By Gil in Mechanicsville
With only about two weeks left before games begin in earnest and the promise of a brand new season starts the long and rutted road to the World Series, the Braves still have spots open for the taking in their line up. The foot injury to Melvin Upton Jr. and the recurring shoulder problems of left handed pitcher Mike Minor has created opportunities for at least two more players to begin the season playing for the Big A.
Holdover players Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson, Andrelton Simmons and Christian Bethencourt looked to have had a good spring training. While CJ took a while to heat up, he has suddenly returned to 2013 form but with more power. Allowing the home runs to come rather than pursue them looks to have allowed the Atlanta third baseman to stay on the ball longer and make solid contact with greater frequency.
Simmons, Freeman and Bethancourt all have looked comfortable at the plate and should provide steady offense this year. Newcomers AJ Perzinski and Jonny Gomes have done nothing to dispel the names they have made for themselves as professional ball players. The veteran leadership often needed in a clubhouse full of youngsters was sorely missing last year after the departure of Tim Hudson and Brian McCain have been replaced with the likes of Perzinski, Gomes and relief pitcher Jason Grille.
Nick “The Neck” Markakis has begun his long awaited return to the game after off season spinal fusion surgery and by all accounts will be a force in the Atlanta outfield, perhaps not as exciting Jason Heyward but no slouch. Understandably, it will take a few weeks for him to regain his full strength but his initial return against Astros showed him going 3 for 4 as the DH. A good sign for a guy who had not seen live pitching for five months. His reputation is as a solid outfielder who knows how to play the game. He does not make mental errors and always hits the cutoff man and throws to the right base.
The rest of the starting line up still appears to be in a bit of a flux. Alberto Callaspo, one of John Hart’s earliest off season signings and projected starting second baseman showed up overweight. The teeth gnashing and ash wallowing began amongst the Braves fans who follow the blogs. Fortunately, it appears the 31 year old Venezuelan has shed some pounds and has played regularly at both second and third base this spring. He began slowly but of late, his bat has heated up. The switch hitter has shown the versatility that would enable him to be part of a soft platoon with Chris Johnson at third. Perhaps urged on by the strong showing this spring by Jace Peterson, who came to the Braves as part of trade that saw Justin Upton depart for San Diago, to win away from him the starting job at second base gave him incentive. Peterson’s slash line of .341/.449/.390 in 41 at bats this spring and solid defense has been a very pleasant surprise. Project as a “super sub” type player, Peterson has taken a bit of the air out of the “Perazza Now” balloon. That and Jose Peraza’s youth becoming evident at the plate. While his glove is major league ready, his bat evidently can benefit from some more time in the minors.
The center field jobs looks to be won by an impressive showing by E Y Young Jr. EY Jr was released by the Mets and was signed to a minor league contract by the Braves. Initially he was penciled in as a possible utility, fourth outfielder but the foot injury to Melvin Upton has given him the opportunity to open the season with Atlanta manning the number eight position in the defense. The added upside to EY Jr is he is a natural lead-off man. While it does not look at this point Upton has been Wally Pipped at this point, he has at least given most Braves fans the sense that Upton should take his time getting healthy before he needs to return.
Todd Cunningham’s window of opportunity may be closing if he does not win a job outright this spring. He has the ability to play all three outfield positions but he may be the pro-typical Quad A player. The same may be true for Joey Terdoslavich. He has had a decent spring for the Braves, hitting .278 with seven extra base hits, he can play either corner outfield spot as well as first base. He worked with his dad during the off season to cut down on his swing. He is in the mix against veteran Kelly Johnson who has played everywhere the Braves have asked him to to display his versatility. KJ’s bat has begun to heat up of late and it appears he will be given every opportunity to win a spot as a utility/left handed bat off the bench for this year’s club.
The last players to be considered will be Phil Gosselin, Zoilo Almonte and surprising off season minor league signing Pedro Ciriaco who has 15 hits and 7 strike outs in 42 at bats this spring. A second baseman who has spent time with Boston and Kansas City, he has a strong accurate arm and some speed. While it would be a long shot to see him make the team this spring, he has opened some eyes. Phil Gosselin looks to have secured his spot as the utility infielder again this season after being the starting second baseman the latter part of the 2014 season. Zoilo is still vying for the spot platoon role with Jonny Gomes. It’s my opinion that he is on the bubble to start the season with the club.
The pitching is still to be discussed. I will do so in my final spring training blog.