Posts Tagged ‘Kris Medlen

18
Nov
11

Braves’ offseason full of questions… what’s next?

Will Prado return to the Braves in 2012?

The Braves franchise is known as an illustrious one — rich with accolades, adornment and achievement.

Surely, adding a colossal, historic collapse to their resume of excellence wasn’t part of their master plan. Before the 2011 season, a team who had an eight-game lead for a postseason berth in early September has never missed the playoffs. Luckily for Atlanta, Boston suffered the same unfortunate fate this year and shared a good portion of the criticism and ridicule by fans and media alike.

Needless to say, the Braves’ failure to secure a playoff spot left a black mark on their legacy and a sour, bitter taste in the mouths of management, players, coaches and fans.

So, what’s next for Atlanta?

How does this team respond after such a traumatic, abrupt end to their 2011 season?

They fire their hitting coach, of course.

But all joking aside, that was 100% the right move — the only move — for the Braves to make whether the team made the playoffs or not.

Larry Parrish was not the right voice for these Braves hitters. While widely respected around the league for being a great baseball man, Parrish and his players suffered from a disconnect and lack of communication that couldn’t be bridged.

The popular sentiment around the league was that the Braves would turn to Triple-A Gwinnett hitting coach Jamie Dismuke to take over the reigns next season.

The majority of Braves sluggers, including Chipper Jones, endorsed Dismuke but the organization went an unconventional route.

Frank Wren hired not one but two men to tackle the job that Parrish had failed to master.

Wren tapped former White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker, as well as a former Colorado Rockies infield coordinator Scott Fletcher, in a newly created hybrid role of assistant hitting coach. The Braves believe this tandem will compliment each other well in an effort to improve the overall hitting philosophy within the team.

Walker comes highly recommend by slugger Paul Konerko for helping him to evolve into the hitter he is today.

Fletcher, meanwhile, will provide another set of eyes for Walker and is expected to work closely with Jason Heyward. While searching for their new hitting coach, the Braves emphasized the importance of finding a voice that could reach the struggling Heyward.

The “J-Hey Kid” is coming off a brutal sophomore slump of a season, but has surprising ties to his new assistant hitting coach. Fletcher has watched Heyward play since he was 12 years old — his son Brian, now in the Royals system, played youth ball with the Braves’ right fielder.

If Walker and Fletcher can serve as mentors to Heyward and help the fallen young star rediscover his stroke, the Braves’ offense will be substantially better in 2012.

Despite the team’s decision to fire Larry Parrish, the powers-that-be have made it clear that they are not panicking. There will be no fire sale this offseason. Management firmly believes they have the key pieces in place already to compete for a playoff spot next year.

It is important to remember that a big part of Atlanta’s struggles came down the stretch when the team’s exceptional pitching staff became unhinged. Officials are confident that Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens will return healthy next season.

The questions surrounding Jurrjens are not related to his health, however, but rather whether he will return to the Braves or not?

Speculation around the league and media fodder suggest that Jurrjens could be traded this offseason in an effort to improve Atlanta’s shoddy offense — they are seeking a power-hitting outfielder in any deal.

But, it would surely take an enticing package for the Braves to pull the trigger on a deal for Jurrjens because despite his injury-laden past, the right-hander is still young at age 25 and two years away from free agency. He would be quite valuable to many pitching hungry clubs.

While I’m sure the Braves would love to keep an arm like Jurrjens’ in the fold for the long-term, the reality of that is unlikely. Super agent Scott Boras, whose relationship with the Braves is acrimonious, represents Jurrjens and he will demand a hefty salary that the Braves will not pay.

And why should they?

Atlanta has never had a shortage of arms and this upcoming year is no different. The Braves tout a new crop of young, prized pitchers who could easily fill Jurrjens’ shoes, if the club does deem him expendable.

Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, Randall Delgado and Mike Minor have all gained experience at the Big League level due to the team’s rash of injuries last season — the lone upside during the Braves’ September slide. Kris Medlen also returned from Tommy John surgery late in the year and was effective in some high pressure situations.

The Braves felt so confident those guys will figure into the mix in 2012 that they dealt 38-year-old veteran hurler Derek Lowe to the Cleveland Indians.

This move was also a pure salary dump for Atlanta, who many believed would be stuck with Lowe’s entire contract in 2012. The Tribe absorbed $5 million of Lowe’s exorbitant $15 million dollar contract, giving the Braves some financial relief to sign a shortstop and pursue an outfielder.

For the second year in a row, Frank Wren entered the trade market early by dealing Derek Lowe. Last year, he acquired second baseman Dan Uggla from the Florida Marlins before the hot stove was even boiling.

