Though it was mostly Jason Heyward grabbing all the rookie headlines this season for Atlanta, Jonny Venters was the team's true freshmen MVP. Often times, the players that fly under the radar and have the least amount of pressure put on them become the major contributes to their team.
For Atlanta, an organization with so much depth, some of the least known prospects often become the ones that most contribute to the big league club. Who are some candidates to be the Jonny Venters of 2011? Take a look inside, where likely at least one of these players will have a chance to state their case in the coming campaign.
The Braves said enough about how much they valued Lee Hyde when they added him to their 40-man roster after the 2009 season. If either Eric O'Flaherty or Jonny Venters suffer injury problems in 2011, Hyde is the number one candidate to replace either of them.
In the minors, Hyde posted solid numbers against lefties which makes him a good candidate to pitch in the majors at some point. With two solid lefties already in the Atlanta bullpen, Hyde may be blocked a bit but there is no question he will get to prove himself at some point.
Potential Role For 2011: Lefty Specialist (aka Howard and Utley Killers)
Wilkin Ramirez was once a top prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization, but fell out of favor with them and found himself with the Braves. He is a utility player, much like Eric Hinske. He could make the team out of the spring due to his versatility. He has also shown some pop, hitting 23 homeruns in the minors in 2010.
Ramirez may be an early favorite to take over for Omar Infante as Atlanta's superutility man in 2011. He has struggled with strikeouts and low on-base-percentage in the past, but adding a player who can play multiple positions with good power is something every team wants to do.
Potential Role For 2011: Utilityman
Barbaro Canizares is an interesting case. This guy is a heck of a hitter, but a lack of defensive ability puts him in a bind with the Atlanta organization. He is 31, but he is still fresh in professional baseball and hits like a 23-year-old.
If the Braves can find a position for Canizares, he could be an every day player. He spend most of his time in the minors at first base, with limited time in the outfield. If the Braves can't find a position for him to play, expect to see him as a valuable bat off the bench late in games.
Potential Role For 2011: Pinch Hitter
Jay Sborz could be the 2011 version of Jonny Venters. A career-long Detroit Tiger until he was suprisingly cut after the season's end, this hard-throwing 25-year-old right-hander may look to prove he can make as a Major League reliever.
Sborz only pitched in one game for the Detroit team in 2010, and got roughed up for 5 runs in less than an inning of work in his big league debut. Despite a rough signature outing, Sborz still has potential to be succesful coming out of the bullpen. He has a spring training invite, and he just may make the team if he puts on a good show.
Potential Role For 2011: Set-Up Man
Kyle Cofield struggled after being called up to AA Mississippi. He has always been wild, and wildness combined with an inability to strikeout hitters is often a warning sign for trouble. However, if he figures out how to control his fastball consistently, he may make a Kris Medlen-like impact in 2011. Or he could take the Jonny Venters route, which would be moving to the bullpen full-time and seeing his career take off.
The Braves have a logjam of young pitching in the minor leagues, but Cofield could get called up if the Braves need another righty reliever or a single spot start. If he has some success, he could fit into Atlanta's long-term plans as a ground ball specialist.
Potential Role For 2011: Middle Reliever, Spot Starter
Shawn Bowman has power, and is likely to be angry at a Mets organization that never gave him a chance. He hit 22 homeruns while having only 455 at bats while playing at AA New Hampshire in 2010. He will likley start the season at AAA Gwinnett.
Bowman has never played a position professionally other than third base, and could get his chance to play in the Majors if Chipper struggles with injuries. If he thrives in the spotlight, the veteran Chipper Jones could verbally declare the 26-year-old his 2011 backup, much like John Smoltz once made a young Brian McCann his personal catcher.
Potential Role For 2011: Backup 3B, Pinch Hitter
The 5'-8" 175 pound Matt Young is a speedster. He may compete for a chance to play in Atlanta's outfield for the 2011 season, and could make an immediate impact with his legs and bat. For an Atlanta team that has struggled to find a replacement for Andruw Jones in centerfield and Rafael Furcal at the leadoff spot, they may have a hybrid candidate in this 28-year-old.
Young may remind Braves fans of Gregor Blanco with more of a game-changing type of speed. He will hit around .300, keep his strikeouts below 70, and keep his on-base-percentage hovering aroung .380. Matt is arguably a dark-horse candidate to be Atlanta's Opening Day centerfielder.
Potential Role For 2011: Fourth Outfielder, Centerfielder