Bounceback candidates for 2014
There’s no way around it: 2013 was an unmitigated disaster for Upton. In his first season with the Braves, he face-planted in just about every way possible, hitting .184/.268/.289 with only 9 home runs in 391 at-bats. While Upton did have a few nagging injuries, most notably a strained adductor muscle that landed him on the disabled list in July, there was nothing that provides a clear explanation as to why Atlanta’s big free-agent signing was hitting like a Double-A center fielder on the verge of being released.
This season will be better than last, but just how much will Upton improve? The good news is that Upton remains a talented player, is still in his 20s and has a long history of being able to hit major league pitching. He’s not going to hit for a high batting average — even in his better seasons Upton carried a batting average in the .240 range — but he’ll hit for enough power and continue to play solid defense in center, enough to return him to the ranks of a league-average player. After a minus-1.8 WAR season, simply putting up a 2-WAR season represents a four-win swing from last year.
The Braves will likely be locked in a brutal struggle with the Nationals for the NL East, and will take any improvement they get from Upton.
A unique view on the Atlanta Braves from Ireland
Dalton: What is your most memorable moment of being a Braves fan?
Declan: The moment as a Braves fan I remember the most was Chipper Jones hitting a 3-run, walk-off homer against the division rival Phillies in his last season.
Every Braves fan must have a favorite moment. It’s just the rule. Declan’s most memorable moment as being a fan was the same as a bunch of modern-day fans. Chipper Jones hitting the huge 3 run homer off of Jonathan Papelbon, in what was a back and forth game in his last season, was a memory that will last and carry along with every fan that witnessed it live or on their couch.
Dalton: Have you ever attended a sporting event in America? If so, what sport and who won?
Declan: My first Braves game that I attended was one I’ll never forget and it was back in 2005, even though the Braves lost.
Fans of a team should definitely go and see their team play live. Every team has their own atmosphere that can just be special to a person. I asked Declan if he had ever been to a game in the states. The answer above was just part of what he said in the interview. He says he also remembers seeing a Braves-Mets game at the Ted where Chipper hit a monster, or “mammo” like Chipper likes to say, a mammo shot that Declan thought was really cool since he was a huge Chipper fan.
Ties that bind: B.J. Upton part of Fishers’, FSU family
Blessed with agility, speed and a smooth jump shot, B.J. Upton spent a significant portion of his childhood aspiring to be the next Charlie Ward. As he was getting his first taste of tackle football in 1993, Upton was a wide-eyed 9-year-old kid who attentively watched as Ward won the Heisman Trophy and then spent the latter half of the winter honing the skills that allowed him to spend 11 seasons in the National Basketball Association.
Upton’s dream of following in Ward’s footsteps as a two-sport star at Florida State University was trumped by the $4.6 million signing bonus he received when the Rays selected him with the second pick in Major League Baseball’s 2002 First-Year Player Draft. But his passion for the Seminoles has never died.
In fact, it has been further fueled by the strong bond that has developed since FSU head football coach Jimbo Fisher came to St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field to throw the ceremonial first pitch before a Rays game on May 30, 2011. Instead of sticking with this plan, Fisher allowed his two young boys — Trey and Ethan — to experience the honor of doing so.
As Ethan played catch with Upton before the game and then threw him the first pitch, there was no indication that just a few months earlier this 6-year-old child had been diagnosed with Fanconi Anemia, a rare blood disorder that often leads to cancer and bone marrow failure.
“He’s the greatest kid,” Upton said. “You’d never know [he has the disorder]. He’s just a kid being a kid. He has fun and he’s not scared about anything. He’s not worried about anything. He has no fear, and that goes a long way, especially with what he is dealing with.”
Upton was reunited with Ethan later that same year, when he accepted the Fishers’ invitation to attend the FSU-University of Miami football game in Tallahassee, Fla. The football coach’s wife, Candi Fisher, still marvels at the awe the outfielder displayed as he visited the locker room and walked on the field, while getting an up-close look at the program that had stirred his emotions for so long.
“He was like a kid,” Candi Fisher said. “It was just so cool to see somebody who gets to do as much as he does not take things for granted.”
2014 MLB players to watch: Atlanta Braves RHP David Hale
Taken in the third round of the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft, Hale heads into spring training with an outside chance of making the Braves rotation. While he’ll more than likely make the team as a long reliever and extra starter, he has the talent to make a significant impact out of the bullpen.
Hale made his MLB debut September 13 against the San Diego Padres and immediately made a name for himself. Despite failing to get a decision in the 4-3 Atlanta loss, Hale pitched five scoreless innings with nine strikeouts and yielded just four hits and a walk. Twelve days later, he fanned five Phillies in six innings to earn his first big league win. While that closed the door for him in 2013, it gave a glimpse of what Hale is capable of. It also showed veteran catcher Brian McCann what Hale is made of. After catching the rookie, McCann went on record as saying:
“I didn’t even get a chance to catch him in the spring. But I went down there early and caught the whole bullpen, talked to him before the game, talked to him about executing and dictating the count, and he did that to a T tonight. He pounded the zone early, got ahead, then made them hit his pitch. His sinker darts all over the place. What a debut that was. I tip my hat to him. He came out and battled, pitched about as well as you could pitch.”