• Juan Francisco

    Braves split interleague series, gear up for Nats

    Juan Francisco was designated for assignment, giving Chris Johnson full-time duties at third base.

    Juan Francisco was designated for assignment, giving Chris Johnson full-time duties at third base.

    In an unusual interleague series that began north of the border and concluded in Atlanta, the Braves took one game in Toronto and one game at home, splitting the series with the Blue Jays.

    Game 1 (Toronto):

    Perhaps the only highlight of the Blue Jays rout of the Braves to begin the series was the 2-run blast by Evan Gattis who continues to impress all of Major League Baseball with his power and versatility.

    Tim Hudson has been terrible on the road of late, but his road woes are not all of the story. He has allowed 19 earned runs over his last 19 2/3 innings pitched.

    Young Cory Rasmus came out of the bullpen in the 7th and something happened that hasn’t happened since 2010–he faced his older brother Colby. The last time this happened in MLB was in 2010 when Jeff and Jered Weaver faced each other. It was not a sharp outing for Cory who gave up 3 runs in 2 innings.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 3 8 1
    Blue Jays 0 2 2 0 0 2 3 0 x 9 11 0

    W: Buehrle (2-3) L: Hudson (4-4)

    Game 2 (Toronto):

    Brian McCann is back and there is no denying that when he is right, he is one of the best hitting catchers in the big leagues. McCann had his first multi-homer game of the 2013 season at the Rogers Centre. It was the 9th multi-homer game of his career. His second homer of the game game in the 10th inning and proved to be the winning run of the game for Atlanta. McCann’s 2 homers were not the only for the Braves. Gattis and Schafer also went yard. Gattis and McCann had swapped duties in game 2–one catching and the other serving as designated hitter.

    It just wasn’t Maholm’s night. In the 1st inning of the game, he had very little command of his fastball and was unable to hit his spots. For a pitcher like Maholm, who simply doesn’t have the velocity to blow it by batters, there was no hiding how poorly his pitches were and the hard-hitting Blue Jays capitalized. Maholm’s 1st inning behind him, he did settle in. When he handed the game over to the bullpen, Avilan, Gearrin and Kimbrel were able to hold the Blue Jays scoreless. This was a good sign for the bullpen that has struggled since the loss of O’Flaherty and was a sign of things to come in game 3 when they picked up Kris Medlen.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 R H E
    Braves 3 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 1 7 12 1
    Blue Jays 4 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 6 12 2

    W: Gearrin (2-1) L: Weber (0-1) SV: Kimbrel (16)

    Game 1 (Atlanta):

    The Braves recorded their 7th shutout loss of the 2013 season. Strikeouts were once again an issue for the offense. The Braves have now struck out at least 10 times in 24 of their first 52 games. The Braves have an amazing record of 29-6 when they record at least 1 homer. They are 2-15 on the season when a home run isn’t recorded.

    After Medlen was hit by the line drive, the bullpen was solid. For perhaps the first time since the loss of O’Flaherty to Tommy John surgery, the ‘pen was able to buckle down, work together and get the Braves through the remainder of the game scoreless. Though the Braves didn’t get the win, this loss fell on the shoulders of the offense and not the ‘pen.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Blue Jays 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 8 0
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 2

    W: Perez (1-0) L: Medlen (1-6) SV: Janssen (11)

    Game 2 (Atlanta):

    Prior to the final game against the Blue Jays, the Braves announced that they had designated Juan Francisco (3B) for assignment to make room on the roster for relief pitcher Alex Wood. Francisco will now either be traded, claimed off of waivers or released. Francisco went 3-for-30 with 14 K’s in his last 11 games with the Braves. In that time, he did not record an RBI. For the season, he was batting .241 with 5 homers and a whopping 43 strikeouts. He had a terrible average of .159 in May.

    The Braves required an extra arm in the bullpen for the final game of the series after the ‘pen had to step in and pitch 7 innings after Medlen was hit by a line drive in the first game in Atlanta. The Braves purchased the contract of Alex Wood from the Mississippi Braves. Wood faced the minimum in a scoreless 9th inning. He was called up less than 24 hours before making his first big league start in Atlanta.

    Mike Minor continued a great start to the season with another solid outing. Minor pitched 7 innings, giving up 6 hits, 3 runs, 2 of them earned, no walks and 5 strikeouts.

    Simmons had committed five errors in the 92 career games he’d played entering Friday. He’s committed 3 in the 7 games that have followed. Simmons went 43 games w/o an error but now has three in 7 games, this one opening door for three runs in the sixth. Tied up 3-3

    Two offensive highlights from the game came from Reed Johnson and Ramiro Pena. Johnson belted his 1st home run as a Brave. His 2-run homer was his 5th career pinch hit homer. Pena had a career-high 4 RBIs in the game as he started in the place of the resting Dan Uggla.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Blue Jays 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 3 7 1
    Braves 1 1 1 0 0 3 3 2 x 11 16 1

    W: Minor (7-2) L: Dickey (4-7)

    HERITAGE WEEKEND PITS BRAVES AGAINST RIVAL NATS…

    Following the split series with the Blue Jays and the Nationals’ loss to the Orioles, the Braves have a 5 1/2 game lead on the Nats in the NL East.

    Despite the loss, the first game of the split-series in Atlanta was a good sign for Atlanta’s bullpen. Carpenter, who Braves’ fans haven’t seen much of, pitched 3 scoreless innings in relief. He could very well become the long man in the ‘pen in the absence of Cristhian Martinez. If he can be a reliable arm for Fredi Gonzalez to turn to in tight spots, that will surely help with the bullpen situation. Jordan Walden appears healthy. He hit 97 mph on the strikeout that ended the 8th inning. His velocity returning, without the prior soreness, puts him in a good position to be the setup man for Craig Kimbrel.

    The Braves are in a precarious situation with B.J. Upton as he attempts to get himself right. BJ Upton is batting .148/.236/.252. We’re a third through the season and he has just 8 RBI. In game 2 in Atlanta, B.J. Upton was quite obviously frustrations when he threw his bat and his helmet striking out for the second time in as many at bats in the game. He had been held out of the lineup for several games as he worked with hitting coaches Walker and Fletcher to try to get his swing right. So far, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that he is on the right track. B.J. Upton is qualified worst in the National League in strikeouts with 1 K for every 2.9 plate appearances. In a strange twist, Jordan Schafer, who was a huge disappointment to the Braves in his first stint with the team, has been one of Atlanta’s hottest hitters. In addition to his surprising offense, he has been a solid defender in the outfield with Justin Upton and Jason Heyward.

    The big stories of May have come via the younger guys on the roster. Mike Minor and Julio Teheran’s combined in May to go 6-1 with a 2.08 ERA in their combined 10 starts. Between them they had 55 strikeouts in 69 innings. Rookie Evan Gattis had 17 hits, 6 homers and 16 RBIs in 62 plate appearances in May. He has a .298 batting average with one day left of May. Chris Johnson, who becomes the everyday third baseman with Juan Francisco DFA’d, had 14 hits, 5 RBIs and a .304 average in 50 plate appearances in May. And quietly, Freddie Freeman has had a torrid May. In 114 plate appearances, he has 32 hits, 19 RBIs, a .305 batting average and a .360 on-base percentage.

    Beginning today and going through Sunday is the Atlanta Braves Heritage Weekend at Turner Field. The event pays tribute to the rich heritage in the Atlanta area and includes a Champions of Justice Discussion Panel today, focusing on the role of sports in civil rights. Saturday’s game will pay tribute to the Negro Leagues and will again feature the Atlanta Black Crackers throwback uniforms that the Braves sported earlier in the season. The Nationals will wear the uniform of the Homestead Grays.

    Atlanta Braves Heritage Weekend will feature Strasburg (3-5, 2.49) vs. Teheran (3-1, 3.67) Friday night. Saturday night’s game appearing nationally on FOX will feature Gonzalez (3-3, 3.90) vs. Hudson (4-4, 5.37). Sunday afternoon’s finale will feature Karns (0-0, 6.23) vs. Maholm (6-4, 3.74).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#!/framethepitch">@framethepitch.

    Braves split rain-shortened series before heading to Cincy, Mac is back!

    Before the Braves could get on a plane to Cincinatti to welcome back their All Star catcher to the roster, they faced off at home against the Mets. Unfortunately, Mother Nature shortened the series to two games instead of the scheduled three. The Braves have yet to make an announcement about when the game will be made up, but there is a possibility of lengthening the 4-game series June 17-20 into a 5-game set.

    Game 1:

    When Lucas Duda led off the 2nd inning with a home run off Mike Minor, it didn’t appear Minor was long for the game. However, after giving up the blast to Duda, Minor buckled down and pitched 5 consecutive perfect innings. Minor was able to retire 18 straight after that home run.

    The offense was lively, but not in the usually explosive ways it has been in games where the Braves have scored multiple runs. Evan Gattis launched a go-ahead home run in the 8th, but had struggled at the plate before that at-bat, striking out in his previous 3 at-bats. Gattis’ home run was the highest high of the game, by far. B.J. Upton  had his 4th multi-hit game of the season and Jordan Schafer walked 4 times, just missing the franchise record of walks in a game (5) set by Dale Murphy.

    If a Braves game requires a high high and a low low, the lowest low came via the bullpen. Game 1 marked only the 13th time since the 2010 season that the bullpen allowed multiple homers in a game. It was the first time in their careers on the same roster that Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel each gave up a homer in a game.

    Closer Craig Kimbrel has been hit hard of late. He has now allowed 3 runs in his past 3 appearances, something that he hasn’t experienced in a very long time, if ever. Before this slide, he had given up 3 runs total in his previous 61 appearances. Kimbrel still has only given up 7 home runs in his big league career. Kimbrel notched his second blown save in 10 days. His first came in that bizarre game in Colorado when they Braves had a 2-run lead and a misplay by Justin Upton contributed to Kimbrel’s blown save.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 R H E
    Mets 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 2 7 7 0
    Braves 0 0 1 0 2 0 1 1 0 0 5 10 0

    W: Parnell (2-0) L: Walden (1-1) SV: Familia (1)

    Game 2:

    The Braves were without Juan Francisco for the second game of the series. Francisco left game 1 with a mild right ankle sprain. He is currently day-to-day and says he is feeling better.

    Braves’ offense hit Jonathan Niese hard. In the 3rd inning, the Braves sent 10 men to the plate, including pitcher Tim Hudson twice. Had it not been for the wind, Justin Upton’s sacrifice fly in the 5th inning would have been a grand slam. Nothing Niese threw seemed to be getting hitters out. Dan Uggla hit his first triple of the season off Niese. It was also the Braves’ first triple of the season, the last team in baseball to do so. Uggla’s triple came in game 30 of the season and the franchise record for the latest first triple of the season was set in 1977 during game 31.

    Torrid offense and solid pitching from Hudson gave the Braves the opportunity to add to the oft-cited record of Huddy’s that gives him a record of 138-3 when given a lead of 3 or more runs.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Mets 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 2 0 4 6 0
    Braves 0 0 5 0 2 1 0 1 x 9 12 0

    W: Hudson (4-1) L: Niese (2-3)

    BRAVES JOIN BRIAN McCANN IN CINCY…

    The Braves begin their 10-game road trip tonight in Cincinnati. They will ten swing through San Francisco and Arizona before returning to the Ted.

    For the second time in two weeks, two pitchers, Medlen and Bailey, bring the same ERA to the matchup. Last week we saw that with Gonzalez and Hudson.

