Under-the-radar players at Braves camp
Slew of relievers could play prominent role in Atlanta in 2010
ATLANTA -- As the Braves prepare to open their Spring Training camp with the first workout for pitchers and catchers on Saturday morning, they know that Jason Heyward is going to draw widespread attention from those who want to see if the game's top prospect is deemed ready for the Major Leagues.
While Heyward attempts to begin his reign as Atlanta's right fielder, closer Billy Wagner and setup man Takashi Saito will look to prove the Braves were wise to target them this winter during their bullpen reconstruction process.
Like Saito and Wagner, first baseman Troy Glaus will find himself as another newcomer, who will draw attention during camp from those who want to see if he has regained the health that would enable him to serve as the powerful right-handed hitter who will rest between Chipper Jones and Brian McCann in the lineup.
There will also be a number of primary storylines centering around a starting rotation that no longer possesses Javier Vazquez.
Can Derek Lowe produce a rebound season and remove himself from the frustration he felt this winter when the club attempted to trade him? Is Tim Hudson ready to regain the top-flight form he possessed before he underwent Tommy John surgery? Is Jair Jurrjens' right shoulder as healthy as this week's MRI exam indicated?
Then, of course, there will be some attention pointed in the direction of Chipper Jones, who comes to camp confident that he has fixed the mechanical flaws that led to the offensive frustrations he experienced during the final four months of the 2009 season.
But while these high-profile players will steal many of the storylines, it appears there will also be a number of other under-the-radar players who will draw attention from manager Bobby Cox, who will make numerous attempts to deflect some of the attention he'll receive as he enters the final season of his legendary managerial career.
UNDER-THE-RADAR PLAYERS TO WATCH
RHP Jesse Chavez: This 26-year-old right-handed reliever pitched effectively while making 73 appearances for the Pirates last year, and then was traded to both the Rays and Braves this past winter. Armed with an above-average fastball, Chavez received strong support from McCann, who referred to him as "one of the toughest guys I faced last year." He will battle for one of the final spots in the bullpen.
RHP Craig Kimbrel: While playing for four different affiliates and ascending from Class A to Triple A last year, this 21-year-old reliever didn't exactly stay under the radar. But he still has the potential to surprise many as he attempts to grab one of the final bullpen spots. Recognized by Braves GM Frank Wren as a right-handed Wagner, Kimbrel, who has found some inconsistencies with his control, could benefit from the opportunity to spend some time with Wagner.
LHP Jose Ortegano: Regarded by Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez as the best pitcher he's seen in the Venezuelan Winter League the past two years, Ortegano is coming to his first big league camp still fresh off a successful performance in the Caribbean World Series. The 22-year-old left-hander found success with Double-A Mississippi last year and could find his way into Atlanta's rotation if needed at some point during this season.
RHP Erik Cordier: Selected by the Royals in the second round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, Cordier was acquired by the Braves in exchange for Tony Pena before the start of the 2007 season. At the time, Cordier was returning from Tommy John surgery, and it appeared he may have to undergo this surgical procedure again one year later. But he started pitching again toward the end of that season and ended up making 25 starts for Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach last year.
With his strong arm, Cordier still has the potential to experience a successful Major League career. But his first opportunity to enjoy big league camp already provides him a storybook addition to what once had to feel like a nightmare career.
RHP Scott Proctor: When you've played for the Yankees and made 83 appearances in back-to-back seasons, it's tough to stay under the radar. But while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Proctor will remain in the shadows until May, when he is supposed to be healthy enough to make an attempt to serve as a key figure in the Atlanta bullpen.
INF Joe Thurston: The 30-year-old Thurston spent a majority of his career toiling in the Minors before the Cardinals kept him on their Major League roster throughout the 2009 season. Recognized as a hard worker and good teammate, he has the versatility to play the infield and outfield. This versatility could allow him to win the final roster spot for a position player.
OF Mitch Jones: If nothing else, it's going to be fun watching Jones and fellow non-roster invitee Cody Johnson display their power during batting practice. Jones led the Minor Leagues with 35 homers last year, and has long been recognized as one of the best power hitters in the Minors. But he also showed some consistency while hitting .297 with Triple-A Albuquerque last year and will have a chance to win the final roster spot for a position player.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.