February 2013

McCann encouraged after taking BP

Brian McCann was happy about the way his surgically-repaired right shoulder felt when he took batting practice for the first time this year on Thursday morning at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex.

“It was nice to get back in there and see something coming at you,” McCann said. “I’m on pace.  Everything they have asked me to do I’ve done.”

McCann will complete his rehab exercises and return the field on Saturday to take batting practice and build his arm strength.  The six-time All-Star catcher threw from a distance of 120 feet on Thursday without any problem.

The Braves will have McCann take batting practice and throw on an every other day basis for at least another week.  They will continue to bring him along slowly as he recovers from the surgical procedure that was performed in October.

McCann remains confident that he will be ready to return to Atlanta’s lineup at some point in the middle of April.  His timetable will become clearer as he continues to test his shoulder over the next few weeks.

Observations from the exhibition season’s first weekend

Whether or not it makes sense to include him on the Opening Day roster, Evan Gattis will draw a plethora of attention over the remainder of the Grapefruit League season.  There is simply something intriguing about a 26-year-old prospect, who worked as a janitor and spent four years away from baseball before showing off his power potential at the Minor League level.

If attempting to predict how Gattis will fare during the exhibition season, I’ll say that he will likely hit something north of .380 with at least six home runs.  That’s just what happens during Spring Training when hitters have a chance to feast on Minor League pitchers and big league pitchers who are focusing more on preparing for a season than pitching.

But will it really mean anything if Gattis produces these kind of numbers.  We already know what he has done with the bat while going from an organizational depth guy to a potential big leaguer within a span of two years.  But like every prospect, regardless of age, we won’t know if he can hit big league pitching until he gets a chance to do it during the regular season.

With Gattis, the situation is complicated by multiple factors.  He is still learning to play the outfield and has had little time at first base.  Some talent evaluators believe he would hit enough to overcome any defensive inefficiencies as a catcher — his primary position. But with the Braves he is not going to have an everyday role as a left fielder, first baseman or catcher.

So the question is, would his bat still be valuable if he was asked to primarily serve as a right-handed pinch hitter who could play left field, first base and serve as the third catcher?  If he is getting fewer than 10 at-bats per week, would he still be effective coming off the bench?

As things stand, it appears the Braves will have one roster spot available for a bench player at the end of camp.  That spot could go to Gattis.  But it might make more sense to give it to Jordan Schafer or Jose Constanza, a pair of left-handed hitters who would provide speed and the ability to play each of the three outfield positions.

While it would be tempting to have Gattis’ power potential sitting on the bench, the Braves might gain more versatility by filling the final roster spot with Schafer or Constanza.  The argument against this would be that Reed Johnson is already available to do this and backup infielder Ramiro Pena could play the outfield in an emergency situation.

Last week, I wrote that it might make more sense to have Gattis begin the year with Triple-A Gwinnett.  This would give him a chance to play on an everyday basis and get better acquainted with playing the outfield.

But with some uncertainty about Christian Bethancourt’s ability to replace Brian McCann as Atlanta’s starting catcher next year, it might also make sense to send Gattis to Gwinnett to catch on daily basis at the start of this season.  Bethancourt will likely be given a chance to develop his still-questionable offensive skills while beginning this upcoming season with Mississippi.

Graham as a reliever?:  Having never seen J.R. Graham pitch before Saturday’s appearance against the Yankees, I was somewhat startled when he circled the mound with Al Hrabosky-like intensity before throwing his first pitch.  I’ve sense been told that the highly-regarded pitching prospect was doing this dating back to his days with Rookie Level Danville.

Then with his first pitch Graham lit the radar gun with a 99-mph fastball that was heading toward the screen before Bethancourt reached to grab it.  Fueled with adrenaline as he pitched in a big league setting for the first time, Graham hit 98 and 99 with a few more fastballs while walking two in his scoreless debut.

As a starter, Graham has shown the ability to throw in the mid 90s throughout a six or seven-inning appearance.  Some of the intrigue surrounding him as a starter is based on the fact that he has been able to maintain his arm strength and throw 96-mph fastballs after the fifth inning.

With this in mind, Graham will continue to serve as a starter when he likely begins this season with Mississippi.  But as he continues to develop, the Braves will  keep an open mind about the possibility of utilizing him as a reliever in the future.  Much of this will likely depend on whether there is a greater need for him to fill a void in Atlanta’s rotation or its bullpen.

