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FILE – In this Oct. 13, 2020, file photo, Atlanta Braves’ Freddie Freeman watches his two-run home run during the fourth inning in Game 2 of the baseball team’s NL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Arlington, Texas. Freeman easily won the NL MVP award Thursday, Nov. 12, topping off a trying year that saw him become so ill with COVID-19 he prayed “please don’t take me.” (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

April 9, 2021
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – Over the last 11 years, Braves fans have been spoiled, having a chance to watch the career of Freddie Freeman evolve into the player he is today.

While the 2020 season was his most memorable to this point, Freddie has proven to be one of the most consistent players in Major League Baseball. While superstars like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw and others usually are the ones on the covers of video games and magazines, Freddie Freeman deserves to be right there with them.

Originally a second round pick of the Braves in the 2007 Draft out of El Modena High School in Southern California, the now 31 year old first baseman is a four time All-Star, two time recipient of the Silver Slugger Award, a 2018 Gold Glove Award winner and this past season, Freddie took home the ultimate personal award as he was named National League Most Valuable Player.

While all those individual accomplishments are great, there’s one thing missing from his trophy case that his mentor Chipper reminded him about at the start of Spring Training.

Freddie spoke on a brief exchange he had with Jones saying, “I was talking to Chipper today and he said, ‘You’ve got every award now, but you’re still missing one thing.’

Yup, I know and I’m coming for it,’” Freeman replied.

This was in reference to Chipper still having Freddie beat in the World Series ring department.

While some players relish in the personal accolades, that’s not good enough for the Braves first baseman. “I have one goal, and that’s to win the World Series” Freddie declared in early March.

Let’s jump back to the MVP thing for just a second.

Winning one brings you, as Brian Snitker often says, “instant credibility”. It’s what he referred to when the Braves brought in Josh Donaldson in 2019 and the clout referenced to former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel when he was added midseason a couple years ago.

Earning the Most Valuable Player Award is a big deal, and Freeman joined some pretty exclusive company in 2020, becoming the first Brave to take home the award since Chipper Jones in 1999. The only other players in franchise history to earn such an honor were Terry Pendleton (1991), Dale Murphy (1982, 1983), Hank Aaron (1957), Robert Elliott (1947) and Johnny Evers (1914).

Of course the MVP Award is mostly based on offensive statistics, but I still believe Freddie is an underrated defensive first baseman.

With guys like Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo and others in the NL, his defense was often overlooked, but in my opinion, nobody makes a 3-6-3 double play look easier than Freddie Freeman. His ability to do the splits, stretches and lunges as saved countless errors from his infielders over the years, something his teammates often point out when asked.

I remember a conversation I had with Andrelton Simmons years ago, and even back then, he credited Freeman with saving a few errant throws that he didn’t think many other first baseman could get to.

A couple years ago I did a segment on MLB Network, asking who I thought would be the next Braves player elected to the Hall of Fame. Obviously, it’s extremely difficult to project, but the organization had gone through quite a run with the likes of Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz, Chipper, Bobby and John Schuerholz. After a moment of consideration, the answer was clear. I don’t know what the next decade will hold for Freeman, but up to this point he’s certainly among elite company who have already found their homes in Cooperstown. Baseball-Reference has him listed with Eddie Murray and Carl Yastrzemski as the most similar batters at this point in their respective careers with Eddie Murray appearing to be the closest comparison by age.

Will Freeman’s career continue to evolve into one that could land him in baseball’s most exclusive club someday? Braves fans hope they’ll have an opportunity to see that career from start to finish with an induction ceremony for Freddie in Cooperstown as the finale.

No matter how things end up, there’s no question Freddie Freeman is an elite player. He’s become one of the “faces of the game” and should continue to be on that level for a long, long time to come.

