This is a picture of the Atlanta Braves official 2013 calendar. The current month’s picture has Martin Prado, Tim Hudson, and Brian McCann. All of them no longer play for the Braves after Prado was traded before the 2013 season, Hudson signed with the Giants, and McCann signed with the Yankees (coincidentally the latter two IN November 2013). Oops.
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
It was a great night for the Rasmus family as older son Colby’s Blue Jays took on younger son Cory’s Atlanta Braves. Cory Rasmus had just been called up from AAA Gwinnett last week, when Eric O’ Flaherty went to the disabled list. It just lucked out that the Braves were making a trip north of the border right after the call-up. Which Rasmus won the battle? Let’s take a look!
On top of the double, Colby’s team won 9-3. It was just the third time since 1974 that brothers squared off on the mound and in the batter’s box joining Ken and George Brett in the 1970’s and Ruddy and Julio Lugo in 2007.
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
In a short time, Andrelton Simmons has become the best defensive shortstop in baseball and maybe even better than that, at least according to former teammate Chipper Jones.
Y’all are watching the best all around shortstop in the big leagues! Andrelton Simmons.
— Chipper Jones (@RealCJ10) May 7, 2013
That was after this incredible tag on a pick-off of Reds Shin-Soo Choo.
Seriously, he tagged him between the legs!
This caused me to realize we need a definitive blog with all of Simmons’ defensive exploits so far.
From Tuesday, May 7th’s game against the Reds, including a great barehand play that went off of Eric O’ Flaherty.
It can go off Paul Maholm’s glove, it’s alright, Simmons is there.
He has the best arm in the Majors, he can even show it off from the seat of his pants.
Here he shows off the range going deep into foul territory at PNC Park for an amazing grab.
This play is not as easy as he makes it look on Royals Lorenzo Cain.
No prejudice against great plays even in Spring Training.
My favorite play from the 2013 World Baseball Classic, honkbal!
That’s not the only time he’ll go into center field for a diving catch.
There were numerous plays of Simmons charging a slow roller and getting the out, but getting the speedy Juan Pierre is the most impressive.
And from the same game, the diving stop, up the middle.
Simmons makes this short hop look too easy.
Even when Simba makes a mistake and overruns a ball, he’s just doing it to make the play look that much more spectacular.
The play that really started it all against the Orioles all-star Adam Jones.
He can even turn an amazing double play with Dan Uggla.
It hasn’t even been a full season in the Majors and you can put Andrelton Simmons’ highlight reel against anyone in the league. What’s your favorite play? Let us know in the comments!
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
Not a fun Monday for Braves fans. First, their teams game gets snowed out in Denver. Then early-Tuesday morning news that star outfielder Jason Heyward had an appendectomy tonight.
OF Jason Heyward underwent successful appendectomy surgery Monday night (April 22). Procedure performed at Rose Medical Center in Denver.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) April 23, 2013
No word yet if the successful surgery will land Heyward on the disabled list, but Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday had the surgery in 2011 after his Opening Day game on April 1st and was back in the St. Louis lineup on April 10th. Holliday spent no time on the DL. The typical recovery time is in the 2-3 week range. The Braves could save a roster move by giving Heyward a full 15 days off, with first baseman Freddie Freeman returning to the lineup for the doubleheader on Tuesday. A DL stint would keep Heyward out past the Braves next series with division rivals the Nationals and Mets. He would be likely to return for a 10-game road trip at Cincinnati, San Francisco, and Arizona.
UPDATE: Jason Heyward has been put on the 15-day DL and the Braves recalled Tyler Pastornicky.
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
In the wake of the tragedy at the Boston Marathon on Monday, MLB teams showed their support for the city of Boston by playing “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. The song is a staple at Fenway Park and is sung by Red Sox fans before the bottom of the 8th inning. The song was played at home games by the Braves, Marlins, Reds, Cubs, Twins, Dodgers, Indians (who were playing the Red Sox), and even their biggest rival, the Yankees. Here is the video of “Sweet Caroline” being played at the end of the 3rd inning at Yankee Stadium.