    The big news for the Cincy trip is that the Braves will have catcher Brian McCann returning to the lineup. And not a moment too soon. McCann holds a .333 average with 3 doubles, 10 homers and 19 RBIs in his 22 games at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. He has a nearly unheard of 1.130 OPS in the Queen City. Mac will face a pitcher that he is very familiar with in his first game back. Against Bronson Arroyo, Mac is 9-for-18 with 4 homers.

    On the matter of the bullpen: While Kimbrel and O’Flaherty have been shaky recently, part of this can be attributed to the state of the Braves’ bullpen of late. Losing Luis Ayala to the 15-day DL with an anxiety disorder was a big blow to a ‘pen that had relied on his consistency. Since returning from a hamstring injury, Avilan has not been as consistent and commanding as he was before. Walden is not tricking batters, except for his one appearance against the Nationals when batters seemed to be perplexed by his change up. And the absence of Jonny Venters is felt. Venters will return in the coming weeks barring a setback and the Braves hope for a speedy recovery for Ayala. However, if the Braves were to go looking for some bullpen help, they need look no further than Double-A where Alex Wood is tearing it up for Mississippi. Promoting him to Triple-A Gwinnett sooner rather than later would set him up to be of service to the big league club should they need it.

    The Braves will send Maholm (3-3, 3.08) to the mound vs. Arroyo (2-3, 3.95) for game 1. Tuesday’s game will feature Medlen (1-4, 3.38) vs. Bailey (1-3, 3.38). The final game of the series features Minor (3-2, 3.26) vs. Leake (2-1, 4.15).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#!/framethepitch">@framethepitch.

    Braves spring training report: Week- 3

    The Braves wrapped up week 3 of exhibition play at spring training this week, going 4-3 with a convincing win with a split squad against the Yankees Saturday.

    This week’s scores (3/10-3/16)

    Opponent Score
    Marlins 10-2 (L)
    Nationals 7-2 (W)
    Cardinals 12-3 (W)
    Marlins 2-1 (W)
    Cardinals 5-3 (L)
    Mets 5-2 (L)
    Yankees (SS) 4-0 (W)

    This week, as the roster was pared down, the final roster decisions were aligning. With his opposite field hitting and improved defense, Juan Francisco looks to be the Opening Day recipient of a slight majority of playing time at third base. Francisco is continuing the strong offseason he began playing in the Dominican Winter League where he hit .307 with 9 homers and 29 RBIs in 34 games. This Spring, Francisco is hitting .311 with 14 hits in 16 games. He does, however, have 14 strikeouts to match those 14 hits, a stat that was addressed here at BravesWire by Darren Schienbein early in the week. For as often as Roadrunner strikes out, he gets his walks and will get his hits. The tradeoff is certainly worth it.

    Evan Gattis continued to impress with his bat this week, proving that he could very well be the backup catcher to Gerald Laird in Brian McCann’s absence. Freddie Freeman hit a monster of a home run at Champion Stadium against the Mets, reminding Braves fans that Freeman has 30 HR power. A healthy Freeman, vision in tact, will only add to the impressive lineup the Braves have built for 2013. This lineup can and will hit for power, but they will also hit for average–something each player has been working toward in their young careers. The Spring Training lineup has yet to see the return of Andrelton Simmons who remains with the Netherlands World Baseball Classic team as it advances to the semifinals in San Francisco. Simmons has flourished in the WBC, an experience just as important to his growth and preparation for the season as Spring Training would have been. The Braves are likely to have him back for at least the final week of exhibition play in Florida, if not a bit more.

    The biggest story lines this week involve pitching.

    Kris Medlen was solid in his start against the Marlins on Wednesday, but was forced to leave the game after 4 2/3 innings because he was hit not once, but twice with comebackers on the mound. Medlen said he was fine after leaving the game, his removal was only precautionary. Medlen has only improved this Spring with locating his pitches and has expanded his pitch selection. His confidence with his curve ball is improving and while his velocity will top out at about 93 mph since returning from Tommy John surgery, his command is perhaps the best of the team’s rotation.

