Uggla intent on proving naysayers wrong in '14
Braves second baseman working hard to correct bad habits at the plate
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Dan Uggla knows the Braves would have traded him in the offseason if they had found a club that was willing to gamble on him and -- more importantly -- assume an adequate portion of the $26 million he is owed over the final two years of his contract.
Uggla also realizes that many members of the baseball world are doubting his ability to bounce back from what he himself describes as an "awful" 2013 season. But instead of appeasing his critics, the 33-year-old second baseman seems more interested in continuing to benefit from a no-nonsense, blue collar approach that helped him evolve from an unprotected Rule 5 Draft pick to a three-time All-Star.
"Of course there is a chip on my shoulder," Uggla said. "There is always a chip on my shoulder when I come to Spring Training. Last year [stunk]. There are no ifs, ands or buts around it. But at the same time, that was last year. You've got to let it go."
As he prepares for the upcoming season, Uggla has not forgotten the intense anger and embarrassment that overwhelmed him when the Braves left him off the roster for last year's National League Division Series against the Dodgers.
Nor has Uggla erased all of the frustration that has steadily built as he has batted below the Mendoza Line dating back to the final four months of the 2012 season.
But instead of sulking or allowing himself to be satisfied by his guaranteed contract, Uggla has spent the past week giving the Braves reason to hope the lingering hard feelings will not prove detrimental.
The 33-year-old second baseman has worked out at the Braves' Spring Training complex on daily basis since arriving last week, one day before the report date for pitchers and catchers and an entire week before he was required to be present.
"The way the season ended for Danny last year, he could have come in here with an attitude," hitting coach Greg Walker said. "I've seen the exact opposite. He's getting after it. He's been out here every day. He's a competitor and he'll fight you. You don't ever want to bet against a guy that wants to fight you."
Uggla remains thankful that he was able to temper his anger when general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez pulled him into Gonzalez's office two days before the NLDS began and informed him that he would not be on the roster for the first round of the postseason.
"I said a few words, let them know where I stood and how I felt," Uggla said. "But there was no changing their mind. So, I didn't want to say anything else off the tip of my tongue. I let them know how I felt and kept it short and simple. The anger I had, I knew I had to get out of there fast because there would have been a great possibility, I would have said something just out of anger."
Along with producing career lows in batting average (.179) and OPS (.671) last year, Uggla ranked last in the NL with one strikeout in every 3.14 plate appearances. One season earlier, he had set the franchise-worst mark by striking out once every 3.75 plate appearances. This swing-and-miss frequency offset most of the value provided by the 22 home runs he hit.
Uggla battled blurred vision throughout most of last season and missed a little more than two weeks after undergoing LASIK surgery in August. But Uggla does not believe his eyes were the primary reason he struggled.
Instead he blames bad habits, which began to form after the first two months of the 2012 season. Too often, Uggla found himself leaning on his front foot or left off-balance because his head was moving too much as he prepared to swing.
"Everything was so rushed," Uggla said. "I didn't have any of my legs because I was out on my front foot so bad. I want to get back to my legs, where I have a base, because that is where my swing starts. For whatever reason, I got into some bad habits and I couldn't fix it. I just went into a tailspin."
Uggla's struggles actually date back to early June of 2012, approximately a month before he assumed the honor of being elected to serve as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game.
In the 129 games, Uggla played from July 5, 2011 -- the day he began a 33-game hitting streak -- through June 4, 2012 -- the day he highlighted a four-hit performance with a pair of homers against his former Marlins teammate, Uggla batted .286 with 32 homers and a .917 OPS.
That's been the only torrid stretch Uggla has had since the Braves gave him a five-year $62 million contract before the 2011 season. In his past 236 games, he batted .185 with a .674 OPS.
"Just like anything else in life, you've got to deal with it like a man and put it behind you," Uggla said. "You don't necessarily forget about it. But you put it behind you and use it in a positive way."
After looking at video this winter, Uggla determined to quiet his swing he needed to begin crouching a little more like he did during his 2006 rookie season. He began working on regaining this stance during his offseason hitting sessions, which began in November and heated up in early January.
"I think he worked on the right things this winter," Walker said. "He's doing it. I'm encouraged."
Along with being confident that he has a better feel for the mechanics of his swing, Uggla appears ready to distance himself from his recent miseries and be fueled by the pain the end of last year brought.
"Obviously, there was a lot of anger and a lot of other emotions going when that all happened," Uggla said. "But you've got to live with it and deal with it."