Lurking at the bottom of the standings isn’t the start you would hope for a team with more potential. The Atlanta Braves haven’t given much reason to believe they’ll be better in 2017 than the way they finished in 2016 in Spring Training based on record alone. But here’s why there’s no reason to worry yet while exploring some of the struggles.
First off, Spring Training records are usually irrelevant to begin with, but even more so with the Braves. Often times teams send out their young pitchers and hitters into the Florida heat and use the veterans sparingly. The Braves approach hasn’t been much different, and from this point forward the veterans are starting to ease into the season. The first half of spring training is far less important than the next half.
In the first half, Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson showed no signs of offseason rust.
Before leaving for the World Baseball Classic to represent Canada to honor his late mother, Freeman was batting .500 in 16 at bats with five RBIs and no strikeouts. Playing against stiffer competition at the WBC, keep a close eye on Freeman to continue raking. In his first game against the Dominican Republic (the second highest favorite to win the whole thing behind the US), Freeman finished with an uneventful 0-4.
Dansby Swanson, also collecting 16 at bats so far, is averaging .438. Swanson has a homerun on his stat sheet in addition to four RBIs. Entering his first full season after playing the last two months of the 2016 batting .301, Swanson is picking up where he left off. Swanson was scratched from yesterday and today’s lineup due to back stiffness. It’s nothing to worry about, as it’s probably just soreness from the workload of Spring Training.
Swanson’s double-play partner and the Braves’ newest addition, Brandon Phillips is adjusting well to the change in scenery. Just look how comfortable he is with the first live double-play attempt of Spring Training…
It’s not just the leather that Phillips is comfortable with, as he’s also swinging the lumber fluidly. Phillips has the third best batting average (.313) among the projected starters with 16 at bats. Like Swanson, he also has four RBIs. After getting hit by a pitch on his left hand, which he’s broken before, Phillips refused to come out of the game. Determined to get in his work and his at-bats, he declined Snitker’s offer and finished his scheduled five innings of work. In the process of staying in the game, Phillips is displaying the leadership and determination it takes to be a successful major leaguer at 35 years old.
Snitker to David O’Brien of the AJC: “He was like, I ain’t coming all the way down here and not play,” Snitker said, smiling. “He is tough. He’s a gamer. I was like, you want another at-bat if you get it? He was like, ‘Hell, yeah.’ He likes to play. He shows you all the time what he can do. He’s a good player.”
Third basemen Adonis Garcia is also making the most of his opportunities, batting .333 in his 21 at bats. Garcia’s concern isn’t his bat, it’s the glove on the hot corner. With seven opportunities so far this season, Garcia has 1.000 fielding percentage so far. The extra work with Ron Washington and Terry Pendleton is showing for the Cuban hoping to lock down the starting job at third base.
As for the rest projected starters, they’ve struggled to find their groove in the Grapefruit League. Ender Inciarte is batting .167 and Matt Kemp is even lower at .105. With only 18 and 19 at bats this season, the averages will hopefully improve for the leadoff and cleanup hitter as they get adjusted to the live hitting.
Inciarte left Braves camp to represent his country, Venezuela. Joining an absolutely loaded lineup with Carlos Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera, Inciarte should see some favorable pitching to get into the swing of things as the opposition tries to avoid the heavy hitting Venezuelans.
Kemp showed up to Braves camp much slimmer, heeding the demands his general manager made upon acquisition. Kemp’s timing will get better with each live pitch, and the numbers will improve. Without much mention, Kemp quietly lead National League outfielders in homeruns. Kemp’s ability is certainly not declining at 32-years-old, displaying the ability in hitting exhibitions so far, it’s only a matter of time until it translates to the live batter’s box.
Inciarte and Kemp are at the most important spots of the lineup and will need to improve for the others to continue their Spring Training strides.
As for the guys on the mound
In their limited innings so far this season, the majority of the starting rotation has been inconsistent. Out of the bullpen, some arms have impressed while others have struggled.
As for the old guys that Atlanta was teased about for bringing on board, they’ve done alright. Bartolo Colon has put in the most work so far this season, with 8.0 IP. In his work, he’s allowed six hits and four runs. In R.A. Dickey’s 5.0 IP, he’s been hit seven times allowing three runs. Both pitchers’ workload will increase, which hopefully levels out the less than impressive numbers so far.
The club’s ace, Julio Teheran looks like he’s in mid-season form in his first two short outings. Totaling 5.0 IP, the Colombian ace has only given up four hits and has yet to allow a single run. Geared up for a strong World Baseball Classic showing, Teheran’s expected to start for Colombia on Saturday against Canada. Saturday’s WBC game between Canada and Colombia will give Braves Country the rare opportunity to see Teheran pitch against Freddie Freeman.
Jaime Garcia, acquired from the Cardinals, has struggled the most between the projected top-four starters. So far, in two innings in start one and three innings in start two, Garcia’s allowed a long ball in both outings and a total of five runs. Garcia opted out of his invite to pitch for Mexico in the WBC to focus on staying healthy and ready for the Braves.
As for the competition between Foltynewicz, Blair and Wisler, a clear favorite is emerging. Wisler’s off to a horrendous start, getting shelled in his two appearances for eight hits and six runs. Blair’s been better, but not by much. Allowing a hit more than Wisler in the same amount of innings pitched, Blair’s limited the damage, giving up half as many runs.
Folty is off to an impressive start, throwing goose eggs on the scoreboard in his five innings pitched. The strikeout total isn’t what you’d expect, but it will improve the more innings he pitches. Folty is leaps and bounds ahead of Blair and Wisler to seize the fifth spot in the rotation.
Out of the bullpen, Eric O’Flaherty is making the most of his second chance with the Braves. When O’Flaherty came out of the door last year, it was never assuring, as he was probably the least reliable arm out of the pen. So far this spring, the lefty has struck out six in his 4.2 innings pitched in relief. Which is much better than free agent signing Blaine Boyer. Boyer, also in his second stint with the Braves, has been one of the worst pitchers with 11 hits and 10 runs through four innings.
Closer Jim Johnson picked up where he left off with no runs through four innings in four appearances. Those are the kind of stats you want to hear out of the probable closer.
Stay tuned by following @ArmchairMLB for World Baseball Classic and Spring Training news as it happens. More Braves coverage to follow as well.