Here’s the Target Field version:
Down in Miami at Marlins Park:
All the way on the other coast at Dodger Stadium:
And at O.co Coliseum in Oakland:
Turner Field in Atlanta where the Braves went on to hit three homers in the bottom of the 8th:
The Brewers showed their support by playing another famous Boston song, the theme from “Cheers”. That can be heard at the 1:40 mark of this video.
You have to love the support that Boston is getting from across the country. It’s the little things like this that add up to big things. It really is “so good, so good, so good.”
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
“Conan” is filming from Atlanta all week and they picked a good week to be there with Braves Opening Day and the Final Four all going on in Georgia’s capital. Who better to make an appearance than Braves legend Hank Aaron on Thursday night’s show? Here it is!
Have to love Braves fans turning the audience into a full-fledged “Tomahawk Chop” in “Hammerin'” Hank’s presence.
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
It’s the best story of the young MLB season so far. Braves backup catcher Evan Gattis was working as a janitor and a ski lift operator after being a star baseball player in Texas. Instead of going to play for Texas A&M, Gattis ended up in drug rehab and a halfway house. There he was diagnosed with depression. He had turned into a “what could’ve been” story. After years of bouncing around odd jobs and becoming sober, Gattis got the itch to play the game he loved as child again.
He enrolled at the University of Texas-Permian Basin. I don’t know what that is either. I only know Permian as the town from “Friday Night Lights” not the place where Major League careers are made. Gattis hit .403 in his only year with the school, but it was enough to catch the eye of the Braves who took a chance on him in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft.
He had his chance in the minors finally and crushed pitching hitting .308 with 44 home runs in 832 minor league at-bats. A shoulder injury to Brian McCann gave Gattis an outside shot of making the Braves roster as a 26-year old rookie who had never played in AAA. Gattis saw his opportunity and ran with it hitting a blistering .368 with six home runs (2nd best on the Braves) during Spring Training. Gattis became a fan favorite with his power, bare-handed batting grip, funky batting stance, awesome nickname (El Oso Blanco), and his backstory. After all he had been through, Gattis broke down in tears when manager Fredi Gonzalez told him he earned the last roster spot as Gerald Laird’s backup while McCann was out.
In the second game of the season, Gattis received his first start behind the plate. He struck out in his first plate appearance, but his 2nd at-bat with his father being interviewed on the Braves broadcast, we were reminded why sports can be so great.
The MLB highlight can be found here. Apologies that it won’t let me embed it into the blog.
You can follow Gattis on Twitter @BulldogBeing, where of course his Twitter avatar is his work card from being a janitor. Gattis is a shining example of never giving up.
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
Has the National League evolved into a two-team arms race between the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves? It seemed all offseason one would make a move and the other would counter it. B.J. Upton, Dan Haren, Denard Span, Rafael Soriano, Justin Upton, Chris Johnson, and Jordan Walden all enter the fray and make these two teams on paper the teams to beat. The Phillies aren’t ready to go down with a fight adding Ben Revere and Michael Young in the offseason. The Mets and Marlins? Well they might go down without a fight, let’s break down the National League East.
Projected Order of Finish: Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, Miami Marlins
Why the Braves could win the N.L. East: It’s pretty hard to believe that Atlanta lost three of the four best hitters from last season in Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, and Michael Bourn and the lineup is better. The Upton brothers move into the outfield along with Jason Heyward, giving the Braves two MVP-potential candidates in the corners. Andrelton Simmons showed in the WBC that he is ready, especially defensively. Freddie Freeman’s growth continues in an all-star caliber 1st baseman. The rotation might not be on the Nationals level overall, but Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Paul Maholm, Mike Minor, and Julio Teheran is solid. Teheran could be ready to shine as he was spectacular in spring training. Craig Kimbrel is the best closer in the game, while Eric O’ Flaherty is among the best setup men. All the pieces are there for a return to the playoffs.
Why the Braves wouldn’t win the N.L. East: First, the leadership from Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, and Michael Bourn’s departure throws off the clubhouse and no one behind Tim Hudson steps up. The lineup is filled with just too many strikeouts that kills putting together rallies. Brian McCann’s shoulder is completely shot and he’s not the player he once was or even comes back at all leaving the catching duties to Gerald Laird and Evan Gattis. Jonny Venters injury is more serious than planned (i.e. Tommy John surgery) and Jordan Walden isn’t ready to go and the bullpen suffers and becomes overworked. Brandon Beachy returning from Tommy John surgery mid-season isn’t able to come close to the form he displayed at the start of 2012.
