Renee Gore takes a look at the Braves offense for 2003 and tells who are going to be big players, and who aren't.
Well, it's that time of year again (finally) and the Braves are geared up to start their 2003 campaign. However, this season, the National League East Division Champs will have a little different look from the last 12 winning seasons. They said goodbye to a few old faces such as Tom Glavine
and Kevin Millwood
. They have also added new fresh faces such as Mike Hampton
, Russ Ortiz
, Robert Fick
and Paul Byrd
. This new look may lead to a new approach to success for the team.
This week we'll start with the offense. Look for an improvement throughout the lineup, however, how much improvement is questionable. The offense as a whole has applied a new patient, selective, and yet aggressive approach at the plate this spring with very good results. The most encouraging stat of the spring is the team's lack of strikeout as they had the least amount of strikeouts in the Grapefruit League. If the team continues with this approach, the offense can be a welcome surprise this season. Let's take a look at the players.
Rafael Furcal, SS: Furcal had a very nice spring. He has gotten away from the big, homerun swing and seems to be concentrating more on just putting the ball in play. He is the catalyst of this lineup and if he continues this approach and improves his on-base percentage it could mean good things for this offense.
Robert Fick, 1B: Although he is not a big power guy, Fick should be a welcome addition at first base this season. As a decent hitter, finally getting a chance to play with a good team, look for him to put up nice productive numbers in the two-hole.
Gary Sheffield, RF: Not that Gary was bad last season, but he fell short of his normal Sheffield-like numbers, mostly due to a wrist injury early on. He is now healthy so look for improvements in his power and his run production.
Chipper Jones, LF: Some say Chipper had an off year offensively in 2002. However, in actuality, he only lacked in homeruns. With the pressures of playing a new position behind him expect Chipper to have another great, consistent season with an increase in power.
Andruw Jones, CF: When is Andruw finally going to have his breakout season? Well, this season is just as good as any. This breakout season, however, will be contingent on his continued attention to being patient and selective.
Javy Lopez, C: Lopez lost around 32 pounds during the off season, which seems to have quickened his bat. That doesn't mean anything, however, if he doesn't improve his selection and stop swinging at bad pitches. He has shown signs of improved selection this spring, so look for some improvement, but don't look for him to return to pre-2001 numbers.
Marcus Giles, 2B: Coming off a trying and disappointing year, Marcus Giles looks ready to step it up this season. He seems to have done away with that big uppercut swing and it has resulted in very good numbers this Spring. If he carries that over, look for a breakout season for the second baseman.
Vinny Castilla, 3B: There is not much to say about Vinny Castilla, well, nothing good anyway. Castilla had a horrible season in 2002 and from most accounts from Spring Training, he has done little work to improve his numbers. As matter of fact, he looked worse this spring. It seems pretty obvious to most that Vinny has nothing left in the tank. However, the Braves, not only seem unwilling to eat his $4.5 million contract, but Cox is unwilling to take him out of the lineup. Look for Vinny to continue on his downward spiral. Hopefully it won't take too long to replace him in the lineup.
**Mark DeRosa, IF: Look for DeRosa to replace Castilla at third base when and if Cox ever comes to his senses. Whether or not DeRosa replaces Castilla full-time, Cox has vowed to get him at bats this season. Expect him get time at second, short, and third. He will not put up great numbers, but look for him to be consistent and a marked improvement over Vinny.
The bench looks the same this season as last with Matt and Julio Franco, Darren Bragg, Henry Blanco, and the aforementioned Mark DeRosa. Expect more of the same performances from these players with Matt Franco's numbers coming down closer to earth.
So there's a look at the offense. Next week we will preview the pitching staff when the players and their roles become clearer.