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March 28, 2010

Spring Conversations

John Coppolella, Part 2

by Kevin Goldstein

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For the first part of this discussion, surf here. Now, for the balance of their conversation:

Kevin Goldstein: Let's move to the minor leagues for a while. Once you get past Heyward and, for some, Freddie Freeman, the real strength of this organization lies with a nice collection of young, high-upside arms. Obviously, these are risky prospects like Arodys Vizcaino, who came over in the Javier Vazquez deal, Julio Teheran, and Randall Delgado, who is just a notch below them. How careful are you with these guys in terms or workload. How tentative are you with talents like this? How do you balance limiting their workload while still giving them the innings they need to become what you hope they will become?

John Coppolella: We were very fortunate this offseason to hire Dave Wallace as our minor-league pitching coordinator. Dave has a wealth of experience. He's been a big-league pitching coach for a number of teams for a number of years, and he's been a minor-league pitching coordinator. He's very conscious of every player and what they've done, and he's going to put them into positions where they can succeed. We've had a good track record of getting pitchers to the big leagues over the last couple of years, but there was a time where there was a large gap. The Braves were always known for their pitching during that run of 14 straight division titles, but there was a point in time where between Kevin Millwood, and... really, Tommy Hanson, there just weren't a lot of pitchers coming up through the system. If you look at our Opening Day rotation from last year—Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, Kenshin Kawakami—none of those guys were homegrown players. So we've really concentrated on our pitching, and now Dave will be a big part of that. It's something that Frank has really made a priority for us, and we think we have a very talented group of young players. A lot of that credit goes to Johnny Almaraz. Johnny signed Teheran when every club in baseball was after him, and he signed Delgado for $50,000 and he's been sensational. We were fortunate to get a talent like Vizcaino in that Yankees deal, but at the same time, we were trading away one of the best pitchers in the National League last year. So we're careful with pitching; the Braves have traditionally been pitching-rich, and we're trying to do that once again. 

KG: A different kind of pitching prospect is Mike Minor. The organization took some criticism for taking him seventh overall in the draft last year, including from me, but at the same time, pretty everyone agreed that he was at least a guy who could move quickly. He pitched some innings this year with the big leaguers, and he's probably not going to need much time in the minors. Will he begin the year at Double-A?

JC: Well, we haven't made those choices yet. Kurt Kemp, our farm director and his staff will handle that, but Mike was extremely impressive this spring. He opened the eyes of a lot of our big-league staff, including Bobby Cox. He's a very advanced kid, and Bobby compared him to Tommy Hanson in the sense that they're not afraid and they know they belong. They just have that presence about them. I do think he's a guy who can move quickly, and I know our scouts were thrilled to get him at number seven.

KG: Another guy who has moved quickly and a lot of people expect to see this year is righty Craig Kimbrel. At times he's been crazy lights-out this spring, and at other times, it's been the same problem where the stuff is ridiculous but he's not throwing strikes. Can you talk about his development and what do you actually work on when this is the issue? What is the actual development for a player like this? He's on the verge of the big leagues, but it just comes down to control it seems.

JC: Craig has some of the best stuff in the minor leagues with his fastball and his curveball. If we're waiting for him to post a seven-to-one strikeout to walk ratio, that's probably not going to happen at any level. He's going to miss bats and he's going to walk some guys. The key for us is to get those walks under control. He's never going to have pinpoint command, but that's also one of the reasons he's as successful as he is. He's really impressed Bobby Cox in camp. As of this conversation, he's still in big-league camp, so that shows you how highly we think of him. If you are still in big-league camp right now, you can't be ruled out for the Opening Day roster. 

KG: He's struck out 10 over six innings thing spring, and he hasn't given up a run on just two hits, but there's still those six walks...

JC: It was a perfect example on Wednesday. We're up 8-0 in the ninth inning and he walks the first batter on five pitches, struck out a batter, walked another, and then struck out the last two guys.

KG: So the goal is to give Bobby Cox a heart attack in his last year?

 JC: [Laughs]. No. I don't think guys with his stuff and upside give managers heart attacks. I think it's something where he's a very young pitcher. He isn't a finished product yet. He's going to get better. Now, whether he gets better at Triple-A or in the big leagues, we don't know yet. He probably won't be a finished product when he gets to Atlanta, and that's been true of a number of very successful big-league relievers. If they had it all figured out, they would have been up here already.  

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Bobby Cox,  Managers Of The Year

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