I ended up in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia this past weekend, hanging out with my dad and playing some golf, but once we saw that the Danville Braves were playing just a few hours away in Bluefield, West Virginia, we made sure to be at the game.
I'd never been to Bluefield before and I'd have to say that unless the D-Braves were playing there, I probably wouldn't go back. There were some positives; there's only one ticket price, $4, and I got a free t-shirt, in the exact size I wanted, on the way in. But the setup of the park is screwy. There are all these reserved boxes in the front, close to the field, that you're not allowed in, so the general fan has to sit further away in seats that are comfortable, but so closely packed that I had to put my legs over the seat in front of me. Yes, I'm tall, but my dad's not and he had the same problem.
Added on to all of this mild discomfort and feeling of unwelcomeness, the area next to Danville's dugout, the best place to get a few autographs and talk to the players, was bordered by a pair of fenced in areas, making it look impossible to get close to the field. Well, no fence is going to stop me from getting an autograph or talking to a Braves player if that's what I'm trying to do, so I just went for it. Well, it turns out that nobody really cared about me being there and I got to talk to everybody I wanted to, but still, not very inviting. Heck, looking over at the Bluefield side, I couldn't figure out how you'd go down and get an autograph or talk to a player if you wanted to; there just didn't seem to be any access.
An extra nutty thing about the park is that it straddles two states. I turns out there's a Bluefield, VA and a Bluefield, WV and home plate, first base and second base are in Virginia, while third base is in West Virginia. So when Mycal Jones hit his homer to left center he literally hit one into the next state.
But, terrible ballpark design aside, I got to watch a fun, albeit sloppy, game and see some players for the first time. Here's Danville's lineup: CF LV Ware, SS Mycal Jones, RF Cory Harrilchack, 1B Riaan Spanjer-Furstenburg, LF Robby Hefflinger, DH Osman Marval, 3B Jordan Kreke, C Daniel Elorriaga-Matra, and 2B Travis Adair:
More exciting than seeing all these hitters, was getting to see the guy I had ranked as the Braves' top pitching prospect, 18 year old Columbian Julio Teheran:
While he got tagged for the loss, Julio showed there's plenty of reason to be excited about him. His fastball ran from 92-94 and when it was at 92 it had ridiculous movement. He had a nice tight slider to go along with it. He got himself into a few jams during the game, but was able to work out of them by bearing down and making smart pitches. I got to talk to him for a minute before he went to warmup in the pen and he's really happy with his season, epsecially with being healthy (even though his last start got skipped because he was sick). If you're not excited about this kid, get there.
To me, the next most impressive player was this year's 4th round pick, Mycal Jones:
He's not a huge guy, so there's a possiblity he ends up as a second baseman, but he had an outstanding arm. He showed off some pop, as you can see in the 2nd and 3rd pictures here, as he drilled a homer into the apparent jet stream that exists in Bluefield's left centerfield.
While we're on the subject of high draft picks, I also got to see this year's 3rd rounder, RHP David Hale, throw an inning:
I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch again, because I couldn't really gather much from the one inning. It looked like he and catcher Daniel Elorriaga-Matra just weren't on the same page, and that affected things. But, talking to LV Ware and Cory Rasmus before the game, both were raving about Hale's ability. I'll take their word over a lot of other guys, since they've both been pro players for a while and aren't going to be impressed by every kid that throws hard.
A guy most people want to know about is this year's 16th rounder, South African Riaan (pronounced Ree-ahn) Spanjer-Furstenburg:
Unfortunately, he went 0 for 2, lowering his average to a pathetic .411, before having to leave the game because he got hit in the hand by a pitch, reaggrevating his pervious injury. He seemed fine playing over at first and he's definitely a huge guy, so it will be fun to see how he does next season.
A guy I was excited to see was this year's 7th round pick, Robby Hefflinger:
He's massive, like Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Cody Johnson big, and he's off to a nice start for his career (had 2 hits and 2 RBI in this game). He's only 19 and a lot guys his size take a while to figure out their swing (unless you're a naturally talented freak like Heyward or Freeman), so it'll be interesting to see if he can finish out this year strong and then see what he's really made of next year as a 20 year old in Rome.
yodaime14 has mentionoed numerous times the strong catching depth the Braves have collect and Daniel Elorriaga-Matra is definitely part of that:
I had thought that he was going only by Matra, since the last two years in Spring Training that's what was on his back, but this time he had the full thing, so I guess that's what we'll go with. He's not having a great offensive season, but he's still only 20 and had a very dominant season last year, so there's room for him to turn things around. Plus, he's a strong defensive catcher, particularly when it comes to blocking balls and calling a game.
A guy who's really tearing things up in the Appy League, to the tune of a .357 AVG and a .918 OPS is this year's 14th round pick, Cory Harrilchack:
At 21 with three years of college experience, he may be a little advanced for the league, but he's a very toolsy player who's worth keeping an eye on.
Another player who might be a little advanced for the league is the guy picked the round before Harrilchack, 13th rounder Jordan Kreke:
He's 22 and playing decently (even though a recent slump has dropped his average a bit), but he's not really dominating the way he probably should be. He's also made quite a few errors, including two in this game. But, with a real lack of corner infielders at the lower levels, he should get a chance to prove himself somewhere next season.
I really had a lot of fun getting to meet and talk to some of the guys I hadn't before, some of whom I'd never even heard of a few months ago. Here's a few of the other guys: P Eric Barrett, P Thomas Berryhill (this year's 5th rounder), P Jeff Lorick (this year's 20th rounder), P Casey Hodges and P Cody Railsback, and P Cory Rasmus:
It was great seeing Rasmus outside of Orlando, since injuries have kept him down there for the last two years (after one year of playing there for the GCL team). He's excited they're letting him work as a starter, but he's not a big fan of charting the day before starts. Hodges, Railsback and I had a fun conversation about the power of the stache, which you can see Hodges and Rasmus are both utilizing. I didn't get a picture of Derrick Himpsl and I making a prank phone call to a mutual friend, but trust me, it was pretty fun.
And of course, one of my absolute favorite guys in the organization is LV Ware:
I can't pretend that he's a super prospect or anything, but he's one of the best people you're ever going to meet. He told me the main reason he struggled in Rome the first part of the season was the wacky 5 man outfield rotation they had going on that led to playing 2 days and not playing 4. But, he's taken repeating Danville in stride, is dominating the way he should, and hopefully he'll get another shot at the higher level.
In addition to meeting and getting to see all the new Braves draft picks, I also got to talk with Baltimore's number one pick, 5th overall, pitcher Matt Hobgood. The kid is 18 and he's a 6'4" 245 pound monster. With braces. He seemed like a great kid and I'm looking forward to seeing him in Delmarva next year. I also got to see 10th overall pick Drew Storen of the Natinals pitch the next night for the Potomac Nationals, so it wasn't a bad weekend for seeing some high draft picks.
Hope y'all enjoyed the post (even if it was way too long). I saw Myrtle Beach play last nigt, so in a few day I'll have a post about that, including a video of Cody Johnson pre-pitch breathing ritual.