Spring Training 2011: Atlanta Braves Must Embrace Change and Teamwork To Succeed

Ivan GressleyContributor IFebruary 10, 2011

DENVER - APRIL 24:  Dan Uggla #6 of the Florida Marlins is welcomed back to the dugout by manager Fredi Gonzalez (R) #44 after his second inning solo homerun against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on April 24, 2010 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

There is a new wave of talent arriving in Atlanta with optimism.

Fredi Gonzalez returns to Atlanta as manager, replacing legend Bobby Cox. The Braves made a trade for Dan Uggla, the former Florida Marlins All-Star second baseman. Freddie Freeman will attempt to fill the void at first base and capture the same thrill Jason Heyward supplied last season as a rookie.

Chipper Jones will provide leadership and balance for a young and transforming team. Unfortunately for Atlanta, Jones has been injury-prone.

Who will become the leader of the clubhouse if Jones suffers an injury setback?

Uggla, the recipient of a five-year, $62 million contract, seems like a logical choice to be the face of the franchise, as he wields a powerful right-handed bat in the heart of the lineup.

Heyward could be the magic man. The talented right-fielder mesmerized the Atlanta fan base with his first meaningful swing, connecting on a 476-foot bomb over the right field wall.

The answer is that the Braves’ blueprint does not include a single star. The days of a consistent figure head might be over for the Braves and the meaning of team rings true with Atlanta, as GM Frank Wren is putting the puzzle together to fill the voids.

Is the 2011 puzzle complete?

Center field has been the piece with the jagged edge, and it remains to be seen if that piece has been rounded to fit the scheme.

Nate McLouth had every opportunity to succeed in 2010, but could not get the bat going. Injuries hampered McLouth, but with Jordan Schafer lurking, McLouth will have limited opportunities to keep his job this season. Either way, the Braves have options and will have an open competition in spring training to find the perfect piece.

The constant for Atlanta is pitching and the Braves’ staff has been overlooked.

The Philadelphia Phillies created buzz by signing Cliff Lee, the coveted left-handed pitching free agent. On paper, the Phillies staff might be the best ever. This talk has helped the Braves pitching staff fly under the radar.

The usual suspects of Hudson, Lowe, Jurrjens and Hanson lead the way and a couple of young arms, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor, will battle for the fifth spot in the rotation.

The loss of Billy Wagner is interesting. He still hits 97 mph on the radar gun, but hangs up the jersey, opting to retire. This leaves the closer position vacant and would be concerning in Atlanta if Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel were not in the picture.

While the offense will be adapting to change, the Braves pitching staff will be stable and productive. If pitching truly wins championships, the Atlanta Braves will have a legitimate opportunity to succeed in 2011.