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What’s eating Bobby Cox?

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Well, that headline’s just a little misleading because nothing’s eating Bobby Cox.

In fact, Bobby Cox is eating.

Or at least he was.

You see, my girlfriend works at Magnolias restaurant in downtown Charleston, S.C. It’s a popular place with tourists, and for some reason, celebrities seem to flock to it whenever they’re in town. Hello, Bill Murray!

Last night Katlyn asked me if I’d heard of someone named Bobby Cox: “He’s a manager of a baseball team or something. He’s coming in for lunch tomorrow.”

“YOU MEAN THE ALL-TIME LEADER IN MANAGER EJECTIONS AND ALSO THE MANAGER OF FOURTEEN CONSECUTIVE DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS WITH THE ATLANTA BRAVES?”

Cox was in town because he was the guest speaker at the Charleston RiverDogs’ Hot Stove Banquet on Friday. I had wanted to go to the event, but unfortunately I’m not exactly shitting out twenties right now.

So as a consequence, I had trouble sleeping last night, thinking of the life-changing things that I would say to Bobby Cox when I inevitably stalked him during his low-key lunch: “Mr. Cox, thank you for everything,” “Mr. Cox, the game won’t be the same without you.” I’m not the kind of person who gets worked up about celebrities; I’ve actually seen Murray at a Halloween costume shop in West Ashley, and I ignored him. But Bobby Cox—this was a totally different story. He’s a baseball man, someone who’s spent the last 50 years toiling in the game I love. He’s a four-time Manager of the Year, he’s the fourth winningest manager in Major League Baseball history, and he was at the helm of the team that featured the best rotation in Major League Baseball history. Outside of some old-time players, Bobby Cox is one of the few on a short list of players/managers who I’d actually like to sit down with.

“His reservation is at 12:45.”

So around 12:00 p.m., I drove from Mount Pleasant to downtown Charleston. As soon as I hit East Bay Street, I saw Bobby Cox. Or I thought I did. I wanted to see Cox so badly that I turned every single old, wobbly man on the street into the Atlanta Braves’ manager. There was an old man wearing sweat pant jeans, and I was sure it was him. I couldn’t stop to confirm it from the car though, so I kept driving to Magnolias.

I was seated by 12:45, the time he was expected to appear.

He never came.

So I decided to have a few beers.

Next thing I know, a couple hours passed (I think it was now about 2:30 p.m.) and there was still no sign of Bobby.

Just as I was about to leave, in walks Bobby Cox, about two hours late for his reservation. He was wearing slacks, a blue shirt, and a black leather jacket. It turns out you can’t think you see a celebrity; when you see one, you know. It turns out he wasn’t wearing sweat pant jeans at all, and he looked exactly like you would expect Bobby Cox to look. He was with three other people, a man who looked like his brother and a pair of older women.

The bartender told me, “There you go, stalker!” and I just sat there, frozen.

I didn’t say anything to him. I didn’t try to get a picture with him. I didn’t try to get a picture of him.

My girlfriend doesn’t understand why I don’t take pictures, or why I’ll fight tooth and nail before I take one on our anniversary, while we’re in Disney World, or while I’m lifting a two-ton car.

Truth be told, I don’t need to prove that I was sitting next to Bobby Cox, that I met Bobby Cox, or that I didn’t meet Bobby Cox. The memory is ingrained in my brain for life, and I’ll never forget it. For an hour today, I sat ten feet from one of the most accomplished and respected figures in baseball history and didn’t say a word. For some people, that would be what’s called a “wasted opportunity.”

For me, it’s a damn good day.

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Written by dylansharek

January 29, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Know Your Prospects: Jason Heyward, RF, Atlanta Braves

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Jason Heyward was chosen by the Atlanta Braves as the 14th pick in the first round of the 2007 Major League Baseball draft.

Now, according to Baseball America and USA Today, he’s the No. 1 prospect in all of Minor League Baseball. And with the Stephen Strasburg hype machine chugging along at full steam, Heyward has, in a way, become the forgotten uberprospect of 2009.

But hey, he’s used to it.

