Putting an asterisk beside a 96 win division title run might seem a little crazy to some.
But after many injuries decimated the team, and the two highest paid members of the team batting less than .200, the 2013 season seems like nothing short of a testament to the talent of the Atlanta Braves.
Coming into 2014, it was obvious that microscopes would be placed on B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. Both players hit under the Mendoza line last season and most Braves fans were more than vocal with their displeasure. Every day, I still seem to see harsh comments about the performance of either player.
Today I’m going to be checking in –a progress report of sorts – on the two biggest targets of Captain Hindsight.
Mr. Uggla had himself a day on Monday, driving in 3 runs with a homer and a triple, raising his Spring Training line to pretty robust .273/.432/.606/1.038 with 3 home runs. Despite it only being 44 plate appearances, Uggla has also started balancing out his characteristically high walk and strikeout rates. Even if the balance doesn’t perfectly follow into the regular season, anywhere in the ballpark would make Uggla a prime Comeback Player of the Year candidate. He may be entering the point of where he will be relied on purely as a “three true outcomes” player (meaning he will either walk, strikeout, or smash a homer), but I’d bank most Braves fans would be satisfied with that as long as he hit over .230. Uggla might be facing extra motivation, given the strong spring presence of Tommy La Stella (.286/.375/.381/.756). As of today, the job is surely Uggla’s, but knowing La Stella could take over at any time is probably a big factor in Uggla’s early success.
Besides one not so great video from early spring, we’ve heard different things about Upton’s new swing. While I haven’t seen enough to comment on the mechanics, I can tell you that the results leave some to be desired. The eldest Upton brother is having a bit of a mixed bag of success this spring. In the tradition of bringing bad news first, let’s start there:
This new swing hasn’t stopped the high strikeout rate (14ks in 41 plate appearances) next to only 4 bases on balls. When Upton first broke into the Majors, one of his strongest attributes was his ability to take walks. Of course this has alarmingly declined over the years, so any time there is no improvement in this area, it causes concern. Combine this with the fact that Upton has just 2 extra base hits(power being one of his most consistent attributes) causes a bit of a red flag.
Upton seems to actually being making more solid contact than last year. While his strikeouts stay constant, he has recorded 11 hits, leading to a .297 batting average and a .366 on base percentage. B.J. has actually struck out more than he has recorded any other out combined. So it seems, despite missing the ball a lot, the connections he has made with the ball have been consistently successful. Upton also has stolen 4 bases in his 15 trips on the basepaths. Speed is a tool B.J. will have to abuse to help prove his worth this year, and seeing it in play this early is very encouraging.
In the end, both players are far from fixed, but some could be trending in the right direction. All we have at this point is optimism. Some could argue that spring training performances mean nothing, and for those people I have three very scary words:
Nate McLouth, 2010.