Why the Nationals could win the N.L. East: The rotation is the best in MLB with Stephen Strasburg’s innings cap behind him, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren, and Ross Detwiler. The bullpen is no slouch either with Rafael Soriano (42 saves in 2012) joining Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, and Ryan Mattheus is a great bullpen. The lineup is good to great and can be better than great if “The Phenom” Bryce Harper continues to progress into an MVP candidate.
Why the Nationals wouldn’t win the N.L. East: The Braves end up just slightly better top to bottom. Newly-signed Denard Span reverts back to an injury-plagued season like in 2011. Ryan Zimmerman’s right shoulder, that caused him to receive cortisone shots throughout last season, acts up and his bat his lost from the middle of the lineup. It’s really hard not to see the Nationals as a probable playoff team.
Why the Phillies could win the N.L. East: Roy Halladay might not be what he used to be, but Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are both still good enough to carry a rotation. I highly doubt Lee will only win six games again. The lineup is improved with a healthy Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, plus Ben Revere providing speed at lead-off. Michael Young joins Philadelphia to provide leadership and hitting prowess. He would need get back to hitting .300 for the Phillies to have a real chance. Domonic Brown’s spring breakout continues into the season and he finally pays dividends for all of those trades Ruben Amaro Jr. refused to do when Brown was a prospect. Plus, Jonathan Papelbon is one of the best closers in the games.
Why the Phillies wouldn’t win the N.L. East: It’s entirely possible that Roy Halladay never gets back to what he was before 2012. His velocity has been down after an injury-plagued season. The lineup is on the wrong side of their prime with Howard, Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Young all over 33 years-old. Carlos Ruiz’s 25-game suspension messes with the pitching staff and they get off on the wrong foot after Ruiz broke out offensively. Brown does what he’s done his whole career and tease greatness, but not come through.
Why the Mets could win the N.L. East: David Wright’s injury is nothing and the new Mets captain goes on to be his usual self in the middle of the lineup. Ike Davis evolves into a 35-40 home run hitting first baseman. The Mets call up Zack Wheeler and pair him with Matt Harvey and create the best young pitching duo in the division. Travis d’Arnuad can’t be held back anymore in the minors and starts developing into the next Mike Piazza.
Why the Mets wouldn’t win the N.L. East: Johan Santana is probably out for the season taking leadership out of the clubhouse on a daily basis. The bullpen in atrocious. The outfield is near-atrocious, unless Jordany Valdespin steps up big. The Mets are a rebuilding project, but there are some nice pieces coming to Flushing.
Why the Marlins could win the N.L. East: They can’t, but what kind of season would Giancarlo Stanton have to have to put Miami in contention? 60 home runs? I do like Steve Cishek a lot as a potential closer, but he may end up trade bait at the deadline. I might just like him because he’s a submariner.
Why the Marlins wouldn’t win the N.L. East: The rotation is the worst in the division, where their “ace” Ricky Nolasco can’t be trusted to not blow up on any given start. The lineup has some veterans who can hit for average in Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Justin Ruggiano, and Casey Kotchman, but aside from Stanton there isn’t a 2nd run producer. This might take years for Miami to get into contention.
Jason Heyward and Justin Upton-Braves
Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasberg-Nationals
Craig Kimbrel and Kris Medlen-Braves
Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez-Nationals
Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee-Phillies
Rookie of the Year
Rob Brantly and Adeiny Hechavarria-Marlins
Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler-Mets
Who do you think wins the N.L. East? The Nationals? The Braves? Can one of the other three teams steal the division away? Let us know in the comments!
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
Back in November, there was a deal for a Southwest Airlines flight from Hartford to Orlando for $190. There were two real options coming from booking the flight. Either I was going to be lucky enough to be in the MLB Fan Cave top 50 (or 52) or I was going to be lucky enough to spend five days with my grandma. Unfortunately for grandma, she got bumped to just a Valentine’s Day visit, but she couldn’t have been more understanding.
