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Minor League Report: Richmond

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We're just about a month into the minor league season and it seems like the perfect time to start breaking down what's going on around Atlanta's farm system team-by-team. We'll start with the Braves' triple-A affiliate, the Richmond Braves, who are off to a strong start at 11-6 and more importantly, lead in the International League's South Division. Who's Hot RHP Phil Stockman- The 6'8" Australian reliever went relatively unused and unnoticed this spring, throwing only three innings before being optioned down. With Atlanta's pen feeling the strain of some key injuries, the Braves are going to have to take notice of the Aussie flame-thrower, who is ripping through opposing hitters this season. Stockman has pitched 11.2 innings in six relief appearances so far while allowing only two earned runs (1.54 ERA). His peripherals are very impressive as well as he's held opposing hitters to a .103 average and has a 14/4 K/BB on the young season. There always seems to be something that keeps Stockman from getting his shot, whether it be injury or visa problems. If he keeps pitching this way, it'll be almost impossible not to give him a look. LHP Jo-Jo Reyes- The Braves are going to have to look outside the normal rotation for plenty of starts this season with Tom Glavine, Mike Hampton, John Smoltz, and Chuck James all either currently on the DL or having spent time on the DL at some point this season, as well as a youngster in Jair Jurrjens, whose innings the team will probably look to control. Charlie Morton may have made a case for himself over the winter and in the spring, but Jo-Jo Reyes is the one who has capitalized the most early in the '08 season. The southpaw hasn't factored into a decision in any of his three starts, however he has yet to allow a run -- earned or unearned -- in his 14 innings this season. He has only allowed six hits with a .125 batting average against as well as a strong groundball rate and an 18/5 K/BB ratio. If his performance stays strong, Reyes is going to at least get a chance to prove to the Braves that he deserves starts and possibly position himself for a rotation spot next season. C Clint Sammons- The Braves chose to go with experience over talent this Spring in choosing Brian McCann's backup. The job was given to journeyman Corky Miller over Georgia-native Clint Sammons but poor performance by Miller combined with an offensive tear from Sammons may pretty quickly reverse those roles. While Miller has struggled both with the bat and in the field, Sammons is hitting a cool .395/.458/.535 in 43 at-bats as Richmond's starting catcher. OK, admittedly Sammons is not THIS good -- not even close really -- but this offensive surge may be all he needs to supplant Miller on the major league roster. Sammons is known primarily for his defense and specifically, his ability to control the opposing team's running game. On the other side, Miller has struggled with pretty much everything from blocking balls to throwing out runners this season. Sammons has done enough to force the issue. Right now, it's just a question of how long Bobby Cox and Frank Wren can take Miller's struggles. OF Josh Anderson- Anderson was almost guaranteed a roster spot going into spring training, however a strong couple of weeks from Gregor Blanco took the speedy outfielder out of Atlanta's opening day plans. He seems eager to get back to the majors, batting .319/.338/.391 in 69 at-bats with five stolen bases. There is just one minor obstacle and that is Gregor Blanco's .444 batting average as Atlanta's fourth outfielder right now. It's pretty clear by now that neither of these guys will likely be regulars during their careers and both are going to be prone to slumps with rather free-swinging approaches (Anderson more than Blanco). If Anderson keeps putting up decent numbers, Blanco is going to have to avoid any extended slumps or else risk being sent down. I expect we'll at least one swap of these two over the course of the year. 1B Barbaro Canizares- The former Cuban defector is following up a strong 2007 campaign by hitting even better to start this season. Canizares has hit .407/.444/.661 with six doubles and three homeruns in 59 at-bats for Richmond this season. There is one big problem for his chances of seeing time with the Braves this season. He only plays first. With Mark Teixeira entrenched at the position and without being able to play another position, Canizares has nowhere to go. The Braves are not going to use a bench spot on him with a logjam there already, so his best bet is probably to continue hitting and try and impress Braves officials during September if he gets a callup, because if Teixeira chooses to leave next season, Frank Wren is going to be looking at every possible option to fill the void. Who's Not SS Brent Lillibridge-The baby-faced shortstop's biggest knock has always been an inability to hit the breaking pitch (in particular a slider), which is caused by a rather long swing. That plagued the 24-year old during spring training and it has carried over into the season as Lillibridge is hitting a measly .152/.211/.227 with 19 strikeouts in only 66 at-bats. In all fairness, he is 4/7 in his last two games, however that is far from enough to reverse the less than stellar impression he made on the Braves coaches this spring. Even with Omar Infante, the Braves still don't have a natural shortstop to backup Yunel Escobar and Lillibridge certainly has a good shot at seeing some time in the majors this season, but he is going to have to shorten his swing and cut back on the strikeouts if he is going to get that shot. OF Brandon Jones- Jones is in the same boat as Lillibridge. He's got a good shot to see significant time in the majors this season but so far, strikeouts have killed him. He's hitting only .228/.313/.333 and has struck out 19 times in only 57 at-bats. The outfielder has yet to hit a homerun and his only extra-base hits are six double. If he can get his offense back on track, Jones has a good shot at becomng the left-handed half of platoon in left with Matt Diaz at some point this season but so far, he's not inspiring confidence in anyone that he can produce at the major league level. C Sal Fasano- Even his awesome mustache is not enough to make up for the veteran's early-season struggles. Signed to be a possible backup catcher, the 36-year old backstop is hitting a mere .176/.222/.294 this season and seems to be drowning away any chance he had at joining the Braves this season. It's disappointing because that man really does have a great mustache. 1B Scott Thorman- It has become clear over the past two seasons that Scott Thorman is a AAAA player. A guy who can mash minor league pitching but whose weaknesses are exploited by major league pitching so much so that he is completely ineffective. Now he can't even hit minor league pitching. The Canadian firstbaseman owns a terrible .212/.255/.250 line (yes, he is in danger of dropping below a .500 OPS) with only two extra-base hits (both doubles) and a 16/3 K/BB in his 52 at-bats. I always liked Thorman as person and especially the way he plays the game, but right now he is legitimizing the decision of every other GM in baseball, to allow him to pass through waivers unclaimed. RHP Zach Schreiber- Before the season, Schreiber was being mentioned among the names of reliever waiting to fill in if need be. He's done a pretty good amount to distance himself from that immediate discussion at this point in the season. His 4.32 ERA isn't terrible but it isn't going to open any eyes either. In all fairness to him, his hit rate has been pretty good and his strikeout rate is at least decent. The problem has been control for the right-hander as he's allowed six walks in only 8.1 innings. It seems pretty clear that at this point, Schreiber is pretty far down on the bullpen depth chart but there is still plenty of time for him to start performing and possibly see some time in the majors.
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