There was a reunion of sorts Friday for three pitchers with ties to the Double-A Mississippi Braves.
J.R. Graham and Gus Schlosser, a couple of prospects who enter spring training with high expectations, were joined at the Atlanta Braves caravan stop in Macon by Alex Wood, who started the season with Graham and Schlosser in Mississippi last year before getting his first call up to the majors in late May.
It was the talk of baseball for a little bit, Schlosser said. We were hearing we had one of the toughest staffs in minor league baseball to face. A guy I grew up with in high school faced us the first series of the season, and he said it was a pretty hard week for him. At the same time, it didnt surprise us. We knew going in we had a pretty strong staff, guys that like to compete. We pushed each other, and that helped us out a lot.
While their appearance was upstaged by a couple of unannounced additions to the lineup of those signing autographs at Academy Sports + Outdoors in closer Craig Kimbrel and outfielder Jordan Schafer, the presence of the three young pitchers highlighted one of the major story lines the Atlanta Braves have heading into spring training -- starting pitching.
For Wood, the challenge this spring will be earning a spot in the starting rotation. Hes in the mix entering spring training thanks to a strong August in which he went 2-0 with an ERA of 0.90 with Atlanta, putting up those numbers after spending his first two major league months in the bullpen.
For the season, Wood made 11 starts and 20 relief appearances in the majors, going 3-3 with a 3.13 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP.
I got on a little run there for five or six straight starts, Wood said. I felt like I was finally able to settle into the rotation as a starter. I was in the bullpen for 2½ months, then I had to go back and start, and thats kind of a tough thing to do, especially up there (in the majors). Its hard enough to really pitch up there, much less be in the bullpen for 2½ months and kind of have to get back into starter shape. Its a completely different type of conditioning and type of role.
Schlosser would give the Braves a unique starter should he reach the majors. Hes a sidearm pitcher, something normally associated with relievers. He spent the entire season last year at Mississippi, his first season in Double-A, going 7-6 with a 2.39 ERA.
Graham, meanwhile, is looking to prove that he has recovered from a shoulder strain he suffered May 13, less than three weeks before Wood made his major league debut.
Ranked by MLB.com as the Braves No. 2 overall prospect, Graham wound up going through a lengthy rehab process through last summer and into the offseason. He is working out with the rest of the Braves pitchers -- weather permitting -- during the teams early pitching program at Turner Field.
Im healthy, Graham said. Ive been throwing off the mound. I was down here for Camp Roger (the early pitching program, named after pitching coach Roger McDowell) throwing some bullpens. We got snowed out a couple of days, so that put a little damper on it, but I feel 100 percent and looking forward to getting to spring.