While the Braves wait to see if they can work out a fit for a left fielder and leadoff hitter on the trade market, general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez spent four days in the Dominican Republic getting a closer look at some of their internal options.
They were encouraged by what they saw from their young players in winter ball there.
That started with Juan Francisco, the leading candidate to play third base if the Braves don’t acquire another left fielder and move Martin Prado to third. The Braves had charged Francisco with two things: cutting down on extra movement in his swing and getting in better shape.
“(Hitting coach) Greg Walker wanted him to continue to work on less rotation in the swing, and I think he’s done that,” Wren said Tuesday. “And we wanted him to get in better shape and he’s well on his way to that as well. He’s slimmed down and it’s noticeable. It’s still a couple of months before spring training, so I think there’s still more he can do and will do. But he’s had a good winter so far.”
Wren said Francisco has been working with a personal trainer early. He is seeing results with his swing too, hitting .315 with six doubles and seven home runs in 29 games for the Licey Tigers.
Wren, Gonzalez and Braves assistant general managers Bruce Manno and John Coppolella timed their trip between the winter meetings in Nashville, which ended Thursday, and before the Dominican league all-star break began Monday. (The Braves executives and international scouting director Johnny Almaraz spent Monday watching younger prospects at the Braves complex in San Pedro de Macoris.)
The Braves front office contingent arrived in time to see Randall Delgado pitch Saturday night and Julio Teheran pitch Sunday night.
“They both threw the ball well,” Wren said. “They’ve been getting better and more consistent since the beginning of the winter league.”
Teheran impressed with six one-hit shutout innings Sunday and struck out eight with no walks. It was his third consecutive scoreless outing, while he’s allowed only two hits in 16 2/3 innings. He’d given up 11 earned runs in 14 innings over his first four starts this winter.
Delgado allowed two runs in five innings on Saturday, with his fastball touching 96 mph, Wren said. Delgado is 0-3 with a 5.11 ERA in six outings (five starts) this winter.
Delgado’s progression last season was steadier than Teheran’s, who dropped off in his second year in Triple-A Gwinnett. But on Saturday, Wren said Teheran’s motion looked more fluid.
“We wanted him to get back to a more natural delivery where he’s not thinking about his mechanics, and I think he’s accomplished that,” Wren said. “His mechanics were very good. He looked much more natural and like he did two years ago.”
The Braves could end up trading either Teheran or Delgado for a left fielder, but Wren has said that would happen only if the deal is significant. Otherwise the two will compete for the fifth starter’s spot come spring training.
Wren and Gonzalez also kept a close eye on catching prospect Christian Bethancourt, who could help fill in for Brian McCann in early April as he comes back from shoulder surgery. Wren said he hit a couple of balls hard for outs in a start Friday night. Bethancourt is hitting .231 in 20 games for Licey.
Outfielder Jose Constanza has been out sick with flu-like symptoms since early December and couldn’t play Friday night as he had planned to while Wren and Gonzalez were in town. But he’s s hitting .299 in 25 games and the reports are good.
Wren was back in his office Tuesday, continuing to explore both the trade and free agent markets for either a true leadoff hitter or more of a stop-gap option.
“We’re going to keep making calls, and staying engaged with teams that we feel like we might match up with and see if there’s a deal out there that makes sense,” Wren said.
But if there’s not, he came back from the Dominican feeling encouraged about the players they have.
“From our standpoint, there’s not a bad option,” Wren said. “If we end up, going with our internal group, it’s not bad. We keep our money, we keep our prospects and we give opportunities to our young players. Then we adjust when we see where the real needs are a little later.”