Braves Sluggers Endure Growing Pains
ATLANTA—Perhaps the most impressive part thus far to Jason Heyward's big league career has been his ability to make adjustments at the game's top level. For two of the Braves' biggest bats residing in the farm system, the opening weeks of the campaign have produced the opposite results.
Triple-A Gwinnett first baseman Freddie Freeman and Double-A Mississippi outfielder Cody Johnson struggled to find any consistency at the plate while displaying only limited power. Freeman did not hit his first home run until his 15th game of the season and had turned around a slow start to improve to .253/.282/.493 with four home runs, four doubles, one triple and 12 RBIs. Johnson homered in the first game of the season, and added another 14 games later, but had little else to show for his swings. He was hitting .241/.276/.407 with 26 strikeouts in his first 54 at-bats.
The Braves realized they may have pushed the 20-year-old Freeman to Triple-A to open the 2010 campaign. He struggled with a left wrist injury after being promoted to Double-A last year and hit .248/.308/.342 in 41 games. Healthy this spring, Freeman impressed with his glove as well as the bat in big league camp, where he went 14-for-42 with seven RBIs. That performance made the bump to the International League a gamble worth taking.
"Freddie showed much of his old power this spring that was missing last summer because of the injury," farm director Kurt Kemp said. "He has done a good job of making adjustments at the plate at every level he's played. Players have the opportunity to learn when they struggle, and I feel that will be the case with Freddie as well."
One of the most powerful hitters in the minor leagues, Johnson, 21, has made improvements in using the opposite field, yet falls into the habit of trying to pull every pitch when he starts to struggle at the plate.
His all-or-nothing approach has led to difficulties. In fact, Johnson had at least one strikeout in his first 11 games this season before breaking the streak on April 20. He says he is trying to employ a "calmer approach" but admits he fears he'll rob himself of power.
• Todd Redmond was removed from the 40-man roster near the end of spring training, but the righthander continues to pitch as consistently as anyone in the organization. Redmond began the season 2-1, 1.69 in his first three starts at Gwinnett.
• Rome was hitting only .226 as a team through its first 14 games. Outfielder Kyle Rose was not among those struggling, going 20-for-50. Rose tried switch-hitting in spring training in order to take advantage of his plus-plus speed but was swinging only from the right side at Rome.