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Posted: Sunday March 1, 2009 4:15PM; Updated: Thursday March 5, 2009 12:09PM
Joe Lemire Joe Lemire >
INSIDE BASEBALL

Spring Postcard: Revamped Braves have plenty of hope for the future

Story Highlights

The Braves missed on several free agents, but still made quality acquisitions

Jeff Francoeur will need to produce with power for the Braves lineup

The Braves have several young prospects who are among the best in baseball

Three observations

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Postcards From Camp
 
Location: Orlando
 

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The Braves have high hopes for 22-year-old Tommy Hanson, MVP of the Arizona Fall League.
AP

1) The last four months were anything but an offseason for Frank Wren.
It was almost Jake Peavy and A.J. Burnett, Rafael Furcal and Ken Griffey Jr. But instead it's Derek Lowe and Javy Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami and Garret Anderson. As general manager Frank Wren will tell you, it was a "long offseason. We came out of our fall organizational meetings with our game plan, and we knew there were a limited number of available starting pitchers who we thought could really make a difference. We had to be aggressive and be in the mix for every guy to come away with a couple guys that we needed. These are guys that we talked about in the fall. You just never know exactly which ones you're going to get." Complicating matters was how much of the negotiations leaked to the press, with Furcal and Griffey both reportedly having agreed to deals before changing their minds. Furcal, whom Wren said agreed to shift to second base in order to return to Atlanta, changed so last minute that the Braves thought they had a deal and vowed never to work his agents, the Wasserman Media Group led by Arn Tellem, again.

Of the moves Atlanta did make, the primary target was acquiring starters such as Lowe, Vazquez and Kawakami, who all have been durable innings-eaters in their careers. Last year 11 Braves started at least four games and none threw 200 innings.

2) Jeff Francoeur is a key player for this lineup.
The entire Braves outfield hit only 27 home runs last year; the outfields for the rest of the National League teams averaged 66. Jeff Francoeur certainly has more power than he showed last year, hitting 14 homers in 70 games as a rookie and 29 in his first full season in 2006. But he dropped to 19 in '07 and 11 in '08. He's the biggest power threat on the roster, and he admits he feels that pressure to produce. "Absolutely," Francoeur says. "I think with my new approach, my new stance, I will." This offseason he revamped his approach to hitting after his disastrous '08 campaign in which he batted .239, had a .294 on-base percentage and was even demoted to Double A for three games. Now he's being challenged by the team's sage veteran leader. "The important situations found Frenchy last year," third baseman Chipper Jones says. "He had a subpar season. If he bounces back and has a good season, he's going to be thrust into those situations again this year. If he does better, then the offense will obviously be better." The offense was already pretty good, too, scoring the sixth-most runs in the NL (753), with the third-best average (.270) and OBP (.345), but was only 14th in homers (130).

3. These kids are good.
The brand-new Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list certainly gave Braves fans a reason to hold onto their season tickets for the foreseeable future. Having five players is tied for fourth most (with the Rays, and trailing the A's, Rangers and Marlins) and those prospects are right-handed pitcher Tommy Hanson (No. 4); then three outfielders Jason Heyward (No. 5), Jordan Schafer (No. 42) and Gorkys Hernandez (No. 62); and first baseman Freddie Freeman (No. 87). Each is young: Hanson and Schafer are 22, Hernandez is 21, Freeman and Heyward are both 19. Plus, four have dazzled this spring (Hernandez, a 2008 Futures Game participant, was not invited to big-league camp). Cox said Freeman was the "talk of camp" thanks to his pure swing; he had a two-run single on Wednesday against the Tigers and a homer off the Astros on Thursday. Hanson, MVP of the Arizona Fall League, threw two innings in that game against Houston, showing off a tailing 99-mph fastball and two breaking pitches. "You generally don't see movement on 99," Cox said. At one point, Chipper even suggested (probably jokingly) the Braves use a six-man rotation just to get Hanson some big-league experience. Schafer will challenge Josh Anderson for playing time in centerfield, and Heyward has shown a nice, all-around game.

Wish you were here

Tom Glavine. The Braves' legend, who re-signed Feb. 4 to return as the fifth starter after an injury-plagued 2008, isn't in camp yet. On a white board in the clubhouse last Thursday were a pair of handrawn cartoon people, with one asking the other, "When is Glav going to get here?" The other character's reply, "When the plane comes to take us home." Glavine's contract reportedly hasn't been filed with MLB, perhaps because the Braves haven't decided how to juggle their roster. He'd be the 41st-man on the 40-man roster. (There are 42 names listed on atlantabraves.com, also including Tim Hudson, who's on the 60-day DL after Tommy John surgery and thus who does not count toward the active roster). Glavine is expected to arrive at the Disney training facility this week.

Not done yet

Garret Anderson. Atlanta's only key offensive acquisition is the 36-year-old Anderson, who played 145 games last year (139 starts, 79 in the outfield, 60 as DH) and batted .293 with 15 homers and 84 RBIs. His homer and RBI numbers have been consistently in that range for the last five seasons (and match the likely power production of several other Braves, like Jones, Casey Kotchman, Brian McCann and possibly Francouer). In the NL, Anderson will not have the luxury of being the DH, but he's a needed lefty bat for the Braves and extends the lineup another spot. He also finished strong, batting .333 with nine homers and 49 RBIs in his final 70 games.

Parting shots

Overheard: A young player approached Hudson in the clubhouse, seeking advice not on pitching but on refinancing his house. Signs of the times are everywhere. ... Had the Braves competed in a Biggest Loser Couples competition, McCann and Jair Jurrjens could have competed. McCann, who says he jumped to 250 pounds by the end of last year, dropped 25 pounds in the offseason by eating healthier and drinking a lot more water. Jurrjens lost 15 pounds and hopes to stay healthy and durable enough to meet his personal goal of 200 innings. ... Vazquez says he wasn't surprised about being traded, the fourth time he's been dealt in his major-league career. "It's nothing, man," he says. "It's just business." He grew up watching the Braves on TBS and considers it a "dream" to play for them. He played for Bobby Cox on a 2000 MLB All-Star tour of Japan and has kept in touch with him ever since. In Chicago, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen publicly criticized the pitcher as not being good in big games. Vazquez declined to talk about Guillen when asked on Thursday.

 
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