    Paul Maholm was lights out against the Yankees yesterday, throwing 6 scoreless innings. Perhaps the Braves should play the Yankees every Sunday. Mike Minor threw a gem against the Bronx Bombers last Sunday. Maholm has slowly returned to the form we saw when he joined the Braves at the trade deadline last season. His is truly the story of two Springs. Early on he had little command and now he is in perfect control of his game. Maholm has improved his ERA to 2.33 in 19 1/3 innings. Additionally, Maholm has not given up a home run this Spring.

    Tim Hudson came back from a horrendous start to throw a quality outing Friday. Huddy bounced back from that awful Sunday start when he gave up 9 hits and 5 runs in 6 innings against the Marlins. On Friday, Hudson threw an equal number of innings–6–this time only giving up 2 runs on 5 hits. This Spring has shown Hudson’s velocity to be down from previous years. The 37-year-old continues to say that his pitches are not the quality he expects of himself, leaving some wondering if this could be Tim’s final year pitching. Hudson has always said he wants to finish out his career with the Braves.

    The once steady bullpen is more in question this Spring than manager Fredi Gonzalez and GM Frank Wren would like. Jonny Venters has had absolutely no command of his fastball. In the same game that saw Medlen hit twice, Venters entered and walked four straight batters. In addition to those four walks, Venters had a wild pitch that handed the Marlins a run. This was Venters’ second outing in a row where he allowed a run in a mere inning of work.

    Reliever Eric O’Flaherty made a strong debut, returning to the Braves ‘pen for the first time this Spring to throw a scoreless inning against the Cardinals. O’Flaherty’s return to form will be important for a ‘pen that is questioning the command of Venters and the health of Jordan Walden. Walden, acquired in the Tommy Hanson trade, has been out for nearly a month with a bulging disc in his back. Walden threw batting practice on Saturday after two solid bullpen sessions. His return to Atlanta’s bullpen may happen as soon as this week. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Braves call up J.R. Graham at some point this season. Graham has been dominant this Spring, allowing no runs and only 6 hits in his 9 innings of work. His dominance is good news for the Braves as they’ve watched other members of the ‘pen, like long-man Cristhian Martinez really struggle. Martinez has racked up a 6.48 ERA in 8 1/3 innings.

    The Braves continue exhibition play today against the Mets. Atlanta is currently 4th in the Grapefruit League standings behind the Rockies, Padres and Cardinals (no National League East teams) with 12 wins and 11 losses.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Braves Grapefruit League report: Week- 2

    The Braves wrapped up their second week of exhibition play on Saturday with a “W”, bringing their Grapefruit League record to 5 of 8.

    This week’s scores (3/2-3/9, SS is split squad):

    Opponent Score
    Astros 6-5 (L)
    Tigers 6-1 (W)
    Mets 4-2 (W)
    Yankees 2-0 (W)
    Tigers 9-2 (L)
    Astros (SS) 14-9 (W)
    Blue Jays (SS) 7-1 (L)
    Yankees 2-1 (W)

    Slowly the roster picture is coming into focus for Manager Fredi Gonzalez and mastermind GM Frank Wren. There are, however, some interesting story lines that have yet to meet their conclusion.

    Both Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson have proven to be serviceable at the hot corner and both potential third basemen have stepped it up with their offense. Francisco is hitting .333 this spring while Johnson is hitting .345.  A big surprise has been Francisco’s focus on using the entire field. His opposite field homer this week may give him the edge on offense by a slight margin. While their numbers are comparable at the dish, Francisco appears to be slightly more sound than Johnson on defense. At this point, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Johnson and Francisco splitting time at 3B, if for no other reason than the fact that neither has been able to pull significantly ahead in the third base competition thus far.

