First, an apology. Before heading down to spring training, I wrote that I would take your questions and give responses. But I kept putting it off and, before I knew it, my week at Camp Bravos was almost over. So rather than go back and answer questions on the original blog post, I figured I would just create a new one.
Below are some of your questions and my answers. If you have any other questions that you haven’t already thrown at David O’Brien, post them below and I’ll answer them as best as I can.
Overall, I liked the vibe in camp. Emotionally, the Braves don’t seem too hungover from last season’s collapse, and the best way I can describe the mood right now is cautious optimism.
But truth is, it’s really impossible to draw conclusions right now. This is spring training. Often you can’t even tell much from spring games, let alone batting practice and bullpen sessions, which is all I witnessed. My concerns haven’t changed: How does Jason Heyward bounce back? How long before the starting rotation is healthy? How strong will the bench be? How does manager Fredi Gonzalez react this time if the team goes into a tailspin? Is shortstop Tyler Pastornicky here too soon?
The biggest question: Is this a postseason team? Yes. Assuming everything doesn’t go wrong again. But there are too many uncertainties to really know right now.
One of the most positive signs is the players seem to have really taken to hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher.
Here’s a comment from Heyward, when I asked about Walker: “It’s more being able to have a relationship with him. You want to be able to go in there and talk and be able to understand each other, using the same terminology. Nobody has gotten in anybody’s way. It’s been a nice transition. We’ve had fun.”
Read into that what you like, as it pertains to last year’s hitting coach, Larry Parrish.
OK, here are your questions. Again, if I missed you, post it again below in the comments’ section.
• Hankie Aron: Schultzie- What are they expecting or hoping to get offensively from Tyler Pastornicky?
Pastornicky hit. .365 at Gwinnett last season, but he was up there for only 27 games (117 plate appearances) so expectations can’t be too high. I’m sure he’ll be batting eighth. Braves hope mostly that he will be strong defensively. They’re not counting on him for offense.
• George Stein: Will Fredi [Gonzalez] get over his obsession with bunting and other small-ball tactics? Also, will he use his closer in tie games in the 9th inning on the road this year?
I think we’ve covered this, George. My view is the Braves need to find ways to manufacture runs when the bats are cold, and that means aggressive base running, hit-and-runs, sacrifices, etc. They need to work on all of those things in spring games.
• Stevie Zero: Hey Jeff, any info on Chipper’s [Jones] knees, overall health, and what he’s feeling he can contribute coming into spring.
Jones says his health is fine and he’s certainly in shape. But he’s almost 40 and we the knew aches, pains, etc., will start when the season begins.
• Bob Gard: What are your predictions for the World Series match up and the playoffs leading up to the WS.
Bob, I’m not making any predictions yet, other than saying the Braves will be in the playoffs.
• Steve: Jeff, will you be retiring soon so that I can take your place? Would love to be headed down to Braves spring training!
As soon as the bank says, “You’re house has been paid off,” I’ll inform you of my plans. If the right numbers come up this week, retirement will come sooner.
• Vinny: Why is the Braves’ highest-paid player so fat?
Chipper Jones is not fat. That was a bad picture (which fooled me too).
• Vinny: Why did Frank Wren trade for Dan Uggla when the team already had TWO All-Star second basemen on the team?
The Braves needed a run-producer in the lineup, particularly from the right side. We can debate whether Uggla’s contract was too big – he’ll make $13.2 million for the next four seasons – but not whether he filled a need. That said, Uggla can’t hit .173 for half the season again.
• John: Hey Jeff – You should ask Fredi if he plans on Heyward playing against lefties and righties this year.
If Jason Heyward is not the Braves’ everyday right fielder, it means something has gone wrong and the Braves are in trouble.
• Herschel Talker: Please find out when they’re planning on firing Fredi Gonzalez. Many thanks for your hard work.
Tell me what you really think. (And you’re welcome.)
• Whopper Dawg: Please ask about the health of the staff with the stalwarts coming off injury and surgeries.
Health at the start of the season will be an issue. Jair Jurrjens is coming off knee problems, as you know, but he has looked good in the spring and my guess is, at this point, he might start the season opened by default. Tim Hudson could miss the first month. Tommy Hanson is a little behind the curve because of his car accident/concussion and he’s coming off shoulder problems, but it’s too early to tell. All of the young guys, including Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor, look good.
• MatthewH: Please make sure you do a Digi-Blog. I always enjoy those. Found your one from last year and the “We Bare All” sign.
