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DO THE BRAVES REALLY SUCK THIS BAD?

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Snit extended as Braves skipper through 2023

In this May 17, 2016, file photo, Atlanta Braves interim manager Brian Snitker talks with reporters in the dugout before the team’s baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh. (Gene J. Puskar, The Associated Press)

Feb. 26, 2021 –
BY KEVIN CALPIN
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – When the Braves parted ways with Fredi Gonzalez in 2016, it seemed like Brian Snitker was viewed as more of a placeholder than anything. The former third base coach was “promoted” to manager at Triple-A following the 2013 season. At the time, it could’ve been easy for Snit to move on to another organization. But he’s said time and time again, “I’m a Brave, this is where I want to be.” Well, once again, the 65 year old skipper got his wish as the club signed him to an extension through the 2023 season, with a team option for 2024.

The 2018 National League Manager of the Year, Snitker led his team to its first division title in five years, guiding the Braves to a 90-72 record, an improvement of 18 wins from the prior year. In 2019, the team ran away and hit with the NL East, recording 97 wins. And last year, completed the three-peat as NL East champs. Following the 2020 campaign, Snitker became the first manager in franchise history to guid the Braves to the Playoffs in three of his first four full seasons at the helm.

This season will mark Snitker’s 45th with the organization. None of this would’ve been possible without the late Hank Aaron. At the time, Aaron was the club’s farm director, while Snitker was trying to make it as a Minor League catcher. In 1981, when it was clear his playing career wasn’t going to pan out, Aaron released Snitker. However, he immediately offered Snit an opportunity to coach in the Minor League system. And over the next couple decades, Snitker stopped in just about every small town in the Southeast. Here he is, 40 years later, sitting as one of the most successful managers in franchise history, with a chance to guide this potent ballclub to its first World Series title since 1995.

Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet

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Chipper Jones rejoins the Braves as an assistant hitting coach

Chipper Jones, atlanta braves
Atlanta Braves Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, left, gives infielder Johan Camargo some batting tips during spring baseball training Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in North Port, Fla. (Curtis Compton / AP)

Feb. 25, 2021 –
BY KEVIN MCALPIN
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – One of the constants surrounding the Braves over the last few years has been the coaching staff. Whether it’s Ron Washington working with the infielders, Eric Young Sr. assisting in the positioning of the outfielders, or Rick Kranitz taking a relatively young and inexperienced staff under his wing on the mound, manager Brian Snitker has repeatedly praised the hard work and dedication his coaching staff puts towards their job on a daily basis. That staff increased by one Hall of Famer this year, as Chipper Jones returned to the uniform, nine seasons removed from his final year of 2012 as an assistant hitting coach. Anytime number ten would come through Turner Field, Truist Park or even Spring Training, he was always talking hitting. Often times, he could be found sitting on a bucket near the cage on a back field, happy to help anyone who may look to him for some pointers. One of those youngsters is Austin Riley, who vividly recalled the first time he saw Chipper taking notice of him on a back field a few years ago.

Think about the impact that can have on a young player. A first ballot Hall of Famer, taking time to come watch you hit and give you advice about what he sees. This is the first time Chipper is back in uniform in an official capacity…his other previous stints were as Guest Instructors during camp. But Riley said on Thursday he really thinks Jones is happy to put the uniform back on. “He’s bouncing around…it seems like he’s everywhere. I definitely think he’s enjoying the atmosphere” Riley said following Thursday’s workouts. And why shouldn’t he be having fun? He gets to work with one of his best friends in Freddie Freeman, young studs like Ronald Acuna Jr, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley, and veterans who are coming off monster 2020 seasons like Marcell Ozuna and Travis d’Arnaud.

Will this lead to a more full-time position down the road for Chipper? He’s repeatedly said that he’s happy being home with the family, and lived out of a suitcase for over two decades. But this could certainly light the fire for a more permanent role down the line. Chipper’s the definition of a baseball lifer. And the Braves organization is lucky to call him their own.

Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet.

