Braves' lineup could be special this season
Addition of Upton brothers should improve already deep and powerful batting order
On paper, where dreams often go to live or die in sports, the 2013 batting order for the Atlanta Braves won't comfort those who dare to stand 60 feet, six inches away.
Here's that likely batting order:
1. Andrelton Simmons, SS
2. Jason Heyward, RF
3. Justin Upton, LF
4. Freddie Freeman, 1B
5. B.J. Upton, CF
6. Brian McCann C
7. Dan Uggla, 2B
8. Chris Johnson or Juan Francisco, 3B
9. The pitcher's spot
Which has me thinking about something. The last time the Braves had so many hitters with this much promise in the same lineup during a given season was -- well, I'm still thinking.
They'll have four, five or maybe six guys who could manage 30 or more home runs. They'll have several who could produce nice batting averages and on-base percentages. They'll have a few with swift legs, which is a rarity for this team, which frequently has been snail-like.
They'll also have players capable of operating with efficiency at various spots of the batting order.
Sounds like the perfect lineup.
"Well, I don't know about perfect," said Greg Walker, the veteran hitting coach in his second season with Atlanta after nine years in that role with the Chicago White Sox.
For one, Walker knows this: If you go by that projected batting order and place Johnson at third base, the Braves will have six hitters who have struck out 100 times or more during a given season. They'll also have another guy who once missed that mark by two.
The bottom line: Walker wants his hitters not to forget a particular word this season -- patience.
"So far down here in Spring Training, I don't think we have taken as many walks as I would have liked," Walker continued over the phone Thursday from the Braves' camp in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. "Our hitters are dangerous, and pitchers are going to pitch around them a little bit. Which means, on a given day, a pitcher may not want to throw you a strike.
"I want them to accept the walk and take the attitude of 'Who's next?' Let your teammate pick you up. Because we are a deep team, we don't need anybody to go out of the strike zone to try to do more."
Then Walker added quickly, "But I do like what we have."
No question, because the Braves have a lot, especially after they added the Upton brothers during the offseason.
There is B.J., 28, the oldest Upton, whose free-agent contract of $75.25 million was the largest in franchise history. He has a combination of speed and power -- you know, just like his brother, Justin, 25, who was acquired by the Braves in a trade with the D-backs about two months after they signed B.J.
Both Uptons? That's impressive enough.
"They're both young players, so their careers are still evolving, so you always try to improve," Walker said. "Of course, we hope they have their best years with us, and they're very capable of doing that. There's room for improvement, because you're always striving, but we also don't want to take away from who they are.
"I think they're going to push each other to get even better. I think everybody wants to do their part."
Walker's reference was to the Uptons, but it could have been to his slew of hitters overall. Take, for instance, right fielder Heyward, who will become the third member of Atlanta's impressive outfield, with Justin in left and B.J. in center.
Heyward surged back into prominence last season after a sophomore slump that mostly was injury induced. With health rarely an issue in 2012 for the first time during his three Major League seasons, he ripped 27 home runs and collected 82 RBIs while stealing 21 bases and hitting .269.
Still, Heyward can improve. He's only 23.
So is Freeman, entering his third full season as the Braves' solid-hitting first baseman. His 94 RBIs led the team last year.
Then there is Uggla, among Atlanta's few old-timers, at 33. During his two seasons with the team, Uggla has yet to produce the type of complete season at the plate that defined his five years with the Marlins.
But the Braves feel Uggla will resurrect his glory days.
The same goes for McCann, 29, owner of six trips to the All-Star Game and five Silver Slugger awards. He currently is recovering from shoulder surgery, but he is expected to return soon after Opening Day as his prolific self at the plate.
As for the first of Atlanta's other two spots among regulars, you have Simmons at shortstop. He's another 23-year-old player, and as a rookie last season, he hit .289 in 166 at-bats.
Then, at third base, the Braves may platoon Francisco and Johnson, both among the hottest hitters in the Grapefruit League. While the 28-year-old Johnson hit .281 with 15 home runs combined last year for the Astros and D-backs, the 25-year-old Francisco ended his limited role with the Braves last season with nine home runs and 32 RBIs in 192 at-bats.
In summary ...
"If we stay healthy -- and we're relatively healthy right now, besides [McCann] -- we should be one of the better offensive teams," Walker said. "We're excited, but the game is not played on paper."
No, it isn't.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.