Braves' makeover on offense begins with hitting coach

Long, Magadan on radar to fill vacancy, but both drawing interest elsewhere

Braves' makeover on offense begins with hitting coach

ATLANTA -- Over the next few weeks and months, the Braves could make a few significant moves that would alter the makeup of an offense that spent this past season as one of the least productive since the franchise moved to Atlanta in 1966.

In the meantime, the Braves are continuing to consider Kevin Long, Dave Magadan and other candidates to fill the hitting-coach vacancy that was created when Greg Walker resigned on Sept. 30.

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Though Long and Magadan stand as two of the most popular choices on the current hitting-coach market, the demand they are receiving from other clubs has seemingly decreased the likelihood that either will end up in Atlanta.

With the Yankees, Mets, A's and Brewers also in search of a hitting coach, the Braves understand the benefit of making a decision as soon as possible. But it appears they are still evaluating a handful of candidates, all of whom are believed to have either served as a hitting coach or assistant hitting coach at the Major League level.

Whomever ends up getting the job will be tasked with improving an offense that tallied the third fewest runs per game (3.54) in Atlanta history, which dates back to 1966. The only Atlanta clubs to produce a lower total were the 1968 squad that proved futile during "The Year of the Pitcher" and the 1988 club that lost 106 games.

The Braves are committed to doing whatever it takes to move B.J. Upton, who is owed approximately $46 million over the next three seasons. They could also opt to move Evan Gattis, who will likely garner attention from American League clubs that could use him as a designated hitter. But the biggest decisions will center on Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, who both could be traded before they become eligible for free agency following the 2015 season.

Though he is currently employed by the Rangers -- who last week hired Jeff Banister as their new manager -- Magadan has been given permission to speak to other clubs. The Braves seemed to have genuine interest in him. Magadan is also exploring the possibility of becoming the next hitting coach of the A's or the Mets.

Long was dismissed as the Yankees hitting coach after the club's offense did not live up to expectations this season. Thoughts that he would end up filling the same role in Boston were erased on Sunday, when the Red Sox hired Chili Davis.

Former Braves catcher Brian McCann is among the many Yankee players who have praised the work Long did while spending the past eight seasons as hitting coach of the Bronx Bombers. Like Magadan, Long is also drawing some interest from the Mets.

"He's one of the best coaches I've ever had," McCann said. "He's very intelligent and you can't outwork that guy. You're not going to beat him to the [hitting] cages and he's going to put in whatever time necessary."

Interim general manager John Hart's influence created the possibility that the Braves would target some of the players or coaches who were part of the highly successful run he had with the Indians during the 1990s. But that seemed to fade two weeks ago, when former Cleveland slugger Jim Thome did not show interest when contacted about the Atlanta vacancy.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves boast connections to both World Series teams

Beloved Hudson pitching for SF; KC GM Moore came from Atlanta's organization

Braves boast connections to both World Series teams

ATLANTA -- During the 15 seasons that have passed since the city of Atlanta had the pleasure of hosting World Series games for the fifth time in a span of nine years, the Braves have proven victorious in just 13 of the 26 postseason games they have played.

At some point within the next two weeks, either the Royals or Giants will clinch the World Series with what will be their 12th postseason win this year. When this happens, Braves fans will be left to choose whether to feel good or disheartened by the fact that this year's Fall Classic will provide at least one former significant member of the Braves franchise a chance to celebrate baseball's ultimate prize.

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From a Braves perspective, this year's World Series pits Tim Hudson's Giants against a Royals club that was constructed by general manager Dayton Moore and the many disciples who followed him from Atlanta to Kansas City over the past eight years.

  Date Air time First pitch Matchup Network
Gm 1 Oct. 21     SF 7, KC 1 video
Gm 2 Oct. 22 7:30 ET 8:07 ET SF vs. KC FOX
Gm 3 Oct. 24 7:30 ET 8:07 ET KC vs. SF FOX
Gm 4 Oct. 25 7:30 ET 8:07 ET KC vs. SF FOX
Gm 5* Oct. 26 7:30 ET 8:07 ET KC vs. SF FOX
Gm 6* Oct. 28 7 ET 8:07 ET SF vs. KC FOX
Gm 7* Oct. 29 7:30 ET 8:07 ET SF vs. KC FOX

When the free-agent period began last year, the Royals were one of the first teams to contact Hudson, who ended up having lunch with Kansas City manager Ned Yost, who has lived in Atlanta dating back to glorious 1990s, when he was a member of Bobby Cox's coaching staff.

Motivated by a desire to remain in the National League and return to his roots in the Bay Area, Hudson ended up accepting San Francisco's generous two-year, $23 million offer. Approximately 11 months later, the 39-year-old veteran is preparing to compete in the World Series for the first time since he made his Major League debut with the A's in 1999.

"When you go 16 years without experiencing something like this, you wonder if it's going to happen," Hudson told reporters after the Giants clinched the National League Championship Series on Thursday night. "Coming off my injury last year, I knew that I probably didn't have a lot of years left, which is a big reason why I came here to San Francisco."

Hudson's memorable nine-season stint in Atlanta concluded when he fractured his right ankle in gruesome fashion during the second half of the 2013 season. But he remain a beloved figure among Braves players, many of whom dearly missed his clubhouse leadership this year, and Braves fans, many of whom have tweeted with the hashtag #TeamHudson while watching the Giants make their latest successful run through the postseason.

While some might remember Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco, who played parts of four seasons in Atlanta before experiencing a brief stay in Kansas City during the 2010 season, Hudson will certainly draw the most sentimental favor from Braves fans this year. But of this year's two World Series participants, the Royals easily have the most former members of the Braves family.

Moore learned his craft while working for John Schuerholz in Atlanta from 1996-2006, and he established himself as a personable leader who gained favor with Cox and countless other individuals affiliated with the organization. This bond is one of the primary reasons Moore has been considered a favorite to become the Braves' next general manager. But as the Royals have continued to advance through this postseason, there is reason to wonder if he would actually leave what he has created in Kansas City.

If Braves fans want to pull for a former member of their organization during this year's World Series, they should remember Chino Cadahia, whose wife recently lost her two-year cancer battle.

Cadahia was a valuable part of the Braves' development department before he served as Cox's bench coach in Atlanta from 2007-10. His bond with Moore led him to Kansas City, where he became Yost's bench coach in 2011 and remained in that role until the final month of the 2013 season, when he was given permission to remain in Arizona with his wife.

"I can't thank Dayton and [Royals assistant GM J.J. Picollo] enough," Cadahia said earlier this week. "There are truly some great people here."

Including Dean Taylor, who served as Schuerholz's assistant GM in Kansas City and Atlanta, each of Moore's three assistant GMs were with him during at least a portion of his time with the Braves. The others are Picollo and Rene Francisco, who has established himself as one of the game's best evaluators on the international front.

Other former Braves who have followed Moore to Kansas City include Jin Wong (director of baseball administration), Lonnie Goldberg (director of scouting), Gene Watson (director of professional scouting), Tim Conroy (special assistant to the general manager), Emily Penning (executive assistant to the general manager), Glenn Hubbard (bench coach for Class A Lexington) and Nick Leto (manager of Arizona operations).

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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As staff takes shape, GM's chair remains open

Focus is on Moore, Coppolella as Braves fill other front-office positions

As staff takes shape, GM's chair remains open

ATLANTA -- Since the moment he agreed to serve as the Braves' interim general manager, John Hart has clearly indicated that he is not interested in filling the role on a long-term basis. But Hart remains committed to assisting with a front-office reconstruction project that has evolved without a full-time GM having been put in place.

Royals GM Dayton Moore and Braves assistant GM John Coppolella have stood as the favorites to land the job dating back to Sept. 22, when Frank Wren was dismissed. But with his club one win away from the World Series entering Wednesday's American League Championship Series game, Moore's focus is currently elsewhere. Thus, there remains uncertainty about who will end up being the leader of Atlanta's front-office staff, which has undergone a significant makeover during the past three weeks.

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Braves president John Schuerholz has been calling the shots as he attempts to provide the organization some of the harmony and direction that it possessed when he was the club's GM from 1991-2007. In a unique manner, Schuerholz has chosen to rebuild the scouting and player-development departments before hiring a new GM, who will overlook those who have already been placed in their new roles.

Last week, when the Braves announced the hiring of two special assistants to the GM (Roy Clark and Gordon Blakeley), a new player-development director (Dave Trembley) and a scouting director (Brian Bridges), they indicated that they at least had a pretty good idea of who might end up filling Wren's vacated position.

Accounting for the fact that the new GM would need to be comfortable working with the new additions, there grew even more reason to believe that either Hart, Coppolella or Moore would get the job. But other than the possibility that he might accept the role for a few months or possibly a year, Hart has always seemed to stand as the longshot.

When Schuerholz announced that Hart would serve as interim GM, he made it clear that he would like his longtime good friend to fill the position beyond a short-term basis. But Hart seemed to politely decline during a formal news conference and then confirmed his stance when he informally met with a group of reporters a few minutes later.

"In a perfect world, you're looking for the next John Schuerholz," Hart said last month. "You're looking for the next young or veteran general manager. A guy that has done it before and possesses the qualities of John [Schuerholz]."

Hart's description seemingly only strengthened the candidacy of Moore, who learned his craft while working for Schuerholz in Atlanta's front office from 1996-2006. Blessed with strong people skills, Moore has always drawn great respect from coaches, players, scouts and staff members, many of whom followed him to Kansas City at some point over the past eight years.

