Braves’ spring training: What do you think is No. 1 issue?

Nate McLouth and the situation in center field is one of the Braves' questions.

Nate McLouth and the situation in center field is one of the Braves' questions this spring.

Spring training officially opened this week, and that always means two things: 1) Hope; 2) Questions.

I’ll be heading down to Orlando in less than two weeks to examine a few issues but I figured this blog would be more appropriate today. Some national media outlets, like FoxSports.com, are locking onto the loss of closer Billy Wagner as the No. 1 issue facing the Braves. It’s a worthy topic. But I figured I would let fans weigh in.

What is Braves' No. 1 issue going into spring training?

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Here are a few areas I believe most folks are looking at, along with my view. Let me know what you think and vote in the accompanying poll. That way we can come to some highly scientific conclusion, which I’ll pass along to general manager Frank Wren, who’ll quickly move to resolve the matter. (Slight sarcasm.)

What is the biggest issue in your view?

– 1. Billy Wagner’s retirement: It takes a special mindset to be a closer but I believe Craig Kimbrel and/or Jonny Venters can get it done. Being able to work with Wagner for a season should have helped.

– 2. Chipper Jones’ comeback: I’m not as confident here. Jones was starting to hit the ball well when he was injured last season, and there’s zero reason to question his determination. But asking a player to come back from a torn ACL at the age of 39 (come April 24) is an iffy proposition.

3. Black hole in center field: Nate McLouth is back, but it’s not because the Braves are oozing with confidence in him. It’s because they’re obligated to pay him $6.5 million. (McLouth also will receive a $1.25 million buyout after the season, assuming the Braves don’t exercise a $10.65 million team option.)  Jordan Schafer still has potential but he’s regarded less of a prospect now than he was two years ago, given injuries and confidence issues. Help is needed.

4. Defense: The signing of second baseman Dan Uggla should significantly improve the lineup. But Uggla has his deficiencies in the field — his 18 errors placed second among major league second basemen — and the Braves were tied for third in the majors with 126 errors. Some of the team’s problems, however, can be attributed to injuries and backups (like Brooks Conrad) playing too many innings.

5. Freddie Freeman: First base has long been a Braves’ problem area. But Freeman is just keeping the spot warm for Albert Pujols. (Hey, a guy can dream, right?) Seriously, Freeman could be the real deal after crushing Triple-A, but it’s dangerous to just assume he’ll be a smashing success. Jason Heyward seemed a safer bet, in that regard.

OK, now it’s your turn.

By Jeff Schultz

Earlier:

Jadeveon Clowney picks South Carolina: Is the SEC East theirs?

Georgia wins but looks like far from an NCAA tournament team

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

231 comments Add your comment

LADawg

February 14th, 2011
1:39 pm

LADawg

February 14th, 2011
1:40 pm

Closer and defense

Furman Bisher

February 14th, 2011
1:45 pm

My biggest worry is faulty wiring.

Braves Fan

February 14th, 2011
1:46 pm

Philadelphia

wintervillebrave

February 14th, 2011
1:46 pm

chipper jones recovery

Hal

February 14th, 2011
1:49 pm

Center field is the biggest issue, assuming Chipper makes it back ok.

papadawg

February 14th, 2011
1:50 pm

We’re a long way from catching the Phils.

DawginLex

February 14th, 2011
1:51 pm

The biggest issue is whether Gonzalez can treat the players the way Bobby did. Like him or hate him, the players loved playing for Bobby and would run through fire for him.

What we are all hoping is for some more creativity from the dugout to offset the lack of experience…………….

BF

February 14th, 2011
1:52 pm

Decent writers for the AJC

dick waters

February 14th, 2011
1:53 pm

man, McLouth needs to grow a couple of inches.

Shaun

February 14th, 2011
1:55 pm

The starting pitching staying healthy and playing up to reasonable expectations are the biggest keys to the season.

Centerfield is not that big an issue if everything else goes reasonably well. Look at the production (or lack thereof) the Braves got from centerfield last season. They won 91 games. If McLouth has a moderate improvement, that will be just fine.

