We’re off and running with our Top 20 lists. And I’m back with my second Spring Training extras blog post, this time on the Braves (You can still feel free to check out my Mets extras at your leisure).
OK? Let’s start with a few more comments from Braves’ 2013 first-rounder Jason Hursh. Hursh had Tommy John surgery in college, so I asked him if, in retrospect, having to sit around and wait post-surgery, had some value.
Hursh: Definitely. I can always go back and remember watching guys and not being able to play, and let that fuel my fire. If I’m in the weight room, I go back to the days when I couldn’t do anything, lift a weight, it was all rehab. I use that to fuel my fire and work harder.
Then we talked about his repertoire and working as a pro to mix his pitches more. The question was basically about how much he’s realized that he can’t just get away with his fastball only like he could at times in college.
Hursh: That’s one of the biggest things for me, getting into pro ball. Getting those secondary pitches down, the changeup, the curveball, whether it’s a cutter, working on all that to try and find what I’m most comfortable with. That’s what I’m really going to focus on here, just developing my changeup and my curveball and see if this year, it all clicks and we can get going a little bit.
What have you been able to glean from the big league arms here? Have you been able to pick their brains at all?
Hursh: Here and there, a little bit. Not so much pick their brains, but just observe from the side what they do in their bullpens, when they throw these pitches, how they work on this and that. I think from that aspect, it’s been really good to see how they go about their business.
Between your brief taste of professional ball and being here, what’s been the biggest surprise about pro ball you didn’t realize that you’re quickly gaining an understanding for?
Hursh: Just keeping the ball down and hitting your spots. In college, I could get away with it a little bit. Here, especially in big league camp, they’ll let you know if you didn’t execute a pitch to your spot. That was probably the biggest thing. All of your mistakes, they’ll let you know.
You’re a guy who lives down in the zone anyway, right? If you’re up, you’re going to get hit?
Hursh: Exactly. I know I’m on if I’m getting that sink to the fastball. That’s when I have my best days, for sure.
I also spent time talking to Braves assistant general manager John Coppolella. Much of that conversation is reflected in the Spring Training report, so there’s no need to get into too much more detail there. But I did want to pass along the names of two very young recent international signees the Braves are very excited to get going this year.
Both are from Curacao. Ozhaino Albies (signed for $350,000) and Kevin Josephina ($300,000) are both shortstops. They both looked very good at instructs last fall. They obviously have a long way to go, but sometimes players that young — both are 17 — can show a lot of progress quickly, just because of natural physical maturation.
Finally, here’s One More Guy from the Braves system:
Matt Lipka, OF: The Braves’ top pick in 2010, he’s dealt with adversity, he’s dealt with injury (hamstring tear), he’s dealt with a position switch (shortstop to outfield). His speed is still very much an exciting tool. He was healthy for all of 2013, a good first step. He’ll be just 22 for the 2014 season, so there’s time yet here. The bat does need to develop, but if it does, he could still be the top-of-the-lineup type catalyst the Braves envisioned when they took him.
Now the fun really begins.
Over the course of March, we will be unveiling all of our team Top 20 lists. Today, we will have three (Mondays will be stacked like that as we wanted to avoid going live with these over the weekend): The Atlanta Braves, New York Mets and Miami Marlins.
Along with the Top 20s, we will have reports from Spring Training camps for each team. I’ve been running around Florida for the past week, Teddy Cahill will take the baton from me to finish off Florida and Jim Callis will handle the bulk of Arizona.
With each camp visit, I invariably ended up with way too much information, so I’m going to use this space to share some of the conversations I had with prospects and team executives.
I’m also going to include “One More Guy” — a prospect who didn’t crack the Top 20, but would likely be in the next group, say Nos. 21-25, and could be an in-season replacement when the need arises.
OK, ready for more? Here’s some more from my conversation with Brandon Nimmo:
Were you surprised you got the call to attend big league camp?
Nimmo: It came as a little bit of a surprise, but I knew I was ready for it. I was ready for this opportunity. I’m just trying to take advantage of every opportunity that I get and enjoy this experience. I plan to be here a lot more often, so hopefully this isn’t the only big league Spring Training I go to and I don’t think that’s what they’re planning on, either. They’re just trying to get me around these guys and obviously, I can contribute to the team, too. I have everything I bring to the table, and I’m confident in that, but I’m very humbled to be here.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve been able to glean so far, where you can say, “Clearly, I’m not there yet.” What do you really need to work on to move yourself closer?
Nimmo: They’re very consistent in what they do. That has to do with the routine they get into to get ready for the days. They have specific things they need to do to get ready for the day. They know how to do them and do them very well. I think that’s the biggest difference between Major Leaguers and Minor Leaguers, is that consistency, an ability to perform on a consistent basis. I think that’s the biggest thing I have to improve on just from watching these guys right now.
I also spoke to catcher Anthony Recker about some of the young arms he’s been able to catch in camp. Here’s what he had to say:
Recker: I thought last year when I caught Rafael Montero, he was ready to make the next step. He looked really good. I really liked Jake DeGrom, his ability to spot up, ability to make adjustments. I’d say the same thing for Montero, his ability to make adjustments on the fly. You miss in a certain spot, or you miss up, to be able to make the adjustment and get it down with the very next pitch is really big, especially in Major League Baseball. We have several young guys who have shown the ability to do that. There are a good handful that seem ready to compete for a job, whether its now or later in the season. They look really good.
I spoke at length with Dick Scott, the farm director, and he compared to the Mets system now to a few years ago.
Scott: Before, we had Matt Harvey here, so as far as specific players, we had guys here, guys going to the big leagues and contributing. Lucas Duda was in the minor leagues, you had Harvey in the minor leagues. Now, it’s the volume, it’s Montero, it’s Syndergaard, picking those two guys up in the trade. Plus we got Buccera here as well, a 20 year old who was in the GCL who’s athletic. I thnk our sheer volume has increased. We also have guys down through the younger levels. We have Nimmo, we have Amed Rosario, Ceccchini. We feel we have a long way to go. The other part of that is you do’t know how many of these guys are going to be able to perform at the Major League level.
On the cyclical nature of farm system strength:
Scott: I think that happens in every organization at some point. There are organizations that trade Minor League players to make a run at a big league playoff and you’re going to be thin at some point. You ‘re not going to have as deep a list as maybe you had three years ago. I think ours is getting deeper. It’s a work in progress, but compared to a couple of years ago, [we’re improved].
And he had more to say about our breakout candidate, Gabriel Ynoa:
Scott: He’s a strike throwing machine. What’s amazing with him and Montero, they just pound the zone. Sometimes those guys come in and they just have it. He won a lot of games for us last year, so it’s not like nobody’s heard of him, but his stuff is improving. He has a great feel for pitching, he’s athletic, probably 93-94 mph fastball, very good feel for a changeup. He just throws strikes. He’s always in the bottom of the zone, pitches to both sides of the plate. He’s one of those guys, the people who were in the SAL league last year know about him. He’s always thrown strikes, but his stuff has just gotten tighter, his breaking ball is a little tighter, the feel on his changeup. He throws a 2 and 4 seam fastball. He has great poise.
Finally, here’s One More Guy from the Mets system:
Jack Leathersich: It’s a sign of just how much deeper this system is that this lefty didn’t make the cut. He was No. 17 at season’s end last year. A one-time starter, he’s taken well to relief work as a pro. His strikeout rates are insane (15.2 K/9 in his Minor League career), using stuff and deception to miss bats. His command is just so-so, but he should impact the big league bullpen at some point this year.