With the first Spring Training game later today, it is time to look at the last four non-roster invitees that the Braves have in camp with them.
These four players include two infield and two outfield prospects.
Originally drafted in the third round back in 2007, Hicks hasn’t lived up to the promise that made Baseball America project him to be the starter at third base in 2012.
After hitting .285 in his first professional season (2007) Hicks has hit just .235 and .237 in the years since.
2008 was still somewhat of a breakthrough for Hicks as he knocked 20 home runs (mostly in Myrtle Beach).
While adjusting to AA in 2009, Hicks really struggled, continuing to hit for a poor average, and saw his home runs cut in half.
Despite being a great defender, Hicks has seen his value drop because of his inability to hit at higher levels.
An invitation to spring training could be what Hicks needs to prove to the Braves that he still might develop into a major league hitter, otherwise Hicks will be back in the minors hoping to turn around his once promising career.
Continuing up the Braves 2007 draft picks, we come to a second-round pick, first basemen Frederick Freeman.
After a great first season in 2007, Freeman quickly rose up the prospect rankings, seen as second only to Jason Heyward.
Despite struggling in 2009 after moving to AA, Freeman is still seen as the first baseman of the future.
Entering his second spring training, Freeman will look to show the Braves he has progressed since Bobby Cox and the Major League coaches saw him last.
While he started off last spring strong (hitting a home run in his first two games) he tailed off and showed why he still needed seasoning.
Only 20 years old, Freeman still is among the Braves top five prospects and likely just needs more time to fully develop.
While his power has yet to fully develop, Freeman could show the Braves that he will be ready later in 2010, which would be a pleasant surprise, as he likely won’t be ready until 2011.
The jewel of the Braves 2007 draft, it’s safe to say if you are a Braves fan who hasn’t heard of Heyward, you probably have been living in a cave for the last couple years.
Whether he’s being compared to a middle linebacker or damaging cars with his monstrous homeruns, Heyward has already been the story of 2010 spring training.
Following another terrific year in 2009 (in which he produced a .323/.408/.555 line across three minor league levels) Heyward enters the year as the top prospect in all of Major League Baseball.
Also entering his second spring training, Heyward is the favorite to win the starting right field job.
While it’s possible the Braves could decide he needs more time in the minors, Heyward certainly seems ready for the majors.
After a great spring last year, Heyward is stronger, and has already impressed just about everyone who has seen him.
Barring a catastrophic spring, Heyward will be starting the year in Atlanta, because if the Braves are serious about winning in Bobby Cox’s final season, Heyward is the best player to man right field in 2010.
A first round pick in 2006, Johnson might be the best power hitter in all of minor league baseball.
However, for Johnson, with great power, comes great strikeout totals.
After hitting .305 in Danville (R) in 2007, Johnson has seen his strikeouts rise (up to 180 in 2009). Along the way, his batting average has slipped down to .239, including an awful .182 in 25 games at Mississippi (AA).
With 32 home runs in 2009, Johnson could ultimately become a player such as Adam Dunn, who posts prolific home run and strikeout totals.
If Johnson can continue to raise his walk rate, he ultimately could either spend time in the Braves outfield, or become a trade piece.
In spring training, the best case is that Johnson shows he can hit without striking out a ton, and hopefully continue to show progress at Mississippi.
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