Chipper touts McCann as new face of Braves
Heyward, Prado, Terdoslavich could also become successors
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Chipper Jones has always been very complimentary of the guidance David Justice, Terry Pendleton and Fred McGriff provided him during the early years of his career. Justice molded him to be the new face of the Braves, and Pendleton prepared him to spend most of the past two decades as Atlanta's third baseman.
Now with Jones preparing to retire at the end of this season, the Braves will soon have both a new third baseman and a new leader who will provide the organization a new identity as it moves past the Chipper years.
"Brian McCann is solely going to be the face of this franchise starting this year," Jones said. "He's a great kid. He's a great player, and he's the kind of guy you want to build a ballclub around. It would be sad to see him go somewhere else. Unfortunately, the business of baseball and economics of baseball may not allow it. We'll have to see."
Having arrived on the Major League scene in time to help the Braves win the last of their 14 consecutive division titles, McCann seems to be the perfect candidate to extend the principles instilled by Pendleton, Justice and the other influential members of the Braves teams of the early 1990s.
John Smoltz took an immediate liking to McCann, and Tom Glavine did as well when he returned to the Braves in 2008. Throughout it all, Jones nurtured the six-time All-Star catcher like a younger brother.
With Jason Heyward still far too young and unproven to be considered the new face of the Braves, McCann seems to be the most logical choice until the financial element is thrown into the equation.
Before the Cardinals provided Yadier Molina a five-year, deal with a $15 million annual salary in February, there was already some thought that McCann could command a $17 million salary. The Molina deal only strengthened this belief.
Now the question is whether the Braves will be willing to bid against those American League clubs that will have the luxury of allowing McCann to serve as a catcher and designated hitter. This role would provide more at-bats than he could record while playing in the National League and also preserve the veteran catcher's legs.
Under contract through the end of the 2013 season, McCann will serve as the face of the Braves for the next two seasons. But given that he will be 30 years old at the beginning of the 2014 season, there is certainly reason to wonder whether the Braves will be willing to provide the same kind of financially lucrative five-year contract that an AL club could more comfortably offer.
"Being that Brian is the hometown kid, you'd love to see him stay in his hometown," Jones said.
If McCann is not afforded the opportunity to play his entire career in Atlanta, there is a chance Heyward could serve as the hometown kid who becomes the face of the Braves. This was the title once reserved for Jeff Francoeur before it was obvious he was not going to live up to tremendous expectations.
With Heyward, it is far too early to project whether he will be a boom or another bust. His injury-plagued 2011 season erased much of the optimism he had created with a strong rookie season the year before. But at 22 years old, he is actually still one year younger than Jones was before he became a regular in the Braves' lineup.
So there is still plenty of time for Heyward.
When Jones became the Braves' starting third baseman at the start of the 1995 season, he was taking the role from current Braves first-base coach Pendleton, a fellow switch-hitter who had played the hot corner in Atlanta from 1991-94.
Seventeen years later, Jones has spent the past couple weeks fielding ground balls off Pendleton's fungo bat while working drills with two potential successors -- Martin Prado and Joey Terdoslavich.
There is little doubt Prado could handle the role if necessary. He has served as a reliable backup option at the position since coming to the Majors. But with the reality that he could make somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million through arbitration next year, there is not necessarily a guarantee he will be around to fill the role.
So there will be plenty of eyes focused on Terdoslavich this year as he prepares to move back to the familiar third-base position while playing for Double-A Mississippi. Given that he is a switch-hitter, it seems only fitting that he would serve as the successor to Jones and Pendleton.
"If he does get the job and stays there for like six years, you'd have almost 30 consecutive years of switch-hitting third basemen in Atlanta," Pendleton said. "That would be unbelievable. He just needs to work on his defense as hard as he does his offense. If he does that, he'll be fine."
Terdoslavich gained attention when he set a Carolina League record by recording 52 doubles with Class A Advanced Lynchburg last year. He spent the past couple of weeks in big league camp confirming that he is a talented offensive threat and providing reason to believe that he might be able to make the defensive strides necessary this year to make the jump to the Majors by the start of next year.
"I don't see why he couldn't [play the position] at the big league level," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He'll be close."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.