Just a quick note that this is really, really long.
I spent my July 4th weekend taking a last minute trip to see a few minor league baseball games. I started out from Atlanta on Friday afternoon and headed to Augusta, Georgia, to see the Augusta Green Jackets. The stadium was pretty nice, my first time there. It was just outside of downtown and part of a public park and lake complex. It was an older stadium, and pretty small, but a nice quaint park and a good and relaxing place to watch a baseball game.
From Augusta I headed to Myrtle Beach on Saturday, taking back roads to avoid the throngs of people streaming into the strip. The Pelicans park is really nice, and much nicer than I expected. I guess just coming from Augusta I didn't expect much, but the Pelicans park is as nice as any of the Braves minor league stadiums, and one of the nicest minor league stadiums I've been to.
Keep reading after the jump, again, it's long, but it should be worth it.
A few weeks ago I got a submission for the view from your seat series and it turned out to be the Pelicans Media Relations guy, so thanks to several emails back and forth with him I had a press pass to the game. I got to talk to Rocket Wheeler, the manager, and spent a while interviewing Mycal Jones (which I will post later in the week). Both guys are real nice. In the press box I met the Pelican's beat writer for the Sun News, Ian Guerin. He does great writeups for the paper which are all available online, and he also live tweets each game. If you're looking for updates about the Pelicans, definitely follow @iguerin.
The bonus of the Pelicans game was that I got to see Julio Teheran start -- that was actually the line I got from everyone there, "came down just to see Teheran, didn't you?" No, that was just coincidence, but a very nice coincidence. JT started off really rough, throwing 35 pitches in the first inning, and struggling with his command. Even Wheeler admitted that Teheran was struggling with command of his pitches. Teheran also seemed to really telegraph his changeup, noticeably slowing down his arm action. When I asked Wheeler about that after the game he indicated that Teheran was just getting under the pitch too much, but when he did get on top of it he was throwing some good ones. His fastball was living in the mid-90's, topping out at about 95, and his changeups were in the low 80's with great movement. That one bad inning aside, Teheran looked pretty darn good, especially for a kid throwing against guys 3 or 4 years older than him.
Teheran didn't impress me as much as I thought he would, but as I re-think that I have to say that my expectations of him were way too high. For a teenager to be that good at advanced A-ball is pretty amazing. With that said, I am still keeping him as my top prospect in the Braves organization, but I'm moving my timetable for him to reach the majors back to 2012. He'll need a full year of development and refinement next season between double-A and triple-A.
None of the Pelican's hitters really did much, but the guy they were facing was a former double-A pitcher, so they may have been a bit over-matched. I was impressed by Mycal Jones at the plate, but much more impressed with him in the field. He's quick enough that he might be able to stay at shortstop, even though a lot of scouts think he won't. Cory Harrilchak goes up a few notches in my book too. Quick hands and an aggressive approach to the plate with some good overall athleticism. I don't really know that I see him as anything more than a Gregor Blanco who gets it quicker, or a poor-man's Jordan Schafer, but I think he could get to that level fast and be productive in that kind of role. No one else really stood out. Tommy Palica looked great in his two innings of relief, but he should be in double-A, not back in Myrtle.
Overall, I really enjoyed my one game in Myrtle Beach, and I recommend that Braves fans who are fans of the minors make an effort to get down there at some point to watch a game. Besides that Myrtle Beach is a great vacation spot, that's even more of an excuse to get down there.
From Myrtle I headed over to Savannah to see a game at historic Grayson Field, where the Rome Braves were the visiting team. And just my luck, I got to watch a Robinson Lopez start. Much like Teheran, Lopez suffered form one bad inning where his command failed him. Overall, though, he pitched great, especially in the heat and humidity of the day. He had to go to the rosin bag a lot, so the sweaty conditions must have been affecting him a bit.
Lopez works real fast out of the windup, but when he gets into the stretch things really slow down and trouble seems to pile on as his control deserts him even more, especially control of his fastball, which he seems to overthrow. He was night and day with the bases empty and runners on base. I ran into Mike Newman from the blog, Scouting the Sally, and he mentioned that Lopez' bullpen before the game includes almost no warmup pitches from the stretch. This is certainly going to have be something that Lopez will have to work on. Overall, though, Lopez moves up a few notches in my book, all the tools are there.
So yeah, I'm sitting there tweeting about the game and I see Mike's tweets about the game. So we eventually met up and talked for the second half of the game. Scouting the Sally is a great blog with really in-depth stuff on the prospects that Mike gets to see. Definitely some of the best free scouting info anywhere. We talked for quite some time about the Braves prospects, many of which we were both seeing for the first time.
Todd Cunningham was someone that Mike was pretty high on, but I wasn't too excited about him. His approach to hitting seems to be away away away, all the time, even early in counts. And while he looked good doing it, I just can't see the value in a corner guy (wherever he ends up, he DH'ed that day) with no pull-ability. He was also a lot smaller than I thought he'd be -- he's a generous six feet, which is what he's listed at. I'll give him some more time, but right now I'm kind of "meh" on him.
Mike was pretty high on Riaan Spanjer-Furstenberg. He liked RSF's quick hands and ability to attack pitches. It didn't hurt that RSF collected half of the Braves' hits that day, but he looked good in every at-bat I saw. I still worry about his power and if it will translate to the upper levels of the minors. Mike was also not big on Robby Hefflinger, says he takes the same swing big every time. I'm still bullish on Heff, and I think his power will eventually come through, but he may need a more flexible approach to the plate, lest he turn into a poor man's Cody Johnson.
After Lopez I got to see Matt Fouch make his pro debut. He's a 34th-round pick from this year's draft out of West Point (not West Point, Georgia, but West Point the military academy). He's a well-built, but not thick lefty, and he put on quite a show from where I was sitting. His fastball was sitting about 90, and his off-speed stuff had great movement to it. He really impressed me.
Oh, and there was this Edward Salcedo kid there. Gosh he's raw, but all the tools are there, and I think he'll hold his own this year. Mike mentioned that Christian Bethancourt was also another great prospect on this team (though he didn't play on Sunday), but another guy who is extremely raw in all facets of the game.
Mike made an interesting observation about one of our pitchers who was not in the game, calling J.J. Hoover the most average prospect he'd ever seen. He didn't mean it in a bad way, but rather that there's nothing too exciting about Hoover, but there's also not too many negatives about him, which led to Mike creating the "Hoover line." This is the line by which all prospects should now be judged. See Mike's explanation here. I really like the measurement, as it's good to have an established baseline to judge prospects against.
Anyway, that was my weekend. Pretty darn fun for a baseball geek like me. I was pretty bad luck, though, as neither Braves team scored any runs for the two games I was at. I highly recommend all three parks I saw, with Myrtle being the highlight, though Savannah was also pretty cool, especially for an old stadium. And both are good reasons to make excuses for visiting those two cities.
Thanks to Mike Newman, Ian Guerin, Tyler Maun, and Anthony Masterson for making this an even better trip that it would have been.
More pictures to come in a FanPost... and maybe some video!