By Will Carroll
February 29, 2012
This January, just weeks after losing his wife in a car accident, longtime Braves Athletic Trainer Jeff Porter stood in front of a collection of his peers in a hotel ballroom. Jim Andrews called Porter up and handed him the crystal trophy of the Lifetime Achievement Award during the ASMI Injuries in Baseball Course. Porter, visibly choked up, took the moment to remember his mentor, former Braves trainer, Dave Pursley, who won the award years before. The thunderous applause was not sympathy; it was recognition of the kind of commitment Porter has shown through the years. Think about this -- Chipper Jones has never known a training room without Porter in it. Jones' career, defined as much by injuries as by his performance, relies on men like Porter. Across the league, men (and now women) like Porter will miss time with their wives and children, and can usually be seen opening their facilities before the sun comes up. In Orlando this spring, I hope each and every one of the Braves players realize not just what Porter has lost, but what he has given to them.

Health Keys: Keep the pitching staff together as long as possible, using depth to cover the inevitable holes. Make sure no one takes Chipper Jones' usual spot in the training room.

(HEAD TRAINER: Jeff Porter; FIVE YEAR RANK: 21; 2011 RANK: 7)
For explanation of these ratings, click here
C Brian McCann
Durable catchers are hard to find. Durable catchers that can hit are baseball gold. McCann is both and that gives him the nod for best catcher in the game over Joe Mauer and ... umm, well, that's pretty much the list. Maybe Yadier Molina?

1B Freddie Freeman
Freeman wasn't given much rest in his first hot, humid Atlanta summer. While there are some signs that it wore him down at times, he dealt with it pretty well overall. The only surprising thing is that Eric Hinske didn't play 1B more than 13 times. This year, it could be a place where McCann could be used to get some rest while keeping his bat active.

2B Dan Uggla
I think the e-mail I got more than any other last season was during Dan Uggla's horrible first half. Everyone wanted to believe he was hurt, that a player like Uggla couldn't just slump that badly. He could and did, and then got it back just as quickly. In either half, Uggla was out there, which gave him a chance to turn things around.

CF Michael Bourn
Bourn is a durable speedster, as tough a combo to find as a durable catcher. He never seems to do too much, and will have a better lineup around him to keep him from having to do so.

RF Jason Heyward
The open question is how much his shoulder injury had to do with his inability to adjust last season. He was so bad that by August he was nearly benched, especially against lefties. If it really was a "batter's shoulder," this could go either way. Maybe the rehab this off-season fixed it or maybe it comes back ... or maybe he just can't hit lefties after all. While spring stats aren't very useful, watching how Heyward bats against lefties -- any lefties -- is going to be very telling.

LF Martin Prado
Prado had a scary staph infection in June, so all his numbers after that have to be taken with a grain of Cipro. Prado's bat isn't as good in LF, but with Jones so shaky, Prado could easily move back to 3B.

SP Tim Hudson
Hudson could miss as much as a month of the season, perhaps more. He had a herniated disc fixed in November, setting his offseason work back. There's also a chance that things will move faster than that. The range is pretty broad for this kind of thing. The Braves tend to be conservative and have plenty of guys, such as Julio Teheran, who could fill in easily without being overtaxed. At 36 and in a contract year, this could well be the last we see of Hudson, healthy or not.

SP Brandon Beachy
The Kokomo Kid had a big innings increase last year, but he's beat odds like this before. He's got solid stuff and seemed to adjust well as the league got a look at him. He'll be tested above 175 innings, but again, the Braves have depth to fill in behind him with younger starters (though Beachy is hardly a grizzled vet.)

SP Mike Minor
Minor has nothing left to prove in AAA, but everything to prove at the major league level. His stuff seems to get left behind on the short drive from Gwinnett to Atlanta. This season, the Braves will have to help him figure things out or they'll shift to other options quickly, leaving Minor as nothing more than depth and perhaps trade bait.

RP Jonny Venters
Venters has put up two heavy usage years. Bobby Cox would latch on to one guy many times and it appears Fredi Gonzalez is much the same. Venters may hold up under this load, but there's an element of risk here. That's what I'm here to remind you of.

CL Craig Kimbrel
If there's any minor knock on Kimbrel, it's that he did wear down, which didn't help the epic collapse of the Braves. He's hardly at fault there, given the workload. It was a chicken and egg issue. Because they needed every win (and save), he almost had to be used, but by doing so, he wore down further. We'll see how he recovers, though you have to like his chances.

SS Tyler Pastornicky
Pastornicky has a long name, so I hope he has a healthy career. Yes, that's selfish. He's very young and has almost no experience above AA, where he was good, not great. He's enough of an athlete that he can be tolerable, but he's got to be available to be even that. He appears to be durable, but young athletes with no track record who steal bases are risky.

3B Chipper Jones
It's Chipper Jones. He came back too quickly from not one, but two knee surgeries, and still managed to produce on a per game basis. He'd be better off as an occasional player, but he'll start at least one more season, which appears as if it could be his last. If you want to be scared, Jones had a bit of a setback this offseason after stepping in a hole while hunting. He's expected to be ready, but that knee is not stable.

SP Tommy Hanson
The worst thing a young pitcher can have is a rotator cuff tear. The hope is that Hanson's was caught early enough that he can make necessary adjustments. His potential at this time last year was as high as any pitcher in the game. We'll know quickly if it's still there.

SP Jair Jurrjens
Jurrjens started his season with a knee injury, followed it with a major oblique strain, and then ended it with another knee injury. In between, he pitched very well. His right knee escaped surgery and the team worked to adjust his motion and offseason conditioning. The Braves need to have Jurrjens go at least 175 innings, if not more, even with the depth in their rotation.

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