But Moore's potential return to Atlanta is complicated beyond the fact that his team is currently in the midst of a postseason run that has allowed him to fulfill his goal to re-energize Kansas City's loyal baseball fans.

Moore is under contract for two more years and has become something of an adopted son of the Glass family, which owns the Royals. If he were given permission to leave, his loyalty to his employees would also influence a potential return to Atlanta. His decision would certainly be influenced by the well-being of his assistant GM, J.J. Picollo, and others who have followed him from Atlanta.

Standing as the man who has a better understanding of the Braves organization than any of the club's current employees, Coppolella has tirelessly worked during the transition that has taken place the past couple of weeks.

Coppolella, 36, is widely regarded to be one of baseball's top young minds and a legitimate GM candidate. But it remains to be seen whether Schuerholz believes he is ready to assume the role at this stage of his blossoming and bright career.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves photographer, World War II veteran Victor dead at 97

ATLANTA -- Even as he approached his ninth decade on this Earth, Walter Victor took advantage of every opportunity he had to visit the Braves at Turner Field or during Spring Training. Victor was there the day Major League Baseball was born in Atlanta and he was there to take some of the most familiar pictures of the 1993 press-box fire at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

But Victor's heroic and memorable journey through life ended Tuesday when he passed away at the age of 97. The World War II veteran served as the Braves official photographer for more than 40 years. One of his proudest days was when the Braves named the first-base camera well after him in 2006.

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"We are deeply saddened to hear of Walter's passing," the Braves said in a statement. "He was a part of our organization and Braves Country for 40 years and he will be sadly missed. He was a proud veteran who served his country with great honor. Our thoughts and prayers are with his beloved wife Ruth and his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren."

Victor routinely seemed to take joy whenever he lugged his heavy silver camera case up the ramps to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium or up the stairs to the home dugout at Turner Field, a place where he often elicited a laugh from Bobby Cox. The highly respected photographer was present to snap shots of Hank Aaron as he chased Babe Ruth and he gathered many more as the Braves won 14 consecutive division titles.

Though the Baseball Hall of Fame requested and displayed many of his pictures, Victor was most proud of the day he was part of the D-Day landing in Normandy. The decorated World War II veteran received a Silver Star Medal for the heroism he showed during combat and while helping liberate concentration camps.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Salcedo among seven Braves honing skills in AFL

Northcraft, Wren only representatives from Top 20 Prospects list

Salcedo among seven Braves honing skills in AFL

ATLANTA -- After the Braves gave Edward Salcedo a $1.6 million signing bonus before the start of the 2010 season, former general manager Frank Wren said the 18-year-old Dominican shortstop would have likely been a top-10 selection had he been eligible for the First-Year Player Draft.

Nearly five years later, Salcedo does not rank among MLB.com's Top 20 Braves prospects. But the once-heralded prospect still stands as one of the most intriguing players Atlanta has sent to compete in this year's Arizona Fall League.

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Braves president John Schuerholz expressed concerns about the club's scouting and player development departments when Wren was dismissed on Sept. 21. The basis of his concern is visible via the less-than-inspiring crop that his club sent to Arizona. None of the seven players Atlanta sent to the AFL rank among the club's top 10 prospects and just two -- right-handed pitcher Aaron Northcraft and outfielder Kyle Wren -- cracked MLB.com's Top 20 list.

Still, as the Braves continue to restructure and fortify their scouting and player development departments, they will evaluate their seven players who will spend the next month participating for Peoria in the AFL. Joining Salcedo, Wren and Northcraft are infielder Daniel Castro and right-handed pitchers Brandon Cunniff, Nate Hyatt and Ryne Harper.

At 23 years old, Salcedo might still be regarded by some as young enough to develop the offensive skills that have not materialized as he has produced a .684 OPS in 586 games at the professional level. Equally concerning is the limited potential the former shortstop has shown defensively. He proved unsuccessful at third base, a position he was introduced to in 2011, and now finds himself attempting to prove he can handle a corner outfield position.

While hitting .212 with 10 home runs and a .651 OPS for Triple-A Gwinnett in 2014, Salcedo spent much of the season's second half playing right field. He has played the same position during each of the first five game he has played for Peoria.

Wren, the son of the recently dismissed GM, has the best upside among the Braves products competing in this year's AFL. Blessed with plus speed that helped him succeed on 46 of his 60 stolen base attempts in Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi this year, he seems destined to at least serve as a backup outfielder at the Major League level within the next couple years.

While recording eight plate appearances in the two games he has appeared thus far for Peoria, Wren has notched one hit and drawn a pair of walks. The 23-year-old center fielder's production did not take much of a hit as he batted .283 with a .713 OPS after a midseason promotion to Mississippi.

Though he has never been a highly touted prospect, Northcraft does at least provide the Braves some depth in the starting pitching department. The 24-year-old right-hander went 7-3 with a 2.88 ERA in 13 appearances (12 starts) for Mississippi this year. But in the 13 appearances (12 starts) he made after being promoted to Gwinnett, he went 0-7 with a 6.54 ERA.

Northcraft threw three scoreless innings in the one start he has made thus far for Peoria. He received a welcome surprise when he was called up to the Majors for this year's final game because the Braves had scratched Alex Wood from his start, but Northcraft was not needed to pitch that day in Philadelphia.

Harper did not appear to be a future AFL candidate when the Braves took him in the 37th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, but he opened some eyes as he notched 93 strikeouts and issued 24 walks in 76 2/3 relief innings for Mississippi in 2014. The 25-year-old right-hander has posted a 2.18 ERA over 148 relief appearances in his professional career.

Hyatt also produced a decent strikeout total, as he punched out 73 batters in 63 innings with Lynchburg this past year. Cunniff began his pro career in the Marlins system and was located by the Braves as he pitched in an independent league in 2013. He seemed to right himself this summer as he produced a 2.05 ERA in 33 appearances for Mississippi.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves solidify numerous front-office positions

Schuerholz promotes from within, brings back familiar faces

Braves solidify numerous front-office positions

ATLANTA -- As Braves president John Schuerholz reconstructs his baseball operations staff, he has opted to bring back a couple of familiar faces to help restore order to a player development department that lacked cohesion and harmony over the past few years.

Two weeks after terminating former general manager Frank Wren, the Braves are still evaluating who will assume his role on a full-time basis. But on Tuesday afternoon, they officially confirmed that Roy Clark, Gordon Blakeley and Dave Trembley will be joining a front office that will now include Jonathan Schuerholz and a promoted Brian Bridges.

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Though these additions and promotions have been speculated the past few days, the Braves have now provided clear indication of the roles these men will assume. Clark, who is one of the game's most respected amateur scouts, and Blakeley, who has had great success in the international market during his heralded scouting career, will both serve as special assistants to the general manager.

Trembley has been hired to serve as the director of player development. The younger Schuerholz, who spent the past six seasons as a Minor League manager and instructor within the organization, joins his father's front office to serve as the assistant director of player development.

Bridges, who is credited with signing Alex Wood, Mike Minor and Craig Kimbrel, has been promoted to scouting director, a role that will allow him to work under the guidance of Clark.

The Braves also announced that Rick Williams will assume a more prominent role at the Major League level as he begins his second season with the club as a special assistant to the general manager.

These hires, especially those of Clark and Blakeley, hint that the Braves will eventually hire a general manager who is familiar with the organization and these individuals. Thus, interim GM John Hart, assistant GM John Coppolella and Royals general manager Dayton Moore remain the most likely candidates.

Even if there is still a desire to give Coppolella a chance to gain more seasoning over the next couple of years, the addition of Blakeley proves that the rising assistant GM now has a greater say within the organization. Coppolella has long considered Blakeley and Schuerholz as the two most influential men in his career.

Blakeley spent the past two decades with the Yankees, who employed him as a farm director, vice president of international and professional scouting, senior VP of player personnel and special assistant to the GM. Since entering the professional baseball world as an area scout for the Mariners in 1988, he has been credited with signing a number of stars, including Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Contreras, Orlando Hernandez and Hideki Matsui.

"Gordon is one of the elite talent evaluators in the game." Hart said. "Adding someone with his experience and success to our organization is important for us."

The Braves are also excited about the return of Clark, who served as their scouting director from 1999-2009. Along with proving himself as one of the game's top scouts during this span, Clark also developed a bond with Moore, who skyrocketed his way toward the top of the Braves' front office from '96-06 and then assumed his current role with the Royals.

Clark's strong personality and talent should be better accepted and utilized now that he is back within the elder Schuerholz's system. Multiple sources have said Clark's hands were tied as he served as the assistant general manager and vice president of player personnel for the Nationals from 2010-13. He spent this past season with the Dodgers as a scouting crosschecker.

Clark brought Bridges into the Braves organization in 2008, and the two have maintained a close friendship over the past few years. Bridges spent the past four seasons as a regional cross checker in the southeast, a region that the Braves have always scouted heavily.

Trembley drew rave reviews as he served as the Braves Minor League field coordinator from 2011-12. After spending the past two seasons as the Astros' bench coach, Trembley will attempt to use his great communication skills to restore order to the farm system.

Though the younger Schuerholz earned legitimate respect as he worked his way up through the Minor League ranks as a manager, his move to the front office is not necessarily surprising. Blessed with some of the same communication skills that helped his father become one of the game's most successful front office executives, he will now get a look at the game from a different angle.

Former director of player personnel Ronnie Richardson has been reassigned to serve as a Major League scout. Matt Carroll, Dave Holliday, Jeff Schugel, and Brad Sloan will also serve in this role for the Braves.

