Braves embrace underdog role as they enter rebuilding mode
ATLANTA (AP) The Braves are trying to be optimistic after a flurry of offseason moves signaled the franchise going into rebuilding mode.
Three pitchers were at Turner Field on Monday for voluntary workouts leading up to spring training, all looking to put a positive spin on the dealing of sluggers Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis.
''We have a group of guys who kind of have a chip on their shoulder,'' said left-handed pitcher Alex Wood, expected to be one of the few holdovers on this year's roster. ''Guys that want to come out and show what they can still do and show what they're going to do for us younger guys down the road. It's exciting to go in with a chip on your shoulder. I think it's going to bring a lot of guys on this team together.''
Wood was joined by newcomers Shelby Miller and Michael Kohn on a cold, blustery day that hardly seemed indicative of spring training being just a few weeks away. The first workout for Atlanta's pitchers and catchers is scheduled for Feb. 21 at the Disney World complex near Orlando, Florida; the full squad gets started on Feb. 26.
Miller was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals in the deal for Heyward, one of the few major league-ready players acquired in Atlanta's plethora of trades. Upton and Gattis were both dealt for prospects, part of the team's goal to rebuild a once-mighty farm system that has fallen on hard times.
While those moves could pay huge dividends a few years down the road, they've stripped away the perception of the Braves as a perennial contender, a team that has been to the playoffs 17 times in the last 24 years.
Atlanta, which captured the NL East with 96 wins just two seasons ago, is now cast in the role of underdog.
Wood said the team plans to embrace it.
''That's the great thing about baseball. You don't have to have to have nine superstars,'' Wood said. ''We're going to play a different brand of baseball. We'll probably play a closer brand of real baseball. I guess I'm kind of old school - I guess it's the coaches I had growing up - but I think we're going to be a team that really does the small things right. Partially, because we're going to have to. But partially, because I think that's the way this team has been put together.''
Miller and Kohn are hardly the only new faces heading into spring. There's a chance that as few as eight players who started last season with the team will be there for opening day this year.
In the clubhouse at Turner Field, only a handful of lockers contained gear from last season, the most striking sign that this will be a vastly different roster in 2015.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, considering the Braves slumped to a 79-83 record, finished a whopping 17 games behind the Washington Nationals and had one of the lowest-scoring offenses in baseball - even with Upton, Heyward and Gattis. Also, Wood and others have indicated there was a bit of discord in the clubhouse, players splitting off into cliques and unable to muster any sense of camaraderie to help pull out of a late-season slide.
''There are always (potential) negatives when you have so many new guys, because you don't know how you'll mesh together and come together as a unit,'' Wood said. ''I think we've got a bunch of fighters and it's going to be exciting to get around these guys and see what they're all about.''
Kohn, who will battle for a left-handed spot in the bullpen, acknowledges that the Braves are a team in flux.
He and Wood still think they can be a contender. Both pointed to the Kansas City Royals, who surprisingly made the playoffs last season and got all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.
''It may be a rebuilding year, but teams can surprise you,'' Kohn said. ''When there are really not a lot of expectations for you, so you can go out and play relaxed and win and surprise some people. I think that's what this team is built around.''
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