Buzzing on Yahoo Sports:

Atlanta Braves’ Dan Uggla, Tim Hudson and Jason Heyward Off to Bad Starts This Spring

Key Players for Braves Not Performing Well Early in Spring Training

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Normally, if a player gets out to a great start in spring training it's because he's put in hard work during the offseason, added muscle or did something of that sort.

But if an individual is struggling during spring training it's just a result of being early and not having his timing down. Sure, baseball players are known for having ups and downs through the long season, but just tossing aside spring training stats due to it being early is not an excuse.

While some of the Atlanta Braves' more prominent players such as B.J. Upton, Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, Mike Minor, Kris Medlen and Julio Teheran have had success during spring, a couple of key figures in the Braves' lineup and rotation have some fans worried.

Dan Uggla

The Braves can't afford to have Uggla get off to another slow start. After two sub-par seasons, the fans in Atlanta will begin to grow weary of his inconsistency despite his hustle on the field.

Uggla has mentioned several times that he's never been great in spring training and that he's notorious for slow starts. Stats suggest that's not necessarily true. He hit .277 last spring before turning in the worst season of his career. His .242 career average in April/March isn't far off his career average of .253.

After starting the spring 2-for-18, he's turned things around lately, getting six hits in his last 18 at-bats as of March 10. Still, his overall average this spring is .222, and he's only hit one home run.

He's also striking out at an incredible pace with 15 punch-outs in 13 games -- 36 at-bats -- while only walking three times.

Uggla is a key part of this lineup and will determine how good this offense will be. It's important for the Braves that he continues to get on base and put up great power numbers.

Tim Hudson

The veteran of this team and pitching staff has not gotten off to a great start this spring, although he says he feels as good as he's ever felt. He threw the first pitch of the 2013 season in spring training and hasn't looked comfortable on the mound ever since.

He's constantly gotten himself in trouble and is fortunate his 6.43 ERA isn't higher. He has a WHIP of 1.43 in 14 innings, giving up 17 hits and three walks while only striking out four. The low strikeout numbers aren't as troubling as the two home runs and 10 earned runs he's given up this spring.

This is a contract year for Hudson, who is hoping to stick around with the Braves for a few more years. In order to do so, he has to prove he can still be at least a middle-of-the-rotation arm for this team.

You don't typically worry about veterans as much during spring, but I get the feeling the competitive side of Hudson isn't pleased with his performance and if it's not a medical issue that's hindering his success, it has to be mechanical or old age.

The Braves certainly can't afford to have Hudson struggle this season. He'll need to prove he can keep the ball down and be an effective strike thrower. Of course it will help having Andrelton Simmons at shortstop to eat up all those ground balls once he comes back from the World Baseball Classic.

Jason Heyward

With the Upton brothers performing fairly well in spring training, there hasn't been much focus on the struggles Heyward has faced in the early going. That, and the fact that he's hit three home runs.

But despite showing off his power, the talented outfielder for the Braves is hitting .219 in 32 at-bats. It seems like every time Heyward goes into a slump like this there are rumors of some sort of little injury. And once again there are reports of him having a sore shoulder, but it's said to be nothing serious.

The Braves more than anything need a healthy and productive Heyward this season. He is the one guy that can take over this team and become the face of the franchise. He took a huge stride forward last year, and fans are hoping he can build upon that this year.

When talking spring training stats, it is important to realize these numbers don't count and many players, especially veterans, aren't as focused. Despite that, once we have enough numbers, it is capable to gauge how a player is performing. It's more important to be playing good at the end of spring rather than the beginning.

If the Braves are going to have any chance of winning the National League East this year, they need these three guys to turn things around quickly.

Jake Mastroianni has written for several websites pertaining to the Braves and baseball in general. He also has experience working in media relations for minor league baseball, as well as at the collegiate level.

Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Football
View Comments (28)