New-look Braves squad reports for spring
Atlanta checks into Lake Buena Vista with a pair of Uptons and high expectations
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As veteran pitcher Tim Hudson played catch while standing alongside his young son, Kade, on Monday morning, Justin Upton organized his locker at Champion Stadium and introduced himself to a clubhouse that has been energized by the offseason additions of him and his older brother.
This was essentially Upton's first day with the Braves, who acquired him in a seven-player trade with the D-backs on Jan. 24. Though position players are not required to report to camp until Thursday, the talented outfielder was eager to begin the next chapter in his life with his new team.
"It's just kind of time to focus on some baseball, which is the fun part," Upton said. "We've done all the talk about it. It becomes fun when you get here and get around the guys."
Upton seemed quite comfortable as he introduced himself to new teammates and interacted with some familiar faces that he has previously only known as opposing players. The 25-year-old outfielder greeted Dan Uggla with a bear hug.
"I'm just glad that guy is on my team now," bullpen coach Eddie Perez said as he pointed toward Upton while walking through the clubhouse.
Hudson understands what Upton will experience over the next few days and weeks. He was the center of attention when the Braves acquired him in a blockbuster trade with the A's before the start of the 2005 season.
Eight years later, Hudson is the longest-tenured player on the Braves' roster. Setting a good example, the 37-year-old hurler was the first player to take the field to play catch early Monday morning.
There were no formal workouts, as pitchers and catchers simply had to report to camp on Monday. They will hold their first workout on Tuesday. All position players are required to report on Thursday, one day before the club's first full-squad workout.
"It has been an exciting offseason," said Hudson. "We brought in a lot of talent. We felt like we had a really good team last year, and I feel like we've improved in a number of areas. I'm excited. This is reporting day and I don't remember ever seeing this many guys on reporting day."
Showing some youthful exuberance, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman made early arrivals to camp last week. Upton, Uggla and Chris Johnson, a third baseman also acquired in the blockbuster trade with the D-backs, were all among the early arrivals in camp on Monday. The most notable position players who have not yet arrived in camp were shortstop Andrelton Simmons and B.J. Upton, who signed a franchise-record five-year, $75.25 million contract with Atlanta in November.
B.J. Upton plans to make the 45-minute commute from his Tampa-area home during Spring Training. His brother has no interest making those long drives. But the two will have plenty of opportunities to interact as they share adjoining lockers.
"I told him he's crazy [to commute], but he'll figure that out fast," Justin Upton said.
Like many of his Braves teammates, Uggla made the drive from Atlanta to the Orlando area this past weekend.
"You always dread the packing up and leaving home, especially now that I'm [living] in Atlanta," Uggla said. "But once you get the car packed and you get out on the interstate, you get excited. It's always nice seeing palm trees coming into Florida. Then once you get here, it is nice just seeing all the faces you're familiar with seeing every day."
Uggla now has the corner locker that had been previously reserved for Chipper Jones, who retired after last year's National League Wild Card playoff loss to the Cardinals. This marks the first time since 1992 that the Braves have come to Spring Training without the plan of Jones being in Atlanta's starting lineup.
"It was odd looking over and not seeing the old wrinkled bag of bones over there," Hudson said of Jones, joking. "But it is different. He's been a fixture around here for years."
Other key losses from last year's team include backup catcher David Ross, center fielder Michael Bourn and the versatile Martin Prado, who was the key piece used to get Justin Upton from the D-backs.
While those players will be missed within the clubhouse, the Braves will enter this season excited about their new look, which features the addition of the Uptons, who will team with Heyward to form what could be the game's most talented outfield. Each of the outfielders is a Gold Glove Award-caliber defender capable of producing 30 homers and 30 stolen bases.
"The lineup has a lot of pop in it," Justin Upton said. "We can change games fast with power and speed. It should be fun to sit back and watch and be a part of it."
If catcher Brian McCann and Uggla are able to bounce back from frustrating seasons and return to form, Atlanta could have one of the game's most potent offenses.
McCann will likely miss at least the first two weeks of the regular season as he recovers from right shoulder surgery.
As for Uggla, he is approaching this season with the confidence that he has made the adjustments necessary to regain the consistency he lacked while producing career lows in batting average (.220) and home runs (19) last year.
"One bad year in seven, what can you do except learn from it?" Uggla said. "The only thing you can do when you're backed in a corner is fight your way out. That's the only way I know how to handle it. I know I can be the same player and an even better player than I've been the past seven years."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.