If you're going to pick a Braves minor league team to go see this year, Myrtle Beach has to be the one. Taking a look at Baseball America's top 30 Braves prospect list, 10, a full third, of them are on the Pelicans roster (though two, Cole Rohrbough and Chad Rodgers were on the DL this weekend). And when you think of these prospects, obviously the first ones you think of are the big three, the 3-4-5 hitters, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and Cody Johnson:
Of course, the biggest draw of the three is the biggest of the three, Gigantor himself, The Greg Oden of baseball (minus the injuries and sucking), Jason Heyward:
You can't even imagine how big this guy is until you see him in person. The amount of talent he has is scary; not only did he demolish a homer in the Sunday game (we were estimating between 430 and 450 feet on it), but he showed off his laser beam arm in both games, only missing an outfield assist by the incompetence of the umpire. And I love the way he sets up at the plate, like he's saying "Come on, I"m right here":
One of the running jokes around the Braves minor leagues is about the invisible 12 foot rope running between Heyward and Freddie Freeman. And it's true, they're best of buddies and they hang out pretty much all the time:
When I first got up to the stadium Saturday, it was a few hours before gametime, around a half hour before the gates even open. Potomac's stadium is pretty old, so there's a chain-link fence that you can see though straight to the field. Right as I walk up, the Pelicans are taking the field for batting practice, and I see Freddie heading toward first. So, being the photog that I am, I walk up to the fence to try and snap a few pics, and before I can even click the shutter, Freddie looks over, sees me, and says, "Hey! CB! How's it going man?" You know it's gonna be a fun weekend when one of the top prospects in the game is saying hello before you've even got in the park.
I really can't say enough good things about Freddie; he's just an outstanding guy. There wasn't an autograph request all weekend (and I'm guessing all season) that he didn't gladly fulfill. Oh, and he's a pretty darn good ballplayer too:
I know a lot of people aren't very high on Cody Johnson, but he's always been a favorite of mine. The Braves knew he was a project when they drafted him, and both they and he have put the work in, and the results are showing. After the weekend, he was leading the minor leagues in home runs. Saturday, he went with a pitch and hit an opposite field two run shot off a lefty. The ball easily sailed over a huge scoreboard behind the left field fence. Sunday, he popped another two-run shot, this time muscling it over the right field wall. Sure, he strikes out a bit, but he also drops bombs, which will make it worth it. He also signs a ton of autographs:
Something else he does that's very interesting is his pre-pitch setup. He takes a step back, holds the bat up in front of his face, scrunches up his shoulders, takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and more or less waggles spirit fingers before getting into his batting stance. It's really something to see. I was sitting next to his sister during Saturday's game, and I asked her about it; she said she didnt' know, and when she asked Cody, he didn't know. Apparently, it's just something he does. I don't know why I didn't think of it (probably cause I'm dumb), but I should have taken a video of this ritual. Maybe next time. Until then, this pic will have to do:
Over the weekend I got to see the pitching verson of Heyward and Freeman, a pair of highly touted prospects who are busom buddies, Jose Ortegano and Edgar Osuna:
Both showed off great stuff, lots of speed and lots of movement, but neither ended up with great results, both due to poor umpiring and poor fielding. That's not to say that both didn't have their own faults, it's obvious that both have a long way to go to become Major League pitchers, but these guys are good. But, what's more impressive than their ability, is Osuna's hair:
I also got to get my first look at Cuban defector Donnell Linares:
He didn't show much with the bat in the two games I saw, and it's hard to tell if he's just in a slump, or if he's overmatched with the league. We'll have to wait a bit to find out which I suppose. We won't, however, have to wait to find out about his defense: the guy is outstanding. He made at least five top flight defensive plays in the two games and I was thoroughly impressed.
One interesting thing I noticed about Linares was his ritual between pitches. I couldn't figure out exactly when he would do it, it wasn't quite every pitch, but at least every other one, but he would reach down to the dirt right by third, grab and handful off it, and let it sift through his fingers before the next pitch:
You might not be able to see it here, but in the pic on the left, you can actually see the dirt falling between his fingers. Needless to say, I was pretty psyched.
One of the other interesting prospects at the beach this summer is catcher Matt Kennelly:
'Mate' is one of my favorite guys in the organization. The dude is the epitome of Australian; there's pretty much nothing that he isn't excited about. And what's not to be excited about? He's 20 years old with a ton of upside, and getting better by the day. The difference between where he is as a player today, and where he was in Spring Training of 07 is ridiculous.
A guy who hasn't had such a fun go of it lately, is Craig Kimbrel:
We all know how well he did last year, but so far he's putting up Boyeresque numbers in 09. He gave up a grand slam to Tim Pahuta (who looks exactly how you'd expect a guy named Tim Pahuta to look) in Sunday's game. I was watching pretty closely and the best reason I could come up with is that his arm angle must be slightly off. The stuff is obviously there, he added in an easy 1-2-3 inning right after getting shelled in the inning he gave up the granny. Hopefully, Craig is mentally tough enough to handle the poor start and is able to turn things around.
Here's a nice picture of Quentin Davis looking to bunt:
And an even better one of Michael Fisher making some good contact:
The bullpen is sort of my minor baseball obsession, I just think the dynamic out there is fascinating, so this pic is particularly cool to me:
I can't even imagine what Cory Gearrin is telling the guys (R-L, Casey Hodges, Jaye Chapman, Mikey Mehlich, and Craig Kimbrel).
You may have noticed in some of the pictures the 'DC' patch on the right chest of the Myrtle Beach jerseys. This is a tribute to late MB pitching coach Bruce Dal Canton and I was very glad to see they had done something to honor him (I was honestly a little surprised when I first noticed it, and a little more surprised when I got choked up). DC was one of the most intelligent and personable people I've ever had the pleasure to meet and his contributions to the Braves and the game of baseball are, frankly, amazing. RIP DC.
Getting back on a less somber note, I had an amazing time this weekend. The Braves do a fantastic job of acquiring amazing people to come and wear their uniforms and the minor league guys go out of their way to make you feel welcome and appreciated. I didn't even get a picture of him, but I have to make sure everybody knows how effing cool Jeff Locke is. He hooked me and my friends up with tickets for both games and I didn't even ask him to. The guy is class, just like the entire organization.
I'll end with this, if, by some miracle, Jason Heyward doesn't pan out, I'm blaming this kid: