Freddie Freeman STACY REVER/GETTY IMAGES SPORT FIELDING Even though Andrelton Simmons is only 22, he may be the best fielding shortstop in the majors. He is an advanced metrics wonder with great range and a strong arm. Simmons made just 14 errors in 753 chances last year. Freeman is solid at first, as is Johnson at third, while Uggla struggled some last year in the field. Heyward didn’t win a second straight Gold Glove last year, but he didn’t make an error, either. The Uptons are strong fielders who don’t make too many mistakes. After several years of McCann’s reliable stewardship behind the plate, the Braves may suffer some with Gattis, who had trouble at times last season. STARTING PITCHING The last thing any team needs is big injury news in the spring. Atlanta was dealt a double dose of it when Kris Medlen, who was slated to start opening day, had a second Tommy John surgery in mid-March. He went 15-12 last year with a 3.11 ERA. Further complicating matters are the elbow problems Brandon Beachy, the team’s expected fourth or fifth starter, experienced in the spring. He also had a second Tommy John procedure. Atlanta will rely on young stalwart Julio Teheran and hope that 22-year old Alex Wood, who started 11 games last year, free agent signees Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana and David Hale to hold things together until Mike Minor can make it all the way back from a shoulder injury. This is hardly the rotation the Braves expected back in December. RELIEF PITCHING The Braves rotation may be a mess, but its bullpen is rock solid, beginning with fire-breathing closer Craig Kimbrel, who saved 50 games last year and had a diminutive .0881 WHIP in 2013. He’s the most fearsome closer in baseball, and gives the Braves an outstanding weapon at the end of games. Expect him to be supported by Luis Avilan and Jordan Walden. Avilan is a nasty lefthander, while Walden averaged better than a strikeout per inning last season. David Carpenter, another big K man, and Anthony Varvaro, who led the bullpen in innings pitched in 2013, will work middle relief. And don’t forget about Jonny Venters, a lefty who should be back from his second Tommy John surgery this summer. MANAGING If you take away 2010, when the Marlins cut him loose mid-year, Fredi Gonzalez has won more games in each of the six seasons he has managed. Although some worried that he wouldn’t be able to fill the role held for 20 years by Bobby Cox, Gonzalez has used his combination of strong communication skills and toughness to make the young Braves into a division champion. Gonzalez may be still growing in the dugout, but he is a good skipper for the Braves’ young talent, and president John Schuerholz thought enough of him during the off-season to extend his contract and provide Gonzalez with some security.
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