LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez might not have to make a lot of decisions to complete his bullpen. But as he has been introduced to some new arms over the past few days, he has learned he might have to make some tough decisions at the end of camp.
Big right-hander Adam Russell, who has some Major League experience, and 22-year-old left-hander Luis Avilan and 25-year-old right-hander Jason Rice are among the bullpen candidates who have made strong first impressions on Gonzalez and other members of the coaching staff during the early days of camp.
"There's been a couple guys that you go, 'Man, this guy is pretty good," said Gonzalez, who might have only two bullpen spots to fill before the start of the regular season.
Russell has made 85 Major League appearances over the past four seasons. The 6-foot-8 right-hander's control problems became an issue last year when he walked 20 and recorded 13 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings with the Rays.
Avilan recorded 78 strikeouts and issued 36 walks while being used as both a starter and reliever over a span of 106 1/3 innings with Double-A Mississippi last year. Rice posted a 3.69 ERA and recorded 9.39 strikeouts per nine innings in 85 1/3 innings with Triple-A Pawtucket last year.
Minor looking more comfortable this spring
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Mike Minor appears much more relaxed than he was when he arrived at Spring Training in 2011 with a chance to win the fifth spot in the Atlanta rotation. Now it is time for him to keep the rotation spot he earned courtesy of the tremendous improvement he made last year.
"I don't expect them to judge me on what I did last year and just give me a spot on the team," Minor said. "But hopefully my performance will carry itself over to this year and I'll pick up where I did last year. I've learned a lot."
Minor struggled to command his curveball through last year's Spring Training and looked lost when he made a spot start against the Brewers in early April. But when he returned to the Majors in late May, he had better command of his breaking ball and, more importantly, some of the confidence he had previously lacked.
Still Minor believes the turning point for him last year might have come when he allowed five earned runs and lasted just 4 1/3 innings against the Mets on June 16. Catcher Brian McCann told him during that outing that he had to start creating more consistent arm speed with his fastball and changeup.
Because he thought his changeup needed to consistently be 10 mph slower than his fastball, Minor was slowing his arm motion when he threw his changeup, and opposing batters were noticing. McCann told him the changeup would be more effective as long as he kept his changeup grip and made sure the arm speed mimicked that of his fastball.
"I was asking him 'How is the changeup, why is everybody hitting it so well,'" Minor said. "I wasn't trying to be cocky. But I was thinking, 'That's my best pitch, and if they're hitting that, then what do I got?'"
Minor limited the Blue Jays to one run over seven innings five days after that Mets start and then spent the next six weeks working on making the changes in the Minors. While posting a 3.83 ERA in the nine starts he combined to make in August and September, he started to show the promise the Braves envisioned when they took him with the seventh overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
Fredi not concerned by Pastornicky's absence
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Almost all of the position players projected to fill the Braves' starting lineup made early arrivals to Spring Training. The one who did not is the one who will be making his Major League debut on Opening Day.
Nobody would have been surprised if Tyler Pastornicky would have come to camp early to begin preparing for his role as Atlanta's starting shortstop. But the fact that he did not does not seem to concern Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez.
"He probably didn't know that he had the opportunity to come out here and work out [early]," Gonzalez said. "I don't think he was pulling one of those holdouts."
Pastornicky is expected to arrive in camp on Friday, when all position players are required to report. The 22-year-old shortstop recently spent time working out with veteran infielder Jack Wilson in California.
Wilson will return to the Braves this year to serve as a backup infielder and a mentor to Pastornicky.
Pastornicky combined to hit .313 with a .359 on-base percentage and .414 slugging percentage with Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett last year. Though certainly not on par with Alex Gonzalez defensively, the Braves believe he will consistently produce better at-bats than Gonzalez did last summer.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.