Aaron weighs in on Braves outfield
Former Braves great says Prado trade was tough but necessary
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After arriving at the Braves' Spring Training complex late Thursday morning, Hank Aaron entered the visitors' dugout at Champion Stadium to briefly sit with Jason Heyward during a commercial shoot.
It was a picturesque scene as the legendary former Braves right fielder sat shoulder-to-shoulder with the current Braves right fielder, who can count Aaron among his most ardent supporters.
"Jason can be probably one of the greatest players in the league," Aaron said. "He runs the bases well. He can steal bases. He plays the outfield about as well as anybody in right field. He's got a great arm, and he plays well. You like to see a player like that, because he doesn't play like he's going to get hurt. He plays reckless, and he runs the bases very well."
While describing Heyward, Aaron mentioned skills possessed by each member of Atlanta's new-look outfield, which was constructed with the offseason additions of B.J. Upton and Justin Upton.
Thinking back to his earliest days of professional baseball, the 79-year-old Aaron could not remember another team that included three five-tool outfielders who had the rare power-speed combination that is possessed by Heyward and the Upton brothers.
"I don't know of anybody who has had the combination of speed, power and all of the things these three kids can do," Aaron said. "But they've got to go out there and do it."
Aaron seemed to be in great spirits after he experienced what he termed to be a "very, very bumpy flight" to the Orlando area on Braves CEO Terry McGuirk's private jet early Thursday morning. His presence elicited a reverent response from the players and coaches who were preparing for batting practice when he arrived.
The Braves will welcome another special guest Friday when Chipper Jones comes to Spring Training to begin a five-day stay as a special instructor. This will mark the first time Jones has been in uniform since his retirement began with October's loss to the Cardinals in the one-game National League Wild Card playoff.
"He might want to take a little batting practice, who knows?" said Aaron, who will return to Atlanta on Friday. "He was hitting pretty well when he left here. We might need him for a pinch-hitter or something."
Echoing the sentiments Jones expressed last week, Aaron said he believed the Braves are really going to miss Martin Prado, who was sent to the D-backs in the seven-player trade that brought Justin Upton to Atlanta last month.
"We needed a ballplayer, and they went out and got one, and it cost us dearly because [Prado] can truly play ball and he's a good kid in the clubhouse," Aaron said. "He's going to be missed, and I just wish him the best of luck. I hope he goes [to Arizona] and hits .400."
Multiple times during his 25-minute interview, Aaron expressed the appreciation he had for the versatile Prado, whose blue-collar approach to the game made him a beloved figure among fans and teammates.
"Prado was a great example of somebody who knows how to play the game," Aaron said. "Many times when you've got runners on second base and no outs, he knew how to get the runner to third base. Or he knew how to get them from first to second. You don't have a lot of that. Everybody is up there thinking about themselves and trying to hit a three-run homer with one guy on base or trying to do something that is impossible to do."
Still, as much as Aaron appreciated the contributions Prado made to the Braves, he also understood that this was simply the cost the Braves had to pay to get a player with the kind of tremendous upside possessed by Justin Upton.
"You traded away a good ballplayer to get a good ballplayer," Aaron said. "We needed the kid that we traded for. In order to get him, you had to trade somebody like a Prado."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.