    Joey Terdoslavich, Tyler Pastornicky and Jordan Schafer are really making a case for a spot on the bench. All three have shown the kind of versatility at the plate that a manager needs in a bench bat.  Joey Terdoslavich had a down year in the minors, hitting a mere .240, but his .481 this Spring may give him a fighting chance to make Fredi’s Opening Day roster. Schafer, the former–and current–Brave, is showing signs that his offensive collapse in his final year in Atlanta and with the Houston Astros may be behind him. Schafer hit .167 in his final games with the Braves, after overcoming a wrist injury that banished him from the big leagues for 2 years. His .281 this Spring is precisely what Frank Wren was hoping for when he signed the center fielder this offseason.

    Minor league catcher/left fielder Evan Gattis has not disappointed so far this spring. His much-praised bat has been everything everyone expected it to be and his defense behind the plate has been better than advertised. Gattis reminds of another up-and-coming catcher in the American League, Jesus Montero. Montero’s bat was what first impressed the Yankees and then the Mariners, but once in the big leagues, his defense turned out to be much better than advertised. The Braves want to take advantage of Gattis’ bat and were willing to wait for his defense to solidify, but if the last week is any indication, Gattis is ready to be the backup to Gerald Laird behind the plate for Opening Day. Gattis’ .423 average is second only to the .481 avg of Joey Terdoslavich, and Gattis leads all Braves hitters with a 1.218 OPS (on-base% + slugging%).

    While we’re on the topic of catching, Brian McCann took batting practice yesterday, his first on-field BP with his teammates since offseason shoulder surgery. Mac won’t be ready for Opening Day, but the Braves are confident that Laird can handle the pitching staff in his stead.

    A scary moment happened early in the week when Dan Uggla was hit by a pitch off the back of his neck, just below the edge of his batting helmet. Uggla was hit by a pitch during the 2012 season, suffering a concussion. After being hit this week, he was given a concussion test and it was negative. The pitch may have done more damage to the ball than himself. That trip to first base was one of a few this week. Uggla does seem to be turning it around at the plate. That is a good sign given the horrendous start to his spring. He remains just over the Mendoza line with a batting average of .212.

    Pitching should be ahead of hitting at this point in the spring. And handful of Braves’ hurlers already appear ready for Opening Day, but a few others may be glad it’s still a few weeks away.  Kris Medlen joined veteran starters Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm in the ‘not sharp’ category. The trio has struggled with their command thus far. None of this is of great concern, though, given that we’re only two weeks into exhibition play. All three have the big league experience to be on track by the time the regular season begins. Young Mike Minor is the one pitcher from last year’s rotation who has been solid this Spring. Minor has 1 win in 3 games (9 innings pitched) and is holding a 2.00 ERA. In his latest outing against the Yankees, Minor pitched 4 shutout innings.

    The best pitching stories this Spring come from the lesser-known Braves who have spent the majority of their time in the minors. Cory Gearrin has quietly made the case that he deserves a spot in the bullpen. In 5 innings pitched, Gearrin has 6 strikeouts and hasn’t allowed a run. This will prove important given the uncertainty surrounding Jordan Walden who apparently has a bulging disc in his back and has been treated for that with an epidural steroid injection. And the best news in pitching is that Julio Teheran has developed a nasty sinker to round out his repertoire. In 9 innings pitched, Teheran has 12 strikeouts and a 2.00 ERA. Teheran may finally be the pitcher the Braves hoped he would be when he was called up last season. Teheran’s maturity will make for a formidable rotation before and after Brandon Beachy’s return from Tommy John surgery midseason.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Braves’ remaining trade and free agent options

    With the loss of Chipper Jones, the Atlanta Braves were left with a major vacancy in their lineup—one they may not fully compensate for this winter alone. Replacing a future Hall-of-Famer, after all, is a difficult task. Gone too, presumably, is fleet-footed leadoff man Michael Bourn.

