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Braves Spring Training: A Personal View

The aroma is indistinguishable. One can sniff it out, even before one arrives. The unmistakable smell of fresh cut grass, a precisely placed infield, and the absolutism of a new season. Spring Training carries its own unique placement in the baseball psyche. True, it’s not the regular season and it’s definitely not the playoffs. However, the game is never quite as relaxed, nor as tense as it gets come February and March every year. The relaxation comes from being in environments that work to percolate and massage the spirit. The tension comes from the hope and fear of a new season. Both of those feelings wash over a fan as he or she makes their way into their team’s practice facility.

For this writer, that team is the Atlanta Braves and the facility in question is CoolToday Park in North Port, Florida. Braves Spring Training is filled with the same questions as other teams. Queries about the rotation, the lineup, and the future abound. However, the uniqueness of Braves Spring Training lies in the outstanding pressure put upon this 2023 outfit. Before 2022, the team lost a leader in Freddie Freeman. Now, they’ve lost another leader in Dansby Swanson. Those losses aside, the team is still projected to be a World Series contender this season. So, the ultimate question of Braves’ Spring Training is whether or not they can live up to that. This writer was lucky enough to be in Florida for three games. These are those stories.

Braves Spring Training: A Personal View

Braves Spring Training Game One: New Pieces Impress

Game number one featured a matchup against the Baltimore Orioles, who were participating in a split-squad session. One of the major questions surrounding the Braves this season is regarding left field. The performance of one player in this game might go a long way toward answering that. Eli White, a former Texas Rangers utility player, crushed two home runs. Granted, it was off of Orioles prospects, however, his stroke and speed with the bat were incredibly impressive. Overall, White is hitting .435 in his 10 games this spring with three homers and seven RBI. Should the Braves decide to move away from Marcell Ozuna as an everyday left fielder, White could be a definite option.

Sadly, the weather put an early end to the experience. However, the six innings that were played gave definite exposure to a lot of the Braves’ new pieces. Aside from White, young pitcher Dylan Dodd was extremely impressive. In four innings, he only gave up two hits and struck out four. Again, it was off of players that Dodd would have faced in the minors. That said, Dodd definitely made his case for inclusion in the battle for the fifth starter’s role in the rotation. On Tuesday, the Braves optioned both Ian Anderson and Bryce Elder to Triple-A Gwinnett. According to Braves writer David O’Brien, this leaves the fifth starter’s fight between Dodd and Jared Shuster.

Game Two: Offense Crushes, Bullpen Cruises

Speaking of Elder, the Braves traveled to Clearwater next to take on the defending National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Elder started the game and got in some decent work, going four innings and striking out three. His only hiccups were a two-run homer to Nick Castellanos and three walks. The Braves bullpen, led by perfect outings from Michael Tonkin and Nick Anderson, was able to hold the Phillies to five runs. Elder’s aforementioned hiccups may have sealed his relocation to Gwinnett. However, the relief corps turned in a steady performance, with the only problem being a three-run ninth inning.

The stars of this particular show had to be the offense. Braves regulars Vaughn Grissom and Ozuna combined for four hits and four runs scored. Outfield hopeful Kevin Pillar picked up two hits and two runs of his own. The Braves Spring Training bats finalized their dominance of the opposition with a three-run homer by Ozzie Albies and a grand slam from Ehire Adrianza. The idea that this was done off of prospects was almost second nature as the Braves, quite frankly, seemed to put a little frustration from the 2022 postseason into this game. All told, the Braves scored 15 runs on 15 hits, while showing tremendous patience at the plate, totaling 11 free passes.

Braves Spring Training Game Three: A Loss with Some Positives

The final game on this Braves Spring Training trip was back in North Port as the team faced the defending World Series champion Houston Astros. Unfortunately for the Braves fans in attendance, the Astros scored nine runs and won handily. The lone bright spot was rotation mainstay Spencer Strider, who turned in 3 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts. True, he gave up two runs. However, his speed and precision were definitely present. A reliance on breaking pitches was the order of his first few batters. However, by the time he arrived at his second time through the Astros lineup, his speed had returned. Spring Training is a time for progress, and his pitches showed as such.

Offensively, the Braves were somewhat anemic. Perhaps scoring so many runs in Clearwater on Tuesday emptied the proverbial tank. Nevertheless, this is Spring Training, and there were some bright spots. Matt Olson, despite going hitless in three at-bats, crushed some offerings that either didn’t find landing spots or drifted foul. White continued his torrid spring, picking up a hit in his lone at-bat to improve to a .458 average. Albies, Riley, and outfielder Jordan Luplow also contributed hits. Obviously, it was less than impressive, and it was even more so considering that a lot of the opposition’s damage came courtesy of backups and prospects.

A Terrific Experience

All in all, though, this Braves Spring Training experience was an unforgettable one. Having the opportunity to watch the team’s progression over three days is certainly unique. The Braves still have two major questions, though. The first is how they will handle left field. Ozuna, while having a great spring, presents something of an unknown quantity; namely, whether or not he can continue this success all year. Guys like White and Luplow are definitely hungry for the position, and they showed it in these three games. Factor in Kevin Pillar and, suddenly, the outfield becomes incredibly crowded.

The second of these questions surrounds the coveted fifth spot in the starting rotation. Considering Mike Soroka’s status, it has become imperative for the Braves to find the right man. Dodd and Shuster have become the prime candidates. Seeing Dodd pitch in person gave a lot of insight into who he is as a pitcher, and it was all impressive. He could be an excellent support for guys like Strider and, perhaps, even Charlie Morton. In time, the answers to these questions will be revealed as the Braves embark on their quest for yet another World Championship.

Main photo credits:

Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

Players mentioned:

Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, Eli White, Marcell Ozuna, Dylan Dodd, Ian Anderson, Bryce Elder, Jared Shuster, Nick Castellanos, Michael Tonkin, Nick Anderson, Vaughn Grissom, Kevin Pillar, Ozzie Albies, Ehire Adrianza, Spencer Strider, Matt Olson, Jordan Luplow, Charlie Morton


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