As I sit here in a nearly empty Champion Stadium at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, I can honestly say that this was the most incredible vacation and experience I’ve ever had. I had no idea what to expect when I landed in Florida. Would I be able to get field access? (sadly, no) Would the players even come talk to me? (strangely, yes) How quickly would I have to explain the MLB Fan Cave for them to do something? (I think I have that down to a science) Would they agree to do a video of any kind? (also strangely, yes) Luckily, I had some success keeping it short and simple. Plus, the phrase “Brave in the Cave” is pretty easy to remember.
Every day I came to the ballpark, I was one of the first fans to arrive and always the last one to leave. I think the players might’ve gotten sick of seeing me. The first hour of the first day, I was able to snag video endorsements from Cristian Bethancourt, Evan Gattis, and 3rd base coach Brian Snitker. I was off and running and never looked back. I couldn’t believe how nice everyone in the organization was. The key I believe is just having confidence, the worst they can say is no, there’s no risk with a ton of reward. General Manager Frank Wren was so nice and I thought was he said was hilarious.
Staying late also proved incredibly effective. There were promotional photo shoots going on after the workouts for Jonny Venters and Eric O’ Flaherty that turned out to be fantastic for me. You can tell that these guys joke around a lot.
Wednesday was the big day. The top 30 announcement for the MLB Fan Cave would be coming down after voting ended at 5PM. I knew if I was going to anything to keep momentum up and score some late votes I’d have to hustle.
At 8:30 in the morning I spotted ESPN’s Buster Olney doing a spot on SportsCenter. I knew I had one connection with him. I attended his “Going to Bat for Vermont’s Farmers” charity event last November. Surprisingly, no one was around. I went up to him, explained that I had gone to the event and that I was in the top 52 for the MLB Fan Cave. He said that he tries to stay out of those things, but because I had gone to the charity event and was a fellow New Englander, he’d throw his support behind me. I couldn’t even believe it.
While Olney was doing his taping for SportsCenter, I spotted Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez walking alone through the ballpark. I quickly ran down and just started yelling “Fredi!”, he looked over, and I have my now patented quick Fan Cave spiel. He was happy enough to oblige, even though as he said “doing this stuff really isn’t my thing.”
Finally on Wednesday, just two hours before the deadline, Braves star pitcher came out for a promotional photo shoot. I had brought a new Braves hat to Orlando with me in hopes that Meds would break it in. He was nice enough to!
I got the video up with 90 minutes of voting time to spare and put it on Twitter. It was retweeted by the Braves, Jason Heyward, and Paul Maholm.
The Medlen video was the final piece in the puzzle that advanced me into the top 30 for the MLB Fan Cave. I yelled in the middle of an empty Champion Stadium because I was so excited and honored to make it to the next round. Well the stadium was empty except for the grounds crew, who think I’m crazy.
When the top 52 announcement came down, Braves pitcher Paul Maholm was nice enough to retweet the news without me even asking. I contacted him through Twitter and then talked to him Tuesday about pulling off a creative video. He agreed and “Paul Maholm Connects with the Mahomies” was born! It’s my favorite thing I’d done so far during this MLB Fan Cave experience. Maholm could not be a nicer individual.
There were a few players who weren’t comfortable doing a quick video, but were nice enough to sign cards for me to giveaway to fans on Twitter, including Craig Kimbrel and Mike Minor.
I did take one “off day” in Florida. The aforementioned Valentine’s Day with grandma in Daytona Beach. Even then the off day consisted of putting together a “thank you video” for Braves fans support at Jackie Robinson Ballpark. I even learned a thing or two, like Robinson wore #9, not #42 with the Montreal Royals when he played the first integrated spring training game on 3/17/1946.
The last day in Orlando, I wanted to take advantage of Tout, a newer social medium, that allows users to tape 15 seconds videos and send them out with tweets. I used it all week to get Braves fans a firsthand near live look at the goings on of Braves camp, with almost no delay on Twitter. It’s one thing to say what the players were doing, it’s even better to show them. I think Tout would be a great use in the MLB Fan Cave this season, especially to have fans on Twitter ask players questions and send them back personalized 15 second videos answering it. It would be a fantastic way to continue the growth and connection between players and fans in the MLB Fan Cave.