The question that remains now is will the Braves stay relatively quiet for the duration of the offseason, like they did after trading for Uggla last year. Or, will they make a splash and deal Jurrjens and/or infielder turned left fielder Martin Prado?

Prado is the epitome of a super utility star. When the Braves gave him a chance to play everyday at second base in 2010, he thrived. But last season when the team moved him to left field to accommodate the Uggla trade, Prado and his production suffered.

At season’s end, a lot was made of Prado’s staph infection affecting his stroke and also rigorous Spring Training and early season pre-game workouts that might have burnt him out before the stretch run.

Will he get a chance to rebound in Atlanta or will it be elsewhere?

I think there’s a fairly good chance that Prado will get moved — a far greater likelihood than the team dealing Jurrjens, in my opinion.

However, I wouldn’t put too much stock into the Prado-for-Delmon Young rumors. The Braves don’t appear interested in Detroit’s Young and I don’t see Wren pulling the trigger on that deal straight-up. The Colorado Rockies are the newest team to express interest in Prado, but surely won’t be the last.

Still, Wren has expressed a willingness to listen to all offers this offseason — and who can blame him.

After last season’s heartbreaking conclusion, the Braves’ GM is exploring any and all ways he can ensure his team is never on the wrong side of history again.

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26
Jan
11

Trio of Braves prospects succeed Heyward on MLB’s top 50

Julio Teheran

Last year, Jason Heyward ranked No. 1 among all Major League Baseball prospects. And boy, did he ever deliver for the Braves in his 2010 rookie campaign.

While the “J-Hey Kid” certainly helped thrust Atlanta back into the playoffs last season, he isn’t the sole reason the club is beaming about its seemingly bright future.

Three Braves players — right-handed pitching phenom Julio Teheran, projected starting first baseman Freddie Freeman and left-handed pitcher Mike Minor — are ranked within the first 21 spots on MLB’s top 50 prospect list.

Teheran, who has garnered comparisons to Pedro Martinez, figures highest among the trio at No. 10. The youngster’s star continues to skyrocket as MLB.com listed him as the game’s second best right-handed pitching prospect. Teheran showed steady improvement with three different Minor League affiliates in 2010, concluding the season with a 3.38 ERA for Double-A Mississippi. Equipped with a make up that has been deemed off the charts for a 20-year-old, Teheran could see time with Atlanta in 2011.

Freeman claimed the 17th position in the prospect rankings, four ahead of his teammate Minor. Both players got the call to the Big Leagues late last season and made quite the impression on team officials.

The 21-year-old Freeman amassed 24 Major League at-bats in 2010, notching his first career home run off of Philadelphia ace and eventual NL Cy Young winner Roy Halladay. After rehabbing a thumb injury that limited him to just five games in the Arizona Fall League, Freeman is now poised, healthy and ready to claim the Braves’ starting first base duties.

Minor got the call to the Bigs after Kris Medlen went down with season-ending Tommy John surgery — and his brief stint with the club provided a mix bag of results. After setting an Atlanta rookie record for strikeouts with 12 in an Aug. 22 victory over the Cubs, Minor showed obvious signs of fatigue and faded down the stretch, posting a 9.37 ERA over four starts. Still, the southpaw’s ceiling remains high as MLB.com ranks him as the fourth-best left-handed prospect in baseball and he figures to be a front-runner to break camp as Atlanta’s fifth starter.

Renowned for growing and cultivating their own talent year after year, this season appears to be no different for the Braves, whose pipeline to the Minors is as rich and stocked as ever before.

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10
May
10

Observations of the Braves from a weekend at Citizens Bank Park

My cousin Jaime (left) and I enjoy a game at Citizens Bank Park.

Being born and raised just outside the Philadelphia area, I make it a tradition to see at least one Braves-Phillies series a season.

This year, I made my first trip to see the 2010 Braves in a weekend set against the Phillies on May 7-9.

The results weren’t pretty.

On Friday night, Derek Lowe was on the mound for the Bravos. He was opposed by the 86-year old Jamie Moyer.

I kid, but from a pitcher’s standpoint, the dude is old.

However, he carved up the Braves lineup like he was Tim Lincecum, enroute to a 7-0 victory in the series opener.

At age 47, he is the oldest player in Major League history to toss a shutout.

While, Moyer steamrolled through the Braves lineup, it didn’t come as a surprise to me.

I knew the Braves were in trouble from the moment I took my seat, in the first row nonetheless, and heard the starting lineup announced.