Nearly half of Major League Baseball couldn’t see Heyward’s incredible promise; the then 17-year-old high school product from Georgia’s McDonough High was passed on by 12 other teams in 2007’s stacked draft class. Outside of Baltimore’s Matt Wieters and Tampa Bay’s David Price, he’s thoroughly surpassed all of his contemporaries and will become 2010’s premier impact prospect.

It’s a funny story how Heyward fell to the Atlanta Braves. In the high school circuit, the lefthanded Heyward was a feared hitter renowned for his plate discipline. He was pitched around frequently and refused to chase anything out of the zone. As a result, regional MLB scouts rarely saw a full at-bat. When the draft came around, no one was truly sure of the skills Heyward possessed because they simply hadn’t seen them.

But for Atlanta Brave’s scouting director Roy Clark, proximity to the prospect was both a luxury and an advantage.

Heyward was sent to the club’s rookie level teams in the Gulf and Appalachian leagues after the draft. The short stints did little to clarify exactly what Atlanta had signed in Heyward, but the 17-year-old held his own.

Heyward finished third in the low Class A South Atlantic League in batting average (.323) and fourth in on-base percentage (.388) in 2008. A brief call up to the high Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans at the end of the season wasn’t a success, but the rookie campaign was enough to solidify the rightfielder as Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect behind righthander Tommy Hanson.

Any debate surrounding Heyward’s potential disappeared as he rocketed through three levels of professional baseball in 2009. With the same high Class A Myrtle Beach club where he hit a paltry .182 to finish 2008, Heyward started his dominating season by hitting 10 homeruns, driving in 31 runs and scoring 34 runs in just 49 games.

The performance garnered a promotion to the Double A Southern League, where Heyward slammed 7 homeruns, 30 RBI, and 31 runs in 47 games. The plate discipline that had frustrated high school pitchers and intrigued pro scouts returned: in 195 plate appearances, Heyward walked 28 times compared to just 19 strikeouts. His batting average soared to .352.

The tremendous performance earned him a three-game showcase with the International League’s Gwinnett Braves. He hit .364 in limited action.

Heyward’s progression has many comparing him to former-Brave’s wonderkid Jeff Francoeur. Others seem more satisfied comparing him to a young Frank Thomas, a franchise player that was once the epitome of patience, power, and discipline.

A hybrid of the two seems the most appropriate evaluation.

Heyward’s offensive accomplishments often overshadow his defensive prowess. For a 6’4″, 220 pounder, Heyward is surprisingly lithe patrolling the outfield. He profiles as an above-average corner outfielder with an extremely strong arm a notch below Francoeur’s cannon. Some speculate that Heyward could possibly play centerfield, but his barely above-average speed makes the notion merely a pipe dream.

Offensive comparisons to Francoeur seem uninspired. Francoeur was a strikeout machine at the minor league level, notching 262 punchouts to just 88 base-on-balls. This hacking approach at the plate belied future struggles to come; Francoeur’s inability to adapt to major league breaking balls earned him a return trip to the minors in 2008.

Heyward, on the other hand, has struck out just 138 times and earned 108 walks. His plate discipline has markedly improved at every level and his approach has been described as “cerebral” and “commanding.”

It’s incredibly optimistic to call him the “next Frank Thomas,” but Heyward’s plate presence is extremely polished for a 20-year-old.

Heyward and Francoeur’s power numbers, however, are undoubtedly similar. In his first two full professional seasons, Heyward hit 11 and 17 homeruns, respectively; Francoeur notched 14 and 18 through the same time period. No matter which level he begins the oncoming season in, Heyward will most likely test his power stroke at the expense of a few batting average points.

He doesn’t have incredible speed, but he is just as smart on the basepaths as he is in his outfield routes: he’s been successful 26 times out of 31 tries, an 84 percent success rate.

According to the Brave’s brass and Heyward himself, there is no definitive timeline for Heyward’s ascension to Major League Baseball. If he plays well enough in Spring Training, he’ll make the team and if the team decides he’s not ready, he won’t.

But Atlanta has patience. And for a 14th round pick that has the potential to be a game-changer, they’ll make all the time in the world.

Will Detroit end the season with a roar (or a meow)?

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Over the course of this baseball season, my interest in the American League Central has waned. Something about the brand of no-frills baseball being played in the American Midwest leaves something to be desired. Couple that with the I’d-Rather-Be-Pummeled-Than-Listen-To-This announcing of Chicago’s Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, and it was just a matter of time before I tuned the entirety of the Central Division out.