Which bring me back to the MLB Fan Cave. I’m so stoked to be heading to Arizona on Monday for the top 30. I’ve done everything I can for this opportunity and I hope that it shows. It’s been an honor to represent Braves Country so far and I hope to continue on for the whole MLB season in the MLB Fan Cave. Thanks again for all of your support from Braves fans, players, and management! I think they’re ready to kick me out of an empty ballpark again! Back to Connecticut for two day to repack and I’ll see you in Arizona!
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
Ever since B.J. Upton signed a 5-year, $75.25 million deal to become the Braves center fielder there was a glance over to left field in Atlanta and who would fill that spot. The obvious choice was Upton’s brother, Justin, who was coming off a down year in 2012, but was still a MVP-candidate caliber player that had not yet entered his prime. The two brothers had been on the record saying that they would love to one day play with each other. After nearly two months of rumors, trade rejections, fans coming up with fake trades (sorry I tried to trade you Julio Teheran), and the refusal to trade Andrelton Simmons, the trade Braves fans hoped for, finally happened. The trade though did not look like a deal that any Braves fan expected. Let’s take a look!
Atlanta Braves receive: OF Justin Upton and 3B Chris Johnson
Arizona Diamondbacks receive: 3B/OF Martin Prado, RHP Randall Delgado and prospects RHP Zeke Spruill, SS Nick Ahmed, and 1B/3B Brandon Drury
Braves Country was worried about Andrelton Simmons being a part of a a deal for Upton for months, but in the end it was fan-favorite Martin Prado that makes his way to the desert. Prado was arguably Atlanta’s MVP in 2012, however they couldn’t come to an agreement for 2013, leaving just one-year left on Prado’s contract. That made him expendable in GM Frank Wren’s eyes as including Prado in the deal saved them from losing their top prospects in Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran, Sean Gilmartin, and Nick Gattis. Delgado would have been in contention for the 5th spot in the rotation with Teheran and would’ve become a crowded rotation with the impending return of Brandon Beachy from Tommy John surgery. You can never have enough pitching though.
What does Atlanta get in Justin Upton though? The younger version’s numbers dipped in 2012 after putting up a campaign in 2011 where he finished 4th for MVP and picked up his 1st Silver Slugger. Upton’s OPS dropped from .898 to .785, while his OPS+ went from a career-best 141 to a career-worst 107. A change of scenery was needed and what better place is there than playing along side his brother. There was a slightly contentious relationship between Upton and Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson that made have played a part in the numbers drop. The new Braves outfield of Upton, Upton, and Jason Heyward will grow together over the next three years of team control. That’s really what made Justin Upton an attractive trade piece for the Braves, three years of team control vs. one year for Prado. If he returns to his 2011 form, the Braves will win this trade hands down.
Also included in the deal to Atlanta is Chris Johnson. Johnson may be called on to replace Chipper Jones at third base or at least platoon with Juan Francisco. Johnson is coming off a career-high in home runs and RBI’s. Playing for a winning team after spending 3.5 seasons in Houston and half of a season in Arizona might help Johnson continue to grow as he enters his age-28 season.
Arizona was clearly willing to part ways with Upton, but did they get the best deal possible? Prado is an All-Star caliber player and maybe they can come to an agreement on a long-term deal. The team leadership that Prado will bring to the clubhouse made him even an even more attractive piece for the Diamondbacks. The leadership factor is what turned them off of Justin Upton. Twenty two year-old Randall Delgado will battle to make the rotation this year (and probably succeed), but could turn into a front-of-the-line starter down the road. Delgado has a 3.95 ERA in 127.2 MLB innings. Zeke Spruill and Nick Ahmed are mid-level prospects, but were going to get backlogged in the Braves system at the starter and shortstop positions. Brandon Drury had a rough 2012, hitting only .229 in single A after crushing rookie ball. Arizona will hope the Braves have a repeat performance of the Mark Teixeira deal, in which they gave up Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Matt Harrison.
How do you think each team did in this offseason’s biggest blockbuster trade? Let me know what you think
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)