Even Chipper missing significant time is not a back-breaker. With Uggla going to second and Prado moving to left, Uggla is basically absorbing the plate appearances that were given to Melky Cabrera, Matt Diaz, Eric Hinske, etc. That’s a pretty big upgrade. If Chipper goes down, Prado plays third and Hinske and Mather play left. So unless there are multiple injuries, even if Chipper goes down, the offense should come fairly close to producing at the same level as it did in 2010.

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

February 14th, 2011
2:00 pm

I agree the ownership is going to come off the checkbook and puhols will be at first !
dont wake me up

Worm

February 14th, 2011
2:04 pm

The Phillies

Lowcountry Bulldawg

February 14th, 2011
2:04 pm

IMO its Chipper. Prado is the backup so if Chipper is out it moves Prado to 3B and now the Braves have to fill in in LF. So who on the current roster is going to play LF in this case? Mather? The OF already lacked in production and if this is the solution the OF is going to continue to be an issue into 2011 if Chiiper cannot play 125+ games.

Larry King

February 14th, 2011
2:05 pm

If you see one movie this year, make it “Logan’s Run”.

IlliniBrave

February 14th, 2011
2:05 pm

Kenshin Kawakami ends up back on the roster and pitches just well enough in Spring Training to make Fredi and Frank put him in the rotation.

That would be a nightmare!

Shaun

February 14th, 2011
2:16 pm

Lowcountry Bulldawg, look at the Braves’ production from left and center in 2010. You really think Chipper going down and forcing Prado back to the infield could be any worse that 2010?

Vain Jangling

February 14th, 2011
2:16 pm

In no particular order:
1. Third base (old is as old does)
2. Left field (on the job training, and with no power)
3. First base (last time I checked, the dude is still a rookie)
4. Centerfield (proof positive there are more steroids available in Pittsburg than Atlanta)

Once again, pitching will carry the Braves only so far.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ajc sports editor, Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: Poll time: What do you think is #Braves No. 1 question going into spring? Weigh in and vote. Click: http://bit.ly/eDdKqf [...]

bulldogbyrd

February 14th, 2011
2:23 pm

Chipper has to be the biggest concern…..if he is not able to be a regular..that means Prado moves in to take third…leaving an already somewhat thin outfield situation…even thinner. Hoping that #10 can do it again!

Paul H

February 14th, 2011
2:23 pm

Center field for sure. How many more years is this going to be the team’s weakness?

Zach

February 14th, 2011
2:24 pm

The Nationals….I’m terrified of them.

flintrock70

February 14th, 2011
2:24 pm

@Vain
2. Prado spends his winters playing LF for the Ven. National Lg. so there’s no “training” needed and last time I checked, we’d be pretty happy with the production that Prado brings in that LF spot considering we’ve had Diaz, Garret “Loaf” Anderson, Ryan Church and Gregor Blanco as starters there with little to no benefit.
3. Last time I checked, Heyward was a rookie last year. Freeman won’t bust on the scene like Heyward did, but give the kid a break or were you one of those people who demanded Heyward get sent down because he was struggling as a rookie before you knew it was a bad thumb that hindered his production?

Zach

February 14th, 2011
2:27 pm

I’m also really concerned about the Orioles. Did you see they signed Vlad? Man I hope we don’t have to play them during interleague play. You might as well chalk that up as three losses.

Shaun

February 14th, 2011
2:27 pm

Keeping Prado, McCann, Uggla, Heyward and the pitchers healthy and performing up to their standards is all the Braves need to win around 91 games again. A very healthy Chipper and a big McLouth comeback would be gravy. Obviously it would be helpful to get at least moderate improvement from McLouth and for Chipper to play at least 100 games or so, but worse-case scenario the Braves can still win as long as the rest of the team remains reasonably healthy and performs to expectations.

