NEW YORK AT ATLANTA
Freddy Garcia ran his streak of perfect innings to five in his bid to earn a spot in the Braves’ rotation, Mets’ top prospect Noah Syndergaard pitched two scoreless innings in his Grapefruit League debut and New York beat Atlanta 6-2 Monday.
The 21-year-old Syndergaard struck out leadoff hitter Jason Heyward on a 98 mph fastball, then Evan Gattis on three fastballs to start the second. The right-hander allowed just one hit over two scoreless innings.
”That’s a lot of weight coming off my shoulders right there,” Syndergaard said of striking out Heyward. ”I feel like I’m pitching to my strengths, and one of them is being able to locate my fastball really well. It was very encouraging, because I know that lineup is a real big threat. It’s got a lot of thunder.”
In contrast, Garcia, 37, used an assortment of mostly slow stuff to retire nine straight Mets, three on strikeouts, after retiring all six Detroit batters he faced while fanning two in the spring opener.
Syndergaard, acquired from Toronto as part of the trade for R.A. Dickey last year, is projected to start the season with Triple-A Las Vegas, but he has already shown his potential.
Atlanta Braves have strong young core under contract for years to come
Atlanta Braves General Manager Frank Wren had a plan for this offseason: sign contract extensions with the five young players who formed the core of the team that won more regular season games than any in the National League the past two seasons. Practically, Wren didn’t think his plan would ever happen.
“I don’t think we were ever confident,” Wren said last week, sitting in the home dugout of Atlanta’s spring training ballpark. “We felt like we had a shot, out of the initial five that we approached, we thought we could get two or three.”
In all, the Braves committed $280.7 million dollars for 27 seasons, all of them prime years. The oldest any player will be during his contract is 31, Freeman’s age in the eighth year of his massive deal.
“I think it makes all the difference in the world,” Wren said. “We always keep a five-year running roster. We’ve got a pretty good idea of what it’s going to look like in one and two. Three, four, five are always somewhat of a guesstimate. We’ve got now a number of guys locked in. It makes it easier to plan and to look at the needs going forward.”
In Atlanta, Youth Is Served With a Big Payday
Freddie Freeman turns 32 in September 2021, just before his new, eight-year, $135 million contract expires. Freeman should still be an elite first baseman by then, and could possibly have some good years remaining. But the Atlanta Braves signed him up for his prime.
They did the same with Andrelton Simmons, their magician at shortstop; Craig Kimbrel, their indomitable closer; and Julio Teheran, their impressive right-handed starter. Those four contracts, all signed between Feb. 5 and Feb. 20, secured 25 prime-age seasons for a total of $267.4 million.
“That was our driving force: We were really young and talented, and if we were going to keep this group together for an extended period of time, they were still going to be 30 or below when the contracts expired,” General Manager Frank Wren said Monday. “That was a big part of it for us. Philosophically, we were not going to extend into the 30s on these long deals.”
The Braves were the among the majors’ youngest teams last season, but they did not suffer the usual growing pains. They won 96 games and the National League East title, reaching the playoffs for the third time in four seasons before falling to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The genius of the Braves in their heyday — the 1990s and early 2000s — was the way they transitioned on the fly, moving big pieces in and out while continuing to win. They are doing it again now, breaking away from the teams of Chipper Jones and Brian McCann to a core of Freeman, Simmons, Kimbrel, Teheran and outfielder Jason Heyward, all 25 years old or younger.
“When I was talking to Frank when I got my deal done, he told me we were going to do a couple more things, just to keep the young guys around,” Freeman said. “I didn’t know it was going to be this much. But they did an awesome job. They’ve been working really hard to keep this team together.”
ATLANTA BRAVES SIGN CUBAN CATCHER YENIER BELLO
The Atlanta Braves have signed Cuban catcher Yenier Bello to a minor league contract, reportsJesse Sanchez of MLB.com. The deal includes a signing bonus and an invitation to spring training.
The 29-year-old hit .274 with 13 home runs in the Cuban Baseball League in 2011, and has smacked 75 home runs and drove in 297 runs in his last five seasons, mostly with Sancti Spíritus.
Bello, a right-handed hitter who was caught attempting to escape from Cuba in 2012, was suspended from baseball and had his passport confiscated. However, the 5-foot-11, 225-pound backstop retired from baseball last spring and took an Ecuadoran vacation before establishing residency in Mexico to pursue his big league dreams.
Cuban players who are at least 23 years old and have played in a Cuban professional league for three or more seasons are exempt from the international signing guidelines established by the collective bargaining agreement, effectively making them free agents once they are eligible to sign with a big league club.