5 Things the Atlanta Braves Need to Do before Spring Training Games Start Up
Get ready, Atlanta Braves fans.
Pitchers and catchers, along with early arrivals (Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson, Dan Uggla and Ramiro Pena), have reported to spring training.
The season doesn't officially begin until April 1, but spring training games offers fans an early glimpse of the 2013 squad and wets their appetites in anticipation for baseball.
Now that the Braves have begun to report to camp, here's a few things the team needs to do before its first spring training game against the Detroit Tigers on Feb. 22.
1. Identify Team Leaders
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The Braves lost considerable production this offseason, but appeared to replace it with some significant moves. The one thing we don't know yet is if the Braves have replaced the leadership in the clubhouse.
Atlanta lost the face of the franchise for the last decade in Chipper Jones, as well as popular clubhouse teammates David Ross, Eric Hinske and Martin Prado.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez is obviously the captain of the ship, but there needs to be self-management from the inside.
Players have to hold each other accountable on the field and in the clubhouse. The Braves will go through a slump this year. It's inevitable over 162 games. That's when the team leaders must keep things in perspective, keep a light but focused mood and go about their business.
Tim Hudson will undoubtedly be one of the leaders again in 2013. Beyond that, there isn't a surefire leader.
Some possible candidates include veteran catcher Gerald Laird, Uggla, Heyward, McCann and Kris Medlen.
It will be interesting to see who assumes that role this season, especially among the position players.
2. Assess Health
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Assessing the health of McCann (and Brandon Beachy to a degree) needs to be done in order to determine what they'll do at the catcher position.
There have been conflicting reports about whether McCann will or won't be ready for Opening Day in 2013.
Ultimately, only McCann and the team doctors know the timetable for his return, but the Braves need to determine what the catcher position will look like.
If McCann won't be ready on Opening Day, the Braves will decide whether Christian Bethancourt, Evan Gattis or Matt Pagnozzi will serve as the backup catcher.
Gattis can also play outfield, so the Braves may view his versatility as an asset on the roster, whereas Bethancourt and Pagnozzi will only play catcher.
The amount of innings and at-bats for these catchers will be interesting to watch in the spring.
The Braves should identify a leader heading into the games and determine a schedule to get him the most playing time this spring.
3. Build Chemistry
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Building team chemistry will be an ongoing process throughout the season, but it starts now. Twenty-five players essentially become a family, which makes it important to develop some good vibes.
Returning players will need to welcome the newcomers and show them how things are run in the Braves organization. That allows them to gain a sense of comfort on a new team, which can directly impact a player's performance.
Atlanta is counting on some new acquisitions to have big years. They will need to be acclimated with their new team for the Braves to maximize their success.
4. Assess Physical Condition
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Once the season concludes, the players go separate ways in the offseason, and it becomes their responsibility to be in physical shape when spring training rolls around.
Coaches can determine a player's work ethic by the way he works out in the offseason.
The coaches will look closely at Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson, as they have the biggest competition on the team.
Francisco's work ethic has come into question in the past. Does he have his weight down this spring?
It could be an early gauge as to how that position battle plays itself out.
How a player works out while coaches aren't around shows the type of work ethic and character that player has.
It's never a bad thing to get in the good graces of a coach.
5. Young Pitchers' Mental State
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In all likelihood, Beachy will not be with the Braves until sometime around the All-Star break.
That leaves the fifth spot in the rotation open and also the opportunity to be the top backup.
Sean Gilmartin and J.R. Graham will get the opportunity to battle for the fifth spot, but it is Julio Teheran's to lose.
Teheran should enter spring training more confident that he will be the No. 5 starter this season after being disappointed with the Braves' decision to go with Randall Delgado last year.
The Braves will be extremely lucky to make it to the All-Star break with all of their pitchers healthy. A spot start or extended action at the very least is a possibility, which means Gilmartin and Graham have an important battle as well.
These three guys will be competing for a starter spot and potential MLB experience. Do they enter spring training mentally ready to handle a competition?
Gonzalez will be looking for early hints as to who will emerge from this group.