Welcome to the first Spring Training Week-in-Review for 2017! Tuesday, February 14 was the mandatory reporting deadline for Braves pitchers and catchers, and Friday, February 17 was the reporting deadline for position players, though most had trickled in early over the course of the week. Here were the stories of the first week of camp
Ozzie Albies Still Rehabbing Elbow
Ozzie Albies has been in Orlando since mid-January, but this week fans got the word that Albies was still under medical restriction while rehabbing the elbow that he broke during the AA playoffs last season. Albies himself indicated that he was still only at “80% strength”. Albies likely won’t get into Grapefruit League game action for several weeks into camp.
That said, GM John Coppolella was quite blunt about the idea of Albies being blocked by the new Braves second baseman, veteran Brandon Phillips. “No one is going to block Ozzie Albies”, Coppolella told David O’Brien of the AJC. “He’s still got to get healthy, he’s still got some things to prove. But when he’s ready, he’ll get an opportunity.”
The Braves traded for Phillips from the Cincinnati Reds last Sunday only a few days after discovering that infielder Sean Rodriguez had injured his left shoulder far more seriously than initially thought. Rodriguez had surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn rotator cuff, hurt in a tragic car crash a few weeks ago.
Matt Kemp Reports Leaner, Puts On a Show
Not long after the deadline deal that brought outfielder Matt Kemp to Atlanta, Coppolella publicly called out Kemp for being out of shape. “He’s 31-years old. He is not in shape and that’s something we need to work on with him. He’s been told about it. We are going to talk to him more. It’s the kind of thing where, for him, you can’t really do that during the season. It’s not like you can drop 30 pounds during the season and keep playing.”
While Coppolella later indicated he regretted talking about it in public, clearly Kemp took the challenge to heart. Kemp has come to camp reportedly looking about 10-15 lighter and stronger. Kemp capped off the week with a batting practice display on Friday that included hitting ball off of and over the scoreboard deep beyond the centerfield wall.
Coppy Gives Candid Interview with Fox Sports South Chopcast
Braves GM John Coppolella gave a great interview with Zach Dillard on the Fox Sports South ChopCast. The whole thing is well worth a listen, but here are some prime pull-quotes.
On the amount of activity the front office has had over the last couple years as they’ve changed up the roster:
I don’t want us to be the team that makes the most deals, I want us to be the team that makes the best deals. So for us, we’ve had opportunities to do things, we’ve also tried to get things done that we have not been able to do. Part of what it is — and I don’t mean this to sound cocky at all — teams have been a little bit leary of us because of some of the moves that we’ve made. You know, now I think there’s this little bit of a squint, like ‘What am I missing here, why would they want to do this deal?’ Whereas I think when we first came on the scene it’s like ‘They’re all new maybe we can make a great deal’.
On the differences between the Cubs rebuild and the Braves rebuild:
There’s a great respect for the Cubs and for Theo [Epstein] and all that they’ve done. But I want to be clear about something, the Cubs had a legacy of losing. There was no expectations. The Braves are a gold standard franchise, we won 14 straight titles. Losing for us is a lot different than losing for the Cubs. I mean, Theo went there as a hero who was given five years, was given a ton of money. We have not had the money, we have not had the patience, we’ve had to rush, and force feed, and go through hell. So we wear every loss…. Our fans, as they should be, are used to winning. When we go in and build a team that goes 0-and-9 or 9-and-28, this isn’t the Braves. They get mad, as well they should. If that happened with the Cubs? Hey, that’s the past 108 years.
Looking back at the Justin Upton trade:
For us in the front office, we may be more proud of that deal. If you look at that deal, Justin Upton was [making] $14.5 million. So you trade Justin Upton and you get Jace Peterson, who has been our second baseman the last two years. You get Dustin Peterson who is one of our best hitters [in the] minor leagues. You get Mallex Smith who played well for us last year and who we traded to get a good, young lefty arm, Luiz Gohara. And Max Fried, who pitched the South Atlantic League championship game, struck out 10 in 7 and 2/3rds, struck out 50 over his last 30, was the top prep pitcher taken in the 2012 draft. Now take that $14.5 million, put 10 into a trade where you get Touki Toussaint. So you still have roughly $5 million left, and you’ve got Jace Peterson, Dustin Peterson, Luiz Gohara, Max Fried, and Touki Toussaint. We feel good about that.
Coppy also dropped a little bit of a bombshell regarding the signing of top international amateur prospect Kevin Maitan, whom the Braves signed for $4.25 million:
There was a team that offered Kevin Maitan close to 10 million dollars at the [July 2] deadline. But he wanted to be a Brave because we formed a bond with his family and we were able to sign him. We scouted the player, we got to know the player, we got to know the family and when he got the chance to make his choice on that day, July 2nd, he chose to be a Brave. He liked what we were building here.
Finally, Coppolella gave an indication of the Braves drafting strategy:
Pitching. You can never have too much pitching. We’ll keep taking pitching. In the draft this year, I would expect pitching. A lot of the bats we get in the foreign market, a lot of the arms we get in the draft and we’re going to keep drafting pitching. That’s the way Bobby Cox did it, that’s the way Paul Snyder did it, that’s the way John Schuerholz did it. I’m good with those three, so we’re going to keep taking arms.
Braves Release RHP Steve Janas
In somewhat of a surprise move, the Braves released Gwinnett right-handed pitcher Steve Janas. A native of Marietta, Janas was a sixth-round pick by Atlanta in the 2013 out of Kennesaw State. Janas had a combined 2.75 ERA for AA Mississippi and AAA Gwinnett in 2016. Janas was predominantly a starting pitcher in the low minors, but was switched to the bullpen this past season to accommodate the influx of new pitchers coming into the organization by trade and draft.
While no reason was given, it’s possible the Braves simply didn’t see a path to the big leagues in the Braves system, and released him early give him an opportunity to catch on with another organization.
More Quotes From The Boys of Spring
This year, I feel a lot better than I did last year. I’m more comfortable and all of my pitches are working better. My body feels good. So, hopefully, I’ll be healthy this year.
– Right-handed reliever Arodys Vizcaino, who missed most of the second half with a strained oblique and shoulder inflammation.
I wanted it to happen a long time ago, but things happen. There are different sides. I never thought it would happen, but I told my agent, ‘You’ve got to make this happen.’ I miss Cincinnati. That’s always home. But Atlanta is my home, home.
– New Braves second baseman Brandon Phillips, on wanting to get traded to Atlanta.
— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) February 18, 2017
The last couple years we’ve just been saying it, this year we actually mean it. It is very genuine.… I think the optimism in this camp right now is off the charts. A lot of people aren’t picking us, but I think we’ll be right there in September, playing meaningful baseball.”
– First baseman Freddie Freeman, on if the team is optimistic about competing in 2017.
I’ve been embarrassed enough in my career, so this isn’t going to be any different. I’ve had to go get plenty of balls at the backstop, so I don’t have any issue with looking bad here and there.
– A self-depreciating Tyler Flowers, on learning to catch new pitcher R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball.
We still stink. We’re terrible. We’re still stinky, and we don’t want anybody to take us seriously.
I was keeping up with that, and when the trade happened I was very excited. If I were to pick a team, if they asked me where you wanted to get traded, Atlanta would have definitely been at the top of the list.