Perhaps I was too hasty.

The race to crown a Central Division champion is by far the most exciting thing happening in baseball right now. Since Atlanta got knocked out of the National League Wild Card by the surging Colorado Rockies and all the other playoff bound teams are trotting out their Quad-A squads, it’s tremendously refreshing to see do-or-die baseball being played in Motown and Minny.

It also helps that I work with a girl from Michigan. She talks like she’s straight off the set of Fargo, but she certainly loves the Tigers.

“How’d dose Tigers d’oh?”

Is Detroit floundering?For the past week or so, my responses have ranged from hopeful to futile: “They have an upcoming series versus Minnesota so they’ll probably clinch” to “I’m not going to be surprised if they don’t win the division and are playing golf in a few weeks.”

With three games left in the regular season, Detroit needs to take two of its next three games against the Chicago White Sox. Edwin Jackson will take the bump for Detroit and former-Cy Young winner Jake Peavy will toss for the ChiSox in the series’ opener tonight.

Detroit has won six of its last 10 games, but given the chance to solidify the division during the last season series with Minnesota, the team settled for a split. Does Detroit have the killer instinct to close out the season? Or will Ozzie Guillen motivate his White Sox a few games closer to .500 and end the season on a solid note?

Detroit holds eight wins to Chicago’s seven during the two’s season series.

Minnesota has to sweep the beguiled Kansas City Royals to have a chance at postseason play. And while no team other than Kansas City affords the Twins a better shot at that chance, Mauer and Co. will have to face locked-in, sure-shot Cy Young Zack Greinke in the second game of the series.

Minnesota is streaking its way into the series with Kansas City. Despite losing three of its last five games, Minnesota has been bludgeoning the ball, winning seven of its last 10 contests. In the season series, Minnesota has taken nine of 15 games against KC. It’s relatively probable that Minnesota will take two of its three games against the American League’s worst overall offense.

But will they have enough to take the game against Greinke?

I want to see a one-game playoff between the two Central teams.

Here’s to Detroit losing two and Minnesota winning three! Here’s to the perfect storm!

Pirate’s Quadruple-A slugger Jones mashes seven homers in 12 games.

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To say the Pirate’s front office and management team is the worst in baseball could, quite possibly, be an understatement. It might be the worst in all of sports.

The team’s owners refuse to spend money. As a result, star after budding star heads to free agency and bigger markets; over the last couple years, fans have seen the departures of favorites Xavier Nady, Jason Bay, and Nate McLouth. The returns on those stars have been less-than-stellar. And despite having multiple first round picks every year, the team hasn’t put together a good draft since 2005 or even groomed a solid minor league system. In the best example of the team’s draft failures, the club insanely passed on switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters for left-handed pitcher Daniel Moskos in 2007. Moskos, who was once an okay prospect, projects as nothing more than a league-average middle reliever while Wieters is already a major league starting catcher.

To put it bluntly, the team deserves to finish in last place every year.

But sometimes even the worst organizations can do good things.

The Pirate’s took their time bringing up star-in-the-making Andrew McCutchen. That’s one of them. They took a chance on the tantalizing Lastings Milledge as part of a fairly nondescript trade earlier this season. That’s another. And during the 2008 offseason, they acquired Quadruple-A slugger Garrett Jones. It was a subtle move of actual management that proves there just might be something resembling hope in Pittsburgh.

Before the 2009 season, Garrett Jones had spent the better part of the last decade toiling in the minor leagues as part of the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins systems. And while his batting average perennially left something to be desired, it was hard for clubs to dismiss his power and run-creating potential. Jones’ good glove in the corner outfield positions and first base was also a plus, but never enough to earn himself a spot on the major league roster.

Jones' minor league stats.

After the 2008 season, Jones became a free agent. No matter how much they may have wanted to, it didn’t make sense for the Twins to keep him with his only positions blocked for the foreseeable future by former-MVP Justin Morneau and the resurgent Michael Cuddyer.

The Pirates, who have desperately lacked power since Bay’s departure, took a flier on the free swinging lefty.