The Braves also promoted three promising young members of their front office. Matt Grabowski was promoted to assistant director of scouting and analytics. Ron Knight will now serve as manager of Minor League administration. A.J. Scola will be an assistant in the player development department.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Photo: Sid Bream, Braves celebrate pennant in '92

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Photo: Sid Bream, Braves celebrate pennant in '92

22 years ago today, the Braves squared off against the Pirates in Game 7 of the NLCS. Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning -- aided by an Andy Van Slyke RBI double and spectacular eight-inning effort from righty Doug Drabek. But in the bottom of the inning, things began to turn in Atlanta's favor.

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Gonzalez to remain Braves skipper; Porter hired to coach

Most of coaching staff to return next season

Gonzalez to remain Braves skipper; Porter hired to coach

ATLANTA -- Instead of making wholesale changes at the conclusion of a disappointing season, the Braves have determined manager Fredi Gonzalez will return for the 2015 season with a coaching staff that will now include former Astros manager Bo Porter.

Along with confirming Gonzalez will return to continue his role as the club's manager next year, the Braves announced Porter will replace Doug Dascenzo as third-base coach. The only other coaching changes involved hitting coach Greg Walker, who resigned earlier this week, and assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher, who will not return to the organization next year.

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The Braves were in contention to earn a third consecutive playoff entry until they went 7-18 in September. This collapse conjured memories of 2011, Gonzalez's first season in his current role. Consequently, fans questioned whether Gonzalez would be brought back despite the fact that he is signed through the 2015 season.

Questions about Gonzalez's future were seemingly answered on Sept. 22, when Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox provided his vote of confidence for his successor, who has been the National League's winningest manager over the past four seasons.

"When these situations happen, you're grateful that you get another opportunity," Gonzalez said. "I'm thankful that people have taken a look at the body of work and provided this chance to return."

Porter's hire comes a little more than a month after he was relieved of his duties with the Astros, who hired him to serve as their manager before the 2013 season. He will now return to the coaching role that he was introduced to while serving as Gonzalez's third-base coach with the Marlins from 2007-09.

As Porter was nearing the end of his playing career, he played for the 2002 Triple-A Richmond Braves, who were managed by Gonzalez.

"He brought his 'A' game every single day -- kind of like Jason Heyward does," Gonzalez said. "He's carried that into his coaching career and continued to bring a lot of energy to whatever he does."

Gonzalez is looking forward to another chance to work with Porter. But he also was genuinely saddened to bid adieu to Walker, Dascenzo and Fletcher, who were the casualties of the organization's third losing season dating back to 1990.

"Sometimes as coaches when teams lose or don't live up to expectations, great people lose their jobs," Gonzalez said.

Bench coach Carlos Tosca, pitching coach Roger McDowell, first-base coach Terry Pendleton and bullpen coach Eddie Perez are all slated to return next year.

Pendleton is considered a candidate for the hitting-coach position, which he had previously held in Atlanta from 2001-2010. But Gonzalez said the club is still in the early stages of the search for the next hitting coach.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Over its 23-year history, the Arizona Fall League has developed a reputation as a finishing school for baseball's top prospects. This year, once again, many of the game's best young players will gather in the desert, hoping to prove themselves in the same league that helped catapult Derek Jeter, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Trout to stardom.

When the AFL opens play Tuesday, the concentration of talent will again be readily apparent. Two of the three Opening Day games feature premium pitching matchups, and the third game is highlighted by two of the best shortstops in the Minor Leagues.

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The action begins at 3:35 p.m. ET when Peoria and right-hander Kyle Zimmer, the Royals' No. 2 prospect, visits Surprise and right-hander Taijuan Walker, whose last start was a complete game for the Mariners in the midst of their pennant race.

At the same time Tuesday afternoon, Glendale and shortstop Corey Seager, the Dodgers' No. 1 prospect, will host Mesa and shortstop Addison Russell, the Cubs' No. 2 prospect. The day ends with another pitchers' duel, as right-hander Tyler Glasnow, the Pirates' No. 1 prospect, will take the mound for Scottsdale at 9:35 p.m. ET at Salt River, facing right-hander Archie Bradley, the D-backs' No. 1 prospect.

Games with that level of talent are commonplace in the AFL, where 23 players ranked on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list will play this season.

For the second year in a row, Byron Buxton, baseball's top ranked prospect, is among the top prospects playing in the desert this fall. Last year, the Twins' No. 1 prospect hit .212/.288/.404 in 12 games as a 19-year-old for Glendale. This year, he will be playing for Salt River as he tries to make up for lost time after missing most of the regular season due to injuries.

Buxton played in just 31 games during the regular season. A wrist injury he suffered during Spring Training delayed his start to the season and continued to hamper him throughout the first half with Class A Advanced Fort Myers. Then, in his first game after being promoted to Double-A New Britain in August, he suffered a concussion in a harrowing outfield collision and was sidelined for the final three weeks of the season.

Now healthy again, Buxton will be one of the most-watched players in the AFL. But his is far from the only storyline to watch over the next six weeks.

Making up for lost time
Like Buxton, several other players are headed to Arizona to make up for time they lost to injury during the regular season. Others who are taking advantage of the extra developmental time include outfielder Jesse Winker, the Reds' No. 2 prospect, and shortstop Tim Anderson, the White Sox's No. 2 prospect.

Many of the starting pitchers in the AFL are there because injuries prevented them from reaching their innings caps during the regular season. Bradley, Glasnow, Zimmer and Walker all spent part of this season on the disabled list, as did right-handers C.J. Edwards, the Cubs' No. 5 prospect, and Roberto Osuna, the Blue Jays' No. 5 prospect.

Recent Draft picks
Last year, just four months after he was selected second overall in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, the Cubs sent third baseman Kris Bryant to the AFL. He hit .364/.457/.727 with six home runs in 20 games. He was named MVP and helped Mesa to the league championship game. That performance helped serve as a springboard for his historic '14 season, when he hit 43 home runs and reached Triple-A.

It is unlikely any player will be able to repeat Bryant's spectacular performance this season. But three members of the '14 Draft class will play in the AFL, led by shortstop Trea Turner, the Padres' No. 5 prospect. He was selected 13th overall in June and hit .323/.406/.448 with five home runs and 23 stolen bases in 69 games between short-season Eugene and Class A Fort Wayne.

In addition to the small group of '14 draftees, several members of the '13 Draft class will play in the AFL. Right-hander Mark Appel, the first overall pick last year, headlines the group. The Astros' No. 2 prospect had a rocky start to his first full professional season, but pitched much better after his promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi in July. He will try to build on that progress while pitching with Salt River this fall, where he joins Bradley and Buxton to form one of the most star-studded rosters in the league.

Pace of play
Major League Baseball announced last week a set of experimental rules designed to speed up the pace of play would be used in the AFL this year.

• A hitter must keep one foot inside the batter's box throughout his plate appearance, unless one of a few exceptions, such as a foul ball, occurs.

• Intentional walks will be called for by the manager and the batter will automatically take first base.

• There will be a maximum break of two minutes, five seconds between innings, with hitters required to be in the batter's box by the one-minute, 45-second mark. If either team doesn't comply, a ball or strike will be assessed accordingly.

• There will be a maximum of two minutes, 30 seconds allowed for pitching changes, including those that occur during an inning break. A ball will be called if a team takes too long.

• Each team will be permitted three "timeout" conferences covering any meeting involving pitchers and catchers, managers, coaches and batters. Timeouts during pitching changes and those that result from an injury or other emergency will not be counted toward the limit. Additionally, at Salt River home games, a 20-second pitch clock will be used. Those games will also include instant replay, as MLB continues to study potential modifications to the review system.

The experimental pace of play initiatives continue the AFL's tradition of being a testing lab for MLB's potential rule changes. Last year, the instant replay system was debuted in the AFL.

Defensive moves
Position changes often happen in a less-competitive environment than the AFL, but the league gives players who are moving around the diamond another chance to get experience.

This year, Josh Bell, the Pirates' No. 3 prospect, will be the most prominent player learning a new position. He has exclusively played the outfield in the Minor Leagues, but the Pirates already have a star-studded trio of young outfielders in the big leagues. So, this fall, Bell will try out first base, where he began taking ground balls during the regular season.

Although Peter O'Brien, the D-backs' No. 7 prospect, won't be changing positions when he catches for Salt River this fall, his progress defensively will be closely watched by evaluators. The 24-year old was a catcher in college, but has played four positions since the Yankees drafted him in the second round in '12.

The D-backs acquired O'Brien at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in exchange for Martin Prado, but injuries limited him to four games with his new club. The D-backs are sending him to the AFL as a catcher, and how he performs behind the plate over the next six weeks could inform his ultimate defensive home.

No matter where O'Brien ends up defensively, his offensive prowess gives him a chance to reach the Major Leagues. He hit 34 home runs in 106 games this season, ranking fifth among Minor Leaguers.

