LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Atlanta Braves are off and running in spring training. Here are some observations from watching the organization for the past couple of days.
Veteran right-hander Gavin Floyd threw a 90-pitch bullpen session Saturday. He was pleased with the results and expects to throw a live batting practice session in the middle of the week. Floyd is coming off Tommy John surgery on his elbow. His surgery anniversary date is May 7, and while the Braves do not have a need to rush Floyd, the positive early results may make them believe he could join the rotation in late May or early June.
The rotation does have question marks. Mike Minor is dealing with some shoulder issues and will be slowed down a bit in March, and Brandon Beachy is coming back from having bone chips removed from his elbow late last season. Beachy hit 91 mph on the radar gun Friday night and stayed primarily in the 88 to 90 mph range. He expects to take a slower pace this month to fully recover.
If either Minor or Beachy cannot go at the start of the season, Atlanta will turn to veteran Freddy Garcia, who looked good in his first two innings of work Wednesday. Garcia was solid in a handful of starts late last season, and the Braves believe he still can be an effective starter.
With Tim Hudson now wearing a San Francisco Giants uniform, Kris Medlen is the most tenured Atlanta starting pitcher. Sure, Floyd and Garcia are older, but Medlen is being counted on to lead the rotation. Most believe he will get the call to start on opening day March in Milwaukee.
One new name to keep an eye out for in the race for the opening in the bullpen is left-hander Ian Thomas. He was signed out of an independent league two years ago and put up great numbers last season in Double-A Mississippi. Thomas had 123 strikeouts in 104-1/3 innings pitched. If he does not make the opening day roster, Thomas will be high on the list when the Braves need another reliever during the season.
From all indications, catcher Evan Gattis is not feeling the pressure of replacing six-time All Star Brian McCann. Come on, Gattis used to live in a tent. That’s pressure. The pitchers rave about Gattis’ improvement behind the plate, and Gattis is ready to assume the full-time role of being a power threat in the middle of the Atlanta lineup.
The Braves are setting themselves up for a debate down the line at the catching spot as Christian Bethancourt continues to improve offensively. He looks like a serious big league hitting prospect now after years of being known mainly for his defense. Bethancourt will start in Triple-A this season, but if needed, he looks ready to contribute in Atlanta.
It’s early, but Dan Uggla is getting a bit more love than B.J. Upton when people speculate about who will bounce back from hitting below .200 last season. Uggla had hits in his first two at-bats Wednesday and drew a standing ovation from the crowd. Upton has changed his swing, but he is still waving at the ball instead of having a solid swing.
Tommy LaStella is a career .327 hitter in three minor league seasons in the Atlanta organization. Many believe if Uggla struggles, LaStella could simply take his spot. LaStella is drawing comparisons to Ian Kinsler of the Detroit Tigers.
Former Atlanta pitchers Gene Garber and Steve Avery were in camp this past week as instructors. Avery will be 44 next month, which will certainly make a few of us seem older. It seems like yesterday when the baby-faced Avery made his big league debut in Cincinnati in 1990. He became an integral part of the Braves’ rotation in the early 1990s.
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