Every year, some unheralded rookies come out of nowhere and end up playing a big role in a team’s season.
Be it due to injury, poor performance or a trade, it’s almost certain that some player who was expected to spend the year in the minors ends up helping the big league club.
Here, I have picked out 15 rookies who could potentially help the Atlanta Braves in 2010.
Before I start, let me say that Jason Heyward isn’t included in this list. Not because I don’t think he will make an impact, but because at this point, I guarantee that if he stays healthy he will make an impact (likely as the starting right fielder on Opening Day).
Also, I’m not saying that every one of these rookies will make an impact. In fact, that really isn’t possible since some of these players are second (or third) options after other rookies prove ineffective or get injured.
Although he has played parts of two different major league seasons, Conrad is still considered a rookie.
Personally, I see Conrad starting out 2010 in the majors (after beating out Joe Thurston for the second utility infielder spot) and likely getting increased playing time when Chipper Jones deals with injuries.
Conrad was called up to the Braves in 2009, and showed that he has potential to play in the majors. In July, Conrad produced a .344/.382/.688 line before getting sent back to the minors.
His overall 2009 numbers weren’t that good though, as he really struggled after being recalled in September, going hitless in 23 at-bats.
This spring, Conrad has been on fire, hitting .376 with a home run, six RBI and a stolen base.
Although he’s struggled so far this spring, Mitch Jones is likely still the fifth best outfield option in the Braves organization right now.
Only 1-12 this spring (with the one hit being a home run) Jones has seen the chance of him starting out in the majors go from slim to none.
However, Jones has a powerful bat which could come in handy either off the bench or at one of the corner outfield spots later in 2010.
In 2009, Jones blasted 35 home runs in just 387 AAA at-bats, and compiled a .297 batting average.
Drafted in the fourth round in 2004, Holt has had a solid, but unspectacular career that appears to make him a quad-A player.
A career .283 hitter in the minors, Holt lacks the power or speed to really make an impact on the major league level.
Primarily a second baseman, Holt learned how to play left field in 2009 to increase his value. With the right circumstances could get the call in 2010.
With parts of three different AAA seasons on his resume, Holt has plenty of experience and should continue to hit for a decent batting average if given the call to Atlanta.
Continuing through the list of quad-A players on the Gwinnett roster, we come to Wes Timmons.
Primarily a third baseman, Timmons can play all the infield positions and has spent five years in AAA.
While his minor league batting average of .273 doesn’t stand out, his .386 on-base percentage does. Although Timmons lacks speed and power, he is an on-base machine, which could prove valuable to Atlanta at some point in 2010.
With Canizares, we now have four quad-A players on Gwinnett’s roster.
While he lacks ideal power for a first baseman, Barbaro can hit for a good batting average, get on base, and provide some pop by hitting doubles.
After having a his major league cup of coffee in 2009, Canizares could be the first option the Braves turn to if Troy Glaus goes down and Freddie Freeman still needs more seasoning.
In 313 AAA games, Canizares has compiled a .303/.367/.441 line, and could provide value if he can continue to hit for average and get on base if Glaus goes down with an injury.
Recently acquired in the trade that sent Javier Vazquez to New York, Dunn is in spring training competing for a spot in the Braves bullpen (where he would be the second lefty, not including Billy Wagner).
Dunn is off to a decent start this spring, although walks have been a small issue.
While his minor league career numbers are average, he has been much better in relief than as a starter. In 2009, he pitched exclusively in relief and posted a 3.31 ERA between AA and AAA.
With a small amount of major league experience already, I would say that Dunn has a 50-50 shot at breaking camp with the Braves right now, and even if he starts in the minors will be up in Atlanta at some point this season.
Another left handed reliever, Hyde also finds himself competing for a spot in the Braves bullpen in spring training. With two runs allowed in two innings, Hyde is off to a slow start, but there is plenty of time to turn it around.
Unlike most 24-year-olds who have yet to have a call to the majors, Hyde hasn’t really struggled at all in the minors.
He has however, dealt with injuries. In fact, since being drafted in 2006 the most innings Hyde has pitched in a season is 35.2 (in 2009). Hyde also pitched well in the Arizona Fall League.