Jones flourished during Spring Training with the team, but with proven major leaguers (and also left-handed hitters) Eric Hinske and Nyjer Morgan occupying reserve and starting spots, Jones was once again sent to Triple-A. He responded by hitting .307 with 18 doubles, 12 home runs, and 48 RBI in just 77 games. When the time came for the Pirates to cut ties and deal both Hinske and Morgan, they didn’t hesitate, knowing Jones’ track record and improved consistency.

On July 1, Jones was called up by the Pirates. He went 0-for-4.

The next night, he hit a home run on his way to a three hit evening. It was a sign of things to come.

Jones is the Pirate's best power option.Since that night, Jones has been the best player on the Pirate’s roster.

Batting in the third spot in the National League’s most anemic offense, Jones already has seven home runs in his first 12 games. Astonishingly, that puts him second among active Pirate’s players on the team’s home run leader board (behind just Adam LaRoche). He’s homered in his last four outings, including two dingers (one a game winner that splashed into the Allegheny River) last night. During those 12 games, Jones has raised his batting average to .313 and has recorded a hit in the last nine contests.

Jones should continue to be a good outfielder for the Pirates. While there is absolutely no way he’ll keep up this torrid pace, his minor league numbers indicate that he will continue to hit for power but suffer a significant regression in batting average in the near future. He still strikes out way too much and his on-base percentage isn’t exactly what a team desires from one of its middle of the order bats.

Still, Jones’ pop will keep him in the lineup. There’s absolutely no way the Pirates can afford to leave his game-changing power on the bench, especially since Brandon Moss has the punch of a toddler and the return of Milledge is still undecided.

Hey, sometimes all you need is an opportunity. Or a crappy team to pick you up.

(Rotoworld, Rotowire, Post & Courier, Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, Baseball America, Baseball-Reference…hire me.)

Braves acquire Church, send Francoeur to Mets.

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Church is now a Brave.Division rivals swap underperforming outfielders in effort to ignite ailing offenses!

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Players will attempt to revive careers in cliched “change of scenery.”

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ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves acquired outfielder Ryan Church from the New York Mets for embattled former-slugger Jeff Francoeur.

While the departure of Francoeur is certainly bittersweet for Brave’s fans who remember his Rookie of the Year-caliber campaign in 2005, the move should come as no surprise; Francoeur had shown decreased plate presence in each of his last three seasons and much of the power displayed during his inaugural seasons had evaporated.

Much like Francoeur, Church had fallen out of favor in New York City. Gaining a certain amount of popularity after his exceptional start to the 2008 season, Church was lambasted by the New York media and fans after failing to tag third base prior to scoring in a tight game earlier this season. The run was appealed and the Mets eventually lost the contest. In a way, Church became the Met’s goat, symbolizing what promises to be a lost season.

Both players are, at least, league average defenders with Francoeur having the slight edge over Church due to his extremely powerful arm.

To the Mets with you.While both players are not the impact bats they once were, Church has shown a much better ability to get on base and have useful at bats than Francoeur. He strikes out much less, hits for average, steals a little, and slugs a bit.

As it stands right now, the trade is fairly innocuous, with neither team clearly coming out on top.

It should promise to be a wash, even though I like the Brave’s end of the deal much more than the Met’s. Church is a better all around player and before a string of devastating concussions last year, showed flashes of brilliance completely unknown to Francoeur recently. While he is no significant improvement to the Brave’s outfield, I do believe he’s an upgrade over Frenchy.

For the last three years, Francoeur has looked desperately lost at the plate and has become as easy an out as anybody in the Brave’s lineup. Last year, he was demoted to Double-A and despite being angry about the move, it did little to improve his performance. Besides his Gold Glove defense, he has little to offer. Yes, he’s only 25-years-old, but there are very few players who have dominated as much as he did in 2005 and 2006, fell off the map, and then returned to form.

One analyst believes the Brave’s got a huge bargain: “If you made a trade this one-sided with your little brother as a child, you parents would instantly negate the trade and send you to your room.” While that may be a slight hyperbole, in the long run the deal should work out more in the Brave’s favor.

Tom Glavine says goodbye to 2009.

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Glavine tips his cap to 2009.Tom Glavine won’t be pitching in 2009.

