It won't be too long before Spring Training is here, and it is certainly time for the trucks to load up on Braves gear and uniforms and move on down to beautiful Lake Buena Vista in Florida. The Braves will again be in Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex, which is considered one of the best Spring Training sites in baseball. So here is an early look at what to take in from 2013 Spring Training.
The New Roster
The Braves have dramatically changed their roster during the offseason with trades and free agent signings. The Braves lost Martin Prado, Eric Hinske, Tommy Hanson, David Ross, Michael Bourn, J.C. Boscan and Randall Delgado. The Braves obtained Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, Jordan Walden, Gerald Laird, David Carpenter, Jordan Schafer, Blake DeWitt, Ramiro Pena, and Matt Pagnozzi. That's LF, CF, backup C, starting pitching, bench depth, and bullpen help that has changed over the offseason.
It should be very exciting for all Braves fans to get a look at the Upton brothers and how they perform on the field and certainly at the plate. One addition that hasn't been looked at much is Jordan Walden. The kid has a 100+ mph fastball which is clearly enough to blow away hitters on its own. He should be a wonderful addition to the triumvirate of relievers, creating the 4-headed monster known as Jordan O'Ventbrel. Sounds catchy.
Many Braves fans will miss David Ross and his wonderful personality, but will be interested to see Gerald Laird and how he performs. Laird has been to the World Series each of the past two years--'11 with St. Louis and last year with Detroit. Laird will likely start the first few weeks of the season as the starting catcher with his backup to be determined from the list of NRIs including Evan Gattis and Matt Pagnozzi.
The Guest Instructors
It's always wonderful and pleasing to see former Braves stars be guest instructors with the team. Last year Fred McGriff, David Justice, Javy Lopez, Dale Murphy, Phil Niekro, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Gene Garber were on hand to help players and take in the air of a new season of baseball. This year, we could see the same list of Braves greats with one obvious addition: Chipper Jones. The Battle Axe can't stay away from baseball for too long, so he'll be on hand to give assistance to young players, and perhaps take a sneak peek at what he may do later in his future in baseball.
Again, it is a great wonder to see the new additions to the Braves as they first play in Spring Training, including the NRIs. The official list on the Braves' site reads as this:
That's a lot of catchers on the list, there to show their ability and to make up for the absence of Brian McCann in Spring Training. Many of the NRIs, traditionally, are minor leaguers making their way up the organizational ladder and trying to show what they can do in front of the Braves' management and coaches. Some though, are offseason signings trying to earn a spot on the big league roster, such as Matt Pagnozzi. Which brings us to the next point of interest:
Other Minor Leaguers on the 40-man Roster
There are a large number of minor leaguers on the 40-man roster. Some of them could contend for an open spot, but most are like the NRIs, just there to try to improve and show their best to them. Here is a list of them:
RHP David Hale
RHP Juan Jaime
RHP Aaron Northcraft
RHP Cory Rasmus
OF Jose Constanza
OF Jordan Schafer
SS Paul Janish and C Brian McCann will be injured for a while. They'll likely be on the Disabled List for a few weeks after Opening Day, so they will have to be replaced and won't participate in Spring Training.
Competitions For the Last Spots on the Roster
The 25-man roster has been pretty much set except for one or two spots on the bench and in the bullpen. The Opening Day lineup should consist of the following, assuming Brian McCann is still out by that time:
1. SS Andrelton Simmons
2. RF Jason Heyward
3. LF Justin Upton
4. 1B Freddie Freeman
5. CF B.J. Upton
6. 2B Dan Uggla
8. C Gerald Laird
1. Backup Catcher (OPEN)
2. OF Reed Johnson
3. SS Ramiro Pena
4. 3B Chris Johnson/Juan Francisco
1. RHP Kris Medlen
2. RHP Tim Hudson
3. LHP Paul Maholm
4. LHP Mike Minor
5. RHP Julio Teheran
1. RHP Cristhian Martinez
2. LHP Luis Avilan
4. RHP Jordan Walden
5. LHP Eric O'Flaherty
6. LHP Jonny Venters
7. RHP Craig Kimbrel
Regarding the bench, the backup catcher's spot is open for a few guys: Matt Pagnozzi, who has been in 33 career games in the Major Leagues, Evan Gattis, and Christian Bethancourt. There is also one spot left that can be used in a variety of ways--another oufielder, a speedster, a power bat off the bench, or a versatile player. That means it could go to Jordan Schafer, Jose Constanza, Tyler Pastornicky, or Ernesto Mejia.
Regarding the bullpen, there is one spot open to a few guys, with the early favorite being the first of them: Cory Gearrin, Anthony Varvaro, and David Carpenter. However, there are others in the minor league system who could surprise us and contend for the spot, including David Hale, Yohan Flande, or Juan Jaime.
The Stadium, The Weather
Champion Stadium is one of the best in the business. It was opened in 1997 and has a seating capacity of 9,500. Here is what the Braves' official site has to say about it:
Champion® Stadium is home to Atlanta Braves Spring Training at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in the middle of Walt Disney World® Resort. With over 9,500 seats, four luxury sky boxes, and multiple open-air suites and patios, the double-decker stadium offers all the amenities of today's major league ballpark. Stadium seats, bleachers and a grassy knoll all provide the perfect sports experience that the whole family can enjoy.
It is a beautiful place to spend a day indeed.
The weather is something to behold. The temperatures are sure to rise into the 90s, and there should be sunny weather almost every day in Kissimmee. The shiny, fresh green grass in the outfield is the icing on the cake. It's baseball time!
Tickets & Schedule
Here is the link for the full Spring Training schedule for the Braves: http://atlanta.braves.mlb.com/spring_training/home.jsp?c_id=atl
Tickets are on sale now, on the Braves' official web site: http://atlanta.braves.mlb.com/spring_training/home.jsp?c_id=atl