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Posted: Thursday March 19, 2009 1:54PM; Updated: Saturday March 21, 2009 8:30PM
Jon Heyman Jon Heyman >

Braves' Tommy Hanson is just one prospect creating a buzz this spring

Story Highlights

Atlanta's Hanson has a 2.45 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings this spring

Livan Hernandez has all but locked up the fifth starter's spot for the Mets

Off-days and out-of-shape players have been a bad combo for Team USA

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Promising Braves pitching prospect has been as good as advertised this spring in fanning 14 batters in less than 15 innings.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Top Braves pitching prospect Tommy Hanson blew away scouts in the Arizona Fall League and again early this spring. But he couldn't deal with Fernando Tatis (two-run home run), didn't completely control his fastball and didn't necessarily impress all the scouts who saw him on Wednesday vs. the Mets. One scout rated him as "just OK'' after seeing the effort. Yet he still has a 2.45 ERA this spring, with 14 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings, and a great majority of baseball insiders see him as a top-of-the-rotation starter.

"The Braves are high on him, and they should be,'' one scout said. "He's going to be a good one.''

"He's definitely got good stuff,'' another scout said. "He's got the ability to spin the curve and a feel for four pitches.''

The mixed reviews on this day notwithstanding, most love the big, 22-year-old right-hander with a fastball clocked in the mid 90s (mostly 93 Wednesday), and excellent curve, which was on display here. Opposing teams say the Braves did right not trading him for Jake Peavy. The only small concern seems to be over the delivery and the issue of a long-term durability.

This was easily Hanson's weakest outing this spring. He had trouble controlling his much-praised fastball. "I was just a little bit off today,'' said the mature righty. He said it's "kind of cool'' to hear all the buzz about him this spring, but while he has been mentioned as an outside possibility to make the Braves rotation this spring, he sounded like he expects to be sent to the minors.

"I feel I can go out and get any hitter in the batters box out,'' he said, before adding, humbly, "I know I have a long ways to go and a lot of things to learn to pitch in the big leagues and be successful.''

Here's a list of 33 more young ones who might be good ones. There's a buzz about every one of these guys in spring ...

1. David Price, Rays pitcher. The former No. 1 pick Price (2.08 ERA this spring) has everything he needs to be a star and should be ready to make a big impact this year.

2. Chris Volstad, Marlins pitcher. Volstad (3.21 ERA this spring) gave a taste of his vast ability late last year, and folks expect more of the same. "He's impressive,'' one scout said. He repeats his delivery so well for someone so big ... he pitches beyond his years.'' And this from a competing executive: "He's got some great [stuff].''

3. Gordon Beckham, White Sox shortstop. "Every time he comes up, he seems to hit a bomb,'' says one scout. Last year's No. 1 draft choice has played so well (seven extra-base hits, .625 slugging) that he moved himself into conversations about second base, even with the favorite for that position, Chris Getz (.364), playing very well there, as well. Looks like a gem.

4. Daniel Bard, Red Sox reliever. "The best fastball I've ever seen,'' according to one scout. The pitch is 100 and "really takes off,'' the scout said. "He's also able to produce that velocity without much apparent effort,'' another scout said. Likely to begin at Triple-A Pawtucket, even after a 0.00 ERA this spring with 10 strikeouts in seven innings, but he could be a weapon by midseason.

5. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals pitcher. Huge spring (0.00 ERA, 16 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings) means he's the bright spot on laughingstock team/organization. He's said to have a good feel for four pitches and, according to one scout, a presence that suggests confidence: "Works quickly and attacks the zone.''

6. Rick Porcello, Tigers pitcher. Twenty-year-old with blow-'em-away ability looks like he's got a shot to stick in the iffy rotation, just like Justin Verlander did in 2006, especially with continuing questions about Dontrelle Willis (12.00 ERA; could he be released the way he's going).

7. Daniel Murphy, Mets outfielder. "It's hard not to like him as a hitter,'' one scout said. Which explains why manager Jerry Manuel declared Murphy (.375) a starter on day one. Nick Evans (.277, two homers) will likely be sent out for seasoning, but one scout said, "He's swung the bat better than I expected.'' Evans has raw power but needs work as a defender.

8. Matt Wieters, Orioles catcher. Wieters (.367, .567 slugging) is very advanced at the plate and behind it for someone drafted only a year and a half ago, but cautious, smart Andy MacPhail will send him down for more seasoning. "He's impressive ... the real deal,'' one scout said.

9. Cameron Maybin, Marlins outfielder. Great all-around talent is hitting .333 and appears ready to crack the Marlins' lineup. No team has more young talent than Florida.

10. Brett Anderson, A's pitcher. Left-hander looks almost ready. The most polished of a trio of fine young starters has a 1.86 ERA this spring.

11. Trevor Cahill, A's pitcher. "He's got real good sink on the ball. He's going to be a good ground ball guy,'' one scout said. Makes for a tremendous one-two combo of young pitchers with a 2-0 record and 4.91 ERA this spring. "In a perfect world,'' A's GM Billy Beane says they'd send down Cahill and Anderson. But of course this isn't a perfect world. The guess here is one or both make the team.

12. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers pitcher. He just turned 21. "He's going to be a good one,'' a scout says. But the question is whether that's now. "Hit and miss so far this spring,'' the scout says. He has a 5.23 ERA this spring but has been better lately.

13. Brandon Wood, Angels infielder. "Big power, with a lot of strikeouts ... could be a plus defender,'' one scout says. Spring numbers include a .378 batting average and .738 slugging percentage.

14. Pablo Sandoval, Giants third baseman. "He can really hit ... free swinger who's a real good bad ball hitter,'' one scout says. "Uses the whole field,'' says another. The question is whether he can handle third. "He's more of a first baseman,'' one scout says. Sandoval (.450 this spring) will miss a few games after being struck in the mouth by a grounder on Wednesday.

15. Elvis Andrus, Rangers shortstop. He's the reason why Michael Young had to move. Will still be a big leap for Andrus (.250 this spring).

16. Pedro Alvarez, Pirates third baseman/first baseman. A big performance in his first spring (.444, .778 slugging) has to have the Bucs thrilled that they finally got him signed. He'll start at Class-A Lynchburg but should move fast. A hitting sensation.

17. Matt LaPorta, Indians slugger. The biggest name coming back in the CC Sabathia trade hit .296 this spring (.514 slugging). Outfielder Michael Brantley, the second piece in the deal, also got big reviews and hit .360 this spring. Switch-hitting catcher Carlos Santana, who came for Casey Blake, is considered one of the best catching prospects in baseball.

18. Julio Borbon, Rangers outfielder. Speedy outfielder isn't too far away (.200 this spring).

19. Neftali Feliz, Rangers pitcher. Tremendous talent has touched 100. Some scouts say left-hander Derek Holland is right there with Feliz.

20. Jason Donald, Phillies shortstop/second baseman. "Can step into the big leagues now,'' one scout said. Hitting .326 this spring.

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