In a text message to an Atlanta television station (when did text messaging the media become acceptable?), Glavine stated, “I’m not going to pitch or do anything baseball related until at least next year.” He went on to say he’ll become a “full-time dad.”

Earlier this month, the 43-year-old lefty was unceremoniously released by the Atlanta Braves during his recovery from left elbow and shoulder surgery. The move came as a shock to Glavine and his teammates and also to the Atlanta fanbase. Atlanta management continues to draw the ire of fans because of its poor treatment of Glavine and priorly, John Smoltz.

During his 17 year career with Atlanta, Glavine won 244 games, two Cy Young awards, and eight All-Star nods. He’s fourth on the team’s all-time wins list and he, along with Smoltz and Greg Maddux, comprise a very special period in Brave’s history.

Glavine’s time with the New York Mets wasn’t without event, however. While with the team, Glavine won his 300th game in 2008 and earned All-Star appearances in 2004 and 2006.

There’s conflicting reports regarding other teams’ interest in Glavine. The pitcher has told media outlets that he’d received offers to pitch in the MLB in 2009, but according to some baseball analysts, he drew little attention.

Written by dylansharek

June 19, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Braves release Glavine, acquire McLouth, schedule Hanson.

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It was a busy day for the Atlanta Braves yesterday.

The team released 305-game winner and future Hall of Fame inductee Tom Glavine. They acquired 2008 All-Star Nate McLouth from the Pittsburgh Pirates. And then they announced #1 prospect Tommy Hanson will make his major league debut on Saturday.

With the onslaught of moves, the Braves made quite a statement: We’re here to win and we’re here to win now.

While McLouth isn’t a typical middle of the order bat, he provides much needed 30-homer power in a generally pop-less Brave’s lineup. With the struggles of Jordan Schafer, who was sent to Triple-A Gwinnet on Tuesday, a “ready-now” centerfielder was foremost in the Brave’s playoff plans.

McLouth will now be known outside of Pittsburgh.

The team loses outfielder Gorkys Hernandez via the trade. Hernandez’s departure may appear to be significant to the team’s future, but it’s really no big deal. Schafer, who possesses similar tools to Hernandez, has always been higher on the team’s organizational ladder and is clearly the team’s centerfielder of the future. One of the two had to go; Hernandez had to know he was nothing more than trade bait for the last couple years.

The Braves, however, also lose lefty Jeff Locke and righty Charlie Morton, a healthy chunk of their minor league pitching depth. Locke was once a highly regarded prospect in the system after his great 2007 (7-1, 2.66, 74 SO in 61 IP), but his development has stalled. He posted an average 2008 and was struggling mightily out of the gates this year. Morton, who suffers from confidence issues, could be a perfect fit in the Pittsburgh organization. This is an amazing (almost perfect) article about Morton and his development.

Atlanta usually drafts heavy on pitching, so scouts should quickly refill the organization with prospects on June 9.

By far the most compelling story of the day was the release of Glavine and the subsequent announcement that 6’6″, 210 pound Hanson will debut on Saturday. It’s not everyday that a team will cut ties with a player as sentimental as Glavine to clear a roster spot for a minor leaguer.

Apparently Atlanta thinks Hanson’s that good.

Getting the call!

Brave’s fans have been clamoring for Hanson’s debut since the end of the 2008 season. With a no-hitter, a triple crown, and a .105 batting average against, it’s not hard to see why. Hanson also displayed major league poise during his 2009 Spring Training performances, going 1-0 with a 4.08 ERA and 18 SO in 17.1 IP. In 11 starts at Triple-A Gwinett this year, Hanson has a 1.49 ERA and 90 SO in 66.1 IP.

Here’s his scouting report:

Fastball: Low to mid-90’s, it tails in on the hands of righties.

Slider: Upper 80’s, it’s compared to Smoltz’s best offering, but I think that’s probably a stretch.

Curveball: Hanson’s curveball is absolutely filthy. There used to be tons of video of it on Youtube, but apparently MLB is cracking down because I can’t find it anywhere now. It’s a true 12-6 knee-buckler that he throws in the mid-80’s.

Changeup: Average.

There is one video showcasing Hanson. It mostly displays his fastball, but there is a few curves thrown in.