Throughout the process of Spring Training, I intend to bring you a weekly update on the progress of key Atlanta Braves‘ players and of the team as a whole.  As we all know, Spring Training is a situation in flux, so the status quo changes every day, much less every week.  So, in an attempt to better inform the reader and the fan, I’ll be bringing you week by week updates on the progress of players, coaches thoughts and more!  So, stay tuned and you might just learn something.

Nate McLouth enjoying hot Spring Training session

Coming into this season, there was a plethora of talk about the status of Nate McLouth.  McLouth, the former All-Star and Gold Glove winner who shined in 2008 with the Pittsburgh Pirates but has disappointed as of late and finished 2010 batting under .200, is experiencing a resurgence again.  If spring training is any indication and it seems to provide a trend in McLouth’s case, McLouth is off to a fantastic start this year.  Last year, the worst of his career, saw him hit .118 with one home run and four RBI’s through the course of Spring Training.  Out of 51 at-bats, he only had six hits.  This year is proving to be much different.  In the course of 15 Spring Training at-bats, McLouth has seven hits, two doubles, one home run, three RBI’s and is hitting .467.  Yet, there seems to be a tell-tale stat that provides a difference from last year.  In Spring Training 2010, McLouth struck out 16 times; the year before, he fanned 14 times.  This season?  None.  Absolutely no strikeouts to this point.  Plus, his walks (5) almost match the total for all of Spring Training each year in 2009 and 2010 (he walked 7 times each year).  Maybe we are seeing a revitalized Nate McLouth who is ready to reclaim his spot in center field and silence the naysayers.  I certainly hope he can return to his 2008 form and take this Braves squad to a ring.

Jordan Schafer heating up

If anyone has followed the saga of Jordan Schafer, you have to be rooting for this kid.  Drafted in the third round of the 2005 MLB draft, Schafer came with a world of promise and was a “toolsy” kid.  Then, in April 2008, Schafer was suspended 50 games for supposedly taking Human Growth Hormone (HGH), an allegation that was never proven; Schafer was tested but didn’t test positive and there was never any proof of him possessing HGH.  For a time, Schafer seemed to rebound, being named the starting centerfielder for the Braves in 2009; he sealed the deal with a first at-bat home run on April 5, 2009, against Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Brett Myers.  Yet, not two months later, Schafer was demoted to AAA Gwinnett after only batting .204 with 63 strikeouts in 167 major league at-bats.  To put the icing on the cake, he was demoted from AAA to AA Mississippi in July 2010 and subsequently placed on the DL with a season ending injury.  Schafer was about as low as a player can get.  Flash forward to Spring Training 2011.  After struggling this spring training, Schafer is starting to heat up.  Yesterday, against the split-squad Yankees, Schafer went 2-4 with a home run and a strikeout.  Schafer is good defensively, but his hitting needs to show some improvement to make it into camp.  Hopefully, Jordan Schafer will keep plugging away and get back to the glory he reveled in after being drafted. 

Luis Salazar improving following near-fatal on-field accident

If you have been under a rock for a week or so, you would be wondering what in the world happened.  While Brian McCann was batting, Luis Salazar was getting a little experience in a big league dugout before assuming his role as the manager of Class A Advanced Lynchburg.  Brian McCann pulled a pitch foul into the first base dugout that struck Salazar in the left eye, knocking him unconscious and shattering the socket around his eye.  While doctors say that his injury had the potential to be life-threatening, they credited the quick actions of medical staff with stabilizing Salazar prior to transporting him to the local hospital.  Only three days after this scare, Salazar is alert and speaking with family again.  There is no word as to whether or not Salazar will start his duties with Lynchburg on time.  Please keep this family in your thoughts and prayers; this incident makes one think of what happened to Mike Coolbaugh prior to the 2007 season when he was struck in the head with a line drive and subsequently lost his life. 

Notable Player Update

For a roundup of notable players, we’ll look at the guys expected to make a major contribution this year.

HOT: Chipper Jones is having a decent Spring coming off of knee surgery.  He’s hitting .276 (8-29) with 2 doubles, a home run, and 4 RBI.  He is also feeling more and more comfortable on that knee and feels that it won’t be a distraction this season.  Freddie Freeman is also having a good spring, batting .364 (12-33) with three doubles and four RBI.  One guy that is seeing the ball in a major way is Jason Heyward, who is batting .417 (10-24) with two doubles, an RBI, and a .517 on base percentage. 

NOT:  Brian McCann is having a rough time this spring, hitting just .182 (4-22) with 3 RBI and 4 strikeouts.  McCann was also the source of the ball that struck Luis Salazar, so we’ll look to see if that has any psychological impact on McCann as the season progresses.

What To Watch For Next Week

On Wednesday the 16th, Boston comes to Disney’s Wide World of Sports for a little spring fun with the Braves.  This will give us our first look at the retooled Red Sox, featuring Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and former Braves Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the new starting catcher. 

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