Braves Spring Training Notebook: Position players arrive in camp
NORTH PORT, FL -- While the Atlanta Braves already had a pretty full clubhouse over the past week, Monday was the official report date for position players. Now at full strength, the team readies for the first full squad workout on Tuesday.
"Everybody's here," said Brian Snitker. "The majority have been here. Good for them. That's kind of why we built this place is to have somewhere for these guys to shift their workouts and come here and get settled."
"It's good to see all the guys that are here and working and have been doing extra stuff," Snitker added. "That says a lot about your team. These guys, I've known and I've said this for years, they're a driven group. They compete, they want to win, they're driven, and it's never changing."
Atlanta spent the morning with more bullpen work and a lively session of batting practice on the main field. Charlie Morton threw alongside rotation hopefuls Ian Anderson and Bryce Elder to start the day. Batting practice on the main field included the vast majority of Atlanta's starting lineup and reserves.
Ozuna arrives with hopes of turning his career around...
Marcell Ozuna was among the position players reporting on Monday. He played winter ball in the Dominican Republic and said he spent significant time getting treatment on his troublesome right shoulder. According to Ozuna, inflammation has taken a toll on his arm strength in recent years but he's hopeful this winter's regimen will help him improve when and if he's called upon to play left field.
The past two seasons have been difficult both personally and professionally for Ozuna. A pair of arrests in addition to the worst production of his career have the 32-year-old slugger at a crossroads. The Braves owe Ozuna $37 million over the next two years, which factors significantly into their decision to retain his services at present.
With a cloud hanging over him, Ozuna said his winter focus was to clear his head and get ready physically for the season. While Ozuna acknowledges his critics, doubters and detractors, he said his teammates have been a source of strength over the past two years.
"Happy to be back and see my teammates," said Ozuna, who shared his appreciation for their encouragement throughout his off-field issues and drop in production. "They never give up on me. They never let me feel bad and down. I'm glad that they give me the support and they're there for me."
Of the 212 major leaguers with at least 700 plate appearances since the start of 2021, Ozuna (-0.9) holds the 6th lowest wins above replacement according to FanGraphs. However, the on-field struggles are just one of the troubling trends he's endured over the past two years.
If Ozuna is able to reverse the course of his career in 2023, he would likely find most of his playing time at designated hitter, with an occasional start in left field should he prove up to the task.
Whatever the case, Ozuna is going to leave that part up to the team.
"I feel fantastic right now," said Ozuna. "They have to see that, and see where they put me at... They have the decision. I don't know [what position] now, so I just come in and be ready and let them have the opportunity to decide who'll play."
Wright's shoulder expected to be ready for regular season...
Spring Training is seldom without injury-related storylines. The Braves are dealing with a couple of their own in the early going. With Michael Soroka already limited by a hamstring issue, Mark Bowman of MLB.com reported that Kyle Wright is not expected to make his first exhibition start until the middle of March.
Wright received a cortisone injection last month and took some time off before resuming his throwing program in early February. The righty, who won an MLB-best 21 games last season, said the shot has his shoulder feeling better already.
“Most of the guys during the offseason have to get over that hump to get going again, I just couldn’t get there,” Wright said. “Then once I [got the injection and rested] I was like, ‘Wow, this is how it’s supposed to feel.'” - Kyle Wright via MLB.com
Bowman reports the Braves are expecting Wright to avoid the injured list and are lining up his regular season debut against St. Louis on the first road trip of the year.
Former first round pick Kolby Allard excited to rejoin Braves...
When Kolby Allard was selected by the Braves with the 14th pick of the 2015 draft, many expected he would be among the pitching prospects to lead Atlanta into the next decade. After being traded to Texas and back again, Allard is looking forward to the opportunity to prove himself this spring.
Allard had a brief three appearance cameo with the Braves in 2018 before being dealt to the Rangers at the trade deadline in exchange for Chris Martin. Over the past four seasons, Allard attempted to carve out a spot on the Rangers pitching staff to mixed results.
Just 25 years old, Allard is happy to rejoin the organization that drafted him nearly eight years ago. There were more than a few old friends around to welcome him back.
"Honestly, I'm super stoked," said Allard. "A lot has changed, but at the same time a lot also hasn't changed. There's a lot of familiar faces, coaching staff and player-wise, so I'm just super excited to see where I can fit in and help the team chase what they've been chasing the last four or five years."
Allard pitched in rotations that included Max Fried, Kyle Wright, and Michael Soroka during his time in the Braves farm system. That's something he's hoping to do again.
"Obviously, I was keeping close pretty close tabs on all those guys," said Allard. "Whenever you get drafted and come up with those guys, it seems to be your closest friends in baseball. I still have a lot of really good friends here. Seeing what they all went through, winning the World Series and taking all those deep playoff runs, it's just exciting. Like I said, I'm just super excited to be back in the mix and see if I can help get another one."
The Rangers used Allard as a starting pitcher in his first three seasons before utilizing him in a relief role for 10 outings in 2022. He also made 20 minor league starts, striking out 113 batters in 89 innings for a career-best 11.4 K/9. A lefty who can miss bats at that rate could be a useful weapon, though Allard will have to bring his home run rate down after allowing 38 of those in 145.2 IP since the start of 2021.
"There's obviously a lot of talent arm up and down the list," said Allard. "I think the plan is for me to start going forward. It takes a lot more than five starters to get through a season, especially if you're going to be pitching deep into October."
Whatever the role may be, Allard is just hoping to have a chance to contribute.
"I don't really have a ton of expectations," he said. "Just come here, continue to grind and get better, and see what I can do to help the team win some games."
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.