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Questions remain when rounding out the Braves’ roster

Jake Lamb, Atlanta Braves
FILE – Arizona Diamondbacks’ Jake Lamb swings at a pitch during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics in Phoenix, in this Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, file photo. The Atlanta Braves finalized a $1 million, one-year contract with third baseman Jake Lamb that is not guaranteed, adding another veteran bat Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, to an already deep competition for bench spots in spring training.(AP Photo/Darryl Webb, File)

Feb. 25, 2021 –
BY KEVIN MCALPIN
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – As the Braves inch closer to their first Grapefruit League game of the new year, the team that takes the field on Sunday is likely not a finished product. A few questions still remain when it comes to rounding out the roster. Who will serve as backup to Travis d’Arnaud? How about the back of the bullpen? What will the final spot or two on the bench look like?

I’ve got a funny feeling the team could still add a veteran backstop, giving guys like Alex Jackson, William Contreras and Shea Langeliers the ability to get four at bats a day in the Minors. The latter two, Contreras and Langeliers look to be the catchers of the future, but wouldn’t benefit all that much from getting a handful of at bats per week. So, I wouldn’t rule out the club looking outside the organization to find another veteran to pair with d’Arnaud. 

As for the bench, that continues to be a work in progress as the Braves bank on upside when it comes to guys like Pablo Sandoval, Jason Kipnis and most recently Jake Lamb. When camps near the final two weeks, players will have opt out clauses or be cut loose, so I would expect Alex Anthopoulos to look elsewhere to continue to amp up the competition for reserves.

Finally, losing right handed options like Mark Melancon and Darren O’Day in the pen, could leave a void and an opportunity for a reunion with former All Star closer Shane Greene. 

All these questions will be answered over the next five weeks. Our coverage starts on Sunday as you can hear the call of the Braves and reigning AL Champion Rays at 1:05pm ET on the Braves Radio Network. 

Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet

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Braves take the field for first full squad workout

FILE – Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Will Smith throws during spring training baseball camp Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in North Port, Fla. (AP FILE Photo/John Bazemore)

Feb. 23, 2021 –
KEVIN MCALPIN
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – As the Braves prepared to take the field for their first full squad workout this morning, manager Brian Snitker and other members of the organization gave their usual speeches. However, this year things were a bit different, due to health and safety guidelines. Since fans aren’t in the ballpark, the club gathered in the seating bowl at CoolToday Park and the team utilized the PA system to deliver the various addresses. But things were even more inspirational as the players and staff members also honored and paid tribute to legends that we’ve lost over the last year. That list, unfortunately, is much longer than it’s ever been. In addition to losing the legendary Hank Aaron last month, the Braves also had to say goodbye to Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro, Hall of Fame pitcher and club broadcaster Don Sutton and Bill Bartholomay, the man who brought Atlanta a Major League team in 1966.

“We were able to honor the great members of this organization who unfortunately passed away. Saw a couple great videos about their life…very inspirtational” said Travis d’Arnaud on Tuesday afternoon. “I think to honor them was very special and humbling to know everybody cares about them. I think it was big and it was motivational, for sure” d’Arnaud added.

While the team went about their first full squad workout, Freddie Freeman remains with his family after the birth of his son recently. Brian Snitker expects to have Freeman arrive in North Port by the end of the week, and he will no doubt have more than enough time to get himself and in the swing of things. Let’s be honest, Freddie looks like he’s ready for Opening Day by about March 3rd!

Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet.

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Braves ink deal with infielder Jake Lamb on Sunday

FILE – Oakland Athletics’ Jake Lamb runs against the Colorado Rockies during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Denver. (AP FILE Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Feb. 21, 2021 –
KEVIN MCALPIN
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA –

As the Braves look to solidify the options they have coming off the bench for the 2021 season, the club agreed to terms on a Major League deal with 30 year old corner infielder Jake Lamb on Sunday. An All-Star in 2017, Lamb hit 30 homers and drove in 105 runs for the Diamondbacks but has appeared in just 165 games over the last three seasons as he dealt with various injuries including season-ending shoulder surgery in 2018 and a Grade 2 strain to his left quadriceps muscle in 2019.

Last season, Lamb split time between the Diamondbacks and A’s, combining to appear in 31 games, hitting .193 with three homers and a .635 OPS. The veteran Lamb essentially fills the void left by the left handed hitting Nick Markakis. Considering the regular lineup Is very righty heavy, the club needed to find someone to hit from the left side that could also provide some pop. With Lamb now in the mix, he will join other veterans like Pablo Sandoval, Jason Kipnis and Ehire Adrianza who are looking to rejuvenate their careers with the three time NL East champs.

