Braves’ spring warm-up: 5 concerns, starting with Heyward

Jason Heyward hopes to rebound in year three. (AP photo)

Can Braves' Jason Heyward rebound in Year 3? (AP photo)

(Updated: 5 p.m.)

It wasn’t my intention to spend another day analyzing the Braves until I actually arrived on site in Florida at Camp Please Don’t Fold This Season. (Pitchers and catchers report Sunday. The balance of the squad and columnists with non-guaranteed contracts report a week from Friday).

But because there is absolutely nothing else worth discussing these days, especially given the depressing local college basketball landscape, here we go.

I’m on the record as believing the Braves did not need to make a significant move this past winter, despite last season’s collapse. Nor did I expect them to. Despite all rumors to the contrary, their two most likely tradeable assets, Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado, both were coming off injuries. General manager Frank Wren no doubt tried to stir the trade market, but we can assume he never got a reasonable offer (or he would’ve made the deal). Not a shock.

As currently constructed, the Braves could/should be a postseason team. That said, there are concerns. Here are the top five:

1. Jason Heyward: This should not be taken as me expressing doubt in Heyward’s ability to come back. We’ve read stories about his offseason workouts, weight loss and his work with new hitting coach Greg Walker. But in sports, when a great rookie has a subpar second season, it’s never certain how he will bounce back in Year 3. Often, it’s the first time he has dealt with some semblance of failure. Because the Braves have so much invested in Heyward, their lineup would take a huge hit if he can’t regain the form of his rookie season.

2. Starting pitching: Sure, it looks great if everybody is upright. But No. 1 starter Tim Hudson (36 years old) had back surgery in November. No. 2 starter Jair Jurrjens struggled in the second half last season and had knee problems (though he appears to be fine now). No. 3 starter Tommy Hanson, a power pitcher, had shoulder problems and has altered his delivery in an attempt to minimize future damage. Bottom line: All may be great — but all enter the spring as question marks.

3. Tyler Pastornicky: When I wrote that the Braves didn’t need to do anything significant in the winter, I probably should’ve added, “But they need a veteran shortstop” as a one-year bridge to Pastornicky. That was the team’s plan, or so we were led to believe. For whatever reason, a trade or signing never happened. Now, you’re going to hear spin that the team planned on Pastornicky all along. But it’s difficult to imagine anybody in the front office (or dugout) is completely comfortable starting a 22-year-old shortstop who never has played a major league game. Can it work out? Sure. But it’s not a comforting.

4. Fredi Gonzalez: A few weeks ago, the Braves’ manager discussed how he was done analyzing the team’s 10-20 slide and was ready to move on. That’s understandable. But the issue is that the slide happened under his watch, and whether we can find glaring mistakes in any of his decisions, folks are going to wonder about him as manager until it DOESN’T happen again.

5. Bench: I see catcher David Ross and outfielder Eric Hinske. Good. But then what? Jose Constanza had a nice stretch filling in for Heyward last season, then fell off (.342 in August, .174 in September). Jack Wilson is a stopgap if Pastornicky fails, nothing more. Matt Diaz was great three years ago, but he has struggled since. There’s not a lot on the bench.

There’s a lot to like about the Braves. But the above concerns will determine if they’re playing in October.

By Jeff Schultz

163 comments Add your comment

Sonny Clusters

February 15th, 2012
2:09 pm

Baseball posts are always the best!

KeyWestConch

February 15th, 2012
2:10 pm

Jeff you comments seem reasonable. Still – we need a product/big bat in the outfield. A trade will happen.

shawn

February 15th, 2012
2:12 pm

Here’s another one: Chipper Jones not being able to play 162 games…First……

KeyWestConch

February 15th, 2012
2:15 pm

Should have said, “Productive” Bat. Jair is still my candidate, and one of our talented young arms for a consistent, proven hitter. Does not need to be a big bopper. A soid gap hitter would so just fine. I suspect Martin will get a lot of action at third. I hope Chipper’s body surpriesed me!

Sonny Clusters

February 15th, 2012
2:17 pm

Now, we are ready to talk some baseball. We heard a speech from a member of the Braves front office and he said the team didn’t want to spend another $10 million on players (only to lose $10 million) if they could excite the fans with lower concessions prices and new jerseys without the tomahawk and Bark in the Park. Wow! We was never so disappointed to hear that. He was also bragging on 14 consecutive division “Championships” – hahahahaha! We was thinking these boys need to come up with something pretty quick because though he said they’d put September behind them . . . we was thinking we haven’t done that yet and probably there’s some more of us who haven’t forgotten the EPIC Collapse. We think the Braves should take down those little signs in the outfield and come clean with the fans that winning a championship means winning the NL Pennant to start with and then the World Series. Jeff, you are nice to give Fredi a chance to move on. Could he maybe move on to Kansas City and let us have somebody who doesn’ tip caps or start a dead pitcher like Derek Lowe? We was wondering.

