• Exclusives

    Braves start slow. Everyone panic!! On second thought, don’t.

    By Andrew Hirsh

    The Atlanta Braves have stumbled out of the gate this Spring Training, opening up their Grapefruit League schedule with an underwhelming 1-9 record, currently the worst in the MLB.

    Dan Uggla is one of the few Braves off to a fast start: .313, 1 HR in 16 AB's)

    It may feel natural to look at the numbers—both of the team and of individuals—and begin to worry about what it could mean moving forward. This is the first live baseball we’ve seen since October, after all. As fans we’ve missed the sport and wish to care about the games we’re watching.

    That being said, there’s no reason to put much stock (if any) in the final scores of Spring Training contests, especially those this early.

    Different priorities mean different results

    Both the players and the coaches have different prerogatives at this juncture than they will come April, and finishing with more runs than the opposing team simply isn’t important right now.

    Pitchers, for example, are generally more concerned with fine-tuning their mechanics and experimenting with new pitches than maintaining low ERAs. Hitters could be altering their swings to see what works and what doesn’t. Every player, regardless of their position, is shaking off the rust and going through their own routine to prepare mentally and physically for the regular season. And through that process, a lot of kinks need to be worked out.

    This approach may not pay off immediately, but it almost always benefits the players in the long run.

    Minor leaguers greatly affect Spring Training outcomes

    Perhaps the most obvious reason we shouldn’t put much stock in these games is the personnel on the field: Many of the players we’ve seen thus far are minor leaguers that are a year or more away from the big leagues. While they won’t be suiting up with the Braves this season, exposing these up-and-comers to MLB-quality competition is a once a year opportunity, and taking advantage of this time is imperative for every organization to properly develop their prospects.

    Martin Prado is also hitting well this spring, boasting a .368 avg. in 19 AB's.

    For managers, mixing in minor leaguers with the big boys is a common practice and vital element of these games. Brian McCann is going to be one of the best at catchers in baseball regardless of the amount of work he gets in during the month of March; but for prospects Christian Bethencourt and Evan Gattis, gaining experience catching and hitting major league pitching can play a big part in their progress as professionals.

    Figuring out who is ready for the Major Leagues and who isn’t is also important, and seeing some of these kids struggle is equally as vital as seeing others succeed. The weak performances of some of the Braves’ top pitching prospects—namely Julio Teheran—is disconcerting, but understanding now that they may not be ready to take the mound at Turner Field can prevent future troubles.

    Wins now don’t equal wins later

    Something else that’s important to keep in mind is the weak correlation between Spring Training success and regular season success. Last year, five teams that finished with 90 or more wins had a losing record in Spring Training. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who went on to become the National League West Champions, had more than twice as many losses in March than wins.

    The Braves may not look sharp, but it’s far from time to push the panic button, or even consider it. Once April draws closer, Fredi Gonzalez will begin to write lineups that resemble those we’ll see over the next seven months, and prospects that need time to work their game will be sent down to the appropriate level of the minor leagues.

    For now, we need to sit back, relax and enjoy stress-free games. And if a particular game may not go the way we want, remember that there’s a lot of baseball left to be played before opening day.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.