Minor League Report: Jo-Jo Reyes

Reyes likely starting 2008 in Minors

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Manager Bobby Cox has said numerous times that Jo-Jo Reyes is close to being a Major League-caliber pitcher. But it appears that when the 2008 season begins, the 23-year-old southpaw will be honing his skills at the Minor League level.

This might not be a bad thing for Reyes, who came to the Majors last July after making just 20 starts above the Class A level. The pressure seemed to affect him, as he struggled with his control for the first time in his professional career. It's been much the same story this spring, as he's issued 11 walks in 11 Grapefruit League innings.

"He's so close to being a high-caliber pitcher," said Cox of Reyes, who was named the organization's top Minor League pitcher last year. "He's got all of the pitches."

During his 84 Minor League appearances (80 starts), Reyes issued 3.31 walks per nine innings. But during the 11 appearances (10 starts) he's made in the Majors, he's issued 5.33 walks per nine innings.

Tom Glavine recently monitored some of Reyes' bullpen sessions and lent his advice. Glavine and Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell are attempting to slow the southpaw's delivery and give him a more consistent tempo.

"We're just working to make my footing more consistent," Reyes said.

Key signing: Last weekend the Braves were thrilled to sign 16-year-old Christian Betancourt to his first professional contract. The club believes that the young catcher from Panama is one of the top available position players in Latin America.

Johnny Almarez, the Braves' director of international scouting and operations, described Betancourt as having an above-average arm and soft hands. Offensively, Betancourt is a line-drive gap hitter who projects to have potential power. He'll turn 17 in September.

Early power: It didn't take long for Jason Heyward to remind the Braves about his great power. Heyward, the 14th overall selection in last year's First-Year Player Draft, homered in each of his first two Minor League games last week. He's playing for Class A Myrtle Beach and is expected to open the season with Class A Rome.

Heyward, who is 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, will be half of Rome's corner outfield duo. The other half will be Cody Johnson, who was the club's top selection in the 2006 Draft. Johnson hit 17 homers in 63 games with Rookie-level Danville last year.

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Rome's arms: Heyward and Johnson are sure to command a lot of attention at Rome, but the starting rotation there will be just as impressive, and arguably one of the strongest at the Minor League level.

All indications are that left-handers Jeff Locke, Steve Evarts, Chad Rodgers and Jose Ortegano will begin the season in Rome's rotation. Last year at Danville, this group of southpaws combined to go 20-3 with two saves and a 2.47 ERA. Opponents hit just .211 against them.

Class of '07: When the Braves selected right-handed reliever Brett Butts in the 19th round out of Auburn University last year, they didn't know whether they could sign him. But with Butts' uncle, Alan Butts, serving on their Major League coaching staff, they had a good idea that they might be able to get a deal done.

It looks as though the Braves might have found a somewhat hidden gem in the younger Butts, who last year went 3-2 with a 2.61 ERA in 16 combined appearances with Danville, Rome and Myrtle Beach. Showing good control, the 21-year-old hurler recorded 30 strikeouts and nine walks in 41 1/3 innings.

What they're saying: "I think I learned how to act more professional. It's been a great experience. Whether I get called up this year or next year, at least this will give me somewhat of a base of understanding what to expect and how to act and stuff like that." -- top prospect Jordan Schafer, on his first big league camp

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.