Rey

February 15th, 2012
2:18 pm

I think the over usage of one Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters would be one of the concerns that I have as a fan. Use them in the proper situations and not in lopsided games.

thebull35

February 15th, 2012
2:22 pm

The braves need inning eaters in the starting rotation to help out the bullpen. This was the second straight year the’bulpen got tired at the end of the season and were not effective the way the they were earlier in the season. Either allow the staff to go longer or get some guys that can. If not we will be looking at the same problem that we have had the past two seasons at the end of games down the stretch

Sonny Clusters

February 15th, 2012
2:24 pm

We think Beachy will be a star this year. They have the pitching but the bats need a boost and the defense cannot be as good as before. Alex helped uh, Chipper and Pastornicky may not be able to. Up the middle is suspect. We was reading that Dan Uggla may be wearing fishnet stockings under his uniform as a result of his foray into the pornindustry. If that is so, with all the hugging that already goes on, this team is in big trouble.

thebull35

February 15th, 2012
2:25 pm

Rey it seems that you and I are on the same page

Long Pole Man

February 15th, 2012
2:30 pm

I agree Jeff. I’d just add #6 Can the the young bullpen repeat last year’s performance (O’Flaherty,Venters,Kimbrel especially) ?

I hate to say it but I think Jason Heyward is a AA hitter. I hope he proves me dead wrong.

Long Pole Man

February 15th, 2012
2:32 pm

True. Chipper’s health should be a concern too.

Sonny Clusters

February 15th, 2012
2:32 pm

Our friend Stinky Wintes does some scouting and he told us that the Braves have a kid on the farm that can throw with either hand and catch almost anything with the one he’s not throwing with. That’s pretty special if you think about it. We remember Brooks Conrad. When we was playing ball with Stinky Wintes we once saw him strike out on two pitches, a curve and a slider. Most everything else, he could hit.

PMC

February 15th, 2012
2:33 pm

Could have banged out a linsanity piece like everyone else in the free world.

Long Pole Man

February 15th, 2012
2:33 pm

I’m more concerned with young bullpen & Chipper’s health than the bench. Hinske & Ross have good bats. Constanza can provide good defense in late innings. Bench is okay IMO.

Long Pole Man

February 15th, 2012
2:35 pm

Kimbrel had like 5 blown saves all year. That’s gonna be really hard to repeat.

Long Pole Man

February 15th, 2012
2:38 pm

Team chemistry is overrated. Everybody hated Reggie Jackson,Mike Schmidt,and Gary Carter that played with them yet they were the reasons their teams won World Series. Give me a standoffish guy that can hit .320 40 100 any day over a buddy that hits .240 6 31

AGTFan53

February 15th, 2012
2:38 pm

Ah BASEBALL!! I wish I was indepenently wealthy. I’d spend every spring in Florida watching baseball. None will know if stading pat was the right call until they play the games. I LOVE it. We could be great or not. Right now we’re undefeated. I’ve been having a totally crappy week. Just thinking about bseball makes it better. I think the Braves are going to be fine. They have a competitive lineup. If everything falls right, great. If everything falls wrong, the crapper. Somewhere in the middle is competing for a playoff spot. This still beats most of teh early Atlanta Braves years by a long shot.

ABravesFan

February 15th, 2012
2:40 pm

JS – would you surmise Jack Wilson is the Opening Day starter if Pastornicky can’t hit major league pitching in Spring Training? Or have you have gotten the feeling he is already been named the Opening Day starter? How would you compare him to another MLB shortstop, defensively? I’m hoping either way that alot of Jack Wilson rubs off on him. Class act, and still one of the best defensive shortstops in the game.

Long Pole Man

February 15th, 2012
2:41 pm

Here’s my top 5 ? marks

1)Jason Heyward MLB player or AA player ?
2)Starting pitcher 3 coming off injuries
3)Pastornicky at SS
4)Can bullpen repeat greatness ?
5)Chipper’s health

what of it?

February 15th, 2012
2:41 pm

So you don’t think they should have addressed the gaping hole at SS or the gaping hole in LF when Chipper gets hurt?

What about the bullpen? after o’flaherty, kimbrel, and venters; we have no one reliable (maybe Moylan if he can stay healthy which is a huge?)

Loosing Managar = Loosing Record

February 15th, 2012
2:43 pm

Fist thing the Braves need 2 do is get rid of Heywood. Why do they stig with him when he is such a horible palyer?

J.J.M.

February 15th, 2012
2:46 pm

This article in a way sums up every sports team in atlanta….