This is how it read:

Omar Infante

Martin Prado

Chipper Jones

Troy Glaus

Matt Diaz

David Ross

Melky Cabrera

Nate McLouth

Derek Lowe

Yikes.

The first thought that ran through my head after hearing our starting nine was—”Who are these Braves?”

I didn’t mean it in a literal sense.

Of course I know who these guys are and what their different roles are with the club.

I meant it more figuratively—and, symbolically.

The Braves are unrecognizable these days.

Sure, missing on this night due to various injuries or ailments were the team’s regular cleanup hitter Brian McCann, along with their dynamic shortstop Yunel Escobar, and the phenom himself, rookie sensation Jason Heyward.

But still, these are not the Braves that fans, management and the league had all grown accustomed to over the years.

While the names on the back of their jerseys had to change and players moved on or retired, the aura of excellence and swagger that this team use to possess is gone.

The Braves, who use to be one of the elite teams in baseball, are now spitting mediocrity like any average major league club.

Although, on paper, it looks even worse.

Atlanta has performed below average as of late becoming victims of their sputtering offense and numerous injuries, which has them dwelling in the cellar of the National League East.

When I left the ballpark Friday night, I took comfort in knowing that the Braves are not this bad.

They have serious issues that go far beyond their injuries, but they are not the hopeless cause they appear to be on the field.

However, it doesn’t make them any easier to watch right now.

When it was reported that the Braves clubhouse resembled a morgue after Friday’s embarrassing defeat, I was not surprised.

The Braves are their own harshest critics.

They know how bad they are right now.

But, they also know they can and will get better.

A small beacon of hope emerged on Saturday afternoon when the Braves snatched a victory out of the jaws of defeat.

Atlanta was getting no-hit, yet again, through four innings against Phillies hurler Joe Blanton and trailed 1-0 after five.

In the sixth, the Braves bats woke up and Atlanta rallied for three runs against Blanton, and added an insurance in the ninth after Troy Glaus’ RBI single.

There were many positives to take from this game besides the “W”.

The Braves pitching was excellent, top to bottom.

Kris Medlen, who was called upon from the bullpen to make the start for the injured Jair Jurrjens, gutted through 4 1/3 innings, allowing only a single run.

Medlen pitched out of numerous big jams, one of which came in the bottom of the third, when he struck out Ryan Howard and got Jayson Werth to hit into an inning-ending double play.

Following Medlen were six relievers who combined to shutout the Phillies the rest of the way, allowing Atlanta’s offense the time to rally to secure the 4-1 victory.

The Braves bullpen has been the unsung hero for the team so far this season.

They have been nothing short of brilliant.

What is unfortunate is due to the Braves prolonged woes with the bats, Atlanta hasn’t been afforded the luxury of having a deep bullpen.

It doesn’t do a team any good to have a lights-out setup man and closer when they can’t get the ball to them with a lead.

But, what is reassuring is that when the Braves right the ship from an offensive standpoint, they have a strong bullpen to fall back on and depend on.

A reliable bullpen is an asset that many contending teams lack so Atlanta should feel so fortunate.

The Braves tapped Kenshin Kawakami to start the rubber game of the series against Phillies starter Cole Hamels.

It was an ugly beginning for the winless Kawakami.

He staked the Phillies to an early 4-0 lead before finding his groove in the later innings.

With the Braves rallying to within one, Kawakami didn’t allow another run until Shane Victorino’s solo home run in the bottom of the 7th inning sealed his and Atlanta’s fate.

For the day, Kawakami allowed five runs and seven hits in 6-2/3 innings pitched.

While it was the first time he pitched into the six inning all season long, he still suffered his sixth loss of the season.

For the Braves, they have now lost five of six road series, and dropped two of three from Washington and Philadelphia on this current nine-game road stretch that concludes with a trip to Milwaukee that begins Monday night.

Offensively, they have only mustered a .211 average over their past 17 road games.

After witnessing their performance in person, I offer you my observations of their offensive woes and some suggestions on how to fix them:

1) No game plan: It seems many of these hitters come to bat with no approach.

I am watching too many guys swinging at first pitches and I’ve come away with a general sense of a far too aggressive, almost reckless approach at the plate.

I am not seeing enough plate discipline, which is resulting in too many frequent short at-bats and quick innings for opposing pitchers.

The Braves hitters aren’t working counts and they aren’t executing the fundamentals in run producing situations.

They are also not advancing guys when their are runners on first and second with less than two outs, which is a crippling rally killer.

I’m also not seeing enough sacrifice bunts, hit-and-runs, sacrifice flies, and contact hitting with runners on base.