This is not what you should expect from the 2021 Braves – BY KEVIN MCALPIN

This is not what you should expect from the 2021 Braves – BY KEVIN MCALPIN

atlanta braves, travis d'arnaud
Atlanta Braves Travis d’Arnaud (16) follows through on a home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Sunday, April 4, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – No, the sky is not falling. No, the season is not over. No, this is not what you should expect from the 2021 Braves. Obviously, the new year didn’t get off to the start that anyone had hoped for, being swept out of Philly and held to just three total runs in the first three games. But the Braves have proven to be a resilient team. This group has always found a way to fight through adversity and move forward, not dwelling on a tough series. There’s 159 games to go. And remember what happened at the start of the 2019 season? That’s right, the Braves were blown out of Philadelphia, swept to start the regular season. Know how that year ended? That’s right, with the Braves winning 97 games en route to an NL East title. Meanwhile, the Phillies finished at .500 on the nose, going 81-81 during the 2019 season.

When you play 162 games, of course there will be series and weeks like the Braves went through. But remember, three games does not a season make. Does anyone really think the top four in the order will continue their collective struggles? I don’t. The manager doesn’t. Heck, the players don’t. Trust the back of the baseball card, and don’t base your opinion on a team or season on one series. Sure, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the numbers, especially the strikeout totals (35) for the first series. But at the end of the day, tip the cap to Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin and the Phillies bullpen. They were terrific. It happens.

At the end of the day, it wasn’t all doom and gloom from a Braves perspective this weekend. The rotation did their job. Max Fried admittedly didn’t have his plus stuff. But all told, if that’s his “C” stuff, you’d take that every fifth day. Charlie Morton was cruising through four, but the Phillies made him pay for a couple mistakes with two outs in the fifth on Saturday. And Ian Anderson, while the pitch count got up in a hurry, battled his way through five innings, limiting the damage to just one run. Ultimately, the Braves didn’t hit. The Phillies really didn’t either, but managed just enough to walk away with the sweep. Remember, it’s three games. Three of 162. This Braves bunch will be just fine.

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

The Braves Opening Day Roster is All but Set – BY KEVIN MCALPIN

The Braves Opening Day Roster is All but Set – BY KEVIN MCALPIN

Chipper Jones, atlanta braves
FILE – 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. (Camargo will be starting the season in Gwinnett with Bryse Wilson. (Curtis Compton / AP File Photo)

MARCH 28, 2021 –
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – As we reach the final couple games of Grapefruit League play, the Braves Opening Day roster is all but set after a flurry of moves over the weekend. Veterans Jason Kipnis and Jake Lamb’s bids for spots came to an end after slow springs, while Pablo Sandoval and Ehire Adrianza’s torrid camps got them a well earned spot on the bench. Meanwhile, Johan Camargo and Bryse Wilson will start the year at the Alternate Site in Gwinnett. Also, reliever Nate Jones will find himself in the Braves pen to open the year after allowing just one earned run over seven relief appearances.

So for now, the bench is set with Sandoval, Adrianza, Inciarte and Alex Jackson. The club will begin the 2021 campaign with just four on the bench and an extra arm in the bullpen. Depth, especially from a pitching standpoint, will be more critical than ever, given the fact starters threw about a third of their normal innings in the shortened 2020 season. Translation: don’t expect to see many starters pushed beyond six innings, especially in the early portion of the schedule and in colder weather climates. As of Sunday evening, the early forecasts for Opening Day in Philly call for temperatures in the mid 40’s with a sixty percent chance of showers. 

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

These two Braves pitchers need to stay ready, we’ll need you

These two Braves pitchers need to stay ready, we’ll need you

FILE -Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Kyle Wright throws against the New York Mets during the first inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in New York. This year, Kyle will be starting the season in Gwinnett with the Stripers, ut he’ll no doubt be called upon by the Braves some time this season. (AP File Photo/Noah K. Murray)

March 24, 2021 –
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – Stay ready, we’re going to need you. That was the message sent by Brian Snitker and the Front Office to a pair of Braves pitchers on Wednesday morning as the club optioned Kyle Wright and Jacob Webb to the alternate site in Gwinnett as the roster starts to get trimmed down even further. For Wright, this Spring was much like the last couple seasons. One or two solid outings, followed by a handful of inconsistent innings here and there. Overall, the 25 year old righty still showed a lot of potential and will definitely be back with the Big League club at some point during the regular season. In five starts during Grapefruit League play, the Vandy product posted a 4.50 ERA with 8 walks and 15 strikeouts over 16 innings worth of work. Meanwhile, for Jacob Webb, while his stuff looked solid during camp, he was the victim of being one of those younger relievers with options. The 27 year old allowed just one earned run over six spring outings, but his stuff was live and he had solid command of the zone, posting a line that featured a goose egg in the walks category.

