofield missed several months with a sore soulder, but the 23 year old, who is a member of Atlanta's 40 man roster, has shown a ton of promise, earning comparisons to John Smoltz. The righty, who stands at a massive 6'5", 230, had a 4.39 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP in 55.1 innings for Mississpi this year, but really shined late in the season when he moved to the bullpen, where he compiled a 1.84 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 14.2 innings over 8 appearances. He'll use the AFL to become better accustomed to working as a reliever.
Erik Cordier has missed nearly 4 full seasons to injuries in his career, including 2 Tommy John surgeries, but he's been healthy each of the last 2 seasons, and put up a solid year with Mississippi in 2010, with a 3.71 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP in 135.2 innings. The 6'4", 230 pound righty, who can get his fastball up into the mid-90s, also made 2 starts for Gwinnett, allowing 5 earned runs in 8 innings. Despite the fact that he's 24, Cordier is still somewhat inexperienced due to all the missed time and he'll look to pile on some innings in the AFL.
Cory Gearrin was a late addition to the Desert Dogs' roster, replacing pitcher Brandon Beachy, who found himself on Atlanta's playoff roster. The 24 year old sidearmer was a consistent force in Gwinnett's bullpen this season, leading the team with 52 appearances while earning a 3.36 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. Gearrin likes to keep the ball down and get ground outs, which won't be an easy task in the thin Arizona air, but more than anything he needs to refine his control as he prepares to head into 2011 looking to earn a spot in Atlanta's bullpen.
Jamie Dismuke will also be with the Desert Dogs, serving as the team's hitting coach after serving in the same capacity for Gwinnett for the last 2 seasons. The 41 year old former first baseman played 9 seasons in the Minors with the Reds, Tigers, and Blue Jays organizations, hitting .278 with a .801 OPS. Gwinnett hit .263 with a .725 OPS as a team this season.