MLB Spring Training 2011: 10 Players to Watch in Atlanta Braves' Camp

Will BrownContributor IFebruary 14, 2011

MLB Spring Training 2011: 10 Players to Watch in Atlanta Braves’ Camp

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    Spring training is time where players get back into shape, new coaches get to see their club for the first time and set the pace for years to come. It’s where questions are answered, and maybe even more are brought up. It can be the first true glance at the potential of a prospect, or a rejuvenated veteran trying for one last season as a baseball player.

    The Braves come into spring with questions of who will be the center fielder, will Chipper Jones be healthy, how will top prospect Julio Teheran look against tough competition and is Freddie Freeman ready for the everyday job.

    Let’s took a look at some of the players that Braves’ fans should be keeping their eye on.

10. Jordan Schafer

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    Schafer was once a very highly-regarded prospect that has seemingly fallen off the face of the earth. His career downturn was first started when he was suspended 50 games HGH use (though he was never actually shown as having tested positively for it, per ESPN: “Asked how Major League Baseball determined that Schafer used HGH, Mike Teevan, MLB's manager of media relations, said, ‘We have non-analytic means of identifying players. He falls under that category.’”), but that was just the start of it.

    Most Braves’ fans, myself included, were very excited to see the debut and career of a guy that was so well-thought off across the league. Schafer hit a home run in his first career at bat in 2009, much like Jason Heyward in 2010.

    Schafer struggled mightily after that though, hitting only .204 over 50 games. He stole two bases and smacked just two homers.

    The one thing I liked was his ability to get on base, with a .313 OBP. That’s normally terrible, but when you see that his average was only .204, it showed that he at least knew how to take a walk.

    Schafer has gone from top prospect to a guy that may be playing for his professional career at the age 24, it is now or never for him.

9. Mike Minor/Brandon Beachy

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    Minor and Beachy will be battling for the team's fifth and final spot in the rotation for the beginning of the season. The player who out-pitches the other should be the one that gets the call every fifth day.

    Minor seems to be the favorite at this point, seeing as he he pitched more last year for the club, but Beachy was very good in his limited time for the Braves and even made their postseason roster.

    If I had to guess, I think Minor will get the fifth spot, with Beachy possibly staying on the major league roster as a spot starter and long reliever, which should be good for him. He was a closer in college, so it wouldn't be much of a transition for him.

8. Jonny Venters

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    It can be easily argued that Venters was the top rookie reliever in the big leagues last year after he posted a 1.95 ERA to go along with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings pitched.

    While he is likely to end up a setup man and the team's specialist against left-handers, Venters is going to be given a chance to win the closer's role, which puts him on this list. If Craig Kimbrel, the likely closer, struggles, then Venters may be given the job.

    Venters is a guy that should be around a long time in Atlanta. It will be interesting to see if he can keep his 2010 pace and what is role will be.

7. Jair Jurrjens

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    Jurrjjens was one of the top pitchers in baseball in 2009 when he posted a 14-10 record with an ERA of 2.60. Jurrjens had very expectations heading into the 2010 season, but injuries would hold him back a great deal.

    After starting 34 games in 2009, Jurrjens only made 20 in 2010. His ERA 4.64 and most Braves' fans are wondering if his 2009 season was an aberration or if 2010 was just the results of injuries.

    Jurrjens needs a good spring to get himself in shape and ready for the grind of the Braves' season. His stock may have dropped a bit, but the talent is still there for the 25-year-old. 

6. Freddie Freeman

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    Freeman may not have the most potential of the top prospects for 2011, but the kid will almost surely be a good player that mans the first base position for the next decade for the Atlanta Braves.

    Freeman needs to prove a point this spring. Some fans were a little skeptical over the Braves not even attempting to resign Derek Lee or Troy Glaus, or attempt to sign another first baseman. Instead they have handed the job over to a guy that will be 21 for basically the entire season.

    Fans can't look at Freeman and expect Jason Heyward. Freeman is a guy that should have a good average and rack up a ton of doubles, but he's not going to hit 30 homers, or even 25 for that matter. He's going to play solid defense and help you out consistently at the plate.

5. Craig Kimbrel

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    Kimbrel was electric last year with an ERA of 0.44 with a K/9 of 17.4 in 20.2 innings pitched.

    He has closer-like stuff, throwing 94-96 consistently while reaching even higher than that with his fastball, which he mainly compliments with a plus-slider.

    If Kimbrel doesn't implode this spring he should be the Braves' closer, closing the door that Billy Wagner left open (he still hasn't officially retired, and is still on the Braves roster though).

    Kimbrel's future is extremely bright, and the Braves may be looking at the top closer for the next decade.

4. Julio Teheran

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    Teheran is considerd by many (including ESPN's Keith Law) as the top pitching prospect in baseball and has drawn comparisons to Pedro Martinez.

    He is by far the guy I'm most looking forward to seeing for the Braves this spring, even as a non-roster invitee.This gives most Braves' fans a first glance at the possible ace of the future, and a guy that is expected to be the number two behind Tommy Hanson at worst at this point.

    There is a chance Teheran makes the big league roster in September as a spot starter or in an Aroldis Chapman-esque role out of the bullpen.

    Get your popcorn ready Braves' fans you are looking at the future.

3. Jason Heyward

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    This time last year, ESPN was getting ready to run a daily time that they would talk about Jason Heyward and his new achievements in the spring. They did this in a way that would make most people overhype Heyward, but he even exceeded expectations.

    Heyward became famous for launching towering homers and knocking out car windows last spring, but there is a little concern for me this year.

    The thumb that he injured last year against the Diamondbacks is not completely healed. 

    Yes, he said he feels no pain and that he is "good to go", but he doesn't have the full range of motion in his thumb, which is something that could cut his power, as it did in the second half last year.

    Heyward is going to hit for a high average, likely anyway, regardless of his thumb. The Braves need him to hit home runs though, even if it is just 20-25. I hope he does, but the thumb worries me a bit, so I want to see how his power and swing look this spring.

2. Nate McClouth

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    In 2008, McClouth looked like he was ready to put the Pittsburgh Pirates on his back. Going in to 2011 now, McClouth is fighting for a job for the Braves.

    McClouth was terrible on offense last year, as every Braves' fan goes. He says he is healthy and more focused coming into the year, and we will get a chance to see this spring.

    If he comes out as a better hitter than he showed last spring, which was absolutely atrocious, even worse than his regular season, I will feel a lot more comfortable about McClouth when the season starts.

1. Chipper Jones

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    Some fans may no longer respect what he brings to the Braves, but I can promise that Fredi González does.

    Chipper has been swinging the bat well this post season, and says he is on pace to be ready Opening Day to play third when the Braves head the to the nation's capital to play the Washington Nationals. The key is how well he can field ground balls and to see if his knee will hold up to the spot and starts that he will have at the hot corner.

    The Braves really need Jones penciled in the three hole and the offensive that he still manages to get on base. He still is good with runners in scoring position and gets on base as well as most third basemen. Jones is probably the biggest question mark for the Braves during spring training.

    At this point Jones should know what to expect from his body, so if he's ready on March 31st, then he's ready. This spring will tell a lot about a guy that is one of the greatest Braves ever.