LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Here’s a postcard to commemorate Day 3 of FOXSportsSouth.com’s embedded coverage from Braves camp, easily the weekend’s coldest day (temps in the upper 40s/low 50s):
Seven Workout Observations
1. On a separate field outside Champion Stadium, with a stiff crosswind heading out to right-center field, Jason Heyward quickly found his groove, spraying the power alleys with line drives and belting the occasional ball over the right-field fence. On one particular sequence, Heyward launched three homers in five swings.
2. A good number of Braves hitters took extra cuts in the (presumably heated) batting cages, counteracting the chilly conditions on the main field.
3. The outfielders actually practice making on-the-run, over-the-shoulder catches during drill work, just like NFL receivers during training camp. It seems like a fun way to cultivate raw athleticism, with a heavy emphasis on proper footwork and positioning, of course.
4. First-base coach Terry Pendleton is not averse to hitting screamers at defenders during infield practice, especially the first and second basemen. He also has a cool knack for repeatedly fungo-ing tricky, short-hop grounders to shortstops and third basemen.
5. It bears repeating: The third-base tussle between Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson could last throughout spring training, with both contenders experiencing their share of highs and lows once live-action begins. On the surface, it’s Johnson’s job to lose . . . even though Francisco may possess more physical upside.
6. I watched the Braves run more gassers (50-yard sprints, there and back) in one day than the NFL’s Detroit Lions had performed for any training camp from 2003-05. That alone should bust the stereotype of spring training being nothing more than a leisurely ritual of stretching, batting practice and pitchers “fake-throwing” during outfield drills.
7. The omnipresent Mike Minor can routinely be found buzzing around the Braves’ complex, as if he’s ready for the regular season to start next week. Can you blame him, though? In his final five starts last year, the lefty notched these scintillating numbers: 4-0, 0.87 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 28/9 K-BB.
Easy Does It
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has been reluctant to name an opening-day starter or reveal a rotational pecking order for the first part of April. Preliminary speculation has the order as Kris Medlen, Tim Hudson (or vice-versa), Mike Minor, Paul Maholm and Julio Teheran; but with four off days between April 2-25, it’s hard to get a read on how often the No. 5 starter would be used early on — whoever it is.
The Braves open with six straight home games from April 1-7 (Phillies, Cubs), with an off day on April 2 (guarding against a weather postponement on Opening Day). Last season, the starters reached the 6th inning in 10 of 23 April games, with the first such occurrence coming on April 14.
On the flip side, of Atlanta’s first seven games last year, nearly every starter went precisely five innings — with Jair Jurrjens (4.1 innings) being the lone exception on April 7.
A Matter Of Perspective
This time last year, Tommy Hanson was the Braves’ opening-day starter, drawing a start every fifth day, regardless of the off-day situation. And of Atlanta’s 23 games for April, Hanson, Jurrjens and Randall Delgado logged 13 starts.
From a hitting perspective, Tyler Pastornicky garnered plenty of attention last March, being hailed by some as the club’s next long-term shortstop. And for the most part, he lived up to that billing early on — hitting safely in six of his first 10 games . . . and then going on a .347 batting tear from April 17 to May 2 (no homers or steals, though).
Fast forward to the present, as Pastornicky may have to reinvent himself as either a super-utility asset (multiple positions at any day) or a potential fixture at third base — should Chris Johnson or Juan Francisco falter at the hot corner.
Which brings us to Andrelton Simmons, the every-day shortstop and likely leadoff hitter to start the season.
Yes, the Braves reportedly rejected every chance to deal him during the offseason (including certain overtures involving Justin Upton); and yes, the defensive whiz seemingly has the physical upside for 15 homers/30 steals down the road. But he’s still just a 23-year-old kid with only 1,096 professional at-bats under his belt (166 in the majors).
With the vast majority of under-24 prospects, that’s not enough minor-league seasoning to guarantee a profound, immediate impact at the MLB level.
On Saturday, newly retired Chipper Jones made a somewhat low-key return to Braves camp, his first non-playing spring training since 1990 (his senior year in high school). Jones’ role as a guest instructor could entail a variety of things, for an indefinite amount of time.
It’s quite common for living legends to serve as guest instructors during spring training. Hall of Famer Al Kaline has tutored every Tigers right-fielder — namely Kirk Gibson, Magglio Ordonez, Rusty Staub — since 1975. And Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax, likely the greatest southpaw of the last 60 years, has been a Grapefruit or Cactus staple with either the Mets or Dodgers for decades.
The cold temperatures and tricky crosswinds at Champion Stadium prompt one to wonder aloud: Do major league hitters prefer a heavy or light bat on cold days, or is it irrelevant? (I’ll dig for answers here later this week.)
In Major League Baseball, a regulation bat cannot exceed 42 inches in length, but there is no official limit concerning the weight of a bat. On average, most bats rarely exceed 36 inches or weigh more than 36 ounces.
In one respect, having a dense bat in cold temperatures might better protect hitters from the aftershock that comes with an imperfect swing. On the flip side, a hitter should always strive for maximum bat-head speed when handling pitches that routinely exceed 90 mph.
As a frame of reference, Babe Ruth apparently used the largest bat in baseball history — toting a 42-inch, 54-ounce piece of lumber during the 1920s, a decade when he absurdly cracked 40-plus homers eight times.
In 1927, the Yankees’ famed “Murderer’s Row” season, Ruth belted 60 homers — more than the entire rosters for the American League’s other eight clubs.