MLB.com's Top Prospects in AFL
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
4. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
5. Addison Russell, SS, Cubs
9. Archie Bradley, RHP, D-backs
13. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
16. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pirates
29. Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates
38. Raul Mondesi, SS, Royals
40. Jesse Winker, OF, Reds
41. Mark Appel, RHP, Astros
47. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Royals
49. D.J. Peterson, 3B, Mariners
53. C.J. Edwards, RHP, Cubs
60. Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets
71. Hunter Renfroe, OF, Padres
82. Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox
84. Nick Williams, OF, Rangers
85. Daniel Robertson, SS, A's
86. Hunter Dozier, 3B, Royals
87. Miguel Almonte, RHP, Royals
88. Dalton Pompey, OF, Blue Jays
96. Trea Turner, SS, Padres
98. Matt Olson, 1B, A's

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Blakeley's hiring gives hints to Braves' direction

Former Yankees scout tapped as special assistant to general manager

Blakeley's hiring gives hints to Braves' direction

ATLANTA -- As this past week progressed, the Braves discussed alterations to their front office and coaching staff. On Friday, former Astros manager Bo Porter was brought aboard as a third-base, outfield and baserunning coach after Atlanta confirmed the hiring of former Yankees scout Gordon Blakeley to serve as a special assistant to the general manager.

This has been a busy week for interim general manager John Hart, who met with manager Fredi Gonzalez on Wednesday morning to discuss the coaching staff and roster makeup following hitting coach Greg Walker's resignation.

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Given that the Braves have not yet hired a permanent GM to fill the role vacated by the recently dismissed Frank Wren, it remains to be seen who will serve as Blakeley's boss. But Blakeley's addition confirms that assistant GM John Coppolella does have some additional power in this new front-office makeup.

Dating back to their days together in the Yankees' organization, Blakeley has stood as a mentor to Coppolella. Now the veteran scout will have a chance to work with his prized pupil, and more important, attempt to help the Braves on the international front as much as he did the Yankees. Robinson Cano, Jose Contreras and Orlando Hernandez are among the players he was credited for signing while he was with the Yankees.

While Hart has taken on an active role over the past couple weeks, there still has not been clear indication that he wants to fill the GM role on a permanent basis. Thus there will continue to be speculation about the potential return of Royals GM Dayton Moore, who seemed to be an obvious candidate even before Wren was dismissed. But with the Royals still in the playoffs, Moore's focus is currently elsewhere.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Johnson Sr. among 10 finalists for '15 Frick Award

Johnson Sr. among 10 finalists for '15 Frick Award

The list of 2015 Ford C. Frick Award finalists has been narrowed to 10, with the winner set to be announced on Dec. 10 at the Winter Meetings.

The finalists are Richie Ashburn, Billy Berroa, Rene Cardenas, Dizzy Dean, Dick Enberg, Ernie Johnson Sr., Ralph Kiner, Ned Martin, Joe Nuxhall and Jack Quinlan. The award is presented annually "for excellence in baseball broadcasting" by the Hall of Fame.

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The winner will be honored during the July 25 awards presentation as part of the Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y. To be considered, an active or retired broadcaster must have a minimum of 10 years of continuous Major League broadcast service.

The list of 10 includes three fan selections (Enberg, Kiner and Quinlan) and seven that were chosen by the Hall of Fame research committee. Cardenas and Enberg are the only two living candidates.

Final voting will be conducted by a 20-member electorate, comprised of the 16 living award recipients and four broadcast historian/columnists.

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Front office mainstay Martinez passes away

Special assistant to GM had been with Braves since 1995 season

ATLANTA -- The Braves lost a valuable and treasured friend when Jose Martinez suddenly passed away at an Orlando-area hospital on Wednesday night. Martinez had spent the past couple of weeks exercising his passion to help young baseball players at the Braves' Spring Training complex.

Martinez, 72, had just completed his 20th season as a special assistant to the general manager in the Braves' organization. The friendly Cuban was lured to Atlanta by Braves president John Schuerholz before the 1995 season. Schuerholz and Martinez had become associated while they were together in the Royals' organization.

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While he had a good eye for scouting talent in Latin American countries, Martinez's greatest value came via his ability to relate and communicate with the Minor League players as they adjusted to life in professional baseball. His contributions on the development end were appreciated by former first-round Draft pick Matt Lipka and the many other players who benefited from his desire to assist.

Martinez also touched the lives of many front office members, including Royals general manager Dayton Moore, who worked for the Braves before going to Kansas City. Moore was one of the many who used to enjoy the nights when Martinez would cook some kind of fish and tell stories until the late night hours during Spring Training.

Before joining the Braves, Martinez spent 15 seasons as a Major League coach for the Royals (1980-88) and Cubs ('88-94). His big league playing career consisted of the 201 games he played over two seasons ('69-70) with the Pirates.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Walker resigns as Braves' hitting coach

Walker resigns as Braves' hitting coach

ATLANTA -- Greg Walker certainly was not the only one responsible for the Braves' offensive struggles this year. Nor should he be held solely accountable for the difficult seasons B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla had for Atlanta over the past few seasons.

But after enduring one of the most frustrating seasons of his career, Walker has opted to resign from his role as the Braves hitting coach. Walker informed manager Fredi Gonzalez of his intention this past weekend, but the announcement was not made until Tuesday night.

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"I grew up in South Georgia and have been a Braves fan my whole life," Walker said. "It has truly been an honor to work the past three seasons with this great organization. However, this past weekend I informed Fredi Gonzalez of my desire to step away. I have made many new friends here and have worked with some special people. I am grateful for the opportunity they gave me."

The Braves garnered differing results as Walker spent the past three seasons as their hitting coach. After tallying the fourth-most runs in the National League last year, the Braves tallied the second-fewest runs in the Majors this season. The 3.54 runs averaged per game this year stand as the franchise's third-lowest mark since moving to Atlanta in 1966.

"Greg is a man of great character, integrity and work ethic and is a true 'baseball man,'" Braves interim general manager John Hart said. "We thank him for his passion and dedication, and wish him well."

With Walker set to move on, the Braves will enter 2015 with their fourth different hitting coach in six seasons. Terry Pendelton has served as first-base coach since being moved out of the hitting coach's role in 2011 to make room for Larry Parrish, who lasted just one year in Atlanta. Parrish's exit opened the door for Walker to spend the past three years with the Braves.

Walker's resignation erases one of the decisions the Braves might have made after Gonzalez and interim general manager John Hart meet at Turner Field on Wednesday. Though the meeting is expected to touch on a number of different topics, there is a chance it could also lead to other changes on the coaching staff.

After ending his injury-plagued playing career, Walker started passing on what he learned from renowned hitting guru Charley Lau. He spent nine seasons as the White Sox hitting coach and then jumped at the opportunity to back to his native state of Georgia after the 2011 season.

The Braves recorded the three-highest strikeout totals in franchise history during Walker's tenure. But this might have more to do with the era and personnel. The 2011 club that was influenced by Parrish's direction ranked fourth.

Obviously Walker's efforts were significantly influenced by the struggles of Uggla, who was released with approximately $19 million left on his contract this summer, and B.J. Upton, who has produced baseball's lowest batting average and OPS since signing a franchise-record contract before the 2013 season.

Still, Walker was routinely praised by coaches and players for the amount of time he dedicated to attempting to help Uggla, Upton and other Braves over the past few years.

"I think the world of Greg Walker," Gonzalez said. "He and I have talked about this several times recently and I respect his decision and wish him nothing but the best."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves look toward busy offseason to get back in gear

Front office has decisions to make about Uptons, Gattis in trade market

Braves look toward busy offseason to get back in gear

ATLANTA -- When the Braves began locking up a number of their young players this past winter, there was reason to wonder if this upcoming offseason would be rather quiet. Many months and disappointments later, there is now reason to believe it will be anything but quiet in Atlanta.

The Braves began to alter their culture last week by relieving general manager Frank Wren from his duties. Now they have to decide whether interim GM John Hart, assistant GM John Coppolella or a to-be-determined figure will spearhead the decision-making process that will determine how different the club's roster might look next year.

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"Our conversations will be about building this back the right way," Hart said. "We have plenty of time to take a look at what works, what we like. ... And there's a lot of things to like here, and there are a lot of things that are working."

As the Braves prepare to move to their new stadium, SunTrust Park, in 2017, they are not looking to rebuild as much as they simply want to rebound and regain the magic they had when they won the National League East in 2013. But in order to improve their roster, they will evaluate what to do with B.J. Upton, who is still owed approximately $46 million over the next three years, and debate whether it would make sense to part ways with some of their higher-profile players, namely Evan Gattis.

If the Braves trade Gattis, they would lose a significant power source and possibly gain a strong return that would enable them to add to the versatility of their lineup or possibly improve their pitching staff. The club's new GM will also have to evaluate the long-term futures of Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, who will both be eligible for free agency after the 2015 season. Would it make sense to also attempt to gain a significant return for either Heyward or Upton this winter?

The Braves will have to make decisions regarding two pitchers coming off a second Tommy John surgery -- Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy -- and Gavin Floyd, who also sustained a season-ending elbow injury this year. There will also need to be some discussions about taking another chance on Aaron Harang, who ended up being one of the rotation's most reliable members.

Having received long-term commitments, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel know they will be in a Braves uniform for the foreseeable future. Who will surround them remains to be determined.

Arbitration-eligible: RHP Medlen, LHP Mike Minor, LHP James Russell, LHP Jonny Venters, RHP Jordan Walden, RHP Beachy, RHP David Carpenter, INF Ramiro Pena

Free agents: RHP Ervin Santana, 1B/OF Ryan Doumit, RHP Floyd, C Gerald Laird, IF/OF Emilio Bonifacio, RHP Harang

Outfield: The day Wren was fired, team president John Schuerholz said, "Life is full of challenges, intelligent and brilliant and hard-working people find answers to challenges." Whoever becomes the club's GM will certainly be challenged to find a solution for B.J. Upton, who has been one of baseball's least productive players since signing a franchise record five-year, $75.25 million deal two years ago. It will not be easy to get a team to assume at least a respectable portion of the approximate $46 million still owed to the center fielder.