Today’s moves help clear the way for a pair of veteran righties who have been extremely impressive this spring, as both Nate Jones and Carl Edwards Jr. continue to fight for roster spots in the Atlanta pen. An while the news might have been disappointing for both Webb and Wright, it doesn’t mean they’ll spend their entire summer in Gwinnett County. Webb has been good. Really good. And we’ll see him sooner than later and more than likely in late innings situations. Meanwhile for Kyle Wright, if any club knows the importance of depth in the rotation, it’s the Braves. Atlanta’s rotation took a beating last season, and with pitchers only throwing a fraction of their typical innings during a full season, reinforcements will be needed. So the mindset both need to take with them up I-85 is to work hard, stay focused and be ready. The Braves will need both of these young men at some point during this marathon 2021 season.

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

Two newcomers in the bullpen are impressing Brian Snitker

Two newcomers in the bullpen are impressing Brian Snitker

nate jones, atlanta braves, pitching, 680 the fan,
FILE – The Atlanta Braves are seeing good things from reliever Nate Jones in Spring Training.(AP File Photo/John Locher)

March 23, 2021 –
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – As we reach the final few days of Spring Training 2021, two newcomers in the bullpen have really impressed Brian Snitker and the rest of the coaching staff. They’re names that Braves fans have watched from afar, but have really put together a terrific month in North Port and have made a strong case to be on the Opening Day roster.

35 year old righty Nate Jones is coming off a season that saw him make 21 appearances for the Reds, posting an ERA north of 6. However, that hasn’t deterred him from making a strong impression with his new squad. In six Grapefruit League appearances, Jones has allowed a total of two hits over six scoreless frames and has shown that electric fastball and four pitch mix that made him so successful over eight seasons with the White Sox. Expect to see Jones in the Atlanta pen as Opening Day rolls around next Thursday.
In addition, fellow righty Carl Edwards Jr. has shown glimpses of the pitcher he was when he was such an integral part of Joe Maddon’s bullpen that won the World Series in 2016. Over seven appearances this spring, Edwards has posted a 1.23 ERA and, being without options, is another serious candidate for Brian Snitker’s bunch. Look for Edwards as well when the Opening Day roster is announced. As for others competing for spots, keep in mind that guys like Luke Jackson are on non-guaranteed deals so the pressure is really on for guys who are without options remaining.
With guys like Will Smith, Chris Martin, AJ Minter, Josh Tomlin and others returning for 2021, the Braves bullpen is still a very experienced and versatile group that should be able to pick up on where they left off at the end of the 2020 campaign.
Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet.
It looks like Brian Snitker will have many personnel options at his disposal

It looks like Brian Snitker will have many personnel options at his disposal

FILE – In this May 17, 2016, file photo, Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker talks with reporters. This year, he’ll have plenty to talk about when it comes to lineup options. (Gene J. Puskar, The Associated Press)

March 21, 2021
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – Spring Training starts to hit the home stretch, it’s looking more and more like Brian Snitker will once again have a number of versatile options at his disposal. Johan Camargo is a lock to be part of that group, with Ender Inciarte likely serving as a very expensive late inning defensive replacement and pinch runner. We know the backup catcher will also be available, but that’s typically a last resort. As far as the other spots left, it appears as though Jake Lamb and Ehire Adrianza are the two most logical candidates at this point in Spring. Lamb and Adrianza have had to battle it out with guys like Pablo Sandoval and Jason Kipnis, but Kipnis is essentially just a second baseman at this point in his career while Pablo Sandoval could play the corner infield spots. That said, Lamb can also play the corners, and has the advantage when it comes to age, so he definitely seems to have an inside track.

