This is always a tough bit, and I’m sure I’ll miss somebody. Anyway, the best-known reliever I haven’t covered yet is certainly Scott Proctor, who had two good years of bullpen workhorse work with the Yankees and Dodgers (traded for Wilson Betemit!) after two years Jeff Dedmon wouldn’t sign for, and who went down with an arm injury and missed most of 2008 and all of 2009. He had Tommy John surgery in May, and I wouldn’t expect him to be ready to start the season, though the Braves are optimistic. I also am a bit dubious that he’s a good fit for the type of bullpen Bobby is running, which is based upon short outings. He’s not a shutdown guy, he’s a former starter who is useful for a couple of innings to keep a game under control.
The Braves surely will supplement O’Flaherty with a second LOOGY, and if it’s not Reyes the top candidates would appear to be Mariano Gomez and Michael Dunn. Gomez, who at least has a good name for a reliever, is a non-roster invitee, a minor league journeyman out of the Indians organzation who put up a 1.99 ERA for Gwinnett last year but couldn’t get into Turner Field without a ticket. Considering his terrible strikeout rate (4.5 per nine, no thanks) I tend to think that the ERA is a fluke. Dunn was the third man coming over in the Vazquez trade. He’s a converted outfielder who was then converted from starter to relief a couple of years ago. He put up good numbers in the Yankees’ high minors, but was knocked around pretty badly when he was called up to the majors. He’s still a work in progress, but if he improves his control could be more than a LOOGY.
One of the peculiarities of last season is that the Braves didn’t give more of a look to Luis Valdez, who got into only three major league games despite doing a fine job as Gwinnett’s closer (27 saves, 3.28 ERA, 9.5 K/9). It was his second strong year as a reliever in the Braves’ system after several seasons of looking hapless with the Pirates. Minor league closers basically grow on trees, and few of them ripen into anything palatable, but I’d like to see Valdez get a shot.
Jesse Chavez is not a member of a boy band, but another refugee from the Pirates system, coming over via the Rays as the disappointing return for Rafael Soriano. The Pirates may have actually done him some good, as he had terrible control when his minor league career began with the Rangers, but it’s been quite good in the Pirates’ minors the last two seasons. He hasn’t pitched that well in the majors, putting up a 4.01 ERA last year. Chavez throws hard, but didn’t strike a lot of people out last season. If the Braves can improve him to the same degree they did Valdez, they might really have something. Though I’d rather have had the draft pick.
The incumbent AAAA swingmen are Todd Richmond Redmond and James Parr. Parr’s been called up each of the last two years; after not being wholly terrible as a starter in 2008, he didn’t do too well in a few relief outings last year. Richmond Redmond could easily have been called up instead. Another ex-Pirate, he’s seemingly settled in as a guy who takes the ball every fifth day for Gwinnett while hoping that Tim Hudson catches a cold at the right time.
The Prodigal Poser, Chris Resop, has returned from Japan, and the Braves gave him, his 100 MPH fastball, and apparent complete lack of skill a NRI. I have no idea what he did in the Japanese league last year and I don’t care either, but there’s no reason for him to be in the Braves’ plans unless he had a brain transplant.
Most of the Braves pitching prospects (if we’re saying that Hanson and Medlen are now established) are way down the ladder. The one guy who climbed the ladder last year was Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel is considered a future closer, and played in all four levels of the minors last season. His control is bad. Like really bad. Dalkowski bad. In his longest stop last season, in Myrtle Beach, he walked more than a man an inning. On the other hand, he struck out more than a man and a half an inning. The Braves gave him a spring invite, presumably for entertainment’s sake; he may be up later in the season, but I can’t imagine how he could be ready for a big league job right now.