But if they learned anything from the Dan Uggla mess this year, the Braves likely know they can't afford to even bring B.J. back to Spring Training next year. Once a solution is made on this front, the Braves will have to determine whether it makes sense to bring back both Heyward and Justin Upton with the understanding that both might bolt via free agency at the end of the season. Trading at least one could provide a strong return.

Catcher: Gattis owns the best at-bat/home run ratio of any catcher who has played at least 200 games since the start of the 2013 season. The burly backstop possesses a simple powerful swing that would seemingly protect him from extended slumps. But there is reason to question his defense and wonder whether handling the catching duties on a regular basis over an entire season will deplete his power. Thus, the Braves might shop him to American League clubs that could use him as a DH.

Gattis' expendability is also a product of the rise of highly-regarded prospect Christian Bethancourt, who had some success in the Majors this year. Bethancourt has made some strides offensively, and he still possesses that rocket arm. But as he moves forward, he will need to address some of the mental lapses that multiple scouts (two of whom are former catchers) have described as laziness.

First base: After signing a franchise-record eight-year contract in January, Freeman saw his batting average, home runs, RBIs and OPS drop this year. There is no doubt he did not take the step forward that many had hoped to see during his age 24 season. But his Weighted Runs Created Plus mark was similar to last year's and ranked among the top five in the NL. There is no doubt that the Braves have something special in Freeman. But time will tell whether he will develop into a 30-home run guy or serve as the consistent threat who can bat .300 and go deep 20-plus times on a regular basis.

Second base: Once Uggla's tenure ended, Tommy La Stella arrived and found immediate success. But as he started to struggle, the Braves opted to cut his playing time and give Phil Gosselin more opportunities at the position. La Stella is going to hit and Gosselin has a chance to develop into more than just a solid utility type. But there is certainly reason to wonder if top prospect Jose Peraza will be manning second base in Atlanta by next year's All-Star break. Peraza is a legit leadoff hitter who possesses tremendous speed, a trait that allowed him to prove successful with 60 of his 75 stolen base attempts with Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi this year.

Shortstop: If there was any question about the possibility that Simmons' offensive approach was actually hurt by the fact that he shockingly totaled 17 homers in 2013, they were answered with the abundance of ugly off-balance swings he took this year. An ailing left ankle hindered his balance at the plate. But the aggressive shortstop's offensive struggles had more to do with the fact that he got away from the line drive, hit-it-to-all-fields approach that he will need to find success in the future. His glove alone makes him an incredible asset, but the Braves can only hope he bounces back from this rough offensive season.

Third base: When Wren signed Uggla and B.J Upton, there was at least some analytical data to support the investments. But when he opted to give Chris Johnson a three-year extension this year, there was a lot of confusion. Yes, Johnson had competed for a batting title until the final days of 2013. And yes, he is one of the strongest figures in the clubhouse. But as he showed this summer while enduring the most disappointing season of his career, he is also a guy the Braves might not be able to play at third base on a daily basis through the life of the contract.

Starting pitchers: With Teheran, Alex Wood and Minor, the Braves have a solid base upon which to build a starting rotation. David Hale might be ready to be used as a starter on a full-time basis next year. There will also need to be some offseason discussions about the futures of Medlen and Beachy, neither of whom will likely return from their second Tommy John surgery before the beginning of May. Santana seems destined to gain a multiyear deal elsewhere. But with two of their top five prospects -- Lucas Sims and Jason Hursh -- both still a year away, the Braves might have to at least ponder bringing Harang back.

Bullpen: As the Braves begin making plans for next year's bullpen, they have the luxury of knowing Kimbrel will once again fill the closer's role. But other than the likelihood that Carpenter will also return, Atlanta has a number of questions regarding its relief corps. Along with showing he has the potential to be a dominant setup man for stretches, Walden has also proven to be injury prone, a trait that is not comforting as he prepares to gain a raise as a second-year arbitration-eligible player. Russell could be an asset next year if he gets back to those days when he was retiring lefties. Another lefty, Luis Avilan, will also create some offseason debate as the Braves decide whether he is more likely to repeat his 2013 success or '14 struggles.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Playoff aspirations not reached in disappointing season

Ineffective offense leads to Braves' sub-.500 record in 2014

Playoff aspirations not reached in disappointing season

ATLANTA -- Instead of defending a division crown like their predecessors once did on an annual basis, the Braves endured one of the most disappointing seasons in Atlanta history. This marked just the third time since 1990 that they did not post a winning record. But unlike the 2006 and '08 teams, this year's club went through most of the season with legitimate postseason aspirations.

"It is definitely a disappointing season in all of our eyes here in the clubhouse, because we're geared to win," Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. "We want to win, and that is what this organization my whole career has been about."

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When the Braves lost two of their top starting pitchers -- Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy -- to season-ending elbow injuries less than 24 hours apart in March, there was reason to believe that this might be a trying season in Atlanta. But nobody could have predicted that the struggles would be a product of the anemic performance of a lineup that had scored the National League's fourth-most runs just a year earlier.

As they won 17 of their first 24 games, the Braves saw their reconstructed starting rotation produce an incredible 1.57 ERA. Like it was assumed that this overachieving quintet would soon experience a regression, it was also expected that the offense would start carrying the load. But the second part of this equation never came close to materializing.

The Braves entered the final days of this season feeling good about their rotation and bewildered by the offense, which spent most of the year proving to be one of Major League Baseball's least productive units.

"You look at the guys on paper and we have a great team, and we didn't live up to our potential this year," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "We as players need to take it upon ourselves to put this as a chip on our shoulder and come out in 2015 and show what we can do."

One year after notching 96 victories and capturing the NL East, the Braves fired general manager Frank Wren, who had entered this year expecting to field a roster that looked quite similar to the one he employed the previous season. There was no doubt the offseason departures of Brian McCann, Tim Hudson and Eric O'Flaherty weakened the clubhouse culture, just like the departures of Martin Prado and David Ross had entering the 2013 season.

But with Heyward, Freeman and Justin Upton in their lineup once again, the Braves had no reason to expect the offensive miseries they experienced this year. They endured a rough September for the second time in four years. But their skid actually started on April 29, when they began a five-month stretch within which they would play more than 10 games below .500 the rest of the season.

Record: 79-83, second place in the NL East

Defining moment: Though they had stumbled during a portion of July, the Braves had seemingly righted themselves just before they began an eight-game road trip to Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle. They opened this journey by blowing a two-run, fifth-inning lead at Dodger Stadium and concluded it by watching Julio Teheran allow four third-inning runs after the Braves had gained a 3-1 third-inning lead over the Mariners.

The Braves lost each of the eight games during this road trip that served as the stimulant to the slide that would follow. There were a number of lowlights, but the most memorable misery of this trip occurred on Aug. 3, when a 10-inning loss to the Padres could have been avoided. Evan Gattis' inability to get a good read on a ball hit to left-center field gap led to him advancing only from second base to third base on a Chris Johnson double. Three batters later, B.J. Upton became the second Braves player in less than 24 hours to ground into a 5-2-3 double play.

What went right: When the Braves lost Medlen and Beachy, they filled their voids with Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang, who capably teamed to solidify the fractured starting rotation ... Though September proved to be one of the worst months he has experienced in Atlanta, Justin Upton actually exited August as a legit NL Most Valuable Player Award candidate ... Heyward led the Majors in Defensive Runs Saved and last year's leader, Andrelton Simmons, enjoyed a second straight top-three finish ... Craig Kimbrel became the first pitcher in Major League history to notch at least 40 saves in each of his first four full seasons. Kimbrel also broke the franchise's career saves record, which was previously held by John Smoltz.

What went wrong: Coming off a career-best year that provided him an unexpected contract extension, Johnson regressed back to the mean and then dipped even further as he endured one of the worst seasons of his career ... After hitting an unexpected 17 homers in 2013, Simmons developed some bad habits that further highlighted the problems he has had with gaining a sound and consistent offensive approach. Simmons' offensive problems were visible with a regular array of off-balance swings that might have been a product of a bothersome ankle ... After leading the Majors in home runs and strikeouts in 2013, the Braves maintained their strikeout rate and proved unsuccessful in their bid to clear the outfield wall with as much consistency ... The mistake to bring Dan Uggla back after leaving him off the postseason roster last year led to him spending two months as a limited bench player before being released with a little more than $19 million still owed to him through the end of the 2015 season ... B.J. Upton's second straight disappointing season has provided reason to wonder what the Braves will do with the approximate $46 million he is owed over the next three seasons.

Biggest surprise: When the Braves signed Harang hours after he had been released by the Indians during the final week of Spring Training, they became the fifth organization to employ him in one calendar year. Expectations were low and he seemed to be just a Band-Aid who would be traded or released at some point. But Harang was sensational throughout most of April, and he proved to be one of the steadiest members of the rotation.

Hitter of the Year: Though his numbers dipped in batting average, home runs and OPS, Freeman still proved to be the most consistent threat in the Braves lineup. Despite not producing impressive numbers in these traditional categories, Freeman still ranked among the top NL players in wRC+. The All-Star was also the only qualified Braves player to hit above .275 and compile an on-base percentage above .370.

Pitcher of the Year: Though he was shut down for six weeks to moderate the innings he totaled during his second full professional season, Alex Wood proved to be the club's most impressive member of the rotation. Teheran deservedly gained an All-Star selection and quickly rebounded after stumbling in early August. But Wood led the team in ERA, Fielding Independent Pitching and strikeouts per nine innings.

