Fredi confident new-look Braves can contend
ATLANTA -- Now that a hectic offseason has vastly altered his roster, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez will not be personally familiar with many of the players he will meet during Spring Training. But over the course of the past few months, he has certainly become well-acquainted with the special ring he assigned to calls received from assistant general manager John Coppolella.
"I know that ring now," Gonzalez said with a laugh. "When I hear it, I go, 'Oh boy, here we go.' It goes from 10 o'clock at night to six in the morning. I called [Coppolella] and said, 'Do you ever sleep?'"
Though the Braves have not extended Gonzalez's contract beyond this season, they have showed some commitment to him by keeping him very involved in every decision that has been made this offseason. The 51-year-old manager went to Baltimore to recruit free-agent acquisition Nick Markakis, and he has made a pair of trips to the Dominican Republic to evaluate a couple of Cuban players -- outfielder Dian Toscano, who signed with Atlanta last month, and infielder Hector Olivera, a 29-year-old free agent who is still being pursued by the Braves.
The Braves will certainly have a much different look when Spring Training begins in two weeks. Their 40-man roster includes 17 players who were not in the organization at the conclusion of the 2014 season. But to really get a feel for what they have done over the past few months, one only has to look at the fact that seven of their Top 20 prospects were with different organizations last year.
"There are no surprises really," Gonzalez said in reference to the club's massive reshaping. "Right from the start, this is something we were talking about doing. Pretty much every step of the way, I've been in communication with [president] John Hart and Coppy. The nice thing is we went from our farm system being ranked 27th to sixth in about two months, without even having a Draft."
Accounting for the bright future the Braves have attempted to create this winter, Gonzalez jokingly said he will take a sabbatical this year to manage one of the club's Minor League affiliates. But in all honesty, he has seemed quite genuine when he's said he believes his team can win with the players they have acquired to replace the likes of Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis -- the three highest-profile players traded by Atlanta this offseason. In fact, while talking to media members again this week, Gonzalez repeated what he said two weeks ago -- that the Braves are capable of claiming a postseason berth this season.
The attempt to realize this goal will be heavily influenced by three key additions to the potential staff -- potential front-line starter Shelby Miller and veteran relievers Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson.
The potentially strong pitching staff may need to compensate for what currently stands as a suspect offense. There are understandably concerns about how the Braves will score runs without the presence of Upton, Gattis and Heyward. But those same concerns existed last year, when Atlanta scored the second-fewest runs in the Majors while relying too heavily on the power potential these three aforementioned players possessed.
"I like our club," Gonzalez said. "I like our pitching. I like the back end of our bullpen with some of the veteran guys. I think we went out and got some contact hitters, some guys who are going to put the ball in play. There were times [last year] where you were thinking, 'Somebody put a ball in play and we get a run.' We've got some mixing and matching we can do."