Click here for the Braves’ 2006 depth chart.
C Brian McCann: McCann gets a yellow because of his age and position. Young backstops are often exposed to injury, and the small sample size of injury comparables bumps up his light as well. Having him platoon with Todd Pratt is a fantastic idea in terms of both production and health.
1B Adam LaRoche
2B Marcus Giles: Giles’ history of seemingly fluky injuries–a jammed left knee last year, a broken collarbone the year before, a little bit of elbow trouble–suggests a pattern of quirky, unrelated injuries. He was able to make it into 152 games last year, which is the highest total of his career. His types of injuries don’t suggest anything to be overly worried about. This is a very low yellow.
3B Chipper Jones: Chipper has a litany of injury problems: strained rotator cuff, torn ligament in his left foot, strained oblique. At 33, he’s not going to suddenly get healthier. Moving him across the diamond from third to first would be ideal, and he definitely has the bat to hold his own there, but that doesn’t seem likely.
SS Edgar Renteria: Hidden injuries are often the cause any time a player takes an unexplained dip. There’s no conclusive evidence suggesting that was the case with Renteria last year, but there were murmurs of back problems and a sore hip. This spring training, it was reported he mildly tweaked his side. Nothing seems severe or worrisome, but he is still a shortstop on the wrong side of 30.
SP John Smoltz: His elbow problems and his age don’t mix well together. Smoltz proved the doubters wrong last year by staying off the disabled list and tossing 230.2 innings in 33 starts. Nevertheless, he’s still McDowell’s (or Cox’s) biggest test. Getting him extra rest will be a key going forward, but there’s not as much depth here as you would’ve found in the Braves staffs of yesteryear.
SP Tim Hudson: This red is a hole in the system. Hudson always gets hurt, but it’s never serious. Chronic oblique strains aside, like the one that sidelined him for 31 days last season, Hudson’s not a worry. The system projects DL time, and Hudson’s very likely to visit, but he won’t take up residence there.
SP John Thomson: Middle fingers are an increasing problem in baseball. Thomson was sidelined for 89 days with a strained tendon in his right middle finger in 2005 which limited him to fewer than 100 innings and a measly 17 starts. There are several other pitchers that have had tendon problems and the issues tend to linger. If he regains his control early, he will likely be fine.
SP Jorge Sosa
SP Horacio Ramirez: The Braves are lucky Ramirez isn’t on Mexico’s roster for the World Baseball Classic. He has had shoulder problems for most of his career, just cracked 200 innings for the first time, and showed the beginnings of some control issues, which often augur impending elbow problems. There’s a standing appointment for him in Birmingham.
Last year, Atlanta worked through a glut of key injuries, including glaring ones to Chipper Jones, Mike Hampton, Tim Hudson, and both of their catchers, Eddie Perez and Johnny Estrada. They patched up these injuries through their stocked farm system: Wilson Betemit and the recently-departed Andy Marte took over at third, Kyle Davies posted several quality starts, and their trio of young outfielders, Ryan Langerhans, Kelly Johnson, and Jeff Francoeur exceeded expectations when asked to fill in for an AWOL Raul Mondesi and an injury-hampered Brian Jordan. The flipside of this is, having already called in practically the entire cadre of reinforcements, if Atlanta were to suffer another rash of serious injuries across the diamond, they would be far more exposed than they were last season.
Nevertheless, no matter what the odds, the Braves seem to get it done. Schuerholz, Cox, and company are among the most consistent and shrewd roster constructors in the game. The low-profile acquisitions of Matt Diaz, Todd Pratt, and Oscar Villarreal will allow the Braves to rest their starters sufficiently and keep them in good shape. Not many teams can cope with a Chipper Jones, a John Smoltz, or a Mike Hampton missing significant time to injuries, but the Braves always seem to strike the right balance of depth and cost to mollify these damages.
Overshadowing any potential injury this season will be how the Braves pitching staff reacts to the departure of Leo Mazzone. Having worked with pitchers in the Braves organization since 1979, Mazzone is often touted as the single key to the Braves pitching success. However, the triumph of Mazonne’s philosophy is found more in the pitching-production than pitching-health side of the ledger. Mike Hampton’s career was reborn in Atlanta largely thanks to Mazzone, but that couldn’t keep him off of the operating table. Nor could he prevent injuries last season to John Thomson, Kevin Gryboski, or Tim Hudson.
Cue Roger McDowell. McDowell has stated publicly that he isn’t going to, and can’t, fill Mazzone’s shoes. McDowell has never had a major league coaching gig and has spent four and a half years working in the minors. He certainly doesn’t have the resume that Mazzone does, but, at the end of the day, the injury impact of McDowell is close to nil, just as it was for Mazzone.
That’s where the medical staff comes in. Head trainer Jeff Porter, who joined the Braves’ major league training staff in 1985, and assistant trainer Jim Lovell have been as dependable as any training staff in the major leagues. Both Porter and Lovell have an intimate knowledge of the Braves’ minor league system after having worked in it for several years. The familiarity with the injury history and tendencies of many of Atlanta’s burgeoning players will serve them well, as the Braves will be depending heavily on many of them. Minus the Marlins, with more potent competition in the NL East, the Braves will be relying on their medical staff more than ever if they want to keep their division title streak alive.