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

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.

21. Phil Hughes, Yankees pitcher. If last year was a wasted year, at least he appears to have learned from it (2.25 ERA this spring). He came to camp with a revised and deeper repertoire, including a cutter and improved changeup. Barring injury, he'll start at Scranton. But he's ready to go if needed.

22. Jason Heyward, Braves outfielder. Tremendous all-around talent with big power has hit .310 this spring.

23. Vin Mazzaro, A's pitcher. "Big power arm with a repeatable delivery,'' one scout said. Has a 2.61 ERA in spring.

24. Antonio Bastardo, Phillies pitcher. "They have pretty good depth with [J.A.] Happ, [Carlos] Carraso and Bastardo,'' one scout said. Has a 5.41 ERA this spring.

25. Bobby Parnell, Mets reliever. Fastball clocked in the 96 mph range and decent spring (4.05 ERA) means he looks ticketed for the Mets' pen. Lefthander Michael Antonini ("a great change and can pitch inside'') and right-hander Dillon Gee (tremendous poise) also impressed early in camp.

26. Logan Morrison, Marlins first baseman. "Pretty good approach .. really strong with power to all fields and a fluid swing,'' one scout said. Hit .181 in spring.

27. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates outfielder. Maturing all-around talent will make an impact soon, if not immediately. Hitting .280 this spring.

28. Michael Stanton, Marlins outfielder. "A young Andre Dawson,'' says manager Fredi Gonzalez. Tremendous combination of power and speed, with a .364 batting average this spring.

29. Chris Tillman, Orioles pitcher. Yet another piece who came for crusty veteran Erik Bedard. Still a baby, Tillman (2.25 ERA) is almost good enough to make the Orioles' rotation now (though that may say more about their rotation). "A little raw,'' according to a scout.

30. Matt Gamel, Brewers third baseman. Gamel (.294, .588 slugging) obviously can hit. And while he has been criticized for his defense, he has made some nice plays this spring.

31. Ryan Perry, Tigers reliever. Word is Tony La Russa loves the former No. 1 pick with a 0.00 ERA this spring.

32. Brad Nelson, Brewers first baseman. Power hitter has put up the numbers and now he's putting together a decent spring (.375, .563). He's out of options and should make the team.

33. Xavier Paul, Dodgers outfielder. Very good hitter who has speed and can run has caught manager Joe Torre's eye. With a .425 spring he's got a shot to make the team.

Livan Hernandez effectively used an 85 mph fastball and his usual guile to glide through five solid, one-run innings on Wednesday, so he appears in position to win the Mets' No. 5 starters spot. The Mets are believed to have made Pedro Martinez an offer that's well below his $5 million minimum asking price ("I can assure you, we are not paying him $5 million,'' one Mets person said) and are unlikely to immediately boost their bid (believed to be $1-2 million, plus incentives) after Hernandez's latest professional effort.

Meanwhile Freddy Garcia got roughed up again, as his comeback efforts have hit a snag. It would appear that he needs a little more time to regain some velocity.

While the WBC isn't perfect, it's definitely salvageable if they can figure a way to get Team USA players training earlier. It's no coincidence that their players are the ones getting hurt. They were the least-prepared since they don't play winter ball.

Team USA members see the big problem as the large number of off-days. Davey Johnson mentioned that a few times, and so did Chipper Jones, who hurt his ribcage. Jones is a great player and a future Hall of Famer. But let's be fair about this: He's a guy who can hurt himself at any time. I know this firsthand since Jones injured his ribcage last year while I was interviewing him. I believe he made a sudden motion while dressing himself.

"There's some serious problems with the WBC setup,'' Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. But I wouldn't do it again under the current format.''

Jones was probably hurt by the fact that he was 0 for 10 with six strikeouts. But his comments, and a couple other remarks by U.S. personnel, came off as excuses. Next time start working out sooner if you plan to contribute, Chipper.

I know things are bad in Astros camp -- 1-15 at last count, plus ties -- but GM Ed Wade should not be telling the folks who cover their team, much less Astros.com, that the team wasn't pursuing Ivan Rodriguez when it was. After it was mentioned here and probably a few more places that the Astros were one of about four teams in the bidding for Pudge, an item appeared on Astros.com saying, "After talking with Ed Wade yet again today, I can assure you the Astros are not pursuing [Rodriguez]. And, judging from the irritated look on his face, I can assure you I won't be asking him about Pudge anytime soon.''