Another potential future candidate for Atlanta’s rotation is Alex Wood, the talented University of Georgia product who has opened some eyes during his first two weeks in big league camp.   At this time last year, the left-hander was nearing the end of his successful collegiate career.  But he did not show any hesitation while tossing a scoreless inning while making his exhibition debut against the Yankees on Saturday.

Wood went 4-3 with a 2.22 ERA in 13 starts with Class A Rome last year.  The 22-year-old southpaw with a plus fastball recorded 52 strikeouts and issued 14 walks in 52 2/3 innings.

 

 

 

 

Roster and position battles will now begin for the Braves

STopener2

 

Welcome back to Disney where the Braves will open the exhibition season against the Tigers this afternoon at 1:05 p.m. ET.  Tim Hudson will pitch the first two innings and each member of Atlanta’s projected Opening Day lineup is expected to record at least two plate appearances.  The designated hitter will be used.  But all other standard National League rules, including the infield fly rule, will be enforced.

Over the course of the past two weeks, the Braves have taken care of all of the necessary preparations leading into the Grapefruit League season.  The Upton brothers have gotten used to their new environment and young pitchers like J.R. Graham have had a chance to make a good impression on some of the coaches and players who had only previous known of them through print or word of mouth.

The countless batting practice swings, bullpen sessions and fielding drills that were completed over the past couple of weeks really only prepared them for the exhibition season that will unfold over the next five weeks.   In other words, now is the time that we gain a true sense about the battle for the final available bullpen spot and the battle to potentially win the everyday job at third base.

The Braves have said they would be comfortable with Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco platooning at third base.  But as Spring Training has progressed it has become obvious that they would like one of these two players to win the everyday role.

The right-handed Johnson combined to hit .281 with 15 home runs and a .777 OPS in 136 games with the Astros and D-backs last year. The concerns about him center around his defense. He had a -10.7 UZR/150 defensive rating last year. The only player with a lower mark was Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera with a -11.2.

Francisco batted .234 with nine homers and a .710 OPS in the 93 games he played for Atlanta last year. One of the knocks against him as an everyday player comes from the fact that he has hit .190 while totaling just 67 of his 386 career plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. There are also some concerns about his durability. The Braves were hoping that he would have arrived at Spring Training having lost a few more pounds than he did during the winter.

In a true traditional platoon, Johnson would get all of the starts against left-handed pitchers.  But this might not be a wise strategical decision.  He has batted .283 with a .775 OPS against right-handers and .255 with a .677 OPS against left-handers in his career.

If the Braves end up going with a platoon at third base, I think it would be appropriate to liken this to that old saying, “If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one.”

With March Madness awaiting us in a few weeks, I will get into the prediction business today by predicting this year’s Opening Day roster:

Rotation (5): Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Paul Maholm and Julio Teheran

Bullpen (7): Craig Kimbrel, Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, Jordan Walden, Luis Avilan, Cristhian Martinez and Cory Gearrin

Catchers (2): Gerald Laird, Matt Pagnozzi

Infielders (6) : Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson, Juan Francisco, Ramiro Pena

Outfielders (5): B.J. Upton, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Reed Johnson, Jordan Schafer

The most interesting decision will be whether the Braves choose Schafer, Jose Constanza or Evan Gattis to fill that final roster spot.  Because he is out of options, Schafer might be deemed the favorite to win the spot.  But would there really be a lot of concern about potentially losing a player who hit .211 with a .591 OPS in 106 games with the Astros last year.

Still as much as Schafer’s value has plummeted over the past few years, his defense might make him more valuable than Constanza, whose arrival to camp has been delayed by visa issues.   Concerns about Constanza’s tardiness are softened by the fact he played in the Dominican Winter League and the recently-completed Caribbean World Series.

Constanza’s absence will provide more opportunities for Schafer to impress during the exhibition season.  If Schafer continues to show the work ethic he has during the early portion of camp, I think he will give the Braves reason to keep him.  But if they gain any hint of concern about his attitude or dedication over the course of the entire season, I don’t think they will be afraid of the possibility of losing him via the waiver wire.