This team strikes out too much and runners are stranded left and right.

As a result, the team squanders far too many scoring chances and wastes the opportunities they do generate.

2) Listless at Leadoff: The Braves have no answer at the leadoff spot, that much is crystal clear.

Cox has toyed with too many different guys in the leadoff spot, and now I feel that’s creating more harm than good.

In the Phillies series alone, both Omar Infante and Nate McLouth served as the leadoff hitter. Yunel Escobar has also seen time at that spot throughout the early portion of the season before going down with an injury.

Consistency can serve a team well.

And, it might also spark one of these guys to get going.

It is hard to produce when a player isn’t comfortable at the plate and comfortable in their role.

It is important that Cox make a decision about the leadoff spot and stick with it, at least for the immediate future, or until a replacement is brought in.

This patch quilt attempt to find his answer at the top of the order hasn’t been working.

It’s time to commit to a change.

3) Lineup Roulette: To go along with my observation and suggestion for the leadoff spot, I offer a similar approach be taken with the overall lineup construction.

While a certain good can come from juggling a lineup to find a formula that works, too much maneuvering can become chaotic.

Too many of the Braves hitters are struggling to find their stroke right now that moving them up and down in the order isn’t serving much of a purpose at this time.

Case in point—If you take a look at Sunday’s starting lineup excluding the pitcher, the Braves had three players in Matt Diaz, Brooks Conrad, and Nate McLouth who were hitting below .200.

Cox might find that settling with one lineup combination over the next couple of weeks could prevent the guys from pressing any further and allow them to relax into their defined spots.

While this is a unique circumstance because the Braves are subbing many players into the starting lineup due to injuries, the message I feel remains the same.

When this team gets healthy, they still need consistency in the lineup, beginning at the leadoff spot.

From there, the Braves can see what they have to work with and what moves they need to make from the outside to fix this mess.

The end of the downward spiral begins with a baby step.

It is time for Cox and these Braves to take the first one.

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03
Mar
10

Braves young guns impress in grapefruit league opener

It’s no secret that Jason Heyward and Tommy Hanson are being touted as the future stalwarts of the Atlanta Braves.

In Tuesday’s 4-2 Grapefruit League opening loss to the New York Mets, the young guns lived up to the billing.

Making his spring debut, Major League Baseball’s top prospect made an immediate impact in his 4 1/2 innings of work.

Heyward reached base in all three of his plate appearances and finished the day with a hit, two walks, and a stolen base.

Not too shabby for the 20-year-old whiz kid who hopes to win a starting job in the Braves outfield this season.

Hanson, last season’s rookie sensation, picked up right where he left off. The 23-year-old phenom struck out three batters over two scoreless innings.

Kris Medlen succeeded Hanson and was equally as impressive, throwing up zeros in his two innings of work. Medlen departed with the Braves leading 1-0 after four innings.

The wheels came off when the Mets line-up tagged new Brave Jesse Chavez for three runs in the fifth, which proved too costly for Atlanta to overcome.

Despite the loss, the talk after the game centered around Heyward and Hanson’s performances.

Hanson continues to lend credence to the belief that he will one day anchor Atlanta’s rotation, and be the ace of the staff for years to come.

The hype around Heyward has been astounding, but the 6 foot 5 245 pounder has a lethal combination of skills that make him truly special.

While his power and high on base percentage set him apart from other young hitting prospects, it is the level of poise and maturity he’s already displayed that leaves no doubt that this kid will one day be a bonafide superstar.

It’s just a matter of when.

Offensively, Heyward appears ready. If he can impress Cox with his defense this spring, the Braves’ next “Chosen One” may begin his reign in Atlanta this April.

Stay tuned…

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02
Jun
09

Observations of the Braves from my trip to Chase Field…

Kelly, Me, Emily, Erin, and Shannon on the field in AZ after the Braves opening night loss to the D-Backs

Kelly, Me, Emily, Erin, and Shannon on the field in AZ after the Braves opening night loss to the D-Backs

I had my first opportunity to check out the 2009 Atlanta Braves live and in person when they traveled to Arizona to face the Diamondbacks May 28-31st. I have lived in AZ for the past 5 years so Chase Field has become my go-to ballpark to see the Bravos. This season I was fortunate enough to have the Braves in town for a four-game series. Hotlanta split the series 2-2 with the Snakes and I ended up coming away with some positive, negative and suggestions for improvement for the team going forward. Here’s a breakdown of the good, the bad, and the ugly from the desert:

The good: Atlanta’s starting staff continues to impress and keep the team in close games. Derek Lowe gave up 5 runs in the series opening loss, although only 3 of those runs were earned, after Kelly Johnson botched a grounder that allowed for a big inning that ended up deciding the ballgame. Despite the fact that Lowe wasn’t as sharp as he’s been for the majority of the season, he was still able to bear down, gut it out and minimize any further damage after the Johnson error sparked a four-run 4th, which kept the Braves within striking distance.

