The second thing I ever wrote about on my own site (which had 3 subscribers, one was my mom and I suspect she made up two other accounts to make me feel better) was about an unknown Braves outfielder named Matt Young and his walk-off homerun in a meaningless spring training game two years ago. Casual Braves fans, and even some die-hards, probably don’t remember the kid (I had even forgotten about him until I reread some of my old articles when I took this job), but he ended up making the Atlanta Braves that season, and scored a run while pinch runner for Chipper Jones in the second game of the season. He only made it 20 games with the Braves in 2011, and was with the Tigers last year, where he played in all of 5 games (for those wondering he signed a minor league deal with the LAA Angels this season). He had speed and hit well in the minors, but now closing in on 30, he is the definition of a career minor league player chasing his dream. So why did I just spend so much time talking about someone who is no longer a Brave, and who will probably not make the 25 man roster again this year? Well, for one day two years ago, he got to celebrate with the big club as he touched home after circling the bases on a game winning home run, even if it was in the spring. For one day, Matt Young was the most valuable player on the same team as players like Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Dan Uggla, and Tim Hudson.
Spring training is the time of year where players get in shape, teams get a look at what they actually have, and fans get excited about the upcoming season. But more than that, spring training is the time of year where players who would never get a chance to play with the big boys tighten up their laces, grab their gloves, and take the field with some of the world’s best athletes.
Young’s story is a great one, but it’s just one of many that would have never happened if it weren’t for spring training. So, heading into this spring, here are some players hopeful to make the Braves that may just be worth watching, because this could be your only opportunity to.
Matt Pagnozzi is a 30 year old catcher, who spent the first 6 years of his career in the St. Louis farm system. From 2009-2011 he bounced back and forth between the majors (for all of 33 games) and AAA, before landing in AAA for the entire 2012 season with the Indians. He is also the nephew of the three time gold glove winner and longtime Cardinal’s catcher Tom Pagnozzi. He’s on the non-roster invite list for the Braves so his looks might be limited, but he’s a career .310 hitter in his 33 games, with a decent arm and receiving skills.
Ernesto Mejia may be on the fourty man roster, but he is another career minor leaguer looking for a shot. He’s a 27 year old right handed first baseman who has never played on the big stage. He has been in the Braves’ system since he was drafted in 2003, but just made it to AAA Gwinnett last season. He has pop, (50 hr and 193 RBI in two seasons between AA and AAA) and given his age and position, the 6’5″ 245 pounder may get plenty of looks this spring as trade bait.
Wirfin Obispo was property of the Reds from 2006 until last year, even though he spent 2007-2011 playing in Japan, with the exception of 2008 when he was out of baseball. The 28 year old came back over to America last year where he put up good numbers in AA before playing three games in AAA Louisville. Obispo is a non-roster invite, and has the stamina to be a spot starter, but has worked as a reliever most of his career.
There is another non-roster invite that is going to get a good look this spring named Daniel Rodriguez. The 27 year old is a left handed starter, who has never spent a season in a league lower than AAA, unfortunately his career started in 2006 and up until his two games with Gwinnett last year, every season was in the Mexican league. He has put up some decent numbers over the seasons, and is going to get a shot at making the 40-man roster as a starter.
Jordan Parraz is going to be the guy I’m rooting for. He’s 28, never played in the bigs, been a Brave his whole career, and has a mix of above average speed with average power out of the right handed batter’s box. He’s a 6’3″ 215 pound outfielder who happens to be on a team with no room for anymore outfielders, so he is out there with nothing really to gain, except getting a chance to play with the big boys.
Parraz may not hit one out this spring, and if he does, it may not walk it off like Matt Young a couple of years ago, but the fact that he could will keep me watching the games this spring long after the starters check out.