Rookie of the Year: Phil Gosselin made a strong push courtesy of the production he provided after he arrived in late July and Christian Bethancourt might have been a strong candidate had he not spent all of August back with Triple-A Gwinnett. But even with the late-season struggles he endured, Tommy La Stella gets the nod simply because he of the impact he made while serving as a regular at second base throughout June and July.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves reach agreement with Carolina Mudcats

ATLANTA -- The Carolina Mudcats will serve as the Braves' Class A Advanced Minor League affiliate beginning next season. This development was announced on Monday when it was revealed the Braves had reached a two-year agreement with Zebulon, N.C., the longtime home of the Mudcats.

Earlier this year, the Braves opted not to renew their contract with Lynchburg, Va., the home of their Class A Advanced affiliate since 2011.

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Like the Mudcats, the Lynchburg club is part of the Carolina League. Had the Braves not reached an agreement with Zebulon, which is located approximately 30 minutes from Raleigh, N.C., they might have been force to send this affiliate to the California League. From a logistics standpoint, this is certainly a potential development they were happy to avoid.

"We are delighted to reach this agreement with the Carolina Mudcats," Braves president John Schuerholz said. "This move will allow us to continue our long-standing affiliation with the Carolina League."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves close out rough September with win in Philly

Bonifacio's leadoff homer in first sparks cast of relievers

Braves close out rough September with win in Philly

PHILADELPHIA -- Though the resulting satisfaction did not erase the effects of the misery experienced over the past few weeks, the Braves exited their most disappointing season in more than two decades with a reason to smile and look forward to next year with hope that it proves to be much different.

There wasn't much reason for optimism as the Braves entered Sunday afternoon's regular-season finale without a starting pitcher and a lineup that was absent a few regulars who opted to rest. But courtesy of a two-run first inning, they conquered an otherwise dominant Cole Hamels and claimed a 2-1 win over the Phillies.

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"Everybody is happy that's the last game of the season, but everybody is happy that we also won so that we can take that into the offseason," said Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who started each of the 162 games played during this often trying season.

When the Braves gather for Spring Training next year with what will likely be a noticeably different roster, they will attempt to distance themselves from what they felt while winning just seven of 25 games in September. But as they packed their bags and prepared to head home on Sunday, they were attempting to appreciate that they ended this long campaign by enjoying a second consecutive win for the first time since Aug. 29.

"It's going to be a nice flight going home," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It's a two-game winning streak and hopefully when the season starts up we can pick that up because it's been hard. It's been difficult."

The Braves were not officially eliminated from the postseason race until Sept. 21, but they essentially sealed their fate somewhere in the process of losing 18 of the first 24 games in September, a month that began with Hamels and three Phillies relievers combining to throw a no-hitter at Turner Field.

When the Braves scratched Alex Wood from Sunday's start because of left forearm stiffness, Gonzalez joked that the group of relievers he would use in this finale might match Philadelphia's accomplishment. Although that didn't happen, James Russell and four other Atlanta relievers managed to outpitch Hamels, who was utterly dominant after the first inning.

There was not any indication that Russell was affected by the fact that he was told Saturday night that he would be making his sixth career start and first since 2011. The southpaw, who had most of his success against right-handed hitters this year, surrendered two hits over four scoreless innings -- his longest outing since May 22, 2011.

"It's a fun way to end the season," Russell said. "It's a shame we couldn't make a better push for the playoffs. But we still had fun in Game 162."

The Braves had allowed just three hits before the Phillies tagged David Carpenter for a pair of hits and a run during the eighth inning. But Carpenter's ability to limit the damage to the run that scored on Ben Revere's double-play groundout preserved the early support provided by his teammates.

"The whole time you're thinking about what Bobby [Cox] says, 'You just never know when you're going to win,'" Gonzalez said. "You come in and get four hours of sleep, tossing and turning and figuring out how to use your bullpen. Our guys were terrific."

Emilio Bonifacio's second career leadoff homer got things started for the Braves, who saw each of their first four hitters reach safely against Hamels, who also surrendered an RBI single to Freeman before recording his first out of the day.

"He's phenomenal," Freeman said. "The stuff he had going in the first inning, he's not usually 95 with a 92 mile per hour cutter. The stuff he was throwing in the first inning, I don't know how we got two runs off of him. You saw it the rest of the way. He just absolutely shut us down the rest of the way."

After stumbling out of the gate, Hamels looked more like the pitcher that limited the Braves to just one run in the 20 innings that encompassed his three previous starts against them this year. The three hits he surrendered within a span of the first four hitters he faced proved to be the only ones he allowed during a gutty eight-inning effort, delayed momentarily after Tommy La Stella's comebacker grazed his lip in the second inning.

But Hamels' effort was not enough to add to the recent woes experienced by the Braves, who managed to produce a pleasant conclusion to a season they would like to soon forget.

"Everybody seemed to be playing hard until the end of the season," Freeman said. "That's what you want to be. You don't want to give up and we definitely didn't do that this year."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Freeman sets Braves season record for innings played

First baseman starts all 162 games, breaks A. Jones' record

Freeman sets Braves season record for innings played

PHILADELPHIA -- As Freddie Freeman sat in the visitors' clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park following Sunday's season-ending 2-1 win over the Phillies, he proudly spoke about the record he had just set and the anguish he felt while starting every game the Braves played this season.

Freeman played in a Major League-best 1,448 2/3 innings in the field this year, breaking the franchise record (1,447 1/3 innings) Andruw Jones set in 1999. The Braves first baseman was the only National League player to start each of his team's 162 games this year.

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"It's an accomplishment personally," Freeman said. "I've always wanted to do that and never had the chance. To stay healthy all year and be able to grind out 162 games, it's definitely a nice reward at the end of a season."

Freeman's dedication and determination to play on a daily basis was an indication that he does not plan to sit on the comfort he gained in January when he signed a franchise-record eight-year, $135 million contract.

"Everybody is beat up, it's 162 games and he plays through it," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Good for him, that is a goal he wanted to achieve."

In the process of avoiding the nagging injuries and ailments that sidelined him over the previous few years, Freeman led the Braves in batting average (.288) and OPS (.847) this season. But now that this season is complete, he believes he will be better prepared to deal with the mental and physical fatigue he will encounter while attempting to play every game again next year.

"I think everybody who plays baseball wants to play every single day," Freeman said. "That's the ultimate goal. Sometimes, you might need a mental break, but that was a learning experience for me. It's definitely something that is going to take a lot more realization and maybe some more preparation. It's a mental grind.

"Maybe it will be a little easier for me next year. But that is something I'm always going to want to do. I'm going to try to play 162 games every year. That's the ultimate goal."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Harang interested in returning to Braves in '15

Harang interested in returning to Braves in '15

PHILADELPHIA -- As Aaron Harang bid adieu to Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez before Sunday afternoon's regular-season finale against the Phillies, he expressed his gratitude and said that he would be interested in pitching for Atlanta again next year.

This might have seemed improbable when Harang joined the Braves during the final week of Spring Training to seemingly temporarily fill a void in an injury-depleted starting rotation. But during the six months that followed, the veteran right-hander established himself as a valuable asset in this rotation that faces some uncertainty heading into the 2015 season.

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As things stand, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Mike Minor are the only starting pitchers projected to be part of Atlanta's starting rotation next year. The club will have to decide what to do with Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, who will both likely be sidelined through most or all of April while recovering from what was a second Tommy John elbow surgery for both.

Coming off a season when they were reminded of the value of starting pitching depth, the Braves will at least have to discuss the possibility of re-signing Harang, who posted a career-best 3.57 ERA and logged 204 1/3 innings in the 33 starts he made this year. This level of success certainly was not predicted when he was unsigned until the Indians gave him a Minor League deal after Spring Training started.

"It's been a pleasure to watch him pitch every fifth day," Gonzalez said. "He's been a tremendous presence in the clubhouse."

Once he was released by the Indians and signed by the Braves a few hours later, Harang found himself with his sixth organization in one calendar year. But instead of being just a filler, he proved to be one of the bright spots for the Braves during this disappointing season.

Harang ended up allowing two earned runs or fewer in 67 percent (22 of 33) his starts. The only Atlanta starters with a better percentage were Julio Teheran (70 percent, 23 of 33) and Alex Wood (79 percent, 19 of 24). Ervin Santana, who made $14.1 million this year, accomplished it in just 45 percent (14 of 31) of his starts.

"I just had a rough year last year," Harang said. "It was really frustrating at times. To come back this year and make all my starts and give us a chance to win, it's gratifying to think about all the work I put in in the offseason and during the season to make sure I was ready to go."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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B.J. Upton's season ends with club strikeout record

B.J. Upton's season ends with club strikeout record

PHILADELPHIA -- When the Braves gave B.J. Upton a franchise-record five-year contract two years ago, they certainly were not anticipating the possibility that he would end his career in Atlanta with a franchise record that no player strives to set.

But if the Braves do indeed part ways with Upton this offseason, the veteran outfielder will exit with the dubious distinction of having struck out more frequently than any other Braves player during a season.

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Upton broke Dan Uggla's franchise strikeout record (171) on Friday night and increased it to 173 on Saturday, which is when his younger brother Justin Upton tied Uggla's mark. Neither Upton played in Sunday's season finale.

