Braves appear to be in good shape

Published 6:45 am Wednesday, February 16, 2011

With pitchers and catchers reporting to many major league baseball training camps this week, my favorite sport will soon be in full swing.

The favorite team for most of us in this part of the country is the Atlanta Braves, and many people have asked me recently what I think their prospects are for the coming season,

Their major change is at the top where long time, highly successful manager Bobby Cox is stepping down following another playoff run.

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Cox led them to five National League pennants, and the 2005 World Championship.

Replacing him is former Florida Marlins Manager Fredi Gonzalez, who served as his third base coach for a number of years. While their is no doubt that Cox is one of the greatest managers of all time, I also think that Gonzalez will do an outstanding job.

I think that strong starting pitching will again be the Braves’ strong point this season.

With right-handers Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson at the top of the rotation, and left-hander Derek Lowe and right-hander Jair Jurrjens holding down the third and fourth spots going into the season, the starting rotation seems solid.

Although All-Star left-handed reliever Billy Wager has retired, the bullpen also appears strong with young right-handed reliever Craig Kimbrel appearing ready to step into the closer’s role.

As far as the Braves every day lineup is concerned, rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman has been hitting the cover off the ball in the minor leagues, and I think he will have an outstanding rookie season,

Second baseman Dan Uggla, obtained in a trade with the Florida Marlins where he was an All-Star for Braves manager Gonzalez last season, should add power to the lineup.

Uggla’s acquisition enabled hard-hitting Matine Prado to move from second base to left field, a position he has been very successful at in winter ball.

If Nate McClouth returns to his 2009 form in center field and 2010 rookie star Jason Heyword has another outstanding season in right field, the Braves should have as strong an outfield trio as you will find in baseball.

Perennial veteran All-Star third baseman Chipper Jones has recovered well from a late season 2010 knee injury and has been making solid contact in batting cage hitting sessions.

All-Star catcher Brian McCann has been a solid fixture in the Braves lineup for several seasons, and this season should be no exception.

You can count on him to make contact and hit singles, doubles, triples and home runs in clutch situations. He is also an outstanding defensive catcher.

I don’t know how the Braves will do this season, but I think they have all the ingredients to make another strong run at the playoffs.

It’s been a long, cold winter, and I couldn’t be more ready for spring training games and the baseball regular season.