Braves Spring Training Notebook: Pitchers and catchers edition
Updated: Feb 16
NORTH PORT, Fla. -- The Atlanta Braves officially embarked on the 2023 season as pitchers and catchers reported to the club's spring training facility on a sunny Wednesday morning.
In fact, it was nearly a full house on Day 1, with many positions players getting a jump on their report date.
While the pitchers were getting their work on the back fields, Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley, Matt Olson, Michael Harris II, and Sean Murphy were among the Braves regulars taking batting practice in the morning. Veteran outfielders Kevin Pillar and Sam Hilliard, each aiming to win a roster spot this spring, were also in the cage on the main field. Fellow outfield hopeful Eli White was among those reporting to camp early as well.
In my first look at CoolToday Park since it opened three years ago, there was plenty to take in. From the ballpark itself to the major and minor league facilities and fields surrounding it, the Braves have created a first class training facility. The clubhouse is among the many aspects that stand out, and I always like to keep an eye on who's next to who.
Kirby Yates on the road back to high leverage form...
One Braves reliever in particular is looking forward to the benefits of something as simple as a "normal" spring training. Veteran righty Kirby Yates spent the past two years rehabbing his way through his second Tommy John surgery. He feels that process is finally behind him and told me he is moving closer to where he wants to be physically in order to navigate the season ahead.
While that preparation begins in earnest this month, Yates admitted that he felt like he was still trying to catch up upon returning in 2022. He made nine appearances before right elbow inflammation ended his season in mid-September. Though he was back to throwing side sessions by the time the playoffs started, Atlanta's stay in October was brief.
Following the season, he took about three weeks off entirely before ramping back up and beginning his throwing program in Arizona, where the Hawaii native now makes his off-season home. Yates said the elbow discomfort was gone and that has him feeling confident heading into the exhibition slate in a couple of weeks.
Atlanta will be leaning on Yates to serve a key role in its ever-changing bullpen. With Raisel Iglesias slated to take over ninth inning duties, the Braves have Yates, A.J. Minter, Collin McHugh, Dylan Lee, and Jesse Chavez along with newcomers Joe Jimenez, Nick Anderson, Lucas Luetge, and Dennis Santana among those vying for relief innings.
Ian Anderson confident in winter work...
Meanwhile, the Braves have a competition for their fifth stater's job that will be drawing plenty of attention throughout the spring. Ian Anderson, who was demoted to Triple-A Gwinnett and later suffered a strained left oblique, said he's been able to clean up his mechanics and make some adjustments he believes will get him back on track.
Anderson, who owns a home near the club's spring training complex, planned to make the North Port facility his base of operations this winter, but storm damage from the somewhat ironically named Hurricane Ian altered those plans. Instead, Anderson finished his injury rehab in Atlanta, working on refining his delivery and getting healthy to close out 2022 before taking another significant step toward locking in those adjustments.
The next stop for Anderson was a two-day stay at the Wake Forest Pitching Lab in Winston-Salem, NC, where he benefited from the use of motion capture technology that he felt further validated his winter mechanical adjustments. The lab heralds itself as "the biomechanics evaluation destination for pitchers at every level of the game." Anderson was able to tap into that technology in what could end up being a pivotal winter in his young career.
Michael Soroka also eyeing final rotation spot...
Speaking of pivotal junctures in a career, Michael Soroka is Anderson's main competition for the fifth spot in Atlanta's rotation, though neither man is looking at it through that lens. Despite career paths that never aligned at any level in the minors, the two became best friends over the past two years. Soroka is even staying at Anderson's house this spring.
Both men recognize the opportunity and will be pulling for one another to have the best showing this spring and then let the club sort out the business of baseball. One thing is certain, no club is going to make it through the 162-game regular season using just five starting pitchers. Atlanta is likely to need contributions from Soroka, Anderson, and a host of others to realize their championship dream in 2023.
Grant McAuley covers the Braves for 92-9 The Game in Atlanta. Follow Grant on Twitter and Instagram and subscribe to From The Diamond wherever you get your podcasts.