I was just sitting down to my first cup of morning coffee at my desk this morning, eagerly anticipating the first Spring Training game of the 2020 season that had Marcell Ozuna batting in the cleanup spot, when the Atlanta Braves official twitter feed dropped a bomb on us all:
Ok, take a deep breath, no need to panic; it is, after all, Spring Training. Precautionary scratches happen all the time, right? Especially early in camp when players are increasing their activity level daily ramping up to full speed by opening day. That all sounds reasonable, except we’re talking about Freddie Freeman here. Jeff Schultz of The Athletic just published an article yesterday detailing the pain and suffering Freeman endured last season as he had not one but two bone spurs in his right elbow. Painkillers and adrenaline got him through the season, but as soon as it was over Freeman had surgery to clean up the elbow. Two spurs later, and a few bone chips sprinkled in for good measure, all reports after the surgery suggested that the slugging first baseman would be free and clear once spring training started.
And now, less than a full week into full squad workouts, Freeman is being scratched due to inflammation in his right elbow. I suppose some swelling could be expected as scar tissue starts to break loose, but there is another concern that is always in the back of Braves’ fans minds. The Atlanta Braves organization is one of the worst at providing details regarding injuries. They knew about Cole Hamels shoulder well before camp opened up, but not a word was said until pitchers reported and Hamels wasn’t among them. Last season we were told that Mike Foltynewicz was scratched from a spring training start for precautionary reasons, that he would likely have started if it had been a regular season game, and then he missed the first month of the season. Luiz Gohara rolled his ankle in pitcher fielding practice before his first spring start last season and never pitched again for Atlanta after having SHOULDER SURGERY. The Braves, in no uncertain terms, suck when it comes to injury news.
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Now, while I’m sure this is all nothing, that Freddie Freeman (who never misses a game for any reason) just needed a day to get some treatment, why not take a look at what options the Braves have at first base “just in case…”
Yonder Alonso – 2019 – 292 AB, .199/.296/.346 with 10 HR
Alonso came to spring training on a minor league deal after an underwhelming season in Colorado. What he brings to the table is left handed power, something the Braves lack on their current projected bench. He has over 7,000 innings at first in his career, so if Freeman’s elbow continues to give him trouble, he seems like a lock to get the 26th roster spot for Atlanta over, say, Charlie Culberson.
Greyson Jenista – 2019 A and AA – 487 AB, .233/.318/.349 9 HR
Jenista was Drafted out of Wichita State in the 2nd round of the 2018 draft. He has worked primarily as an outfielder in the minors, but this season in the Arizona Fall League he played primarily as a first baseman, and all of his work so far this spring has been at that position as well. If the Braves end up having to find an internal option early in the season, Jenista will probably get the nod.
Bryce Ball – 2019 Rookie and A – .231 AB, .329/.395/.628 with 17 HR
Ball has been the talk of camp in the early going. Drafted last season in the 24th round, he stands in the box at 6’5″ and 235lb. Those are the most impressive stats Ball brings to the table. He is huge. Aaron Judge huge. He’s nowhere near ready for the big leagues, mind you, and defensively he’s what you would call a work in progress (though not where he could hear you…), but he bears keeping an eye on as he works his way up the minor league ranks this season.
So, thoughts and prayers to Freddie Freeman and his elbow. While it’s good to have options, none of them are comparable to what #5 brings to the table. Ranked as the #1 first baseman in all of baseball by MLB Network, he would be a huge loss for the Braves if he ends up missing any significant time once the season starts.