David Hale Could Work His Way Into Braves' Bullpen





ATLANTA—As the Braves packed their gear and headed to Orlando, most of the club's roster spots appeared to be set.

The biggest battle will be waged in the bullpen, where three righthanders stand as leading candidates for the final spot: holdovers Cory Gearrin and Anthony Varvaro and newcomer David Carpenter, a waiver claim from the Red Sox in November.

Yet a dark horse rides into camp on the momentum of a strong showing in 2012. That would be righthander David Hale, a third-round pick in 2009 out of Princeton and Double-A Mississippi's most consistent starter last season. The 25-year-old went 8-4, 3.77 in 27 starts for the M-Braves, recording 124 strikeouts and 67 walks in 146 innings.

Hale shifted between starting and relieving during his first three seasons of pro ball, joining the rotation full-time in 2012. He responded by tying for the Southern League lead in starts and ranking fourth in strikeouts. Hale also struggled at times with his control, which resulted in the fourth-highest walk total.

A two-way player at Princeton who saw the majority of his time in center field, Hale has a quick arm and a fluid delivery that produces a heavy 92-94 mph fastball that touches 96. His slider also is an above-average offering, while his feel for the changeup continues to come and go. The key for Hale centers on getting ahead in the count to force hitters to swing at his pitch.

Another stealth bullpen candidate could be righty Juan Jaime, signed in August 2011 after missing two years following Tommy John surgery. He showed a power arm and a willingness to challenge hitters with a fastball that touched triple digits for high Class A Lynchburg last season.

Jaime held opponents to a .173 average last season, though he also walked 33 in 51 innings. He needs to refine either his slurvy curveball or changeup to give hitters a second offering to think about, though the Braves believe he could move fast if he makes those improvements.

WIGWAM WISPS

• The Braves believe they have their position-player personnel set, with one bench job up for grabs among outfielders Jordan Schafer and Jose Constanza, middle infielder Tyler Pastornicky and first baseman Ernesto Mejia.

• Minor league free agent import Matt Pagnozzi could open the season as big league backup to Gerald Laird as Brian McCann recovers from shoulder surgery.