There was certainly some temptation to say Gattis would win that final roster spot.  His right-handed bat could certainly prove beneficial off the bench. In fact, it would be easy to argue that his bat would provide more value than the speed and defense Schafer and Constanza could provide while backing up three outfielders who will be in the lineup on a regular basis.  And when the Upton brothers or Jason Heyward need a break, Reed Johnson will be available to play any of the three spots.

So as much as I am tempted to target Gattis for that final spot, I’ll stick with Schafer.  I think the Braves might be more comfortable carrying Gattis on the bench after he gets a chance to spend a month or two playing left field for Triple-A Gwinnett.

outfielders

 

Braves to play all of their starters in Friday’s exhibition season opener

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has spent the past month answering questions about the Upton brothers and his talented new outfield.  He will catch his first glimpse of this outfield trio in game action on Friday afternoon when the Braves open their exhibition season against the Tigers at Disney’s Champion Stadium.

Tim Hudson is scheduled to pitch the first two innings against the Tigers, who will start Rick Porcello.  Craig Kimbrel and Cory Gearrin are among the Atlanta relievers who are expected to pitch at least one inning.

Minus the designated hitter being utilized in the pitcher’s spot, Gonzalez’s lineup for Friday’s game looks a lot like the one he will likely use in the April 1 Opening Day game against the Phillies.  Each of the starters are expected to remain in the game for at least two plate appearances.

Blake DeWitt will begin Friday’s game as the designated hitter. After a couple plate appearances, he will be replaced by Evan Gattis.

Like he did with Tyler Pastornicky and Andrelton Simmons during their shortstop battle last year, Gonzalez plans to spend the early portion of the exhibition season utilizing Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson on an every other day basis at third base.

There is  a chance Francisco and Johnson will begin the regular season platooning at third base.  But the Braves are going to give both a chance to battled over the next couple weeks with an everyday role.

FRIDAY’S LINEUP

Andrelton Simmons SS

Jason Heyward RF

Justin Upton LF

Freddie Freeman 1B

B.J. Upton CF

Dan Uggla 2B

Juan Francisco 3B

Gerald Laird C

Blake DeWitt DH

 

Braves to retire Chipper’s number and induct him into their Hall of Fame

The Braves will give fans another opportunity to celebrate Chipper Jones’ career when they retire his number and induct him into their Hall of Fame on June 28.

Jones will be inducted into the Hall of Fame during an afternoon ceremony at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. His No. 10 jersey will be retired during a pregame ceremony that will be staged before that evening’s game against the D-backs.

“Chipper was a Brave from the beginning to the end of his career and his legacy will forever live in our record books,” Braves president John Schuerholz said in a release.  “There is no greater honor that we can bestow upon him than to induct him into our Hall of Fame and retire his iconic number 10.”

In fitting fashion, Jones’ number will be the 10th  retired by the Braves.  The others were Hank Aaron (44), Eddie Mathews (41), Dale Murphy (3), Phil Niekro (35), Warren Spahn (21), Greg Maddux (31), Tom Glavine (47), Bobby Cox (6) and John Smoltz (29).

Jones had the honor of playing his entire career with the Braves, who drafted him with the first overall selection in the 1990 First-Year Player Draft.   The former National League MVP and eight-time All-Star retired at the end of last season as the leader in 11 statistical categories in Atlanta Braves history.

Tickets will be available for the June 28 game beginning on Feb. 25 on braves.com.

Individual tickets for the Hall of Fame luncheon are now available at braves.com/tickets.   For tables of 10 or more please call 404-614-2310.

Chipper expected to be present for Saturday’s workout

One day after The Hammer made an appearance, The Crime Dog arrived to get a taste of Spring Training.  But as the Braves began their first full-squad workout on Friday afternoon, Chipper Jones was not present to begin his stint as a guest instructor.

“He’s late by the way,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez playfully said. “He’s going to have to go further back on the back fields to hit fungoes.  Wait until he hears about his locker situation.  He’s a rookie coach.  He’s got to go by the bathroom and share a locker.”

While Fred McGriff started his stint as a guest instructor on Friday, Jones will wait until Saturday before he puts the Braves uniform back on for the first time since he retired at the end of last season.  Jones’ agent B.B. Abbott said the former Braves third baseman will arrive in the Orlando area on Friday night.