Robert

February 14th, 2011
2:29 pm

Chipper is the major issue – The defense is second on the list

Wagner was a great closer, but closer is a relatively easy position to fill, and the Braves have several guys they could try if their option fails

It would be nice to have improvement from CF – but if McLouth doesnt work out then he will be gone (banished to the bush leagues or somehow sloughed off) so we wouldnt have to worry about him personally, and if noone steps in and does better, then the team is still not behind where they were last year

Freeman should be decent if unspectacular – and again we’re not looking at any significant dip from last year unless he totally bombs

Defense – nothing is going to suddenly turn this bunch into a collective defensive all-star team, but I dont think the problem is that huge – gimme more attention to fundamentals and a even just a smidgen common sense in who gets played where and when is all thats needed

drill them where they can make the routine plays and dont play Brooks Conrad in the late innings of a close playoff game, and we’re salvageable on defense

That leaves Chipper – Pray he comes back strong. If he doesnt, pray that he can handle having a lesser role on the team without turning into Roger Dorn

Bottom line – we’ll be ok -

Robert

February 14th, 2011
2:30 pm

“A very healthy Chipper and a big McLouth comeback would be gravy.”

For once I agree unconditionally with Shaun

Lowcountry Bulldawg

February 14th, 2011
2:30 pm

Shaun,

Well no it could not be worse, but it would be no better in 2011 if he cannot contribute as a regular. We can point to winning 91 games and be proud of the team, but really heading into 2011 is that good enough again? I personally would like a World Series run again. Perhaps with a little more contribution from the LF position, which is traditionally a pwoer spot, the Braves may have gotten a little further in the playoffs. As I recall it was a lack of run production that hurt them. Lets hope that Uggla is enough to get it done this time.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by TDC, Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: Braves’ spring training: What do you think is No. 1 issue? http://bit.ly/flrIEM [...]

Robert

February 14th, 2011
2:31 pm

“The biggest issue is whether Gonzalez can treat the players the way Bobby did”

Reading some snippets from DOB’s interview with Fredi, I take it he wont be treating them quite the same

So we’re good in that regard

Robert

February 14th, 2011
2:32 pm

“Perhaps with a little more contribution from the LF position, which is traditionally a pwoer spot, the Braves may have gotten a little further in the playoffs”

It wasnt needed. All they needed to go further in the playoffs was someone with brains enough not to count on Brooks Conrad’s defense at crunch time

Robert

February 14th, 2011
2:35 pm

“Kenshin Kawakami ends up back on the roster and pitches just well enough in Spring Training to make Fredi and Frank put him in the rotation.”

If KK pitched about 30 baserunnerless innings in spring training AND at least three of the current starters up and died, then I think they MIGHT consider putting KK back in the rotation

Short of that, I dont think we have to worry

If KK makes the team, his spot on the roster will come with keys to the stadium – as in, we’re down 17-1 in the third inning, you’re pitching the rest of this game even if they score 100, so lock the place up when you’re done, and remember, you only get to go thru the buffet line once

Fish Bisch

February 14th, 2011
2:36 pm

Freddi = Cox 2.0
McOut- Bust
Chipper- Done
Hewyard- Sophmore slump
Closer- None
Depth- Gone
Starting Rotation- Above Average
Defense- Grotesque

I would be the Mets finish ahead of the Braves this year.

Prado4President

February 14th, 2011
2:38 pm

Jeff,
Appreciate the blog. I’d say my biggest concern is Chipper’s health. But after that, I’ve got one that is almost as worrisome to me…The bench. We don’t have a proven 4th outfielder or backup shortstop. I’m mostly concerned with shortstop. Why are we dragging our feet in such an area of need while people like Bobby Crosby and Cristian Guzman are looking for jobs? Outside of pitching, our greatest strength was our bench if you ask me, but there are 2 big holes in it now.

justin1

February 14th, 2011
2:39 pm

DOB,
Dont you think Chipper, at this point in his career, is better suited for the 2 hole? Prado is a prototypical 2hole hitter in my mind, but he will obviously leadoff. Nate doesnt make enough contact, and rarely hits the ball the other way, to be in the 2hole. I think Mac is refined enough at this point to be a very productive 3hole hitter. Eventually, I think Heyward will take the 3hole. As for this season, I see this being the lineup to get it done.
1.Prado
2.Chipper
2.Mac
4.Uggla
5.Heyward
6.Gonz
7.Freeman
8.Nate

nique

February 14th, 2011
2:40 pm

Definitely Chipper – he’s been annointed as the #3 hitter in our lineup and he’ll no doubt be given a ton of time to perform, which means our most important spot in the lineup could be a drag for a big part of the season. Next is CF another potential drag on the lineup. Next is defense (especially if Chipper goes down and bench players have to start) – Prado and Uggla should switch places.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

February 14th, 2011
2:40 pm

Robert,

That burns brotha! Ease up on old Brooksy,lol!

justin1

February 14th, 2011
2:41 pm

I’m sorry, I meant Jeff.

