I had no intention of being anywhere near Orlando today, but I'd had so much fun in Jupiter the last few days that I guess the weather decided it was time to jerk me around a little. But, rain or no, I'm in Florida and I'm gonna find some baseball, so I made the two and a half hour drive up to Orlando and was able to catch the second half of the AAA and AA games against the Tigers.
I was a little worried when I got to the parking lot and I didn't see any action on the AAA field. I was able to see that there was a game being played on the AA field so I paid to get into the complex ($13.50, up $2.00 from last year) and was surprised when I walked in and saw there was a game going on on the Major League field. I walked through the corridor and ran into James Parr and Lee Hyde hanging out on the concourse and saw that Eric O'Flaherty was pitching. I spotted Cory Gearrin and Brett Butts sitting behind home plate so I watched with them for a bit. Gearrin informed me that I just missed Jair Jurrjens pitching. JJ was pitching in the AAA game because of the rainout and they played on the Major League field because the team wanted him to pitch off of that mound. Gearrin has been getting into some Big League games himself and apparently he and Butts will travel with the team to St. Lucie tomorrow. Also spotted hanging around the stadium were Mike Minor and Jose Ortegano, as well as Todd Redmond who was keeping a chart on the pitchers.
Juan Abreu pitched in the AA game on the backfields, which was so interesting that Roger McDowell made an appearance to watch. Unfortunately, Abreu was exactly the kind of pitcher today that his numbers would suggest. He gave up a leadoff single, hit the next batter in the foot, and then gave up a bomb of a home run. After the inevitable mound visit, he settled down and got the next three batters in order. If he could ever harness his stuff he'd be outstanding. A few of the other pitchers, Erik Cordier, Brandon Beachy, and Pat Currin, were charting behind the plate and they were convinced their radar gun wasn't working, thinking the numbers were far too low. "85? If that's 85 there's no way I'll ever be able to throw 90 again. Wow." His fastball really was popping, but without control that won't matter.
In that same AA game Adam Milligan continued his assault on all spheroids thrown his way, launching a monster opposite field home run. Adam is wonderful person and incredibly humble. When I congratulated him on the homer he said, "Well, the wind helped a lot." Yes, it was windy, but that didn't account for the forty feet the ball landed past the fence. I was taking pictures of Travis Jones batting before him and, forgetting that Milligan was a left handed hitter, tried to hustle to the other side of the field to get a shot of him from the front while he batted. If he had taken a pitch I'd have been fine, but the first pitch was the one he chose to launch. When I gave him a hard time about not taking a pitch he laughed and said, "Sorry man, he just laid it out there for me," adding, "next time let me know, I'll take a few." As I always point out, the Braves get high quality people in their organization.
I talked to Cody Johnson a little about his experience in Big League camp and he joked that he was just getting the hang of pinch hitting. "They call you up in the bottom of the ninth with two outs," he joked about how he was being utilized. But really, he couldn't have had more fun and is now getting regular at bats in the Minor League games to get ready for the season. I only saw one of his ABs in the AAA game and he went down swinging on a pretty vicious changeup.
I'd forgotten to mention last week that Vladimir Nunez is back with the organization. This makes three years in a row. There was also a new face that I didn't realize was new, Antoan Richardson, and outfielder formerly with the Giants organization. When I saw him working with the outfielders last week I thought he was some really young player whose name I just didn't recognize, but when I saw him playing centerfield in the AAA game I made sure to ask his name. Originally from the Bahamas, Richardson was drafted in the 13th round by the Giants in 2004. The 26 year old began last season with their AA affiliate, the Conneticut Defenders, before being released after hitting just .207 in 50 games and he finished the season playing for the Shaumburg Flyers in the Independent Northern League, hitting .287 with a .823 OPS and 20 stolen bases in 27 games. His game is based on speed as he has 208 stolen bases in 5 professional seasons, including a career high 66 in 2006 for Augusta.
I talked with Kyle Rose, who is learning how to switch hit this Spring. Rose is unbelievably fast and the Braves are trying to make better use of that speed by getting him into the left hand batter's box. It's been an awkward adjustment, but he's getting the hang of it. He'll likely go to Rome this season and while I certainly expect him to be successful, remember that if he struggles this major change is probably a huge reason why.
Dustin Evans threw a scoreless inning on the road in Lakeland today and he said it went well. After basically missing the last two years he's finally pain free this Spring. I asked if he would be starting or relieving this year and he honestly didn't know. His preference would be to relieve, because first he thinks it would be less strain on his arm and make him less likely to get hurt again, and second, as he put it, "the clock is ticking". Dut was one of the Braves top pitching prospects before all his injuries, so if he can stay healthy it will be a great boon for the system.
Paul Clemens also pitched on the road, allowing just a pair of hits over two scoreless innings. He's been very happy with his results this Spring and is excited for the season to start. He was gushing about the amount of talent there is in the Braves farm system, saying, "all these guys can play, they're all really good." I mentioned Milligan's homer and he just exhaled in appreciation. "Man, that guy is something," he said. "We had him for a while with Rome and he just crushed." Clemens is a good prospect in his own right; much like some other pitchers, if he can just get his talent under control he'll be amazing. One interesting thing about him is that he has the longest fingers and hands I've ever seen. I can't even imagine what kind of crazy effect he can have on the ball with that kind of leverage and finger strength.
So, even after I thought it was all over, I got to spend one more day around the Braves. Rain, you can't mess with me, no matter how hard you try.
CB Wilkins is the author of the baseball novel Four-A.