Braves single-season strikeout leaders
Three of the 10 highest strikeout totals for a Braves hitter in a single season came in 2014.
Player Strikeouts Year
B.J. Upton 173 2014
Justin Upton 171 2014
Dan Uggla 171 2013
Dan Uggla 168 2012
Justin Upton 161 2013
Chris Johnson 158 2014
Dan Uggla 156 2011
Michael Bourn 155 2012
Jason Heyward 152 2012
B.J. Upton 151 2013

This whiff record is simply a product of the tremendous struggles B.J. Upton has experienced while hitting .198 with a .593 OPS in the 267 games he has played since joining Atlanta. These marks easily stand as the worst among any Major League player who has played at least 250 games during this span. Mark Reynolds owns the second-worst batting average (.209) and Alexi Amarista owns the second-worst OPS (.612).

Instead of repeating the mistake that they made when they brought back Uggla this year and then ended up eating his remaining salary (approximately $19 million) midway through this season, the Braves are expected to be much more aggressive in their attempt to move B.J. Upton with a trade that might end up being a swap of bad salaries.

With Uggla having set the franchise record during each of his three full seasons in Atlanta, this marked the fourth straight season the Braves strikeout record has been topped. Before Uggla arrived in 2011, the record was the 147 strikeouts Andruw Jones notched in 2004. Jones' previous record total now ranks as the 11th-highest mark.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Uptons lead Braves with homers, outfield assists

Brothers become first to accomplish feat to support sharp Harang

Uptons lead Braves with homers, outfield assists

PHILADELPHIA -- It is safe to say the Braves have not received near what they expected since they united the Upton brothers before the start of the 2013 season. But on the eve of what might prove to be the last day they spend together as teammates, the siblings provided a glimpse of why there was hope they would be a dynamic duo.

As Aaron Harang completed his impressive rebound season with a stellar effort in Saturday night's 4-2 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton shared a piece of history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they became the first brothers in the modern era to both homer and record an outfield assist in the same game.

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"Those guys are so talented on both sides of the ball," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "They can hurt you offensively and make some nice defensive plays. They're very athletic. To do what they did today is something special."

Once Craig Kimbrel escaped a bases-loaded jam to notch his 46th save, the Braves were able to savor something even more unique than this win, just their sixth in 24 games this month. The lively postgame clubhouse chatter was centered around Justin, who drilled a decisive two-run homer off A.J. Burnett in the seventh inning, and B.J., who began the third inning with his third homer of the month.

"I'm just trying to finish strong," Upton said. "It's good that we were able to come through in those situations and, more importantly, get the win."

The Uptons have homered in the same game as teammates six times -- an extension of a Major League record for brothers that they had set earlier this year. But this significance of this latest occurrence was made even more special because they both also cut down a runner at the plate.

Justin got things started on the defensive end when he fielded Ryan Howard's fourth-inning single and fired a strike to catcher Christian Bethancourt, who applied a tag as Chase Utley slid to the plate. B.J. got into the act one inning later when he kept Andres Blanco from scoring on Ben Revere's two-out single in the fifth inning.

"Any time you can play good defense and contribute at the plate, it's a good night, and it helped us win," Justin Upton said. "So that was nice."

While this was the kind of night the Braves had envisioned, time will tell if Sunday is the last time the Uptons play together for Atlanta. The club will not be able to move the approximate $46 million he is owed over the next three years, but the Braves are expected to try to trade B.J., who has hit .198 with a .593 OPS in the 267 games he has played since signing a franchise-record five-year, $75.25 million deal.

Because he will be eligible for free agency at the end of the 2015 season, the Braves might also evaluate the value of trading Justin, who was a legit National League Most Valuable Player Award candidate before he notched just eight hits in his first 64 at-bats this month. Still, he has been very productive, collecting 100 RBIs for the first time in his career.

If they go their separate ways, this performance against the Phillies will always be something they can cherish.

"You don't really think about it," B.J. Upton said. "You just play the game. But I guess it's a pretty cool thing. It's cool to say we did that."

After allowing just two runs in 6 2/3 innings, Harang expressed his appreciation for what the Uptons provided in his final start. The veteran hurler was unemployed at the start of Spring Training and did not join the Braves until the Indians released him during the final week of March, but he finished the season with a career-best 3.57 ERA and logged 204 1/3 innings.

Maybe the most impressive thing about Harang's season was the fact that he allowed two earned runs or fewer in 22 of his 33 starts.

"It's been really gratifying," Harang said. "To think back the first day of Spring Training, I didn't even have a job with anybody. Then to make 33 starts and finish 200 innings again, that's a big accomplishment."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Kimbrel's unique stance mocked by Phillies fans

Closer said he 'might have laughed' if he noticed crowd behind plate

Kimbrel's unique stance mocked by Phillies fans

PHILADELPHIA -- As Craig Kimbrel navigated his way through a stressful ninth inning during Saturday night's 4-2 win over the Phillies, he was unaware of the fact that a group of fans behind the plate at Citizens Bank Park were mimicking his unique pre-delivery stance.

Kimbrel did not learn about the humorous actions until backup catcher Gerald Laird informed him in the clubhouse after the game. Chris Johnson then provided images of the fans, who hunched and let their left arms hang in front of them, just like the dominant Braves closer does before throwing a pitch.

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"It was quite funny after the fact," Kimbrel said. "I'm actually glad I didn't see it while they were doing it because I might have laughed myself out there on the mound."

The tension of the ninth inning was anything but funny to Kimbrel, who escaped unscathed after an Andrelton Simmons error gave the Phillies two on with none out. After Darin Ruf drew a two-out walk to load the bases, Kimbrel notched his 46th save when Simmons lunged to his right to snare Ben Revere's liner.

All the while, fans behind the plate were doing what has become known as "Kimbreling."

"I was locked in to doing what I was supposed to do," Kimbrel said. "But yeah, that was actually kind of funny."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Crew chief review confirms J. Upton's assist

Braves' Bethancourt did not block baserunner's path

Crew chief review confirms J. Upton's assist

PHILADELPHIA -- Umpires reviewed a play at the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning on Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park.

Braves left fielder Justin Upton threw out Chase Utley at the plate on Ryan Howard's single, and a crew chief review was initiated to see if Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt had illegally blocked the plate.

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It took replay officials just 34 seconds to determine that Bethancourt allowed Utley a lane to the plate, but he was tagged out.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Wood scratched for Braves' season finale

Left elbow discomfort ends southpaw's year as precaution

Wood scratched for Braves' season finale

PHILADELPHIA -- Instead of making his scheduled start in Sunday's regular season finale, Alex Wood will head into the offseason hopeful that there is no reason for him to be concerned about the left elbow discomfort he experienced after Tuesday night's start against the Pirates.

Obviously not wanting to take any chances, the Braves have scratched Wood and decided to use multiple relief pitchers to get through Sunday afternoon's game against the Phillies. Both the team and pitcher said they believe the discomfort is a product of normal soreness at the end of what has been the longest season of Wood's young career.

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"[Head athletic trainer Jeff Porter] says if we weren't done, then I'd make my next start," Wood said, indicating that this ailment might have just caused him to miss one rotation turn during the midst of the season.

Wood gained some peace of mind when he was evaluated by Dr. Marvin Royster in Atlanta on Thursday. After testing the arm strength, Royster determined that an MRI exam was not necessary.

"He said everything looks fine and everything looks stable," Wood said. "He just thought I had some forearm irritation or a strain. He said not to worry about it. I wasn't worried about it. But I don't think anybody wants to make it any worse to where I have a real injury."

Royster did not definitively say Wood could not pitch on Sunday. That decision was officially made after Wood still felt some tenderness when he played catch at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday afternoon.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he likely would have gone this cautious route even if the Braves still had something to play for on Sunday.

"You hate to start messing around with forearm tenderness and forearm tightness," Gonzalez said. "He would have really had to convince me. But at this stage of his career, we're not going to [mess around]."

Wood, who led all Atlanta starters with a 2.78 ERA this season, felt the discomfort when he went to bed after Tuesday's start. He received treatment the following day and then felt some soreness when he started to increase his effort level while playing catch on Thursday.

Because Wood underwent Tommy John surgery just before his freshman year at the University of Georgia, the Braves were targeting him to throw between 170-180 innings this season, just the second full one he's experienced at the professional level. The 23-year-old southpaw ended up completing 180 1/3 innings, including the two starts he made for Triple-A Gwinnett after being used as a reliever during most of May and June.

"I think it's about 30 more innings than I've ever thrown in a consistent stretch without having a break," Wood said.

Gonzalez will announce a starter for Sunday's game after determining which of the relievers he utilizes during Saturday night's contest.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Prospect Bethancourt shows signs of fatigue

Passed balls increase for strong-armed catcher as season winds down

Prospect Bethancourt shows signs of fatigue

PHILADELPHIA -- When Christian Bethancourt spent three weeks filling in for an injured Evan Gattis earlier this season, it looked like he was ready to be an everyday catcher at the Major League level. But as Bethancourt has filled that role over the past couple of weeks, he has shown why some scouts believe the hype surrounding him is simply a product of his rocket arm.

Though Braves bullpen coach and former catcher Eddie Perez has said that Bethancourt has finally started to show some passion this year, the young catcher has recently drawn scrutiny for being unable to block a number of pitches. He has been charged with six passed balls, which is one more than Gattis has been charged with while catching 538 2/3 more innings than the team's No. 3 prospect.

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"He's a young kid," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's not a finished product by any means or imagination. We knew that coming in here.

"It's almost two different guys. When he came up here earlier this year, we saw him make all of those plays. This time around, he might not be used to playing into September. All of the sudden, he has to play an extra month that he's not used to."

