ATLANTA — Even with the eternal promise of spring training, it’s hard to get excited about the Atlanta Braves.
This former powerhouse is in the midst of a massive rebuilding project, which might bode well for the future but doesn’t figure to yield much in the short term.
A year ago, the Braves finished 67-95 — their worst mark since 1990.
All signs point to another grim season.
“I think there is a plan in place here and it’s going to keep getting better and better,” new general manager John Coppolella said hopefully. But, he added, “It’s hard. I hate losing. It’s not fun for me.”
Catcher Tyler Flowers, one of the many newcomers on this year’s roster, compares the current period to the late 1980s, when the Braves struggled on the field but began putting together the team that would win 14 straight division titles beginning in 1991.
“I was a kid when the last run started, but I think it was along the same lines,” the 30-year-old Flowers said. “Bring in some young, talented guys, kind of groom them, get them comfortable in the environment and get them consistent. Then, all of a sudden, you can run off a nice string of success.”
Some other things to watch for during spring training, which began Saturday with the first workout for pitchers and catchers:
ALL EYES ON OLIVERA: The Braves have pinned much of their offensive hopes on 30-year-old Hector Olivera, a Cuban defector who was acquired from the Dodgers last summer. Olivera is expected to take over in left field after failing to impress much in a brief stint with Atlanta, batting .253 with two homers and 11 RBIs. The Braves are counting on him being a .300-type hitter who can drive in runs and provide occasional power.
ROTATION IN FLUX: With the trade of Miller, Julio Teheran (11-8, 4.04 ERA) is the only established member of the rotation. The next two spots figure to go to newcomer Bud Norris, a 15-game winner two years ago coming off a miserable 2015 season (3-11, 6.72), and promising right-hander Matt Wisler (8-8, 4.71).After that, it’s anybody’s guess.
The Braves have youngsters Williams Perez, Mike Foltynewicz and Manny Banuelos, who got time in the big leagues a year ago, and prospects Tyrell Jenkins, Aaron Blair and Sean Newcomb, who will get an extended look this spring. As insurance, the team signed veterans Jhoulys Chacin and Kyle Kendrick.
Foltynewicz, who was used as both a starter and reliever in 2015, may not be ready at the start of spring as he comes back from blood clots.
“They’re all in play,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Even if they don’t make the team out of spring training.”
LEADING OFF: Center fielder Ender Inciarte gives the Braves a much-needed leadoff hitter after being acquired in the trade that sent pitcher Shelby Miller to Arizona. The 25-year-old batted .303 with six homers, 45 RBIs and 21 stolen bases, though Atlanta will be looking for improvement on his .338 on-base percentage.
GRILLI’S COMEBACK: Jason Grilli was one of the few bright spots for the Braves last season, registering 24 saves and striking out 45 in 332/3 innings before he went down with a torn Achilles. At 39, he’s hoping to recapture that success, which at the very least might make him an attractive trade option during the season.
FLEXIBLE ROSTER: No matter who makes the team coming out of spring training, expect to see a much different roster by the end of the season. A year ago, the Braves went through a franchise-record 60 players. Of the 25 who started the 2015 season in Atlanta, only nine are heading to camp this time around (and that includes utility player Kelly Johnson and reliever Jim Johnson, both of whom were traded last season but re-signed with Atlanta).