While the team has not officially announced the signing as they await the results of a physical, the club outrighted recently re-acquired Travis Demeritte to Gwinnett to open up a spot on the 40 man roster for Lamb.

Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet

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Backup Catcher remains a question for the Braves

FILE – Atlanta Braves’ Travis d’Arnaud (16) hits a broken bat single in the second inning in Game 3 of a baseball National League Division Series against the Miami Marlins. Heading into the Spring Training open, the question of who will be backing up d’Arnaud is still unanswered. (FILE AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Feb. 20, 2021 –
BY KEVIN MCALPIN
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – As we get closer to full squad workouts and the first Grapefruit League game of the new year a week from tomorrow, the Braves don’t come into camp with a whole lot of roster questions. However, to me, the backup catcher position remains a very intriguing situation of Brian Snitker’s club. We know Travis d’Arnaud will serve as the team’s everyday catcher. But, who will serve as his backup? And who can be counted on to take an even bigger role, should something happen to d’Arnaud. Remember, catchers get beat up, so having a competent backstop in a pinch will be of utmost importance.

Both William Contreras and Alex Jackson were thrust into action at the start of the season in late July when both d’Arnaud and Flowers were sidelined with COVID symptoms. Neither ever tested positive, but it was quite a pivot for the team on Opening Day to start the season with both of their starting catchers unavailable. I think I’d feel a lot better knowing I had a veteran in the mix to try and win a spot. It’s not taking anything away from either of the youngsters, but game planning and going over hitters and scouting reports is a big part of the game that most fans don’t get a glimpse of.

It appears as though both Contreras and Shea Langeliers are the future of the organization behind the dish. But, that’s likely still a year away. For now, the club will have to determine if they feel confident in handing the keys over to Jackson or Contreras, or going outside the organization and looking for a qualified veteran to help bridge the gap. Games start in eight days, so it will be a major storyline to follow as camp evolves.

Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet.

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Braves confident of what their starting rotation can be in 2021

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Max Fried fields a ground ball off the bat of Miami Marlins’ Starling Marte in the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Feb. 19, 2021 –
BY KEVIN MCALPIN
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – Friday marked the Braves second day of official workouts with pitchers and catchers in North Port. With the additions of veterans Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly, there’s certainly a lot of confidence in what this Atlanta rotation could be capable of in 2021. As of now, it’s still uncertain whether Mike Soroka will start on the Opening Day roster, or perhaps, be slightly behind. However, with a rotation of Soroka, Fried, Morton, Anderson and Smyly, the optimism is certainly warranted.

Take into consideration the fact that Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson also logged some big innings for the club last season, and there’s some serious depth and the ability at times to allow the manager to utilize a sixth man into the rotation if they felt the need. Also keep in mind that 2020 was a very odd year from starting pitchers standpoints. Guys that are used to throwing 160-180 innings likely saw about a third of that workload. So, at times this season, it may be necessary for teams to give a starter a little breather so they aren’t overworked or risking injury. As Max Fried said on Friday morning “that’s a good problem to have” when it comes to the added depth in Snit’s staff.

For the next few days, it will be more of the same for these guys. Side sessions, covering bunts and first base drills and getting themselves into game shape. Next week, the rest of the team will report and the Braves will open Grapefruit League play a week from Sunday. As for the main objective between now and Opening Day, it remains the same goal as always, to get to April 1st with a healthy club.

Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet.

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Braves: Promising news about Mike Soroka’s health

FILE – Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Soroka (40) waits for assistance from the training staff after being injured in the third inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Atlanta. Soroaka was helped to the dugout and replaced. (FILE AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Feb. 18, 2021 –
BY KEVIN MCALPIN
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA –
As Braves pitchers and catchers took to the field for the first workout of the new year, there was some very promising news when it comes to the health of Mike. All offseason, it’s been widely assumed that Soroka could miss the first month or so of the regular season. However, Brian Snitker isn’t ready to rule him out just yet. “We have five weeks to determine that” Snitker said, when asked if Soroka could be ready by April 1st. “I don’t think it’d be fair to him or us to say he’s not going to mamke the starting rotation. I don’t think we’re going to push or rush…going to see how this thing transpires” the manager added.