Could the team carry three catchers? Sure, they could. However, it seems like they’d prefer just two with Alex Jackson backing up Travis d’Arnaud in the early going to allow William Contreras to continue to develop at Triple-A as he will likely be the everyday man behind the plate starting in 2022.

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

The battle for the final spots on the Braves bench is picking up steam

The battle for the final spots on the Braves bench is picking up steam

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)

March 17, 2021 –
680 THE FAN – With a little less than two weeks left in Spring Training, the battle for the final spot or two on the bench is starting to really pick up steam. Veterans like Jason Kipnis, Pablo Sandoval and Jake Lamb joined incumbent candidates like Johan Camargo and Ender Inciarte, while veteran infielder Ehire Adrianza is looking to make a late push. While the team hasn’t announced their plans for how many pitchers and position players they will carry once the Opening Day lineup is revealed, they have discussed internally the possibility of adding an extra bat to start the year with early off days giving them the luxury of only having to carry four starters in the early going.

When it comes to Kipnis, this is new territory for a guy that is used to coming to camp knowing he will be on the Opening Day roster. “It’s just part of the gig” said Jason Kipnis on Tuesday. “Sometimes when you hear guys competing for spots, you have a good guess of who it might be. Right now, it just doesn’t feel like anyone knows and it’s bringing the best out of everyone” Kipnis added when it comes to the competition. Brian Snitker admitted earlier this week that with how many options they have when it comes to bench positions and relievers, it’s a good problem to have. But, that doesn’t make those conversations any easier when you have to tell guys they didn’t make the cut.

As far as the main position battle that has everyone’s attention this spring, it certainly appears as though Cristian Pache has all but solidified himself as the teams Opening Day centerfielder. His case was briefly strengthened last week as Ender Inciarte battled a sore thumb. But Inciarte has returned and, barring a last minute trade, is looking like he will find himself on Brian Snitker’s bench and late inning defensive replacement for Marcell Ozuna in the eighth and ninth innings.

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

When it comes to rotation depth, a year can make a difference!

When it comes to rotation depth, a year can make a difference!

FILE – Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Ian Anderson throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning in Game 2 of a baseball National League Championship Series Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP File Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – When it comes to rotation depth, it’s amazing the difference a year can make. This time last spring, the Braves were evaluating options like Felix Hernandez and Sean Newcomb for roles in the starting staff. This year, it’s youngsters like Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson getting their chance to show they can build on last years success. While Anderson all but solidified a spot in the rotation based on what he did a year ago, guys like Wright and Wilson are looking to prove they’re another year along in their development, ready to take that next step.

For Wilson, so far so good. The 23 year old righty was solid on Monday afternoon, holding the Twins to five hits over four scoreless frames. Noticeably absent on Wilson’s line was the strikeouts. Wilson didn’t punch a single batter out. Instead, he allowed the Minnesota offense to put the ball in play, trusting the defense behind him. That’s a big hurdle for young pitchers to overcome, and Wilson has seemed to figure out he doesn’t need to try and throw the ball a hundred miles an hour to get hitters at this level out. Through three starts in Grapefruit League action, Wilson has allowed a total of two earned runs over his first nine innings of work. Meanwhile, it’s Kyle Wright’s turn today to try and feed off the success his fellow right hander had yesterday.

With still two weeks to go in camp, it’s still a tossup for who earns that last spot in the rotation until Mike Soroka is healthy. The first time through the rotation, only four starters will be needed with an off day on April 2. And as far as Soroka is concerned, we still don’t have a definitive timeline on when he could be ready to make his regular season debut. So, whomever ends up emerging as the fifth starter will likely get at least a few starts. As Brian Snitker said this morning, this club is facing a number of very difficult decisions in the coming weeks on how to round out the bench, bullpen and starting rotation. But, believe me, that’s a great problem to have this time of year.

