There's a lot of focus for the Braves this winter on shoring up the offense with a big-time, middle-of-the-order power bat, and rightfully so. However, let's not forget that the bullpen is also likely to undergo a major makeover, what with Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez both set to test the free-agent market. We can definitely pencil in Peter Moylan and Eric O'Flaherty. Kris Medlen is likely in there too, but he's also likely to be the first promoted to the rotation should one of the Opening Day five succumb to injury or ineffectiveness. That leaves at least four and possibly five spots wide open in the 'pen, and while it's very likely that Frank Wren will look outside the organization for some reinforcements, the relief corps will also need to get some internal boosts. Enter Luis Valdez.
John Sickels recently ranked Valdez the Braves 17th-best prospect, giving him a Grade C+. Valdez is the sort of player that the Braves have excelled at finding over the last decade: guys that get discarded by other organizations in spite of their potential. He was allowed to leave the Pirates' organization via minor-league free agency, and the Braves snapped him up prior to the 2008 season, and then protected him from free agency by adding him to the 40-man roster last winter after a strong year as Mississippi's closer. He posted another noteworthy campaign in '09, striking out more than a batter per nine in the International League while cutting his walk totals by more than half. He's a fastball/slider guy, and don't mistake him for a stud prospect. Still, he deserves a shot to pitch in middle relief for the 2010 Braves, and definitely has the stuff to work his way into a legitimate 7th-inning role.
The bottom line: Valdez has good stuff and while he's a bit old to be a prospect, he's excelled in the minors. He joins the likes of Craig Kimbrel and Cory Gearrin in the group of rookies who will get a shot to join a revamped 2010 Braves bullpen.