    Newly acquired slugger BJ Upton figures to take Chipper’s place somewhere in the middle of the Braves’ lineup. In inking Upton to a 5-year contract, Braves’ General Manager Frank Wren closed the deal with their top free agent target fairly quickly, filling the right-handed power hitter role. The hole atop the batting order, however, remains.

    If the Braves are able to score a capable leadoff hitter, it will make life easier on Braves’ Manager Fredi Gonzalez, but that quest is proving difficult. Wren and Co. do, however, have a plethora of ways to sort out their lineup for the 2012 campaign.

    Given Martin Prado’s ability to play a multitude of positions, we may see him slide over to third base and take Chipper’s spot on the field. This would give the Braves the opportunity to go after someone to play in left: a position that is much easier to fill than 3B.

    The Braves could patch up the empty LF position from within, which would be the simplest and most cost-efficient way to go about this. If Wren chooses to go with players already in the system, we’ll probably see some sort of a platoon like we did when Matt Diaz and Eric Hinske manned LF during the 2011 season. Not the most inspiring option, but an option it is.

    In a platoon, we could see Jose Constanza and Reed Johnson splitting time, as each bat from a different side of the plate. Prospect Evan Gattis is another possibility, and could see time in the big leagues this year regardless of what the starting lineup shapes up to be. Now 26 years old and no longer a kid by baseball standards, Gattis and his powerful swing could be ready to make the jump to Turner Field, and perhaps become a valuable player for the Braves off the bench. He currently has 13 home runs in the Winter League and is turning some heads.

    Of course, all this left field talk could be moot if Juan Francisco steps up and shows enough improvement to take over at 3B (which would keep Prado in left).  Francisco hit for a .234 average last season in 192 at-bats. At times, however, he did display the big-time power that attracted the Braves to him in the first place. Though Fransisco, like Gattis, is tearing up the Winter League, I wouldn’t bet rent money on his earning a starting role.

    Ideally, given the choices from within, the Braves will bring in a new starter from the outside. With the winter meetings done with, Frank Wren may have missed his best opportunity to land a new LF; however, that doesn’t mean his search is done.

    There are plenty of feasible options to choose from—both via free agency and the trade market.

    One player who could be had via trade is Emilio Bonifacio. While he was part of the blockbuster deal that sent most of Miami’s foundation to Toronto, the Blue Jays may be looking to free up some space in their budget after acquiring R.A. Dickey.

    Bonifacio hit just .258 but had a .330 on-base percentage in an injury-plagued 2012 season in which he played in just 64. In 2011, when he was healthy, he batted .296 and finished with a .360 OBP in 152 games. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, Bonifacio would be a significant upgrade in the lineup over the likes of Francisco and Johnson.

    Cody Ross, who batted .267 last year and hit 22 home runs, was on Atlanta’s radar. However, he has reportedly agreed to a deal with the DBacks.

    Someone else the Braves could go after, even if it may be a long shot, is Josh Willingham. The 33-year-old veteran is currently signed by the Twins, but the Braves might have the assets necessary to make a trade happen (if Minnesota is willing, of course).

    Willingham hit 35 home runs last season with a .260 average. Throw him into Atlanta’s lineup along with Heyward, Upton, McCann, Uggla and Freeman, and we’re looking at perhaps one of the best power-hitting teams in baseball.

    Other than the aforementioned players, there are other alternatives out there…

    Arizona’s Jason Kubel is a nice power bat, but he hits left handed, and if the Braves opt for adding more power (rather than a leadoff man), they would like to add it from the right side of the plate.

    Colorado’s Dexter Fowler is available for the right price, but the “right price”, as defined by the Rockies’ brass, borders on the absurd.

    Nick Swisher is still on the market, but has likely priced himself out of Atlanta’s plans.

    And there are likely other names about which the Braves have inquired, who we haven’t even thought about.

    If a deal can’t be struck before Spring Training, there’s always the trade deadline next summer. The Braves can get by with the playing they have now for the first two-thirds of the season; the playoffs, on the other hand, might be a different story.