We asked Brian Snitker to name a few off-the-radar players, not known to most fans, who have caught his attention in spring training.
“There are so many of them,” the Braves’ manager said.
Then he mentioned five among the many.
One is 6-foot-6, 240-pound power-hitting prospect Bryce Ball, who hit 17 home runs in 231 at-bats in the low minors last season after the Braves selected him in the 24th round of the June draft out of Dallas Baptist University.
While some see the 21-year-old Ball, a left-handed batter, as a future designated hitter – the National League might adopt the DH as soon as 2022 — he is focused on improving as a first baseman by working daily in spring training with coach Ron Washington.
“I think he’s improved since he got here,” Snitker said. “And power like that, too – that’s a special tool.”
Another of the Braves’ draft picks from last year, 22-year-old catcher Shea Langeliers, the team’s first-round selection out of Baylor, also was mentioned by Snitker.
“Every time (former Braves catcher) Eddie Perez came into my office last summer, he was raving about this kid. Now, I see why,” Snitker said. “This guy is advanced for going into his first full year. I really enjoy getting him back there (behind the plate). He doesn’t handle himself like a kid in his first spring training.”
Then there’s pitching prospect Jasseel De La Cruz, a 22-year-old right-hander who pitched at three different levels last season (low Class A Rome, advanced Class A Florida and Class AA Mississippi).
“I didn’t know who this De La Cruz kid was until we came here,” Snitker said. “And that arm, like, wow.”
A couple of other off-the-radar players Snitker said have impressed him with how they prepare are veteran minor-league infielders Jack Lopez and Riley Unroe.
None of the players mentioned above will be on the Braves’ opening-day roster, and some of them probably never will play for the big-league team.
“Who knows what they’re going to do?” Snitker said. “But it’s really fun (to see them develop in spring training).”
Notes from spring training:
• The Braves plan to reevaluate infielder Adeiny Hechavarria, who has been sidelined with a strained oblique, on Friday to determine if he can play this weekend.
• It has been a quiet spring training so far for Braves outfielders Ronald Acuna (2-for-19 with eight strikeouts) and Marcell Ozuna (0-for-13 with seven strikeouts). “He’d probably like to be swinging the bat better whan what he is,” Snitker said of Acuna, “but I’m not worried about that.” Ditto with Ozuna. “As soon as we leave here … you’ll start getting judged (by the regular season),” Snitker said. “Spring will be way in the rear-view mirror.”
• After getting two at-bats apiece in the Monday and Wednesday exhibitions, Freddie Freeman is scheduled to play back-to-back games Friday and Saturday for the first time since missing a week with inflammation in his surgically repaired right elbow. “After the off day (Thursday), back to normal,” Freeman said. “I’ll be doing three (at-bats) starting Friday.”
• Pitcher Kyle Wright, who has worked five scoreless innings across two outings, on what he learned from his big-league introduction last year: “I had some good experiences and some bad experiences. I had my struggles at the beginning of the year, and in September I got to come back up and felt I had some good outings. … I learned a lot from both, and for me the biggest one is that whenever you’re behind in the count, you’re not going to pitch very well.”
• Three weeks from the first regular-season game, the Braves’ expected opening-day starting pitcher, Mike Soroka, feels “pretty ready right now.” Said Soroka: “It’s just going to be about ironing some things out … and making sure we keep the pedal to the metal, you know, every single pitch.”
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