In Game Two, Jair Jurrjens was the recipient of a rare offensive explosion from the Braves and picked up the “W” in the Braves 10-6 victory. While Jurrjens was handed a 10-1 lead after 3 1/2 innings, he did appear uncomfortable pitching with such a large lead. This happens to many of the game’s best pitchers who often thrive off of pitching in tight situations. But for Jurrjens, who has been coined the Braves hard luck loser this season after putting up some mighty impressive numbers, this win helps balance things out a bit.

In Game Three, Javier Vazquez looked strong putting up zeros for six innings against the D-Backs, keeping a 2-0 lead intact after escaping a sixth inning jam unscathed. However, he finally ran out of gas in the seventh when Chris Young tied the game with a pinch-hit single. While the Braves ended up losing in heartbreaking fashion 3-2 in the 11th, the club couldn’t have asked for anything more from Vazquez. His gutsy outing deserved to be capped with a win.

In the finale of the series, Braves rookie Kris Medlen looked solid, picking up his first major league win, allowing one run on four hits with nine struck outs in six innings of work. Medlen was making his third big league start in the fifth spot of the Braves rotation after Jo-Jo Reyes went down with an injury. Reyes was filling in for a rehabbing Tom Glavine, who after a recent strong five-inning effort for Triple A Gwinnett appears to be close to returning to the Braves rotation. The return of the veteran Glav is sure to make an already deep Braves rotation that much deeper.

The bad: The Braves offense remains inconsistent and spotty. After looking stagnant in the series opener, they exploded for 10 runs in game two to illicit hope amongst the frustrated Braves faithful. However, true to form they followed up that offensive outburst with only two early runs in their eventual 3-2 extra inning loss. To make things even more disconcerning, they scored the 10 runs in game two in the first four innings before being blanked the rest of the game. Then, despite jumping out to an early 2-0 lead in game three, the bats were then silenced again for the remainder of the game, wasting Javier Vazquez’s strong effort. The nine runs the Braves accumulated in the series finale against Arizona had fans and management scratching their heads as to why this team can’t consistently put up runs to support their underappreciated starting staff.

The ugly: The Braves lack power, especially in the outfield, which is a large reason why the offense has stumbled.

The culprits: Rookie center fielder Jordan Schafer and right fielder Jeff Francoeur. On Monday, before the Braves opened a homestand at Turner Field against the Chicago Cubs, Atlanta sent Schafer down to Triple A Gwinnett. Schafer is hitting only .206 on the season, but what is more alarming is his 63 strikeouts, which rank as the fourth highest in Major League Baseball. The Braves recalled Gregor Blanco from the minors to take Schafer’s place for the time being and hope he will be able to provide a lift to Atlanta’s sagging offense. As for Francoeur, he has been hovering around .250 for the past month and still appears lost and often overmatched at the plate. Frenchy has only gone deep four times this season, which has contributed largely to the Braves power drought. Braves GM Frank Wren must be listening to trade offers for Francoeur but whether the team deals him or not depends largely on what they could garner in return. Francoeur is still young and talented and for a team that is struggling to find offensive production, it wouldn’t be wise to subtract a bat without replacing it with an upgraded one.

Suggestions for improvement: I think the Braves absolutely, positively HAVE to add a power bat to the outfield before the July 31st trade deadline. There are rumors circulating that the team is looking at bringing Mark DeRosa back to Atlanta. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the right move, but it is encouraging to know that the team is looking for ways to bolster their offense. Pitching keeps teams in the race and the Braves have the arms to continue to do so. But, if Atlanta hopes to make a legitimate run at what appears to be a wide open NL East, they need to greatly improve their offense.

For those frustrated fans who have already thrown in the towel, I offer these words of hope. Before June 2nd’s game against Chicago, the Braves find themselves in third place only 4 1/2 games behind first place Philadelphia. We aren’t even at the All-Star Break folks. There is A LOT of baseball to be played. The Braves benefited greatly over their run of fourteen consecutive division titles from a strong starting rotation and a deep pitching staff. In the playoffs, pitching is often what carries a team far and if a staff gets hot at the right time, anything is possible. If the Braves can find enough offense to at least supplement their staff, they have just as good a chance as any team of playing October baseball.




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