Fatigue and unfamiliarity with some pitchers might have influenced some of the sloppy plays Bethancourt has made this month. But the 23-year-old catcher says there is no excuse for those recent occasions when he has made unsuccessful attempts to backhand pitches in the dirt.

"When they throw the ball, I have to catch it," Bethancourt said. "If I'm not doing it, I'm doing something wrong, losing my concentration or getting too comfortable. I've just got to stick with the plan. Just because I miss one ball or get one passed ball doesn't mean I'm going to shut it down. I've still got other pitches to catch."

Bethancourt has shown off his strong arm while throwing out three of the seven baserunners who have attempted to steal against him in September. But the three passed balls he has been charged with while making 15 starts are a reminder that he is far from a finished product. Bethancourt was charged with 10 passed balls in the 80 games he played for Triple-A Gwinnett this year.

Still, because he possesses great tools and has shown significant improvement offensively, Bethancourt has at least given the Braves the option to shop Gattis this offseason. If Gattis is traded, Bethancourt would then likely be targeted to fill the everyday role.

"I think he's just trying to be too fine back there," backup catcher Gerald Laird said. "You can tell guys like throwing to him. I just think he's a little tired. I told him he's just got to get ready because next year, he's going to be back there 125 games if he's up there. He understands that. But you can tell, he's a little tired."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Santana unable to hold lead as Braves fall in Philly

Two-out rally in sixth stings righty; Phils scored five unanswered runs

Santana unable to hold lead as Braves fall in Philly

ATLANTA -- Given the significance of the offensive woes the Braves have experienced most of this season and especially over the past month, Ervin Santana might have been justified when he exited last weekend's start against the Mets and complained about the lack of support.

Or Santana might have simply set himself up for the fate he incurred on Friday night, when he squandered the early four-run advantage the Braves produced and then watched the Phillies complete a 5-4 comeback win at Citizens Bank Park.

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"It's very, very hard because when we get runs we have to take advantage," Santana said. "At the same time, my [teammates do] everything they can to score runs. So it's not their fault."

Santana's message and tone was much different than it had been five days earlier, when he said, "You have to throw a complete game shutout or something like that to get a win."

Unfortunately, that frustration-filled statement had some merit considering the Braves have scored two runs or less in 16 of their past 24 games.

But this night proved to be much different as the Braves tallied their first multi-run first inning since Aug. 18, and then doubled their lead with Chris Johnson's two-run homer in the fourth. Even while going 19-34 dating back to July 29, the Braves had won 13 of their previous 16 games in which they had tallied at least four runs.

"Four runs with one of your best pitchers on the mound should be enough, but sometimes you put yourself in a corner," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who has seen the Braves go 5-18 in September.

Once the Phillies tallied three two-out runs off Santana in their game-tying sixth inning, they took the lead for good against Jordan Walden in the seventh. Carlos Ruiz drew a leadoff walk and advanced to third base on Ryan Howard's soft double to right. Then, with one out and first base open in a tie game, the usually run-starved Braves opted to play their infield back and decline the chance to set up a double play by intentionally walking Marlon Byrd.

Byrd responded by hitting a grounder that second baseman Phil Gosselin grounded as Ruiz headed to the plate to score the go-ahead run in uncontested fashion.

"I don't want to go down two runs in this ballpark," Gonzalez said. "We've got two more shots at it at keeping it at one run. I think one run is easier to come back from than two runs. I think any other part of the game, you've got to roll the dice. I didn't want to give up two runs."

One run proved to be enough for the reliable relief duo of Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon, who preserved the lead the Phillies had gained after coming to life against Santana. The right-hander retired the first eight batters he faced and kept the Phillies scoreless until they tallied a run in the fifth inning.

Santana retired the first two batters he faced in the sixth and then surrendered three consecutive hits, including Cody Asche's RBI double that made it a 4-2 game. The veteran hurler seemed to lose his composure when his late flip to Christian Bethancourt allowed Domonic Brown to score on Freddy Galvis' dribbler that stayed fair along the third-base line, just in front of the plate.

"I didn't have a chance at first base and he was running right there," Santana said. "So I tossed the ball to him. It was bad communication."

Asche jogged home moments later with the tying run when Santana uncorked a wild pitch that rookie catcher Bethancourt might have been able to keep in front of him with a little extra effort.

Though injuries placed the Braves in desperate need of a starting pitcher, there is certainly reason to debate the value they received from the $14.1 million contract Santana signed in March. The 31-year-old produced a 3.95 ERA in 31 starts. But he allowed at least four earned runs in four of five September outings.

"It's very sad to finish the season this way, but at the same time, it is what it is," Santana said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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J-Up reaches 100-RBI plateau for first time

J-Up reaches 100-RBI plateau for first time

PHILADELPHIA -- Those who have simply taken notice of what Justin Upton has done in September would find it impossible to believe that he entered the month as a legitimate National League Most Valuable Player candidate. But when this season is complete, the Braves outfielder will have some numbers that indicate how productive he was most of this year.

Though it took at least a few weeks longer than he had hoped, Upton still had reason to be satisfied when he secured the first 100-RBI season of his career during Friday night's 5-4 loss to the Phillies. He reached the milestone with an opposite-field single in the first inning against Jerome Williams.

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"This last month and a half has been rather sluggish," Upton said. "It's bittersweet, but it's one of those numbers you can't take away. So I'll enjoy it and take it for what it is worth."

When Upton exited August hitting .288 with 26 homers, 91 RBIs and a .880 OPS, it looked like he might better the numbers he produced in 2011, when he tallied his previous career-high RBI total (88) and finished fourth in the NL MVP balloting.

Upton's MVP candidacy has faded as he has batted .152 with two homers and a .487 OPS in September. But his season statistics will still look impressive.

"At the end of the year, you can say anything you want about anybody," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But 28 home runs and 100 RBIs is a pretty darn good season."

During the season's final two days, Justin will attempt to prevent topping the franchise-record strikeout total his older brother B.J. Upton set during Friday's second inning. B.J.' s 173 strikeouts best the record Dan Uggla set last year (171) and also stand three ahead of his younger brother's current total.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Perez to manage in Venezuelan Winter League

Perez to manage in Venezuelan Winter League

PHILADELPHIA -- After a four-year absence, Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez is preparing to return to his home country to utilize some of the managerial skills he has learned while working for Fredi Gonzalez and Hall of Famer Bobby Cox.

Though he is bothered by the fact that the Braves will not participate in this year's playoffs, Perez is looking forward to spending the next few months serving as a manager in the Venezuelan Winter League. He will serve as the skipper of Aguilas del Zulia, the club that he fervently followed during his childhood.

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When Gonzalez managed this same Zulia club in 2008-09 and 2009-10, he relied on what he has learned from Cox and Royals skipper Ned Yost, the two managers who had the most significant impact on him as a player. But while serving on Gonzalez's coaching staff over the past four years, he has had a chance to gain a different perspective .

"I think I've learned a lot from Fredi," Perez said. "All I knew was Bobby Cox and Ned Yost, who learned from Bobby. I've learned so much from Fredi, a lot of things from Fredi. It's two different animals between him and Bobby. I love what Bobby did, but I really like what Fredi brings to the table to be a manager. He's really good."

While there is a chance the Braves might make changes to their coaching staff, Perez will likely continue to have a role on the staff, which he joined in 2007 when Cox was the club's manager. Over the past eight years, Perez has attempted to prepare himself to realize his goal to become a Major League manager.

Before joining the coaching ranks, Perez was best known as the guy who served as Greg Maddux's catcher more frequently than anybody else in Maddux's Hall of Fame career.

"I'm going to learn from everything I do [in Venezuela] and hopefully it will all help me to manage in the big leagues some day," Perez said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Fredi recognizes job uncertainty comes with territory

Fredi recognizes job uncertainty comes with territory

ATLANTA -- As the Braves have endured a horrific September, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has repeatedly acknowledged that the struggles have given the club at least some reason to question whether he will maintain his position.

But unlike in 2011, when the Braves collapsed and lost a comfortable National League Wild Card lead, Gonzalez has continued to display his same poised demeanor since the first day of Spring Training. This could be a product of experience or just some of the influence the manager has gained from the many years Bobby Cox has served as his mentor.

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"This is what we've signed up for," Gonzalez said. "Nobody held a gun to your head and said you have to coach in professional sports. For me, I just manage today's game, and tomorrow, I'll manage tomorrow's game. If those decisions are made, you live with them. You feel for your coaches a little bit more than you do for yourself because they hurt. They put in all the hard work and the time. We all know what we signed up for."

There still seems to be a sense that Gonzalez will be given a chance to remain in his role for at least one more season. But hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher could be among the coaching casualties of this disappointing season.

While a majority of the Braves' players seem to get along with Gonzalez, some have questioned his lineup construction and strategic moves. Though this is likely the case in most Major League clubhouses, there is at least some reason to wonder if the clubhouse culture is different next year, when the Braves are under the direction of a new general manager.

Braves president John Schuerholz indicated that he will hire a full-time GM before making a decision about Gonzalez's future. But Schuerholz also acknowledged that he will account for the fact that Gonzalez could benefit from the altered culture he is trying to create by shaking up his front-office staff.

Cox, who is seemingly prepared to take on a greater role with the club, gave Gonzalez a vote of confidence earlier this week.

"[Cox] appreciates the hard work that the coaches do and the manager does, all the fires you have to put out," Gonzalez said. "It was really nice to have his support. But he's been that way all the way back to the beginning. He's our No. 1 fan."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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