Baseball’s back: Braves pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training

Baseball’s back: Braves pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training
FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2014, file photo, Atlanta Braves batting helmets sits on the field under a shining sun during a spring training baseball workout in Kissimmee, Fla. Major League Baseball revamped its spring training exhibition schedule because of the pandemic, cutting travel for Florida-based teams in an effort to avoid the novel coronavirus, the league announced Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File) (Alex Brandon)

NORTH PORT, Fl. — It may be cold and rainy in Atlanta but in North Port, Florida it will be party cloudy and mid 80′s in the weather forecast.

The Atlanta Braves 2021 season officially kicks off today with pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training at Cool Today Park in North Port.

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For baseball fans, it’s one of the happiest days of the year. It means baseball is back. For the Atlanta Braves, it’s a chance to take the next step from NL East Champs and being one game away from the World Series to potential world champs.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be only a limited amount of fans allowed to see the team practice each day in Southwest Florida.

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After last season, when the Braves had to battle through the COVID wrecked, 60 game season with essentially one regular starting pitcher, this season, the staff is loaded.

Free agent signees Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly are expected to bring depth and experience to a young pitching staff.

Max Fried returns after a stellar 2020, where he carried the load as the de facto ace when Mike Soroka went down with an Achilles injury. Fried was 7-0 during the regular season and arguably even better in the playoffs.

Rookie Ian Anderson was spectacular after being called up late in the 2020 season, the expectations for 2021 are even higher. Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and Huscar Ynoa all had their moments late in the season as well.

The bullpen will look a little different this season. 2020 closer Mark Melancon, set-up man Shane Greene and Darren O’Day are gone. The Braves didn’t make any significant relief pitching additions, but several standouts from last season do return.

Will Smith should benefit from a full spring training and the team hopes he’ll revert back to his 2018-19 all-star form. A.J. Minter was a pleasant surprise last year as he looked much like the dominant pitcher he was in 2018. Veteran strike throwing machine Chris Martin also will be back and looking to continue his successful run with the Braves.

Position players are slated to report Monday, Feb. 22 though many are expected to be in southwest Florida sooner. The first full-squad workout begins the next day.

The first official Spring Training game for the Braves is scheduled for Feb. 28th against the Tampa Bay Rays with the first regular season game scheduled for April 1 in Philadelphia.

The Braves first official home game will be April 9 vs. the Phillies.