Rookies Play Key Role In Braves' Success

ATLANTA—As soon as right fielder Jason Heyward proved in spring training that he was ready for the game's top level, the Braves realized they would be counting on assistance from first-year players.

Yet even the most accurate prospect prognosticator would have had a hard time predicting the rookies who would be key contributors down the stretch. Eight of them made the postseaosn roster, including five pitchers.

The reason for such unpredictability centered on the emergence of unexpected contributors.

Unheralded (and undrafted out of Indiana Wesleyan) righthander Brandon Beachy pitched his way on to the Double-A Southern League all-star team as a reliever.

He made a seamless shift to the rotation at midseason before making a similarly smooth jump to Triple-A Gwinnett. He then received the call to Atlanta two weeks after the minor league season concluded and made three starts before earning a spot on the postseason roster.

"It's been an unbelievable season in so many ways," said Beachy, who led the minor leagues with a 1.73 ERA. "I know some people have been surprised, but I've had confidence all along in my abilities."

Four other green peas also played major roles in the bullpen and then made the playoff roster.

•Lefthander Jonny Venters overcame several seasons' worth of injuries to emerge as set-up man for Billy Wagner.

• Lefty Mike Dunn, part of the bounty for Javier Vazquez in last winter's trade with the Yankees, emerged as a weapon against lefties.

• Righthander Cristhian Martinez, a waiver claim from the Marlins in April, filled in admirably during the second half.

• Heralded righthander Craig Kimbrel saved 23 games for Gwinnett while striking out 83 in 56 innings. With Atlanta, he struck out 40 batters in 21 big league innings (17.4 per nine) and went 4-0, 0.44.

Wigwam Wisps

• More youth is expected to join the starting lineup next spring when first baseman Freddie Freeman follows in the footsteps of Heyward. Freeman got his feet wet in the big leagues this September by getting into 20 games.

• Given the Braves' lack of depth due to various injuries, some observers believed Triple-A first baseman Barbaro Canizares could have contributed off the bench in September. The 30-year-old led the organization with a .341 average.