2/16/2014 4:00 P.M. ET
Elder Upton looks to recapture hitting stroke
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Braves clubhouse grew a little more crowded on Sunday morning when the Upton brothers arrived to work out with the other position players who have made early arrivals to Spring Training this year.
While Justin Upton will be looking to build on what was a productive first season in Atlanta, his older brother, B.J., will spend the next few weeks preparing for a season that he hopes will be much different than last year.
Burdened by the pressure created by the five-year, $75.25 million contract he signed the previous offseason, Upton hit .184 with nine home runs and a .557 OPS, which ranks as the fourth-lowest mark by any Braves player since the club moved to Atlanta in 1966.
Though last year proved to be miserable, the elder Upton maintained a good attitude and displayed a work ethic was routinely lauded by his teammates and coaches. Manager Fredi Gonzalez and hitting coach Greg Walker have been encouraged with what they have heard and seen from the 29-year-old outfielder over the past month.
"I got to spend a little bit of time with him in the outfield," Gonzalez said. "His spirits are good, which I didn't expect anything else."
Walker kept in touch with B.J. during the winter and traveled to Tampa to watch him hit during the latter portion of January. The veteran hitting coach's optimism is fueled by the fact that he does not believe there is a need to make significant adjustments.
"When he broke into the league, he was a lot more efficient with his swing and body movements," Walker said. "We just want him to get back to being B.J. Upton. Over my years of experience -- and that's a lot of years -- this is a lot different than going in and telling a guy we have to throw everything out and start over."
Wren confident that reward will outweigh Kimbrel's risk
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves general manager Frank Wren understands the risk that goes with entering a long-term agreement with a closer. At the same time, he did not want to learn what life might be like without Craig Kimbrel.
So on Sunday morning, Wren proudly announced that Kimbrel had signed a four-year deal that includes an option for the 2018 season. The contract provides a guarantee of $42 million over the first four years. If the 25-year-old closer exercises his option and all potential bonuses, he could make as much as $58.5 million over the next five years.
If Kimbrel continues to be one of the game's elite closers, the Braves will be glad to give him an approximate average annual salary of $11.7 million over the next five years. But if he gets injured or follows the path of other closers who have experienced a sudden and unexpected decline, then this will prove to be a potentially destructive risk.
"History is the best predictor of the future," Wren said. "You're never going to hedge all your bets. But he's strong, he's healthy, he works hard. He does all the things you want a player to do to maintain their health. That is what we are counting on."
The Braves are also counting on Kimbrel to continue doing what he has done over the past three seasons, during which he has successfully converted 90.2 percent of his 153 save opportunities. He has recorded 28 more saves (138) than any other Major Leaguer during this span and done so while striking out 42.9 percent of the batters he has faced.
"I show up every day to perform and go out and play," Kimbrel said. "That's all I can do is to prepare myself each and every day and stay as healthy as I can. If you take care of yourself, things are going to be okay. There are things out there that you can't judge or say it's going to happen. Obviously, if you don't take care of yourself, it will. That's one thing I do pride myself in, is showing up every day, working hard and being ready when I step my foot on the mound."
While the lifespan of an effective closer has proven to be unpredictable, the Braves are comforted by the fact that Kimbrel has not been on the disabled list or limited by any kind of arm discomfort since reaching the Major League level in 2010.
"When you have guys in your organization that you have brought up from day one, I think you have a good feel for their work ethic and how they handle themselves," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You feel a lot more comfortable handing those contracts out."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.