Braves Spring Training: Day 4
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Here's a postcard to commemorate Day 4 of FOXSportsSouth.com's embedded coverage from Braves camp, a tricky weather day that began with a broken ice scraper for my frost-addled car . . . and ended with a cool, soothing hotel towel for my wind/sun-burned face.
Five Workout Observations
1. Jason Heyward is already showing midseason form in one respect — the thuuuup-thuup sound of his right foot (lead foot) when taking swings in the batting cage.
If you snapped a pre-swing photo of Heyward facing 20 consecutive pitches, you'd essentially have the same image for all 20 cuts. That's the hallmark of a fluid, balanced and consistent swing in February.
2. Mike Minor and Billy Kimbrel both got in live sessions of approximately 20 pitches. In Minor's case, it took roughly 12 pitches for any Atlanta hitter to get a ball out of the cage and past the infield (by air).
With Kimbrel, for a guy running at maybe 80-percent capacity (typical for this time of year), he still had good command of his pitches, mixing the occasional curve into a rock-solid session.
3. While occupying second base during infield practice, Tyler Pastornicky snagged back-to-back, hot-shot grounders that ricocheted off the right edge of the pitcher's mound.
Roughly 10 minutes prior, FOXSportsSouth.com's Cory McCartney relayed a conversation about how Pastornicky has the greatest comfort level at second base. I'll buy that assessment.
4. Braves prospect Evan Gattis never gets cheated when taking cuts in batting practice. The 26-year-old Gattis, who accounted for 40 homers, 138 RBI and .317 batting in the last two seasons (minor leagues), has a mini-Rickey Henderson crouch in his pre-swing routine that belies his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame. And yet, he makes it work.
Battling a stiff crosswind for two hitting sessions, Gattis still managed to rake at least four balls over the left-field fence.
5. B.J. and Justin Upton, Reed Johnson and Heyward were in the same hitting group for two sessions, with Johnson seemingly being out of place. Eventually, though, he laced a steady stream of pitches into the power alleys.
As for the Uptons, the physical differences between the brothers warrants continual mention — B.J. has a lithe, athletic body and smooth swing to match. The broader Justin relies on a supreme leg/hip torque to generate plenty of power on windy days .
During the Johnson-Upton-Upton-Heyward portion of batting practice, Heyward nearly walked into Justin Upton's mock swing outside the cage, before audibly warning his new teammate of his whereabouts. Upton then quippped, "If I hit you, that means there's something wrong with my swing."
A Pattern Of Behavior
Tim Hudson (16-7, 3.62 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) and Mike Minor (11-10, 4.12 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) are the only members of the Braves' current rotation to log significant starts in the first three months last year.
And in both cases, manager Fredi Gonzalez had full confidence in his arms, with Minor notching 96 pitchers-per-start in his first five outings and Hudson throwing 96 or more pitches in five of the first six starts.
As a point of comparison, Paul Maholm averaged only 85.5 pitches per start during April (four outings) during April with the Cubs.
Mock Draft Central, one of the fantasy world's leading sites for mock drafting, currently has Freddie Freeman tabbed as the 11th-ranked first baseman (58th overall) — ahead of Paul Konerko, Ryan Howard, Ike Davis and Eric Hosmer, and just behind Cubs dynamo Anthony Rizzo.
That's high praise for Freeman (23 HR, 94 RBI, 91 runs in 2012), considering he was hindered by finger and eye ailments for a good chunk of last season.
It also speaks to Freeman's upside as a power hitter. Assuming he logs around 550 at-bats, he's a reasonable bet for 26 homers, 101 RBI, 96 runs, .269 batting average and OPS that finally eclipses .800.
Why so positive? Well, last year, the consistent Freeman tallied three months of .489-plus slugging, four months of 15 runs/17 RBI and five months of four or more home runs.
It's hard to get a read on Dan Uggla's projections for this season. By some estimates, he lost between 15 and 20 pounds during the offseason. That's a lot of bulk to lose for a second baseman.
Uggla, who enjoyed five consecutive seasons of 30-plus homers from 2007-11, is a rare fantasy asset who typically combines a middling batting average (.220 in 2012) with a stellar OBP (.348). But within that quirkiness also comes the expectation for 25-plus homers and 85-plus RBI. Otherwise, the value plummets.
Thinking conservatively, I'd rank Uggla at No. 9 among his positional brethren, behind Robinson Cano (the clear-cut No. 1), Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Kipnis, Aaron Hill, Brandon Phillips, Ben Zobrist and Jose Altuve.
On Monday afternoon, some players attended Tim Hudson and Chipper Jones' Baseball and Birdies charity event, a golf outing that benefits patients at the AFLAC Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
On Tuesday, donors will also have the opportunity to watch the Braves' morning workout, building up to Atlanta's spring opener against Detroit on Friday.