Loosing Managar = Loosing Record

February 15th, 2012
2:46 pm

Next the Braves need to repalce the loosing managar they hired. I dont get why they hired a managar with a loosing record. this is what hapens when U do that. They finshed the season loosing.

headley lamar

February 15th, 2012
2:46 pm

Use them in the proper situations and not in lopsided games.

Thats just it. Go back and show me one lopsided game they were used in.

You wont find any.

The Braves have alot of pitching and an offense that disappears at times.

That means you are always going to be in close games and have to use your best relievers.

keith

February 15th, 2012
2:50 pm

It never fails to amaze me that front office people would bring up 10 million dollars. How much of that would have been made back if this team had won 1 more game and made the playoffs. How much more off season ad revenue would have been made being a playoff team and not the losers of 20 of the last 30 games. Reup Bourne for the dog days of August instead of talking about Bark in the Park. This is like Turner in the 70’s!!!!

gcs

February 15th, 2012
2:51 pm

hottrod87

February 15th, 2012
2:52 pm

5 concerns 1) Will we rely on the long balls again 2) Did Freddie Freeman work on his baserunning. last year, players kept bunting him to 2nd base to avoid double plays 3) Who in the outfield has an arm that can throw to home plate BESIDE Heyward? 4) Will Chipper Jones hold up at 3rd base or will the Braves try to ease in a new player for Chipper Jones? 5)

judy

February 15th, 2012
2:54 pm

I’m ready to watch some baseball!!!!!!!!!! I’m ready for Jason to prove to everybody that he will be back like in 2010. I have faith him. The true Brave fan and J-Hey!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

LawDawg

February 15th, 2012
2:58 pm

I’m not sure what you mean by a “AA Hitter”? You mean he is not yet ready for the league or that he only has minor league talent (in which case AAA hitter would have made more sense)?

Heyward clearly has talent (he played well in year 1 and was the top overall prospect. There is no way baseball scouts were that wrong about his talent. He is, what? 22 years old and people want to write him off? ATL sports fans have to be the dumbest, most knee-jerk fans outside of NYC.

jimmya

February 15th, 2012
2:59 pm

lets stay injury free get everyone in camp healthy and play all year winning ball

hottrod87

February 15th, 2012
2:59 pm

5) will we change from a 3 man rotation & will Medlen and Moylan be healthy this year to extend our rotation.. Young guys did alot last year w/o them.

Flying South Baby

February 15th, 2012
3:03 pm

The Braves would be S.T.U.P.I.D to trade Jurrjens or Prado this year. Reason 1: Tim Hudson’s Back – While I hope and pray Huddy has a 100% bounce back to full form after the herniated disk repair, the medical stats are as follows – 7 to 12 FULL months of recovery (and) correct rehab (emphasis on the CORRECT rehab. Contrary to what the Braves are saying publically, given Huddy’s age paired with the nature of the disk injury/surgical repair, logic dictates truth. Folks shouldn’t expect Tim Hudson to make a ‘true’ mound appearance until mid-late season. Even then, his ability to pitch deep into the game will not happen. That said – Jair Jurrjens won’t be traded anywhere! As far as Prado… its the exact senario as Reason 1 (above) simply replace Hudson’s name with Jones and Prado’s name with Jurrjens. That said – Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado won’t be traded anywhere in 2012! The Braves have a VERY conservative and solidly prudent history regarding how they run their ball club. I (for one) appreciate the due dilligence! PLAY BALL! GO BRAVES~!

journalist jimmy smith

February 15th, 2012
3:03 pm

heyward has a new swing and hanson has a new delivery. if we could get chipper some new feet and knees, and obliques, and wrists, and thumbs, and toes, and something for his headaches and flu-like symptoms this team might have a shot. jimmy smith will be watching closely this year to see what happens. better toe health should bode well for everybody. toes are not to be trifled with.

hottrod87

February 15th, 2012
3:03 pm

None of it reloves around Heyward, it’s about the guys around him.. Braves need more aggressive baserunners outside of Bourn and Heyward as starters. W/o that, opposing teams will always tag Heyward out b/c he’s view more as a threat than ANYONE on the Braves team. We need another baserunning threat.

journalist jimmy smith

February 15th, 2012
3:09 pm

jeff, do you ever suffer from flu-like symptoms and have to take a day off? jimmy smith has never had the problem but some of this journalist’s friends have been known to miss a day at work after partying a little too much and developing tell tale flu-like symptoms. andruw used to get those a lot when he was frequenting the gold club and we all know chipper missed some games with flu-like symptoms last season. isn’t there a tonic for that?

TB

February 15th, 2012
3:09 pm

The number one thing the Braves need to improve upon this year is hitting with runners on base. We git em on, we gotta git em in!!!

