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Baby Braves Showdown

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Jo-Jo Reyes and Matt Harrison have quite a bit in common. Both are lefties, both have a similar arsenal, and both are Braves prospects that figure to make a big impact in the majors soon. Coming into the season, it was not a question as to who was the better prospect, but during Reyes' impressive '07 campaign between Mississippi and Richmond, he has made the gap a lot closer. Who is the better prospect though? LHP Jo-Jo Reyes: Reyes was selected by the Braves in the second round of the 2003 June Amateur Draft out of a high school in California. The intrigue surrounding him was that he had four good pitches and a fluid delivery. His drawbacks were mediocre command and possible weight problems in the future. Reyes started showing his potential right away with his Gulf Coast League debut, where he 5-3 with a 2.56 ERA. Reyes moved up to Rome in 2004, where he was hit very hard. To add to his problems, Reyes required Tommy John surgery and was forced to miss the last half of '04 and the first half of '05. He came back well with the GCL Braves and Danville Braves, Atlanta's rookie affiliates, before tearing his ACL at the end of the season. The Tommy John surgery had dropped him on prospect lists and this just complete knocked him off. Finally healthy in 2006, Reyes started off the year with Rome and put up great numbers. Unfortunately, after moving to Myrtle Beach for the second half, fatigue set in and Reyes faded quickly down the stretch. This year, Reyes posted good numbers for Mississippi with a 3.56 ERA and then dropped it down to 1.57 after his promotion to Richmond and then eventually got the call to the majors. This season however has been a step backwards in command. In his 111 combined innings this year, Reyes has issued 54 free passes. Reyes has four usable pitches, all of which are at least average offerings. His fastball clocks in consistently at 91-93 and when Jo-Jo can get it down, he shows the movement you would expect from a left-hander. His changeup is probably his best offering. It only drops six or seven mph below the fastball but with good sink, command, and arm speed, it is a pitch that gets a lot of swings and misses or weakly hit balls. The curve was his best pitch in high school but at times it can flatten out and then becomes a loopy pitch. It can be dominant but is inconsistent. The slider is an average offering. It gives the hitter a different look coming in, in the mid-80's and is certainly a pitch that he can use in the majors. He has good deception, groundball tendencies, and homerun prevention, but he isn't very good at holding runners on and relies too much on his fastball when he is in a jam. The stuff is there and if he can somehow turn a corner with his command, his potential is a number two starter. Unfortunately command and durability issues really are going to take their toll on his overall performance. The concern is that he won't ever be able to pitch the amount of innings someone would want from their number three starter, which stems both from his control problems and weight at 6'2" 230 lbs. He's still a guy you want though. A very good number four or at least a decent number three is becoming increasingly valuable in today's market, so while his control should drop him to the middle-back of the rotation, he is going to be a productive major leaguer. LHP Matt Harrison: Harrison was the Braves third round selection in the 2003 June Amateur Draft out of a high school in North Carolina. With an above average fastball, change, and curve as well as very good command and the perfect pitcher's body, Harrison may not have had the pure stuff of Reyes but was a much more polished package at the time. Harrison quickly set the tone for what the rest of his minor league career would be. He started in the GCL and while he allowed a good amount of hits and didn't strike out a ton, he still found success because of great command. Harrison made his way up to Danville in 2004. They kept him in short-season despite being such a polished pitcher. In his first full season with Rome, Harrison started to turn heads. At only 19, Harrison went 12-7 with a 3.23 ERA over 167 innings. He allowed only about eight hits for every nine innings pitched and while he only struck out 118, he also walked a mere 30 batters. 2006 was more of the same for the 6'5" southpaw between Myrtle Beach and Mississippi, and coming into 2007 he was considered the Braves top pitching prospect. The Braves have taken it slow with Harrison as he has spent the entire 2007 season with double-A Mississippi posting good numbers. His performance hasn't been spectacular but he is keeping hits down, has a good amount of strikeouts, is limiting homeruns, and still has his control to go along with very good groundball tendencies. Harrison has a very standard arsenal in that he uses a fastball, changeup, and curve. The fastball comes in right around 91-93 like Reyes' and has a bit more sinking movement on it, which induces a lot of grounders. The changeup is his best pitch though. Like Reyes, his arm speed is good but Harrison has better command and there is a couple more of a difference in velocity between his fastball and change than Reyes has. The curve can be a dominating pitch but he is more inconsistent with it than his other two offerings. Still, he can locate it and it is at least an above-average pitch with the chance to improve. Harrison is the perfect number three type starter. Groundballs and control is what Harrison lives off of, which allows him to quickly get through innings with low pitch counts. He'll probably fill out a bit more and should be able to pitch plenty of innings in the future with a good ERA. He doesn't have that one strikeout pitch, which will hold him to only a number three but he should be a very good option in the middle of the rotation. If he can fill out and add some muscle on at only 6'5" 205 lb, then a bit more velocity isn't out of the question. Overview: I'd have to hand this pretty easily to Matt Harrison as the better prospect. Reyes has the better pure stuff and some people can't seem to look past that. Sure, strikeouts are what we want to see but Harrison succeeds without the durability, injury, or control problems that plague Jo-Jo. Reyes will have more strikeouts because that is the kind of pitcher he is, but the amount of walks he gives up will likely mean a higher ERA and much fewer innings. I think Reyes could be a good number four or very good out of the pen as a setup man. Reyes was rushed to the majors and that is why he is struggling. He doesn't have overpowering stuff and with his control, that is a recipe for disaster as he is getting adjusted to pitching in the majors. I believe Harrison would have been the better option because they type of pitcher he is would make an easier transition, but since he is a year younger, they may be holding off until next season.

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