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What To Do with the Braves Bullpen - Interview with Jim Callis of Baseball America

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We lost for a variety of reasons last night, but Jeff Bennett's performance in the 8th -- giving up 4 hits, a walk, and 2 runs while only getting one out -- certainly didn't help matters. I asked Jim Callis, who is the executive editor of Baseball America, a frequent contributor to ESPN.com, and a UGA alum, a few questions about the Braves' bullpen situation, particularly as it relates to our farmhands. He graciously turned this around very quickly -- this guy clearly types fast! This also serves as the game thread for game 2 against the Marlins, Derek Lowe against the mercurial Andrew Miller.

1. Kris Medlen is one of our top pitching prospects who isn't named Tommy Hanson. But while Hanson has been a starter the whole way through, the team chose to convert Medlen from a reliever to a starter, then put him in the pen this year in spring training, where he pitched well, and then sent him back to AAA Gwinnett, where he pitched in long relief of Tommy Hanson on Thursday. Does changing a guy from the rotation to the pen and back affect his development clock, at all? And where would Medlen best serve the team long-term -- the Gwinnett rotation, the Gwinnett pen, or the Atlanta pen (in place of someone like Jeff Bennett)?

It shouldn't affect him a ton. He served in both roles last year. I think it would be harder if you bounced back and forth and back and forth between the rotation and bullpen in the big leagues. If they're planning on using him in the big league bullpen this year, which makes sense, then pitching him in Gwinnett's pen makes the most sense. If he started, he'd get more innings, but it's better that he gets used to pitching more often, warming up in a hurry, etc. It wouldn't surprise me if he got called up after a month in Triple-A.
2. Jo-Jo Reyes and Charlie Morton are the #2 and #3 starters in Gwinnett, behind Hanson, who last year zoomed past them in the organization's depth chart. Both Reyes and Morton spent a fair amount of time at the back end of the Braves rotation last year, and both struggled -- and with Tim Hudson's eventual return from injury and Tommy Hanson's inevitable lock on one of the rotation spots, the Braves rotation doesn't seem to have much room for Reyes and Morton. Both have great stuff, but trouble with command, and are beginning to face the AAAA stigma. Do you believe that they can be successful major league starters? Should they be considered for the Atlanta bullpen? (I've been advocating that Reyes serve as the Atlanta LOOGY instead of Eric O'Flaherty.) Held out as trading chips? Or kept in AAA?

What the Braves are doing here is what most organizations would do: trying to maximize the value of their players. They'll keep trying both as starters unless it becomes apparent that won't work, and at that time they'll shift them to the bullpen. I'd keep exploring Reyes as a starter rather than making him a specialist. You can never have enough starting pitching.
3. Speaking of Tommy Hanson, when should he be called into the rotation for good, considering his arbitration clock and the likely value he could provide over the Braves' current 5th starter, Tom Glavine? (Glavine visited Dr. James Andrews on Monday because of shoulder discomfort.) If Hanson gets called up, should he stay in the rotation and Wally Pipp Glavine for good?

There's little doubt in my mind that Hanson could pitch effectively in Atlanta's rotation right now. The Braves are trying to contend, so they shouldn't worry about his free agent or arbitration clock. If they keep him down for another week or so, they'll delay his free agency, but if they're messing with arbitration, they might have to wait until June. Giving those starts to Glavine over Hanson would be a mistake.
4. As far as pitchers who haven't quite made it as far as AAA, Scott Diamond is a guy who hasn't gotten a whole lot of ink but whose numbers look just sterling. Craig Kimbrel saw action at three levels last year, and destroyed the league all the way up to High-A, and was drafted as a closer who could move quickly. How do you like them, and do you think either of them could merit a September cup of coffee -- or serious consideration for the 2010 25-man roster?

That would be aggressive on both guys. I wouldn't expect to see them in September, and to make next year's Opening Day roster would be a longshot. Neither would have to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason, another reason we're unlikely to see them in September. I think mid-2010 at the earliest makes the most sense. I do like both guys as prospects, Kimbrel more than Diamond. Kimbrel is a possible closer, while Diamond is more of a middle reliever.
5. Beyond Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano, and Peter Moylan (who's only 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery), the Brave bullpen looks thin -- Buddy Carlyle, Jeff Bennett, Eric O'Flaherty, Blaine Boyer, and Jorge Campillo all look like what could be charitably called "organizational arms" at this point. Considering all the above players and others in the Brave organization, what changes would you make if you were in charge?

I think you sort through the guys you call "organizational arms" at the beginning of the season, figure out who can pitch and hope you don't cost yourself many games while doing so. I'd give Medlen a quick callup if he pitches well, and not be afraid to use guys like Morton, Reyes or James Parr in middle relief if needed.

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