Thanks for the comments on Digi-Blogs. They’re fun to do but I couldn’t find enough new material this trip. (“We Bare All” signs still everywhere, of course.)
• Ace: Is anyone else a bit skeptical about the blown tire? Was Tommy texting while driving or nodding off (not used to being up that early)?
Are some people skeptical? Probably. But it’s a one-car accident with no witnesses and no police report, so it’s all conjecture. Also, at this point, it really doesn’t matter. There was no injuries to anybody else and no damage to public property.
• Extremus: So, Mr. Schultz:
1) From what you can see is Chipper physically ready or not?
2) We know the new hitting coaches (and Chipper) have been working with Heyward during the offseason, which is great. A) Is Heyward indeed looking better? B) What about Uggla, Prado, and McCann, whose numbers all also fell off substantially last year (albeit after injuries to Prado and McCann primarily)?
I didn’t even see a spring training game. Only watched him hit in batting practice. Impossible to make a judgement.
3) Do you get the sense that Hanson will have no lingering effects from the concussion, or could this be one of those things that really derails a season for him?
He’ll be fine.
4) Will O’Flaherty, Venters, and Kimbrel be scaled back on their appearances this year to save their arms for the pennant race/playoffs?
A manager’s hope is to never overuse a bullpen. But that’s dictated by starting pitching.
5) How do you feel about Freddie Freeman’s chances of avoiding a “sophomore drop-off”?
Don’t know, but his knee injury doesn’t help.
6) A lot of “experts” suggest that Tyler Pastornicky is NOT ready for the Major League level just yet, and perhaps never as an everyday starter at his position (doesn’t that fill you with confidence going in, by the way?). What’s the Braves’ “backup plan” if he falters?
I share the “experts” concerns, even if I’m not an expert. For now the backup plan is Jack Wilson. If Wilson fails, then Frank Wren will need to make a move. But again, this is about defense, not offense.
• Sonny Clusters: Do you like seafood as much as us and do you have a favorite seafood restaurant?
Mrs. Paul makes a mean fishstick. But I also love Atlantic Seafood in Alpharetta and Atlanta Fish Market in Buckhead.
• Sonny Clusters: How much cap tipping is too much?
It’s like asking, “How much garlic is too much?” No such thing.
• P-Man: Can you find out when the Braves are going to get some real fans, instead of all these whiny-hinies on this board?
I think Braves Nation is as “balanced” in that department as any other group of sports fans.
• Trapper John: Here, Jeff, in a nut shell is my question from a huge majority of die hard Brave fans. Why is Fredi Gonzales managing the Braves — if not for the “good ‘ole boy” reason? He is not a Major League caliber manager. He has never proved himself to be a Major League caliber manager on any team.
As far as not being a major league caliber manager, he was Manager of the Year with Florida in 2008. The Braves hired him because: 1) He was respected; 2) The Braves were familiar with him because of his time here; 3) It was thought he would do a good job.
• FL Jacket: Jeff, are you and Bradley going to lay off the Braves for standing pat this offseason when it was pretty clear that slumps and injuries are what held them back?
Get your facts straight, Skippy. I never criticized the Braves for standing pat this year. In fact, I’ve written it was the right thing to do.
• Dave: Could you explain how the AJC actually covers the Braves among your staff. I’ve never quite understood you, the other opinion people, DOB and Carroll. Who does what and when? Thanks, assuming you answer.
David O’Brien is the primary “beat writer,” which means he covers the games, writes blogs, notes, etc. Carroll Rogers and Chris Vivlamore provide backup with sidebars and covering the team when David is off. Mark Bradley and I write columns, basically whenever we choose to.
• AtlantaDude: Any chance that Fredi will change his approach to relief pitching? Maybe he should go back to how they did it 30 years ago, where you bring them in when trouble starts, rather than for some pre-assigned 8th or 9th inning.
It’s hard for me to comment on this without a specific example. But obviously there’s a lot more attention paid to the starter’s pitch count now than there was 30 years ago.
• Coach Joe: Why isn’t Kris Medlan on the possible 4th 5th starters? He can pitch.
It’s a possibility. But the fact he’s versatile and also can pitch out of the bullpen plays a role.
• Detroit Braves: Jeff, could you ask someone, Frank Wren presumably, if the Braves see Arodys Vizcaino as a reliever or starter in the long-term? Thanks.
Sorry, I didn’t get a chance to ask this. But since Vizcaino might not even make the roster this season, it’s a not a factor yet.
By Jeff Schultz
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