A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE BRAVES
This really looks like a playoff team... . Their pitching depth and quality is scary good. The Phillies have that rotation, but one through 12, the Braves have the best arms in the National League... . Craig Kimbrel is going to be the closer—he's throwing mid-90s with a hard breaking ball. Jonny Venters can also close; he comes from the left side with power. Eric O'Flaherty is an outstanding lefthanded setup guy. They're three-deep in that bullpen right away. They also have Peter Moylan, a veteran guy who can set up... . One thing the Braves don't do is rush their prospects. They don't bring out the fine wine before its time... . Freddie Freeman, a Rookie of the Year candidate, has had a great spring. He has a nice swing and uses all fields, and he's a very good defender at first. He'll follow the track of Jason Heyward last year... . One big question for them is in the outfield. Nate McLouth was terrible last year, but he's been good this spring. Heyward has had some back injuries, which are a concern... . Another concern is if Chipper Jones goes down again... . The lineup got too lefthanded late last year. Dan Uggla will provide more balance so Martin Prado won't be the only bat on the right side. Uggla is a big, righthanded home run bat. When it comes to his defense at second, he's a big, righthanded, home run bat... . Infield defense is going to be a problem. Uggla is Uggla. Jones doesn't move at third base like he used to, and neither does Alex Gonzalez at shortstop. If this team has an Achilles' heel, that's it.
WITH 2010 STATISTICS
MANAGER FREDI GONZALEZ
1ST SEASON WITH BRAVES
(R) ROOKIE (TRIPLE A STATS)
Consecutive 30-homer seasons for Dan Uggla, the first second baseman in history with that many—consecutive or nonconsecutive. The only middle infielders with more are Alex Rodriguez and Ernie Banks.
One of Bobby Cox's signature strengths was his ability to take pitchers of limited reputation and track record and assemble them into superior bullpens. In Fredi Gonzalez's first season as manager, he'll have to do the same to keep the Braves within shouting distance of the Phillies—and his decision late in camp to use second-year lefty Jonny Venters and rookie righty Craig Kimbrel as co-closers was an encouraging sign. Gonzalez can exploit the fact that he has two quality arms to work with and use them as situations warrant. Venters's fastball-slider repertoire generated ground balls on more than two thirds of balls in play last year, and there wasn't much difference between his numbers against lefthanded and righthanded hitters, so he can be trusted to face tough hitters on both sides. Kimbrel is a fireballer who collects both walks and strikeouts in high numbers and is extremely difficult to hit. Let's hope Gonzalez has the courage to stick with the co-closers plan even if Venters and Kimbrel hit early-season rough spots. The tandem could give him a versatile bullpen reminiscent of the Reds' Nasty Boys in 1990.
STEVE MITCHELL/US PRESSWIRE (UGGLA)
BRAD MANGIN (KIMBREL)