Joshua

February 14th, 2011
2:43 pm

God some fans are dumb. First of all, Prado does have power. The guy hit 15 HRs and didn’t even play for the final month of the season. So what the hell are you talking about when you say Prado has no power?? That so mind bogglingly stupid it makes me want to slap someone. Not only that but he pounds doubles like they are going out of style. You don’t need 5 guys hitting 30 HRs to have a great offense. Almost everyone in our lineup is capable of hitting 15 HRs or more, with several guys who should hit 20 or more (Heyward, Uggla, McCann likely, Chipper and McLouth both could if they have better than expected seasons – both have done so before), and we are talking about guys who hit like this in a very pitchers friendly park – not the little league park that the Phils play in. I mean people are really dumb. Yea the Phils have great starting pitching and got Cliff Lee back. They are going to be tough. But our offense is now much better than theirs and our pitching from top to bottom should be a major strength for us. Honestly there aren’t many line-ups in baseball that are more intimidating than ours. People are really ignorant. We are going to win anywhere from 95 to 103 games, depending on how injuries go, and the Phillies will have to have an outstanding season to hold us off (which they are certainly capable of doing, but it is not going to be an easy task by any stretch of the imagination). It will come down to injuries, just like it did last year.

That being said, our biggest question mark is definitely Chipper. If we get solid play from Chipper for 120+ games, we will be hard to beat in a pennant race.

Dr. Phil

February 14th, 2011
2:46 pm

You can’t hope for any level of success having a center fielder batting .170. I have more faith that Chipper will recover and have a good year than I have in McLouth. Freddi will have less patience with poor play than Bobby had. It is a very long season, and many things can happen. In the spring, everyone, including the Cubbies, can hope. The Braves will be competitive, but don’t expect the big boys to drop any major money on expensive upgrades.

Tucker T

February 14th, 2011
2:46 pm

Didn’t Mark just write this column a week or so ago? Just sayin…

jmarable

February 14th, 2011
2:48 pm

pick your problem 4 there are a many. No speed, no power in the outfield maybe jhey. the seasons 2 long to put our hats on venters and kimbrel. 4 the whole yr? r u kidding?we know chipper wont go the whole yr,thats a givin.so now the outfield will b worst bringing prado in 4 injured jones. defensive issues.uggla, not sold on A.G.at short.freeman hasnt seen big league hitting 4 a month. he will slump guys.4th place god help us.summer will b over b 4 it starts. get rid of liberty.and we could get some players til then.4th place