This isn't the fault of the reporter, Alyson Footer, who did the right thing by confronting Wade, who proceeded to do the wrong thing by denying pursuit during mid-pursuit. There appears to be no wiggle room here for Wade, either, since it had already been reported at least here that the Astros desired Rodriguez. That was not a guess, either. I should have an idea what's going on with Pudge since he lives three doors down my block in Miami.

It didn't bother me that Wade denied what was written here. But now that he has signed Pudge for $1.5 million plus incentives, he owes an apology to Footer, who had the professionalism to praise him for the move even after he led her astray. For his own sake Wade should also rethink this strategy, because when you're caught telling big fat ones like this, folks tend not to trust you in the future.

• Team USA is going to Hollywood. But do they deserve it? They were outscored 16-7 by Puerto Rico in two games but had the advantage of playing the Netherlands after losing the first game to Puerto Rico, while Puerto Rico had to face Venezuela in games that counted. The U.S. lost 10-6 to Venezuela in the seeding game, while Puerto Rico lost 2-0.

• Yankees GM Brian Cashman said their reports are that Alex Rodriguez is working hard (no surprise there) to be back in May, as hoped. Some Yankees people were rolling their eyes at the latest A-Rod controversy, the mirror-kissing picture in Details magazine, but Cashman said, "All the extra stuff doesn't have any bearing on whether you win or lose.''

Mariano Rivera just started throwing in earnest, and already he looks terrific.

Brett Gardner leads Melky Cabrera in the Yankees' center field derby.

Hideki Matsui has been worth almost every penny. But since he can't play the outfield for months, he seems more like a burden than an asset right now.

• News flash: Kei Igawa hasn't been terrible this spring.

• The Yankees and Mets are lucky to have CC Sabathia and Johan Santana, respectively, for what they bring to a clubhouse, as well.

• Trivia question: Ryan Howard has three top-five MVP finishes. How many All-Star teams has he made? Answer far below.

• One scout on the Padres: "Pathetic ... it's going to be an open tryout with lots of waiver claims.''

• The Pirates' Paul Maholm (0.66 ERA) is justifying his big contract extension signed a few weeks ago.

Cliff Lee, who was almost perfect last year, certainly is having a scary spring (18.90 ERA, 19 hits in 6 2/3 innings).

• There are worries that Gary Sheffield (.214) is at the end of the line.

Andruw Jones has been told that he's probably not making the Rangers and has until Friday to decide whether he wants to stay in the organization.. He has hit better lately (.258) but has 14 strikeouts in 31 at-bats.

Josh Hamilton is having a big spring, with three homers, 15 RBIs and a .434 batting average. (This is obviously my big day for stats.)

• Right-hander Sean Green could be an unheralded big pickup for the Mets. Hitters say he is a very uncomfortable at-bat.

Chris Carpenter looked great on Wednesday. But sorry if I remain skeptical..

• Folks in Florida say the Tigers look pretty iffy. But let's not forget that they have three stars -- Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera -- playing for powerhouse Venezuela.

• Mets people aren't complaining aloud about K-Rod's two four-out saves. "If it was four out saves back-to-back that might be different,'' GM Omar Minaya said.

• The Marlins continue to save money. They renewed four players on Thursday at salaries of their choosing, three at the major league minimum. Florida will pay Robert Andino, Cameron Maybin and Taylor Tankersley $400,000. The Marlins also renewed closer Matt Lindstrom at $410,000. Lindstrom made some news earlier this week by (inexplicably) "sending a message'' to Netherlands after allowing a bomb of a home run in a WBC game. He is said to be out for "seven to 10 days'' with a rotator cuff issue after their outing.

• Answer on Howard question: one.

• The situation with newspapers is very sad. I enjoyed the Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which were both around for a century and a half. And while we're handing money out, why shouldn't newspapers get a bailout? Why aren't they more deserving than AIG?

• Best of luck to Aaron Boone, who heads to open heart surgery. The man who hit the last big Yankee home run is a truly terrific guy.

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