LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves manager Brian Snitker joked that he could almost detect a smile as he shared a phone conversation with Nick Markakis after the stoic outfielder re-signed with the club in January.Snitker and others actually saw that smile on Tuesday morning, when Markakis reported to Spring
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves manager Brian Snitker joked that he could almost detect a smile as he shared a phone conversation with Nick Markakis after the stoic outfielder re-signed with the club in January.
Snitker and others actually saw that smile on Tuesday morning, when Markakis reported to Spring Training to begin his fifth season with the Braves and attempt to push the club past the rebuild he positively enriched through his leadership.
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"It was good to see him," Snitker said. "I'm glad he's here. I think he is, too. He had a nice smile. I think everybody felt good when they saw him."
The landscape has significantly changed since Markakis first reported to Braves camp before the 2015 season. He was just a couple of months removed from neck surgery, and the team was preparing to enter the first year of its rebuild.
"I went through it in Baltimore early on," Markakis said. "It's a building process. It's not something that is going to happen overnight. It worked out there. Coming in here, I was kind of in the same situation. I knew what I was getting into. I also knew the capability of this organization and these players. All that building nonsense is behind us. We're looking to compete, and we're looking to win as many games as we can."
Given that he had been a stabilizing figure as things took shape over the three previous years, it was fitting for Markakis to gain his first All-Star selection, earn a Gold Glove and capture a Silver Slugger Award while helping the Braves exceed expectations with last year's National League East title. The expiration of his four-year, $44 million deal sent him to the free-agent market. He showed his determination to return when he slashed his salary in half by agreeing to Atlanta's one-year, $4 million offer, which includes a $2 million option for 2020.
"Anybody that is that stable and professional with everything he brings is huge to where we're at right now," Snitker said. "To have him is really, really good."
Having lived in Atlanta during the early part of his career, Darren O'Day recognized the city as a good place for him to spend his retirement years and a good market for his wife, Elizabeth Prann, who has worked as an anchor and reporter for both CNN and Fox News. So, the two purchased a Cobb County home before the start of last season. Little did they know, they'd be making it their permanent residence a few months later, when the reliever was traded from the Orioles to the Braves.
O'Day's proximity to SunTrust Park proved quite beneficial this past winter as he regularly visited the stadium to work out and have his surgically repaired hamstring tested by the team's physical therapist, Pete Cicinelli. The former All-Star reliever missed last season's final three months after his hamstring tore away from the bone. But the early portion of Spring Training has created reason to believe he could prove to be a valuable asset within Atlanta's bullpen.
"I think [the hamstring] is better than it's been in a few years," O'Day said. "It's definitely stronger just because of the three anchors in it. Having more awareness and knowing how to take care of it is very helpful. I'm happy with where it's at, for sure."
As the Braves prepare to enter this season with Brian McCann and Tyler Flowers as their primary catchers, there's reason to be concerned about the fact that the MLB-ready organizational depth at this position consists of Raffy Lopez, who played a career-high 37 games for the Padres last year, and Alex Jackson, who is just two years removed from resuming his role as a catcher.
Jackson became much more flexible last year and continued to quiet doubts about his defensive potential. But while the former first-round Draft pick has improved significantly behind the plate, his power potential was negated last year as he struck out in 36 percent of the at-bats he totaled with Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett.
Waiting in the wings is William Contreras, who has the potential to eventually be recognized as baseball's top catching prospect. The 21-year-old will move to the Double-A level this season and could factor into Atlanta's plans for the 2020 season.
"Both [Jackson] and Contreras can run," Braves catching coach Sal Fasano said. "They've both got really good feet. I believe their throwing will always improve, their receiving will improve, because it's a natural move knowing how to steal a pitch. So, the more athletic they are, the better. You don't get Engelberg from 'The Bad News Bears' behind the plate. It just doesn't work."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.