Who do you see making the club, James Jurries or Brian Jordan? — Anthony S. Clemson, S.C.
Let’s first say that Jurries has done everything to prove he’s ready to play at the Major League level. There’s never been reason to doubt his offensive abilities, and defensively, his dedication has allowed him to prove he wouldn’t be a liability at first base.
But manager Bobby Cox has always liked to keep veteran players like Jordan, as long as they can be both productive on the field and in the clubhouse. Like there’s no reason to doubt Jurries’ bat, there’s no reason to deny Jordan’s tremendous leadership skills. But there’s certainly reason to wonder whether the 39-year-old veteran still has what it takes to make the necessary offensive contributions.
Jordan’s surgically-repaired knee appears healthy, and he’s definitely still capable of being a solid defensive outfielder. His athleticism has enabled him to quickly prove he could also provide a solid glove at first base.
Jurries hasn’t spent a lot of time in the outfield, but he has shown he could handle occasional time in left field if necessary.
There’s no doubt that sending Jurries to Triple-A Richmond to begin the season would mean that the Braves are sacrificing some offense. But Jordan’s defensive versatility and leadership might lead Cox to make this choice.
Assuming Wilson Betemit, a switch-hitter, is no longer bothered by his strained right rib cage, he and Matt Diaz give Cox a couple of solid right-handed options to send to the plate in pinch-hit situations. This certainly increases Jordan’s chance of being on the Opening Day roster.
Of course, if Betemit were to begin the season on the disabled list, there’s a chance both Jurries and Jordan would be on the Opening Day roster.
But if Betemit is healthy, odds are Jordan will stick around and Jurries will be forced to wait for his first opportunity to be a Major Leaguer.
The downside is that he’ll be 27 years old on April 13 and there’s nothing else for him to prove in the Minors. But he’s waited this long and there’s a good chance he’ll have to utilize his patience just a little longer.
Since Jarrod Saltalamacchia is having such a good spring, do you think he’ll see action with Atlanta this year? The Braves seem fine at the catcher position. But is there any chance he’ll play first? — Luke M. Rome, Ga.
There’s no doubt Saltalamacchia has impressed with his tremendous power from both sides of the plate. But before assuming he’s ready for Atlanta, there are certainly some things to remember. Along with three home runs, his Grapefruit League statistics through Sunday also included a .219 (7-for-32) batting average.
But more importantly, the 20-year-old catcher has just 782 at-bats above rookie level and exactly none above the Class A level. Comparatively, a then 21-year-old Jeff Francoeur had 1,269 at-bats above rookie level — 411 of which came at Double-A Mississippi — before he made his Major League debut last year.
The Braves will allow Saltalamacchia to continue the maturation process as a catcher at Mississippi this year. When the time comes that they’re forced to make a decision, they may move him to another position, such as first base.
But until he proves himself at the Double-A level and 22-year-old Brian McCann further solidifies his status as the club’s catcher of the future, there’s absolutely no reason to mess with Saltalamacchia’s development behind the plate.
What is your opinion of the overall depth and talent of the Braves’ Minor League organization for the upcoming season? — Lenny Land, Buford, Ga.
Recently, a top executive said, “Everybody is all excited about last year’s rookies, but they haven’t seen anything yet.”
Obviously, it appears Francouer, McCann and Davies have the makings to be superstars at the Major League level. They proved this last year, while proving to be the most impressive of the 18 rookies the Braves used to garner a 14th consecutive division title.
But the next wave of Minor Leaguers to hit Atlanta over the next few years also has a number of potential All-Stars. Saltalamacchia obviously appears destined for a great big-league career and there’s a chance Chuck James will have an impact in the Atlanta bullpen at the start of this season.
Any organization would like to have shortstop like Yunel Escobar or 17-year-old Elvis Andrus. The Braves have both.
Adding to the impressive depth of the Minor League system are the likes of third baseman Eric Campbell and 19-year-old left-hander Beau Jones, who could quickly establish himself as one of the top left-handed pitchers in the Minors.
Will Kelly Johnson get the majority of playing time in the left field platoon? — No name submitted, Hallandale Beach, Fla.
With Diaz and Jordan available to serve as backup outfielders, Johnson will either begin this season at Triple-A Richmond or on the disabled list. His surgically-repaired right elbow has been bothering him and there’s a chance he won’t return by Opening Day.
There’s also not a guarantee a platoon will be used in left field. Ryan Langerhans is superior defensively to both Jordan and Diaz, and he proved that he could hit left-handed pitchers in limited opportunities last year.
Who catches the bullpen pitchers when they warm up? If they are not roster players, is warming up pitchers their only job? — Robert Hansman, Cumming, Ga.
Bullpen catcher Alan Butts and bullpen coach Bobby Dews share this responsibility, which honestly is one of the least taxing roles they assume on a daily basis.
Dews, who will celebrate his 67th birthday on Thursday, spends the afternoon hours throwing early batting practice or working on defensive skills with players. In addition, his 46 years of professional baseball experience allows him to provide plenty of astute mental coaching.
As for Butts, he organizes all of the scouting reports in preparation for coaches meetings and develops spray charts after every game. In addition, he also throws countless hours of batting practice over the course of a season.
Being in the bullpen also requires one to have thick skin and the ability to take a joke.
While in Philadelphia a few years ago, one fan chose to take a line from the popular movie “Old School,” which included an older character named Blue. As Dews was in his crouch, the fan yelled “You’re my boy, Blue!”