If spring training seems longer this year, that’s because it is. One week longer, to be exact. For those players who have agreed to represent their home countries in the World Baseball Classic, however, spring is much shorter than usual. For Braves’ shortstop Andrelton Simmons, spring training is already over (at least for now), and he’s playing meaningful baseball one month earlier than most of his Braves teammates. As a member of the Netherlands national squad, Simmons took on South Korea on Saturday, logging 3 hits and 2 runs in 5 at-bats.
Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel, will also be departing very soon to represent the United States in the international tournament.
While the WBC gets underway, big league clubs capped off a week’s worth of spring training exhibition games. The Braves had a good week with a few surprises as well as some great strides by players that have always had the potential to make this club a contender.
First, this week’s scores (2/22-3/1):
Perhaps the biggest story for the Braves this week was when OF Justin Upton crushed a ball over the left field berm at Champion Stadium. They don’t measure home runs in Spring Training, but as many noted as it happened, it was the longest home run at that stadium in memory. Upton’s blast was well over 450 feet. That kind of hitting is what the Braves hoped for when they made the big trade for Justin just weeks ago.
Another highlight of the week was the introduction of minor league hurler J.R. Graham. Though his fastball generally rests in the 93-97 range, Graham lit up the radar guns, hitting 100 mph against the Tigers. And if that’s not enough to scare opposing hitters, here’s an interesting stat from Braves radio play-by-play man, Jim Powell:
Did you know that #Braves prospect JR Graham last yr had over a 4-1 ratio of ground balls to fly balls allowed? Hudson’s career ratio? 2.03.
— Jim Powell (@Jim_Powell) February 21, 2013
While some have speculated that Graham may be able to help Atlanta in the bullpen right away, General Manager Frank Wren says he has virtually no chance of making the team right now. That’s not because the team doesn’t think highly of Graham. On the contrary. It is because they DO think so highly of the cannon-armed right-hander that they don’t want to rush his development. He will begin the season at either double-A Mississippi or triple-A Gwinnett.
Another minor league player turning heads this spring is Evan Gattis (C/OF). After impressing Braves brass with is performance in the Venezuelan Winter League, Gattis arrived at the Braves big league camp ready to prove he belongs. As of Saturday, Gattis is batting .500 with a homer and two doubles. Braves minor league catcher, Evan Gattis
Gattis spent part of the 2012 season trying out left field. But now as the Braves are packed with All-Star caliber outfielders, they are increasingly interested to see how well he handles himself behind the plate. The likelihood of the Braves carrying three catchers come opening day isn’t high, but if Gattis keeps hitting as he has at this Spring, the Braves may bring him north as a backup to Gerald Laird. (Laird will be Atlanta’s starting catcher until Brian McCann finishes rehabilitating his surgically repaired shoulder.) The upside with Gattis is his versatility. Manager Fredi Gonzalez could also use him as a fifth outfielder, back-up first baseman and pinch hitter.
Unfortunately, not all players have caught fire so quickly at camp. Second baseman Dan Uggla came into camp slimmed down since the 2012 season ended. His hope was that taking off some of the pounds he added for power prior to 2012 would help his swing return. That just doesn’t seem to have clicked so far. Through his first 18 at-bats, Uggla recorded a whopping 10 punchouts.
For his part, Uggla isn’t worried. He reminded reporters recently that he has almost always started slow in the spring. And he told the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Saturday that “Even though I didn’t get any hits today, I felt good. I saw the ball. It just keeps building for me.”
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Other items of note: Jason Heyward is tied this spring with Jedd Gyorko of the Padres in home runs at 3. Heyward is leading the Grapefruit League in home runs as of this morning. Julio Teheran has racked up 7 strikeouts in his 5 innings of work, notching a 1.80 ERA in those appearances. Tim Hudson has had a solid Spring. As you probably remember, Hudson missed most of camp last year as he rehabbed following spinal surgery. He has fallen right back into the veteran ace mode that has made Huddy so valuable in Atlanta.
In the coming week, the Braves will play 7 games with a split squad on Saturday against the Astros and the Blue Jays.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.