Soroka had a chance to give an update after workouts wrapped up on Thursday and said “It’s been progressing really well…I feel amazing” he said. When it comes to his arm strength, Soroka said he felt like he could be ready to compete today. The next step will be really pushing himself during PFP drills, getting off the mound to field bunts, cover first base, etc. Once he’s able to clear that hurdle, the club will have a much better idea of if he could be ready by Opening Day, or if he’d be slightly delayed going into the 2021 regular season. Regardless, day one in North Port brought about plenty of positive news when it comes to the ace of the Atlanta rotation.

Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet.

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Marcell Ozuna & Braves sign 4-year $64 million deal

FILE – Atlanta Braves’ Marcell Ozuna runs the bases on a home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP File Photo/John Amis)

KEVIN MCALPIN
680 THE FAN ATLANTA – With less than two weeks to go until the start of Spring Training, the Braves still had one glaring weakness in the middle of the order. That hole was plugged up on Friday night as the club announced a four-year deal with Marcell Ozuna, worth $64 million dollars. Ozuna’s contract also includes a club option for a fifth year, worth $16 million, with a $1 million dollar buyout.

Had it not been for the incredible 2020 campaign constructed by Freddie Freeman, Ozuna would’ve likely garnered much more support for the NL MVP award. Ozuna led the league with 18 homers and drove in an NL best 56 runs during the 60 game sprint. Ozuna’s season was nearly historic, as he entered the final day of the regular season with a chance at a Triple Crown, something that hasn’t happened in the National League since 1939.

From day one, Ozuna fit right in with this group. He brought a ton of energy to the field on a nightly basis and was always looking to “mix it up” with his teammates. He was also able to perfect his selfie game on big home runs or memorable moments with his teammates in the dugout. And it’s no coincidence Freddie Freeman’s numbers were as strong as they were with the presence of Ozuna right behind him in Brian Snitker’s order.

While it seemed like everyone else in the NL East was making moves to get better for the upcoming season, some fans were getting restless. But, never fear Braves fans. Ozuna is back in the heart of the order for at least the next four years…a window that certainly gives the club a chance at hoisting a World Series trophy.

Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet

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Legendary HOF Atlanta Brave knuckleballer Phil Niekro dies at 81

FILE – In this 1970 file photo, Atlanta Braves’ Phil Niekro poses for a photo. Niekro, who pitched well into his 40s with a knuckleball that baffled big league hitters for more than two decades, mostly with the Braves, has died after a long fight with cancer, the team announced Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020. He was 81. (AP Photo/File)

KEVIN MCALPIN
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – On Sunday, baseball lost another legend as Hall of Famer, and Braves great Phil Niekro passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer at the age of 81.

Niekro, inducted into Cooperstown in 1997 was the master of a long lost craft, the knuckleball. In 24 seasons (including 21 in a Braves uniform), Knucksie won 318 games, 16th most all time. A five time All Star, Niekro also took home five Gold Gloves, to go along with an ERA title, and twice led the NL in wins in 1974 and 1979. But perhaps more impressive than his accomplishments on the mound was his persona and ability to still connect to current players. He was a fixture at Spring Training and was often spotted in Gwinnett at Stripers games.

FILE – In this March 29, 2007, file photo, Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro holds a knuckleball at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Former Brave pitcher RA Dickey tweeted on Sunday: “So sad today. Phil Neikro helped me in a profound way to change the course of my career and life. I was perpetually moved by his kindness, wisdom, and sense of humor. What a man! He will be missed. Thank you Phil!”

In addition, the team issued the following statement on Sunday morning: We are heartbroken on the passing of our treasured friend, Phil Niekro.  Knucksie was woven into the Braves fabric, first in Milwaukee and then in Atlanta. Phil baffled batters on the field and later was always the first to join in our community activities. It was during those community and fan activities where he would communicate with fans as if they were long lost friends.

Niekro joins a list of legends lost in 2020 that also includes Hall of Fame pitchers Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford, along with Joe Morgan, Al Kalinin, Lou Brock and other greats of the game.

Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet.