* First off, it’s been a pleasure to meet several members of our message board over the last week on my book tour. Skidlee21 drove all the way from Meridian, Mississippi to Jackson. I met siamesdreamer at the Mississippi game Thursday. We had several folks drop in to the Mobile signing that are frequent visitors to the board. And of course last Sunday we met Bravo1700, jtbryan, and several others in Birmingham. I know I’m leaving some out, but it’s been fun to meet and talk Braves baseball with all of you. I really appreciate all of you coming to the book signings, and we hope to meet more when we get out on the road again next week.
* I’m starting to get some feedback on the book from some of the scouts around the game. Not surprisingly, they like the way we take the scouts’ side of the conversation. It’s been amazing how many of them just have a horrible taste for Moneyball, and unlike the claims of the scouts’ critics, it has nothing to do with them being threatened by that other book. They just did not like how they were portrayed in Moneyball, and are glad someone has told the story of how they use a complete picture in the evaluation process.
* The Braves Hall of Fame ceremonies Friday were tremendous. Legendary Scouting Director Paul Snyder, who is featured prominently in my new book, was inducted into the Braves’ Hall. Considering the success this season with the young kids, it was very appropriate that Snyder go in this year. Snyder is a prince of a man - truly representative of the type of people that have built this organization into a winner. He started in the organization in 1957 with the Milwaukee Braves as a player and has been a Brave ever since. I hope all of you will give great credit to Snyder for his contributions to the Braves’ organization.
* This year’s Hall-of-Fame ceremonies were even more special with the recognition of the 10th year anniversary of the Braves’ World Series winning team from 1995. Steve Avery, Greg McMichael, Alejandro Pena, Charlie O’Brien, Mark Lemke, Jeff Blauser, Rafael Belliard, David Justice, Dwight Smith, Mike Devereaux, and coaches Jim Beauchamp and Jimy Williams all came back to join John Smoltz and Chipper Jones for the ceremony. There were also videos from Javy Lopez and Tom Glavine talking about the special team that won it all that year. Both Chipper Jones and Bobby Cox said there were many similarities between the 1995 team and this year’s Braves roster.
* One of the most interesting things to watch Friday was the return of David Justice, who came back for the first time since retiring as a player. Justice was not happy when he was traded in the spring of 1997, saying GM John Schuerholz had just told him a week before that he would "bet his family" that he would not be traded. Justice discussed his Braves' career with the media after the Hall of Fame ceremonies, and we'll have more of Justice's reaction to his return as a Braves this weekend.
* There is a special feeling here at the stadium. It will never match 1991, which was simply magical in so many ways mainly because it was such a surprise. But with the youth and energy on this club, there is something special happening here.
* The look on the Baby Braves’ faces were priceless this afternoon as they met and talked with Dale Murphy, Phil Niekro, and the members of the 1995 team. Some of them were just shaking their heads that they were actually now “fellow” Braves with some of the same players they grew up watching as kids. Before the game I saw Blaine Boyer in the clubhouse. Murphy was about ten feet away from us and I said, “Blaine do you realize that Dale Murphy is in this clubhouse, but that YOU are the one wearing the Braves’ uniform.” He replied, “Kinda crazy, huh?”
* Funny. I’m sitting here in the press box typing this story out. Jeffrey came up in the bottom of the fourth inning. He got a 2-0 count and the print people were wondering if this was it. Would he finally walk? The next pitch was a strike called, followed by a swing and a miss. Then a ball. 3-2 count. Again the entire stadium buzzed that this might be it. Then Frenchy promptly hit a double into the left-field corner. Yep, the kid’s a hitter - not a walker.
* While Mr. Gammons may have stirred some things up in the Braves Nation this week with his comment about Andy Marte, we should not jump to any conclusions. Do not start trading away players just yet. The easiest target has been Adam LaRoche. But let me assure you that the Braves love LaRoche. They believe he's going to be a consistent .280-.300 hitter with the ability to hit 20-25 home runs and drive in 75-100 runs per season - along with playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base. The Braves value LaRoche more than many may realize.
* Down on the farm, it sure has been a pleasure to see the resurgence of right-hander Kevin Barry. Counting his impressive start Friday night (2 runs on 1 hit in 6.2 innings), Barry has an ERA of 0.87 in his four games since returning to Richmond. The Braves sent him down to AA Mississippi to work with pitching coach Kent Willis, and the results are showing. Barry has started the last three games, mainly to get some quality innings, and he’s allowed only two earned runs in 18 innings. His control is also a lot better, with five walks in those last three starts and 21 strikeouts. The Braves still envision Barry as a reliever, and if he continues to do well, he could get another look-see next spring.
* The legend of Chuckie James continues. I asked one scout about him, and to paraphrase: “I’m not sure how he gets people out. He doesn’t overpower you. But he just repeatedly gets people to chase pitches that lead to ground outs and gets them to swing and miss. I’m not sure if he knows how to pitch and is doing it, or if he just goes out there and knows how to change speeds and gets them out. But he’s something.” James could get a call to the big leagues in September. Worst-case scenario, expect him to be a serious candidate for the Atlanta roster next spring in Disney.
* The Mississippi Braves have really been damaged by all the talent they’ve lost this season. The new team has lost Scott Thorman, Jonathan Schuerholz, Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann, Blaine Boyer, Anthony Lerew, Macay McBride, and Zach Miner to promotions this season. Double-A teams are used to losing players due to injuries in AAA or the majors, but this was an unusual season where they lost most of their key players. Like 2003 in Rome, when that group won the Sally League title, the Mississippi Braves could have kicked off the new franchise in Pearl with a great team. But instead, the function of the minor leagues took over. While the locals want their team to win, it’s always important to remember that the main function of each minor league affiliate is to develop talent for the parent club - and the fans in Pearl should be happy that their team has done just that this season.
* The next one that could come up from Pearl is reliever Joey Devine. I watched him pitch Wednesday night and the kid is really, really good. Devine has some nasty movement on his pitches. His fastball is crisp and it does wacky things to right-handed batters. The slider is very, very good. Unless he falls apart in the next two weeks, expect the former N.C. State star to be promoted in September. Could he make the postseason roster? Perhaps - if he does well early on. I could see a lot of major league hitters, especially right-handed hitters, swing and miss at a lot of his pitches in October.
* Mississippi shortstop Luis Hernandez is a bit down over his season. He’s hitting .231 with only 2 homers and 31 RBI after a solid offensive season in Myrtle Beach last year. But the defense is what has been troubling. He’s made 20 errors this season, and those miscues in the field have also affected his performance at the plate. However, Hernandez is only 21 years old, and he will most likely return to AA next season. The Braves want him to continue to work on his footwork.
* Wes Timmons has seen three of his best friends in life move up to higher classifications this season, but he’s still putting together a solid year in AA. Wes is going to be very similar to Pete Orr: a versatile player that will do the little things to make him more valuable to a major league team.
* The Braves have tested catcher Miguel Bernard by sending him to AA. They have to make a decision on him again this winter, since he can become a minor league free agent. So far, since returning from an injury that sidelined him for two months, Bernard’s been a little disappointing in Pearl. He’s struggling offensively, and surprisingly his defense has been sub-par as well.
* There is talk that Jonathan Schuerholz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Josh Burrus could be three of the Braves’ prospects headed to the Arizona Fall League after the season.
* Nearly everyone I’ve spoken with on the book tour asks the same question: “How are the Braves going to make room for all these players?” Well, I wish I had concrete answers. I’ll have a column in a few days to try to answer some of them. But I’m just glad that John Schuerholz is in position to make these decisions. He knows what he’s doing, so we are just going to have to trust him to do the right thing. General Managers around the game would kill for the decisions he’s going to have to make in the next few years. But the fans and scouts around the game are starting to realize how special and how unusual this situation really is.
Bill Shanks has a new book out on baseball scouting and player development called “Scout’s Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team.” The book is available at most Barnes and Noble bookstores, along with all the online bookstores. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org