The first week of Spring Training is in the books and the Atlanta Braves are sitting pretty much exactly where people thought they would be. They are currently 1-4 in Grapefruit League action, but as we all know, what happens in Orlando isn’t necessarily about the wins and the losses, it’s about getting better.
So, are the Braves getting better?
The glaring good thus far for the Atlanta Braves is that their bats are alive. Heck, Nick Markakis went yard the other day and it took him until July last season to do that.
There were three bats I personally was looking forward to seeing, and thus far three of them have been en fuego.
Ozzie Albies: Ever since I sat down and spoke with this now-19-year old protege, I have been his biggest fan. This kid is wise beyond his years and has a maturity in him that is unexplainable.
Last season, when he was with Single-A Rome I caught up and spoke with him (you can read it here) and I knew right away that he was destined for greatness. He would be shut down at the end of last season with some lingering injuries, but overall his first season of full-season baseball was a glaring success.
The Braves moved Jose Peraza, who was once the middle infield guy of the Braves future, to make way for Albies. He finished the season slashing and impressive 310/.368/.404.
Now with a chance to make some noise, Albies is on fire. He has six hits in his first ten at bats and has made the most of them scoring four runs. He even has a home run, which is not very Albies like, so if he finds just a little pop along the way, it’s a bonus. He has also walked twice and has not struck out at all, which is fascinating and shows his maturity level.
He and Dansby Swanson have been alternating time at second base, because eventually they will be the double-play duo in which the Braves have been yearning.
Mallex Smith: Here’s another guy I have been following closely and have written quite a bit about (read about him in detail here). I think Smith is ready to open 2016 on the big league roster.
Smith came to the Braves last season from San Diego in the Justin Upton deal. His play in the outfield is the only thing holding him back, at least that’s what I believe. On the one hand, he makes dazzling plays in the outfield. On the other hand, you have to wonder if it is because he has blazing fast speed and often misplays balls from the get go.
But his bat and his speed would be a welcomed addition to this lineup. He has five hits in his first 11 at bats, including two triples and a home run.
I understand about the service time clock and it’s absurdity in how it continues to make Major League Baseball continue to transform more into a business than a sport, but in an ideal world, Smith starts the season somewhere in the Braves outfield.
Hector Olivera: You’ll never guess what. Olivera is yet another guy I have covered, especially last season with a lot of the soap opera-esque headlines he made. The Braves wanted to sign him during the International free agency period, but the Dodgers outbid them. John Hart wouldn’t have it and later traded for the Cuban sensation.
Olivera was originally pegged as a third baseman, but his range and a questionable arm brought that into question. They have been working on making him the everyday left fielder (which holds back Smith even further) and he has — as Saucy T said — played Evan Gattis-like defense during his transition.
The bat is alive though. Olivera has six hits in his first 13 at bats, driving in three runs. The thing to pay close attention to, however, is that none of the hits have been for extra bases. Olivera definitely has some pop — we saw it at the big league level last season — so it will be nice to see him when it all gets going.
In an ideal world, at least for me, Adonis Garcia fails at third base, they move Olivera back to the hot corner, Mallex becomes the starting left fielder and Kelly Johnson becomes your super utility player, able to play both third and second in the infield, as well as some left.
The bad is simple. The young pitching the Braves are counting on has not looked good. I know, it’s one week into Spring Training. I get that. They are working the rust out, it’s part of the process. I have no problem seeing them get hit around and let up some runs, but you want to see them throw the ball well and hit the strike zone at least.
Sean Newcomb didn’t do that. He was the featured piece in one of the more controversial trades that sent Andrelton Simmons to the Angels. His first outing was horrific. It wasn’t so much that he pitched one inning and allowed two hits and three runs. It was the four walks. He started the second inning by walking two straight batters on nine pitches and was pulled. Spring Training or not, your job is to throw strikes.
Lucas Sims, one of the last Braves pitching prospects from the old regime, also had a bumpy start. Again, it was command issues as he walked three batters in 1.2 innings of work. His first inning looked good, so perhaps this could be chalked up to nerves.
Aaron Blair, who came over in the Shelby Miller deal, didn’t walk anybody. He has, however, already allowed two home runs in his two innings of work. He got absolutely shelled, but here’s the beauty of baseball. Despite the fact that he got hit hard and let up four runs in two innings, despite the fact that it was arguably the ugliest start by a Braves prospect to date, Blair has the only win of the Braves preseason because they scored more runs.
This week should prove interesting for the young Braves. This was the first taste of big league action for a lot of their roster. It will be fun to see how they settle in now that the nerves have begun to ease. They should begin to become very fun to watch.
Well, either that or an absolute train wreck, so let’s hope for the former.