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

ozuna sm

When it comes to Spring Training, statistics can be deceiving

FILE – In this Aug. 16, 2020, file photo, Atlanta Braves’ Marcell Ozuna watches his single during the first inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins in Miami. The Braves are bringing back Ozuna, signing the slugger to a $65 million, four-year contract. The Braves announced the deal for the 2020 NL home run and RBI leader Friday night, Feb. 5, less than two weeks before pitchers and catchers are set to report for spring training. The deal includes a fifth-year club option for $16 million with a $1 million buyout. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

March 15, 2021 –
680THEFAN, ATLANTA – When it comes to Spring Training, often times statistics can be deceiving. Some players put up monster numbers, make clubs, and it never translates to the regular season. Others scuffle in March and put up MVP type numbers when it really counts. The latter was the case for Marcell Ozuna in 2020. Ozuna, in his first season with the Braves, as he was just 3-for-28 with 14 strikeouts in the abbreviated Spring session. And throughout the first few weeks of Spring Training 2021, Ozuna is once again off to a slow start, hitting just .125 over eight Grapefruit League contests. So, is anyone in the Braves clubhouse really worried about Ozuna?

“He’s one you don’t worry about” skipper Brian Snitker said over the weekend. “When the lights come on and that thing gets real, so will he” Snitker added. Ozuna is entering the first year of his four year deal that he inked in early February and is coming off a season that saw him enter the final game of the regular season with a chance at a Triple Crown. His 18 homers and 56 RBI were both tops in the National League and his bat provided ample insurance as Freddie Freeman cruised to an MVP award. 

So, is anyone really still worried about Marcell Ozuna’s slow start? If his teammates and manager aren’t, i will follow suit and trust the back of the baseball card. A lifetime .276 hitter with a career .801 OPS, Ozuna has averaged 27 homers and 97 RBI in each of his first eight Big League seasons. Remember, he had a slow spring and summer camp last year. And things turned out just fine for the Braves left fielder. 

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

a ja minter braves

With the Braves success breeds confidence

FILE – Atlanta Braves relief pitcher A.J. Minter celebrates after striking out Los Angeles Dodgers’ Mookie Betts during the third inning in Game 5 of a baseball National League Championship Series Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP File Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

March 12, 2021 –
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – It may sound like a cliché, but success breeds confidence. And there are more than a few players in the Braves clubhouse that would agree with that sentiment. Take AJ Minter for example. In 2019, Minter appeared in just 36 games out of the Braves bullpen, posting a 7.06 ERA and spending half the season trying to get himself right at Triple-A. Fast forward to 2020, Minter was one of the most consistent and reliable arms Snit could call upon in late game situations, as he posted a microscopic 0.83 ERA in 22 relief appearances during the regular season, and coming up huge for the team in Game Five of the NLCS, striking out seven batters over three scoreless innings as an Opener. With key pieces to the 2020 Atlanta relief corps gone, Minter could once again be called upon to put out some big time fires for the Braves in high leverage situations.

So, what changed for Minter a year ago? Well, for one, he took a couple miles per hour off his cutter. That allowed him to see more late movement on the pitch, especially inside to righties. For young pitchers, it’s only natural to have the desire to throw 100mph and strike everyone out every time you get into a game. But making those small adjustments can pay dividends, and they did just that for the 27 year old southpaw. And even though guys like Mark Melancon (Padres), Darren O’Day (Yankees) and Shane Greene (still a free agent) are gone from the Braves bullpen from 2020, Minter still believes this unit is as strong, or stronger than ever. “It was a special group last year. That being said, we have a special group this year. We’re going to need guys to step up this year, including myself” Minter said on Thursday. “I think we’re sitting perfectly fine where we’re at right now, we’re excited for the challenge” he added. As of now, it appears as though Minter, Matzek and Smith are the three main locks from the left side this season. If the club decides to go with a fourth lefty, and a lot of that decision will be based on the construction of the bench, Sean Newcomb could also be an option there as well. But for now, it appears as though Newcomb is likely destined to start out the year at the Alternate Site in Gwinnett.

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

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