Several Braves get early start on spring work
Jones, McCann, Heyward report to Orlando a week before camp
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Many Braves players have said last year's September collapse would serve as motivation as they prepare for the upcoming season. This seems to be true based on the number of early arrivals at Spring Training.
Braves pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to camp Sunday, and position players have until Friday to inform the team that they have arrived in the Orlando area.
But Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman were among the impressive number of position players taking batting practice in the indoor batting cages at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex Saturday morning.
"This is the first time since I've been coming here that there have been this many position players here this early," said Braves third-base coach Brian Snitker, who has been with the club since 1977. "They're here before some of the pitchers. But to a man, I'll bet you they all would have come down here the day after we got beat [to end the 2011 season] to get back and start it up again."
This year's Braves could certainly be a little more hungry as they attempt to distance themselves from the frustration felt as they squandered the 8 1/2-game Wild Card lead they carried into last September. A 13-inning loss to the Phillies in the regular-season finale officially eliminated them from the playoff picture.
"We went into the offseason with a very bitter taste in our mouth," Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. "Everybody has been doing everything they can to make sure they are prepared for this upcoming season. That's not to say everybody didn't prepare for last season. But we've got a little added motivation this year."
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has certainly been pleased with the excitement his players have brought to camp. He began throwing batting practice to Uggla, McCann and Eric Hinske when they arrived in camp earlier this week.
"We're a week before the position players have to arrive, and there are a lot of guys here," Gonzalez said. "It's good to see that. That's always a good sign."
Jones, Freeman, Heyward, McCann, Uggla and Hinske were all taking swings as new hitting coach Greg Walker watched Saturday morning. Walker got acquainted with some of these players while they took some swings at Turner Field over the past month.
The only projected starting position players who had not been seen in camp as of early Saturday afternoon were center fielder Michael Bourn and shortstop Tyler Pastornicky.
"We have an exciting team," McCann said. "Everybody is excited to get going and to redeem ourselves. It's a whole new year, and we need to be looking at it like that. We don't need to be worrying about what happened last year."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.