Prado4President

February 14th, 2011
2:51 pm

I was bored last night and made projections for the entire season…here they are. Let me know what you think. The grammar’s not perfect and I didn’t project every important stat, just did it out of sure boredom…
Starters
1. Nate McLouth – .258/.340 15 hr 58 rbi (18 sb)
2. Martin Prado – .302/.357 16 hr 63 rbi (6 sb)
3. Chipper Jones – .264/.389 14 hr 72 rbi (5 sb)
4. Brian McCann – .289/.371 21 hr 88 rbi (3 sb)
5. Dan Uggla – .267/.355 34 hr 102 rbi (7 sb)
6. Jason Heyward – .306/.414 23 hr 98 rbi (17 sb)
7. Freddie Freeman – .272/.341 12 hr 77 rbi (6 sb)
8. Alex Gonzalez – .251/.301 13 hr 61 rbi (1 sb)
Bench
1. Eric Hinske – .255/.341 9 hr 43 rbi
2. David Ross – .263/.357 6 hr 24 rbi
3. Matt Mather – .229/.313 8 hr 27 rbi
4. Back Up Shortstop – .231/.312 2 hr 21 rbi
5. Matt Young (If he’s back up cf) – .257/.336 1 hr 18 rbi
6. Jordan Shafer (If he’s back up cf) – .272/.341 7 hr 31 rbi (9 sb)
7. Brooks Conrad (If he makes team) – .251/.322 6 hr 23 rbi
Starting Pitchers
1. Tim Hudson – 14-7 (3.12 ERA)
2. Tommy Hanson – 16-9 (3.19 ERA)
3. Derek Lowe – 12-8 (4.12 ERA)
4. Jair Jurrjens – 14-10 (3.98 ERA)
5. Mike Minor (If Him) – 10-11 (4.20 ERA)
6. Brandon Beachy (If Him) – 8-7 (4.46 ERA)
Bullpen
1. Craig Kimbrel – 2.97 ERA (27 Saves)
2. Johnny Venters – 2.86 ERA (8 Saves)
3. Peter Moylan – 3.43 ERA
4. Scott Linebrink – 4.03 ERA
5. George Sherrill – 3.27 ERA
6. Stephen Marek (If he makes team) – 3.74 ERA
7. Jairo Ascenco (If he makes team) – 3.98 ERA
8. Scott Proctor (If he makes team) – 4.12 ERA
9. Christhian Martinez (If he makes team) – 4.07 ERA
Projections in NL East
1. Phillies (101-61)
2. Braves (93-69) Wild Card
3. Marlins (82-80)
4. Nationals (78-84)
5. Mets (74-88)

Larry

February 14th, 2011
2:53 pm

Jordan Schafer will have a terrific spring hopefully leading to his starting in center field, McClouth moving to left (better suited with his weaker arm), Prado getting moved back to 3rd, and Jones moved to the bench for pinch hitting and the occasional start at 3rd.

Then, if by some reason Freddie Freeman just isn’t ready you can pop Prado in at fist and run Mr. Always Injured (C. Jones) out there at 3rd again

Prado4President

February 14th, 2011
2:53 pm

Didn’t do slugging pct…just average and OBP

Lowcountry Bulldawg

February 14th, 2011
2:57 pm

Per Bill James Pos/Name/HR totals

1B- Freeman 16

2B- Uggla 31

3B- Chipper 17

SS- Gonzalez 13

C- McCann 24

LF-Prado 12

CF- McClouth 15

RF- Heyward 22

This was posted for you Joshua. Your point is not lost, but if Chipper goes down Prado moves to 3B this would leave Mather (6 projected) or Hinske (10 projected) to fill in at LF. This not only weakens you in LF, but also takes up a key bat coming off of the bench. FYI

Ted Striker

February 14th, 2011
3:01 pm

I can hook you up with free drinks/a good time in Orlando. Just be sure anything you plan on publishing is pre-written before the trip. Coherence has about a 3 hour shelf life in that bar with those women.

jfreak13713

February 14th, 2011
3:03 pm

I’d say all of the above! All are real issues but none appear to be above what can be worked out?

* The closers role is huge but I think based on past performances these guys can get it done assuming the starts can go seven plus innings regularly.

* Chipper is an old man but if anybody can and deserve our support its Chipper. Half of Chipper is better than anything else we got right now anyway.

* McLouth couldn’t get any worse could he? :)

* Defense: The only real issues I see that could kill the Braves. Assume they score a few more runs they should be ok but if and when their offense struggles errors will do them in.

* Freeman: He’s a rookie enough said. Give him a chance until he proves he can’t do it??

I feel pretty good about this season when compared to everyone but the Phillies. Should be fun and not having playoff spot wrapped up on opening days makes the entire season more interesting for me.

Bentar

February 14th, 2011
3:03 pm

For several years too many have been left on base!
This should be addressed in a serious manner.

g-brave

February 14th, 2011
3:06 pm

None of the above…am I the only one that’s worried mostly about our depth? We had a lot of guys go down last year, but luckily we had one of the best benches in baseball. What if that happens again? Then our season rests on the shoulders of guys like Brandon Hicks…Diory Hernandez…Joe Mather…Jordan Schafer…I can’t figure out for the life of me why Barbaro Canizarez–a guy that won the batting title last year and just was named Caribbean World Series MVP after his team won the championship–is still going to spend likely the whole season in AAA when our bench is as thin as it is.