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A Position-by-Position Breakdown of the Atlanta Braves at Spring Training

Daniel KockContributor IIIFebruary 24, 2014

A Position-by-Position Breakdown of the Atlanta Braves at Spring Training

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The Braves open up spring training play on Wednesday as they take on the Detroit Tigers.

    This will be the first game action for the Braves since they departed from the playoffs in Game 4 of the divisional series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    The Braves are looking to build on their National League East Division title from a year ago and have aspirations of playing long into the postseason.

    In order to do that, the Braves will need to stay healthy, build depth and need improvements from key players.

    Overall, the Braves are pretty strong across the board, which makes them the favorite to repeat as division champs.

    Here's a positional breakdown of what the Braves will look like at spring training and projecting into the season.

Catchers

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Roster: Christian Bethancourt, Evan Gattis, Gerald Laird

    Non-Roster Invitees: Matt Kennelly, Steven Lerud, Braeden Schlehuber, Jose Yepez

    Projected Starter: Evan Gattis

    For the first time since 2005, the Braves will enter a season without Brian McCann as the starting catcher.

    The Braves are turning the position over to Evan Gattis to start this season.

    Gattis emerged last spring training with his offensive abilities and played a key role for the Braves for the entire 2013 season.

    He saw time in the outfield and behind the plate last year but will spend the majority of the time catching this season.

    After Gattis, the Braves have a reliable veteran in Gerald Laird, a versatile player in Ryan Doumit and an intriguing prospect in Christian Bethancourt.

    Out of the three, it is the biggest spring training for Bethancourt.

    We know he is ready defensively but needs to show continued development as a hitter.

    Out of the non-roster invitees, only Lerud has any MLB experience to speak of. This group will feature players from Double-A and Triple-A this season.

First Basemen

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Roster: Freddie Freeman, Ernesto Mejia

    Non-Roster Invitees: Mark Hamilton

    Projected Starter: Freddie Freeman

    The obvious headliner of this group is Freddie Freeman, who enters spring training sporting a new eight-year deal worth $135 million.

    It's easy to see why the Braves made such a commitment to Freeman.

    He hits for both power and average, and possesses great hands at the first base position.

    It will be interesting to see how he follows up his All-Star season (.319 average, 23 home runs, 109 RBI) and mega-contract in 2014.

    However, Freeman should be a mainstay at the No. 3 hole in the batting order all season.

    The Braves will obviously hope their young star stays healthy for the season.

    If needed, Ramiro Pena, Evan Gattis and Ryan Doumit all have the ability to play first base but it is not their natural position.

    Ernesto Mejia is a part of the 40-man roster but has little chance of making the 25-man roster.

    Mark Hamilton is an interesting non-roster invitee. He has 38 games of MLB experience with the St. Louis Cardinals and could provide some left-handed power off the bench.

Second Basemen

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Roster: Tyler Pastornicky, Ramiro Pena, Dan Uggla

    Non-Roster Invitees: Tyler Greene, Philip Gosselin, Tommy La Stella

    Projected Starter: Dan Uggla

    The second base position is the biggest wild card as the Braves enter the 2014 season.

    Dan Uggla will enter the season as the starter, but he will need to produce in order to keep his job.

    Coming off of a season in which he hit .179 with 171 strikeouts and an omission from the playoff roster, manager Fredi Gonzalez will want to see marked improvement.

    Gonzalez has potential replacements if Uggla struggles again.

    Ramiro Pena showed last season he was more than capable of filling in, and Tyler Pastornicky has shown ability at the plate.

    Then there's non-roster invitee Tommy La Stella, who has tore up the minors with his bat.

    He will likely start at Triple-A but could be called on later in the season.

Shortstop

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Roster: Elmer Reyes, Andrelton Simmons

    Non-Roster Invitees: None

    Projected Starter: For the drama that could rise at the second base position, there is absolutely zero at the shortstop position.

    That spot belongs to Andrelton Simmons and will for the next few years after receiving a nice seven-year deal worth $58 million.

    At 24 years old, Simmons is already the best defensive shortstop in the game and it's not close.

    According to Baseball Reference, Simmons posted the best defensive WAR rating in the history of the game for any position in 2013.

    Simmons has improving to do in terms of his plate discipline. He needs to show more patience and be less of a free-swinger.

    However, you will take the .248 batting average he gave in 2013 for what he does defensively.

    Pena will be his primary backup, but Simmons will not see many days off barring an injury.

Third Basemen

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Roster: Chris Johnson

    Non-Roster Invitee: Edward Salcedo

    Projected Starter: Chris Johnson

    The play of Chris Johnson was arguably the biggest surprise for the Braves last season.

    Viewed as a throw-in in the Justin Upton trade, Johnson finished the season with a team-leading .321 batting average (among qualifiers) and was among the National League leaders in that category to the very end of the season.

    It seems unlikely that Johnson will be able to repeat his 2013 season, but he adds some much needed consistency to a boom-or-bust lineup.

    As good as he is at the plate, there is no denying his defensive shortcomings. Johnson has below-average range and hands, and needs to improve in those areas.

    Pena will also be the primary backup for Johnson at third base.

    The lone non-roster invitee, Edward Salcedo is the No. 12 prospect in the organization, according to MLB.com.

    He possesses raw talent but has yet to produce on a consistent basis. He is just 22 years old and needs more time to develop.

Outfielders

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Roster: Jose Constanza, Todd Cunningham, Ryan Doumit, Jason Heyward, Jordan Schafer, Joey Terdoslavich, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton

    Non-Roster Invitees: Matt Lipka

    Projected Starter: Jason Heyward (RF), B.J. Upton (CF), Justin Upton (LF)

    Year two of the Upton-Upton-Heyward outfield features less hype, but hopefully more substance, for Braves fans.

    Can Jason Heyward stay healthy? Will B.J. Upton rebound from a terrible 2013 season? Does Justin Upton continue to thrive in the No. 2 hole?

    These are the questions that surround the young and talented trio as the 2014 season gets underway.

    Overall, the trio was a slight disappointment as a group in 2013. However, the Braves still feature one of the top outfields in the game—especially if they meet their potential or even if B.J. Upton provides an increase in production in 2014.

    The Braves have solid depth in case of injury.

    Newcomer Ryan Doumit and Jordan Schafer give Gonzalez some nice options off the bench. Gattis is able to play the outfield, and Joey Terdoslavich will be fighting for a roster spot.

    Jose Constanza and Todd Cunningham offer a boost in speed.

    Matt Lipka is a solid-looking prospect who will be demonstrating his skill set to coaches. He could start the year in Double or Triple-A.

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