Tuesday was the day pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. That’s the day baseball fans yearn for every winter, to hear the very words that signal the start of the new season.
Wednesday is the first workout for the Atlanta Braves, a team with plenty of that hope that spring usually brings. They’ve had four straight losing seasons, but in season four of a rebuilding process there will be plenty of hope that a new year will bring new and improved results.
Thirty teams will report to training camps in Florida and Arizona this week with that same confidence. They’ll dream of playing into October, when the weather will again be as chilly as it was when they left for the preseason.
The Braves are likely still a year away from playing in October. They’re getting closer, but they’re not there yet. Patience is still required, which is something fans who want wins and they want them now don’t always like to hear.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Telegraph
Yes, a rebuilding process doesn’t happen overnight. If a team goes all in to start over, a commitment better be there to ride it out, to let young players get their feet wet and not panic when they almost drown. Graduating a player to the big leagues is usually the real start of having to practice patience.
The Braves got a few players there last year – Sean Newcomb, Max Fried, Luiz Gohara, Lucas Sims, Johan Camargo and Ozzie Albies. More are on the way.
All eyes this spring will be on Ronald Acuna, the No. 1 prospect in baseball by many publications and websites. He’s expected to be the modern-day Andruw Jones, and the Braves will take that in a heartbeat. For contractual reasons, Acuna may be held in the minor leagues for a month or so before getting to Atlanta.
Who knows what Acuna will do once he gets there. It’s difficult to predict the impact of a 20-year-old, but if he’s half as good as he was last year in three levels of the minor leagues, the Braves will have a significant upgrade in left field.
Third base will be something to watch. The Braves believe they may have a special prospect in Austin Riley, who will be 21 this season and is not quite ready. Camargo and Rio Ruiz will hold down the fort while the Braves gauge Riley’s ETA to Atlanta.
And there’s the pitching, which has been the centerpiece of the rebuild. Newcomb and Gohara have the inside track on the two rotation spots that could be characterized as being open. But the competition will be more heated than ever, with several others knocking on the door.
What should be the goal for a rebuilding team seeing more prospects get to the show? Well, the Braves won 72 games last year. Realistically, the hope should be to get as close to the .500 mark as possible. If Atlanta wins 81 games this season to get there, they’d have a nine-game improvement. That would be a nice next step in what all should embrace as a process.
Look, it’s 2018. We are two years away from a new decade. The Braves are doing all they can to build for the roaring 2020s. That still may be difficult to hear, to know you’ve got to be even more patient, but it is the reality. The present is important but building for the future is the priority.
The Braves will give us plenty of reasons to watch this season. It’s fun to watch young players come up and start their career. And if these kids are good, even really good like Acuna, the Braves will give us more reasons to pay attention.
It all starts Wednesday. The pitchers and catchers have now reported. It’s time to hear the crack of the bat and the pop of the glove. It’s time for baseball.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.