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How The Rotation May Shake Out

Feb 07, 2016 -- 1:18pm

With pitchers and catchers due to report to Orlando in less than two weeks, one of the biggest question marks surrounding the 2016 Braves revolves around the starting rotation. One thing we know for sure, that Julio Teheran will be the ace of the staff. But, after Teheran, who will fill out the next four days? Here’s a look at how the starting rotation could shape up to start out the season:

Bud Norris: The 31 year old is coming off the worst season of his career (7 seasons in the Majors), where he posted a 6.72 ERA in 38 appearances (11 starts) split between the Orioles and Padres. However, in 2014, the six foot right hander posted his personal best ERA (3.62) in 28 starts, with a 15-8 record. What Bud Norris will be the Braves get? Obviously, they’re hoping a change of scenery and the chance to work with Roger McDowell can get him back on track to the player he was two years ago.

Matt Wisler: After the trade to Atlanta on the eve of Opening Day 2015, Wisler jumped to the top of the Braves prospect list. The 22 year old righty made his Big League debut June 19th, allowing 1 run on 6 hits over 8 innings. As most young starters do, Wisler struggled with consistency early on. And after a disastrous start in Washington on Sept 3 where he couldn’t get out of the second inning, Wisler posted a 2.21 ERA over his last 6 appearances (5 starts) of the season. Wisler should also benefit from working with Tom Glavine this offseason. Between AAA and the Bigs, Wisler logged 174 innings. Atlanta’s rotation (and more importantly bullpen) would love to see that number finish closer to the 200 mark this season.

Tyrell Jenkins:  I may be in the minority here, but I think Jenkins has a great shot to crack the Opening Day starting rotation. Talk about consistency, Jenkins posted an identical ERA (3.97) in both AA and AAA last year. But the thing I like about Jenkins is that not many people are talking about him right now. He could quietly put together a strong Spring Training and win one of the remaining spots.

Kyle Kendrick:  If Braves fans cringe when they hear the name Kyle Kendrick, it’s likely because he was a thorn in their side for many years in Philadelphia. Kendrick has started 20 games against Atlanta in his career, posting a 9-4 mark with a 3.41 ERA, including 5-1 all time at Turner Field. Kendrick averages around 190 innings per season, again, something the rotation will be in desperate need of.

Jhoulys Chacin: A seven year veteran, Chacin spent six seasons with the Rockies, posting a very respectable 3.78 ERA in the thin air of Denver. Chacin seems to be this years version of Wandy Rodriguez. Expect him to hang around camp and make the decisions difficult in the final week or two of March.

Waiting in the wings: The last 16 months have provided the Atlanta farm system with a number of up-and-comers that could likely be ready to make the jump at some point during the middle or latter part of 2016. Sean Newcomb and Aaron Blair are close. Manny Banuelos and Mike Foltynewicz are both coming off injuries and guys like Williams Perez and Ryan Weber also showed they had what it took to get Big League hitters out.

One thing is for certain, there will be no shortage of healthy competition for six weeks between the middle of February and early April. How it all plays out is still to be determined. Stay with all of us at the Braves Radio Network as we’ll have you covered day in and day out with all the very latest happenings from Orlando!

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Fan Fest Is This Saturday!

Jan 27, 2016 -- 4:17pm

With the month of January coming to a close, that means only one thing. Spring Training is now just a few short weeks away. But, first things first, the Braves will open the gates to Turner Field this Saturday for Fan Fest. The event is free and open to the public this Saturday from 10am to 4pm and will feature current players, coaches and Front Office members along with top prospects, broadcasters and Braves alumni.

Fans will have a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with their favorite players and get autographs, photos, participate in Q&A’s and even have a chance to play Madden against Tyrell Jenkins. Jenkins has promised however, to not let anyone beat him. In years past, the last couple weeks of January have featured the Braves Country Caravan, this this year, the team is doing things a little differently. It’s not often to have this type of access, so we hope to see you all at the ballpark this weekend. And if you needed another incentive, Mother Nature is going to cooperate with sunny skies and temps in the mid 60’s.

For all the latest info on Fan Fest, like autograph and photo sessions along with everything you need to know about the event, make sure to checkout Braves.com/FanFest. In addition, Ben Ingram & myself will be broadcasting live from the Fan Plaza from 930-1130am and again from 230-4pm. Hope to see you all this Saturday at the ballpark!

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin.

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Freddie Feeling Fine

Jan 22, 2016 -- 8:25am

All offseason, one of the biggest questions surrouding the 2016 Atlanta Braves has been the health of Freddie Freeman’s wrist. A wrist that caused him frequent pain over the final two months of the season. A wrist that while it wasn’t getting any worse, just wasn’t getting any better. A wrist that held him out of the final handful of games, something that was extremely frustrating for the two time All Star. But, earlier this week, Freeman himself delivered the news fans had been hoping to hear all offseason. “My wrist is one hundred percente healthy” he told Ben Ingram and myself on Wednesday’s Clubhouse Report. That noise you heard around the Atlanta metro area was tens of thousands of fans with their collective sigh of relief.

Now that we know Freeman is healthy, the big thing to watch is if he’s at all timid with it once Grapefruit League games start on March 1st. Freddie has a pretty simple swing, so there’s not a whole lot of moving parts that could likely re-aggravate the prior injury. Due to the simplicity in his swing, Freeman will likely only need 40 to 50 at bats over the month of March to truly be ready for Opening Day. So, especially early on, it wouldn’t shock me to see him just get one or two ABs before departing early Spring Training games.