DetroitBraves

February 15th, 2012
3:11 pm

This is a good list. I would put Fredi #1 because I don’t know that the other people on the list aren’t productive players, or aren’t healthy but I do know that Fredi is not a good manager. But I’m just quibbling with the order. The list is solid.

alex

February 15th, 2012
3:16 pm

all valid concerns. the financial realities of this team really put a hamper on us improving the SS and Bench. Because hope springs eternal this time of year though, I’m more excited about whats possible than worried about what might go wrong. Heyward – can’t wait to see how he rights himself. Prado – same. Pastornicky – can’t wait to see how he handles the immense challenge – I have a bad feeling about his glove more than I do his bat. SP – can’t wait to see the youngsters scrap for those last two spots when Huddy is out. Pulling for Teheran to show what he can do at the ML level…briiiinnnng it

Count von Count

February 15th, 2012
3:18 pm

JS: “But there is absolutely nothing else worth discussing these days”

Guess that explains the lack of a Tuesday Countdown

Stinger2

February 15th, 2012
3:19 pm

Jeff: I agree with your concerns as listed. Others have
mentioned Chipper and the lack of true outfield power.
I am concerned about the players who were quoted in DOB`s interview last week. They were like we forgot about the EPIC collapse. The problem with this attitude is twofold.
Number one: many if not most of the fans have not forgot. The mistake the players are making is conveying that it cannot happen again so don`t worry or think about what they did wrong or did not do in September. Instead they should remember every mistake they made and make sure they don`t do the same again. Same goes for the manager and coaches.

Herschel Talker

February 15th, 2012
3:29 pm

Schultzie:

Here’s another concern – your spelling.

FIRE FREDI GONZALEZ!!! HE IS A PATHETIC LOSER!!! GET RID OF THIS BUFFOON!!!

HT

Loose yourself.

February 15th, 2012
3:30 pm

Loosing Managar = Loosing Record = Loser who can’t spell. Idiot.

57Cat

February 15th, 2012
3:41 pm

I will be surprised if, with the current roster, the Braves make the playoffs – or even be in contention for a playoff spot. But, things could be worse. You could be an Orioles fan (14 consecutive losing seasons). As both a Braves and Orioles fan (moved to Georgia from Maryland seven years ago), I was hoping the Jurgens/Prado for Jones trade would happen. Thought it would improve both clubs.

Andy

February 15th, 2012
3:43 pm

Jeff

You sharing a place with DOB when you go down to Florida?

Steve

February 15th, 2012
3:45 pm

57Cat, what makes you think the Braves might not even be in contention? Last year, with the same team (including Uggla strugging half the season, Heyward struggling all season, the pitching injuries, etc), they were the 4th best team in baseball. Say Uggla does well from the start, Heyward rebounds, and the pitching stays healthy? How would they not contend? The line-up from top to bottom is strong, minus Tyler at SS.

George Stein

February 15th, 2012
3:58 pm

The manager is a problem as he can’t think his way out of a wet paper bag.

Heyward is fine.

I might suggest you do some research before posting again, headley. Venters, by way of example, was used in the following games:

4/3 vs WAS: he entered in an 11-1 game
4/22 vs SF: he entered in a 4-1 game
4/24 vs SF: he entered in a 9-6 game
5/6 vs. PHI: he entered in a 3-0 game
5/8 vs PHI: he entered in a 5-2 game
6/12 vs HOU: he entered in a 4-1 game
6/21 vs TOR: he entered in a 5-1 game
6/22 vs TOR: he entered again in a 5-1 game
6/25 vs SD: he entered in a 6-1 game
7/17 vs COL: he entered in a 7-4 game
7/21 vs COL: he entered in a 9-6 game
7/30 vs FLA: he entered in a 4-1 game
8/5 vs NYM: he entered in a 4-1 game
8/22 vs CHC: he entered in a 3-0 game
8/26 vs NYM: he entered in a 4-0 game
9/13 vs FLA: he entered in a 6-1 game
9/14 vs FLA: he entered in a 4-1 game

Think FG couldn’t have been a bit more judicious in using him? I didn’t even touch Kimbrell or O’Flaherty.

Steve

February 15th, 2012
4:00 pm

“George Stein,” have a little free time on your hands? Wow.

Steve

February 15th, 2012
4:02 pm

George, 10 of the 17 games you mentioned had leads of 3 runs or less. O’Flaherty, Venters, Kimbrell in those situations. Agree with you that it was wrong to use them when they had a big lead.

George Stein

February 15th, 2012
4:07 pm

Simple research on FanGraphs, Steve. Took about two minutes.

If you don’t think another pitcher could get three outs without giving up three runs, that pitcher should not be on a big league staff.

Loosing Managar = Loosing Record

February 15th, 2012
4:07 pm

U no last year I got a bucnh of crap from U all 4 pointing out the loosing managar is the problem here and now I see more of U R agreing with me. I will keep telling U that the Braves hired a managar with a loosing record and they will never win a World Seris until they get rid of him.

Nuff said