If he can stay healthy, Hyde will likely see the majors at some point in 2010, and if he’s good enough, maybe Bobby will ease off Eric O’Flaherty a little.
After spending the majority of his minor league career in the Pirates system as a mediocre starting pitcher, Valdez switched to the bullpen in 2007.
In his first year with the Braves (2008) Valdez saved 28 games in Mississippi while posting a 2.76 ERA.
He followed that up with another strong performance in 2009, saving 27 games in AAA and greatly improving his K:BB ratio (from 2.14 to 3.95).
He was pitching well enough to get the call to the big leagues in 2009, although he only pitched 2.2 innings while in Atlanta.
While he is old (26) for a rookie, Valdez has been having success the past two year in the upper levels of minor league baseball, and could warrant another look in the Braves bullpen at some point in 2010.
Parr has pitched in the majors in each of the past two seasons, but hasn’t been able to stick with the Braves.
After being injured in 2009, if Parr can bounce back he could move ahead of Jo-Jo Reyes and be the first option called up from the minors if the Braves are looking for a starter.
His last full season, 2008, saw Parr post a 3.52 ERA between AA and AAA (he also made five starts in the majors with a 4.84 ERA).
If healthy, Parr might be the most major league ready starter in the Braves minor league system, which could prove valuable if the Braves need to fill more than one hole in the rotation.
Acquired from Pittsburg for Tyler Yates, Redmond has proved to be a solid starter in the Braves system over the past two seasons.
Although he doesn’t have the stuff to be a star at the major league level, Redmond’s value in 2010 will be that he is major league ready and fully healthy.
In two years with the Braves, Redmond has an ERA just under 4.00 and a 22-11 record between AA and AAA.
The first and only highly rated prospect on this list, Kimbrel is currently being groomed as a future closer for the Braves.
In 2009, Kimbrel started out in Rome (A) and ended in Gwinnett (AAA). Along the way, he pitched 60 innings, saved 18 games, compiled a 2.85 ERA and struck out 103 batters. If you don’t feel like doing the math yourself, that’s 15.4 K/9.
The biggest thing holding Kimbrel back is his control. In the Arizona Fall League, Kimbrel struggled because although he struck out 18 batters in 10.1 innings, he also walked 16.
If he can harness his pitches early this year, expect to see him in the Atlanta bullpen before the season is over.
A 10-year minor league veteran, Gomez is probably wondering what he has to do to get a call to the major leagues.
While his numbers aren’t spectacular, he has been solid throughout his entire career, especially over the past two seasons while pitching in AAA.
Between 2008 and 2009, Gomez has a 2.35 ERA in 137.2 innings of relief for both the Indians and Braves AAA teams.
Not a big strikeout pitcher, Gomez doesn’t possess have the “stuff” that some other pitchers on this list have. But, if you look at the numbers, Gomez must be doing something right.
I’ll admit, I’m reaching pretty far with these last couple, and they likely won’t make any impact. But considering the Braves used 18 rookies in 2005, anything is possible.
Venters was pitching well in AA in 2009, but struggled once he moved up to AAA.
Control is Venters' biggest problem, as he walked more than 4 batters per nine innings in 2009.
A left-handed starting pitcher, Venters could ultimately be used as a lefty specialist or a starting pitcher.
Originally a starter, Lyman has been converted a reliever over the past couple of seasons (although he still has started a handful of games).
A former second-round pick, Lyman has never really lived up to his potential.
He pitched well in AA in 2009, but struggled when he was promoted to AAA.
Another pitcher with some control issues (4.9 BB/9 in 2009), Lyman could get on Atlanta’s radar if he continues to have a strong spring, which then carries over to the regular season.
Gearrin didn’t become a pitcher until 2006, so it would be understandable if his development went along slower than that of other pitchers.
2009 however, was somewhat of a coming out party for Gearrin, as he dominated in Myrtle Beach and pitched extremely well after being promoted to Mississippi.
Already 24, Gearrin has been strong so far in spring training, and could warrant a look if his 2010 season is anything like 2009.