Knock on wood, the overall health of the 2016 club looks strong with pitchers & catchers due to report in just four weeks. Jason Grilli continues to progress from his Achilles injury. A full, regular offseason should benefit Nick Markakis, whom I expect to show significantly more power than he did last year. While it may not feel like it outside today, Spring is right around the corner folks!

CLICK HERE to listen to the entire Freddie Freeman interview

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Cespedes Sweepstakes Heating Up

Jan 14, 2016 -- 2:22pm

Over the last few days, an interesting name has been linked to the Braves, as Atlanta has been rumored to have interest in free agent slugger Yoenis Cespedes. While a deal still seems highly unlikely at this point, it’s fun to dream about the potential he could bring not only offensively but in the outfield as well. Since breaking into the Big Leagues in 2012, Cespedes averages about 27 homers and 92 RBI a year. In 2015, Cespedes was traded to the New York Mets and was a big reason why they found themselves back in the Fall Classic for the first time since 2000.

But, do the Braves necessarily make sense for the 30 year old slugger? With the moves that have been made, shedding big salaries and building for the future, signing Cespedes to a long term deal doesn’t seem to fit what the team has done to this point. That said, we all know that GM John Coppolella isn’t scared to make moves that some may find unconventional.

All that said, Cespedes is a game changer. It’s fun to dream of the middle of the order Fredi Gonzalez could put out there on a nightly basis that features the likes of Freddie Freeman, Yoenis Cespedes, Hector Olivera, Erick Aybar and Nick Markakis. In the end, I don’t expect to see Yoenis Cespedes donning a Braves jersey anytime soon, but then again, I never would have thought the team would have moved pieces like Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons and Evan Gattis like they did. So, while I won’t rule it out, and do believe there is some level of interest in the Braves Front Office, I wouldn’t go ordering that customized #52 jersey just yet.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Third Time's a Charm for Kelly Johnson

Jan 06, 2016 -- 12:34pm

Last July, the Braves turned heads when they traded Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson to their division rival Mets for a pair of minor league pitching prospects. On Wednesday afternoon, Atlanta brought the former ‘Baby Brave’ back for his third tour of duty, inking Johnson to a one year deal. In the end, the move makes sense on a number of levels as the Braves felt like they could get something for him at the time and bring him back the following offseason.

Johnson appeared in 62 games with the Braves in 2015, hitting .275 with 9 home runs and a .321 OBP. But more than anything, Johnson provides Fredi Gonzalez with depth and versatility, capable of playing just about every position in the infield, along with the outfield as well. Originally a first round pick of the Braves in the 2000 draft, Johnson will provide a young Braves club with another veteran presence in the clubhouse and on the field.

With the return of Johnson, it also becomes more likely that either Michael Bourn or Nick Swisher will be traded before the season opens. The outfield is already a crowded position, and again, with Johnson’s versatility, it’s yet another spot he can be utilized. Speaking of the 2016 season, there’s now just 43 days until pitchers and catchers report to Orlando. Don’t forget that we’ll have you covered 24/7 from Disney starting on Feb 19th, so stay with 680 The Fan for the very latest on your Atlanta Braves!

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Projecting The Starting Nine

Dec 29, 2015 -- 2:04pm

While it’s still December, soon the calendar will be flipping to January which means we’re getting closer and closer to pitchers & catchers reporting in mid-February. Opening Day is still about 95 days away, so this projection could certainly change with plenty of time still remaining in the offseason. Many folks have asked what I expect the Opening Day starting lineup to look like, and from an offensive standpoint, I think it’s clear to see that the 2016 Braves should be an improved offensive club.

Ender Inciarte figures to leadoff in center field, which would likely slot Nick Markakis into the two hole. Expect Freddie Freeman to return to his familiar third spot in the order, while AJ Pierzynski could once again hit fourth. Pierzynski however won’t catch over 100 games, so when he’s on the bench, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Fredi Gonzalez swap in Adonis Garcia into the cleanup spot. Newcomer Erick Aybar, acquired for Andrelton Simmons could give the middle of the order some more thump and potentially be a nice fit for fifth. Hector Olivera, to me, is the key to the 2016 Braves offense. We didn’t see all that much of Olivera, and at times, showed he could find the gaps. If he can produce like the Braves expect him to, that’s a great option in the sixth spot. The bottom of the order figures to feature Jace Peterson, Tyler Flowers and the pitchers spot.

To say the offense should be improved this season isn’t much of a stretch. Over the last two seasons, Atlanta finished 29th and 30th respectively in the Majors in terms of runs scored. So, the only place to go from there is up. How about defensively? Let’s be honest, it’s not going to be an easy task replacing the perennial Gold Glove candidate Andrelton Simmons, but Aybar has some gold hardware of his own, and certainly won’t be a liability. And in center field, Inciartie is an upgrade over any other option the Braves would have had going into the upcoming season. If Freddie Freeman can manage to keep his wrist pain free, I’d expect his power numbers to take a step up as well.

Overall, I truly expect the Braves offense to be much more fun to watch in the upcoming season than it was for the final three months of 2015. Now, the big question mark becomes the starting rotation. Who will be able to chew up the innings (205 to be exact) left behind from Shelby Miller? Can youngsters like Matt Wisler, Mike Foltynewicz or even prospects like Aaron Blair and Sean Newcomb be ready to take it to the next level? In the coming weeks before Spring Training, we’ll continue to look at some of the bigger question marks around the 2016 Braves as we gear up for Spring Training in sunny Orlando.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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