“(McGriff) is ready to go,” Gonzalez said. “I asked him if he wanted to face Venters or Kimbrel and he said, ‘nah, I’m good.'”

Over the course of the next four days, Jones will interact with his former teammates and simply get another taste of Spring Training.  Last week, he said that he decided to attend after being asked by Braves president John Schuerholz, general manger Frank Wren and Gonzalez.

“He might want to take a little batting practice, who knows?  Hank Aaron said while visiting Braves camp on Friday  “He was hitting pretty well when he left here.  We might need him for a pinch hitter or something.”

This prompted reason to ask Aaron how he felt when he returned to Spring Training in 1977, the year after he retired.

“I went on the Minor League camp and took batting practice,” Aaron said. “I was still hitting them out.  I don’t know if I could have done that in a game.  But I was still hitting them.  You miss it a little bit.  I gradually got out of it.  I’m sure Chipper will find a lot of things to do.  He had a great career.  The one thing about him is he finished his career in the same uniform.  It’s just a matter of time before he gets put in the Hall of Fame.”

NOTES:  Outfielder Jose Constanza and right-handed pitcher Wirfin Obispo were still in the Dominican Republic on Friday because of visa problems…Because of team physicals, the Braves will begin their workouts on Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. ET…Brian McCann will get a better sense of where he is in the rehab process after he is evaluated during his physical.  McCann will likely miss the season’s first two weeks as he recovers from right shoulder surgery.

A look at some of the contracts signed by current and former Braves this winter

With pitchers and catchers set to report to Spring Training on Monday, let’s look at specifics of some of the contracts signed by current and former Braves this winter.

B.J. UPTON -- 5 years/$75,499,794

Signing bonus — $3 million

2013  — $12.45 million

2014 — $13.45 million

2015  — $14.45 million

2016 — $15.45 million

2017 — $16.45 million

Potential bonuses:  MVP ($50K); All-Star ($50K); Gold Glove ($25K); Silver Slugger ($25K); World Series MVP ($50K); LCS MVP ($25K)…Also receives a hotel suite when the Braves are on the road.

JASON HEYWARD —  1 year/$3.65 million (first arbitration-eligible season)

Potential bonuses: MVP ($50K); All-Star ($50K); Gold Glove ($25K); Silver Slugger ($25K); World Series MVP ($50K); LCS MVP ($25K)

ERIC O’FLAHERTY — 1 year/ $4.32 million (Final arbitration-eligible season)

Potential bonuses: All-Star ($50K); Cy Young ($50K); Rolaids Relief Award ($50K); Gold Glove ($25K); World Series MVP ($50K); LCS MVP

($25K)

GERALD LAIRD  — 2 years, $3 million ($1.5 million annual base)

Potential bonuses for 2013: 80 games ($50K); 90 games ($50K); 100 games ($50K); 110 games ($50K); 120 games ($50K)

Potential bonuses for 2014: 80 games ($100K); 90 games ($100K); 100 games ($100K); 110 games ($100K); 120 games ($100K)

Potential award bonuses: MVP ($50K); All-Star ($50K); World Series MVP ($50K); Gold Glove ($25K); Silver Slugger ($25K); LCS MVP ($25K)

REED JOHNSON  — 1 year/$1,744,231 million with $1.6 million option for 2014 ($150K buyout)

Potential bonuses for 2013: 90 games ($50K); 110 games ($50K) 130 games ($50K)

These players avoided arbitration with straight one-year contracts without any potential bonuses:

KRIS MEDLEN ($2.6 million); CHRIS JOHNSON ($2,287,500 million); CRISTHIAN MARTINEZ ($749,750); JONNY VENTERS ($1.625 million)

Former Braves:

TOMMY HANSON  —  1 year, $3.725 million with the Angels

Potential bonuses: All-Star ($50K); Gold Glove ($75K); LCS MVP ($75K); WS MVP ($100K); Cy Young winner ($150K); Second or third in Cy Young Voting ($75K); Fourth or fifth in Cy voting ($50K)

MARTIN PRADO  — 4 years, $40 million with the D-backs

2013 — $7 million

2014-16 —  $11 million annually

Prado will receive $1 million each time he is traded during the life of this contract.  He will also receive a hotel suite when the D-backs are on the road.

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