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 –
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.

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 –

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

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 –
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.

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 –
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.

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 –
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.

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)

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

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)

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.

Two-time All-Star Charlie Morton inks deal with Atlanta

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Charlie Morton throws during the first inning of the team’s baseball game against the Detroit Tigers, Wednesday, June 5, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

ATLANTA – The Atlanta Braves today signed RHP Charlie Morton to a one-year contract worth $15 million. The Braves 40-man roster stands at 39.

Morton, 37, spent the last two seasons with Tampa Bay, and went 2-2 with a 4.74 ERA (20 ER/38.0 IP) in nine games, all starts in 2020. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound native of Flemington, NJ, finished with 42 strikeouts against just 10 walks, while allowing four home runs last year. He also made four starts in the postseason, going 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA (6 ER/20.0 IP) as the Rays advanced to the World Series.

Originally drafted by Atlanta in the third round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft out of Joel Barlow High School in Redding, CT, Morton made his major league debut with the Braves in 2008. He was dealt to Pittsburgh the following year in a trade for OF Nate McLouth, and spent seven seasons with the Pirates. He moved to Philadelphia for the 2016 season, before joining Houston in 2017.

Since 2017, Morton is 47-18 (.723) with a 3.34 ERA (203 ER/546.1 IP) in 97 games, all starts. His 47 wins over this stretch are sixth most in baseball, while his 646 strikeouts rank 10th. Overall, Morton is 93-89 with a 4.08 ERA (653 ER/1439.1 IP) in 259 regular season games, 258 starts. In the postseason, Morton is 7-3 with a 3.38 ERA (23 ER/61.1 IP) in 13 games, 12 starts.

Morton was an All-Star in 2018 and 2019, and won a World Series title in 2017 with the Astros. He finished third for the Cy Young Award in 2019 after going 16-6 and fanning a career-best 240.

Pitcher Charlie Morton signed for one year, $15 million

FILE – Rays pitcher Charlie Morton beat Houston on Saturday in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series (AP File Photo).

680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – If there’s one thing we’ve come to expect from Alex Anthopoulos, it’s the desire to be aggressive when it comes to improving his clubs in the offseason. Two Novembers ago, he signed Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann and last year it was Will Smith who he added to the bullpen shortly after the conclusion of the World Series. This year has been no different, as 37 year old righty Charlie Morton has agreed to a one-year, $15 million dollar deal to return to the team that originally drafted him in the third round of the 2002 Draft out of Joel Barlow High School in Redding, CT.

Morton made his MLB debut with the Braves in 2008 before being dealt to the Pirates in exchange for Nate McLouth. After seven seasons in Pittsburgh, Morton spent the 2016 season in Philadelphia before a pair of seasons in an Astros uniform. Since the start of the 2017 season, Morton is 47-18 with a 3.34 ERA in 97 starts. Those 47 wins over that span are the sixth most in the Majors, while his 646 strikeouts rank 10th. He’s also had success in the Postseason, going 7-3 while posting a 3.38 ERA in 13 games, 12 of which were starts.

An All-Star in both 2018 and 2019, Morton was also a major piece of the Astros 2017 World Series title, a season that saw him go 14-7 with a 3.62 ERA. He followed up that impressive showing with a 15-3 campaign in 2018 and came in third in the AL Cy Young voting in 2019, going 16-6 with a 3.03 ERA in 33 starts in his first season in Tampa.

With two new pieces in place, the Braves rotation now looks a whole lot more impressive that in did two months ago. Mike Soroka will be back at some point in the first month of the season, Max Fried was a perfect 7-0 this past season, finishing fifth in the Cy Young voting, and Ian Anderson certainly looked the part, especially in the Postseason. And the team certainly has to like its depth with guys like Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson waiting in the wings, showing some major strides towards the final few weeks of the recently completed season.

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

Freeman up for 2020 MVP

FILE – Atlanta Braves’ Freddie Freeman watches his two-run home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the third inning of a baseball game Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / AP FILE)

680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – Monday night, the Baseball Writers Association of America announced the 2020 finalists for MVP, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and Manager of the Year in both the NL and AL. The Braves had one representative as All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman was among the three announced in the National League, along with Dodgers slugger Mookie Betts and Padres third baseman Manny Machado.

Freeman’s 2020 season got off to a rocky start as he was diagnosed with COVID-19 at the start of Summer Camp in early July. COVID hit Freeman hard as he had a fever that at one point got up to 104.5 degrees. Freddie felt like he was in such rough shape, he actually said “please don’t take me” before going to bed on that Friday night of the 4th of July weekend. Flash forward four months later, Freeman is being recognized for one of the best seasons in Major League Baseball in 2020.

Appearing in all sixty regular season games for the Braves, Freeman led the National League in doubles (23), runs scored (51), extra base hits (37) and WAR (3.3). His .341 average was good for second best in the NL behind Nationals youngster Juan Soto, while his slugging (.640), OPS (1.102), RBI (53) and total bases (137) were all good for second most in the NL.

This season marks the fifth time in eleven Major League seasons that Freeman has finished in the top eight of the NL MVP voting, and his highest ever, surpassing a fourth place finish in 2018. If Freeman’s name is called as the winner, he’d become the first Brave to take home the Most Valuable Player Award since Chipper Jones in 1999.

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