Posted: 5:04 pm Friday, February 21st, 2014

Walker cautiously optimistic about B.J., Uggla 

By David O'Brien

http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1496419233001?bctid=3237946186001

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – After watching them during three days of full-squad workouts, Braves hitting coach Greg Walker is encouraged with offseason adjustments made by B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla, the duo anything but dynamic in 2013.

Walker is not, however, going to jump to conclusions based on a few days of batting practice.

“B.J. and Danny definitely worked smart this winter, and right now we’re on the driving range,” Walker said, using a golf analogy to describe the progression ahead. “We’re taking BP, we’re in the cage flipping (balls to hitters), and our driving range right now is really good. But when the games start, we’ll be on the first tee box.

“Can they take it from the driving range to the tee box? If they do the same thing in the game that they’re doing in the work, they’ll be good. And we need them, man. It’s no secret.”

The Braves won 96 games and a division title despite career-worst seasons from both Uggla, who hit .179 with a .309 on-base percentage, .362 slugging percentage and 22 home runs, and Upton (.184/.268/.289 with nine homers). They had the two lowest batting averages in the major leagues among players with at least 300 plate appearances, and struck out a combined 322 times in 839 at-bats.

“We need a deep lineup,” Walker said. “If we want to be an elite offensive team, we have to have a deep lineup. We can’t have three, four, five guys doing the heavy lifting.”

What Walker noticed first when he visted Upton at his Tampa home in January was how much movement he’d cut out of his swing and stance, including eliminating the leg lift and long slide step with his front foot. Upton, 29, said his swing gradually deteriorated over the past several years after he began trying to pull the ball more after his early success with the Rays.

“If you go back and watch (video of) B.J., his misses got bigger from year to year,” Walker said. “His swing got looser and looser. The only thing we told him to do — we don’t want you to change anything, we don’t want to turn you into somebody you’ve never been. All we want you to do is go back to the way you hit when you were a kid.

“And the talent is still there. If he does it right, the talent is elite. And that’s all we’ve asked him to do.”

The Braves and Upton hope the simpler, more efficient swing will help him get back to being the hitter he was earlier in his career, when he sprayed line drives to all parts of the field and utilized his speed more instead of trying to hit balls out of the park.

“He had so many things going on that he was chronically late (on pitches) last year,” Walker said. “Between bat movement and sliding (with his foot) – he had a big body movement to get into the hitting position – he ended up being late all the time. When you’re late, it just kind of falls apart on you.”

“He would reach out (with his front foot), slide forward, and then put his heel down. And he was turned. By the time he got there, he was here and the ball was by him. He just had too much going on.”

33 comments
Stargazer II
Stargazer II

To DOB  Not sure why it's pertinent or even accurate to say how talented that BJ Upton is. Yes, he's athletic, but not so athletic that he's any better than an average center fielder. I don't see much evidence that he has much talent for hitting. He hasn't had any real sustained success at the MLB level in hitting.  If being athletic or a high draft pick doesn't mean you have hitting talent at the highest levels. Just means somebody thought you did.

douglasT
douglasT

Shouldn't BJ's swing problems have been obvious prior to signing him to a contract?  Why on earth would you throw $75,000,000 at a player in need of a major overhaul to his swing?

douglasT
douglasT

This talk about BJ's swing changes is insane.  Should not his swing faults have been obvious prior to signing him to a contract? Why on earth did the Braves brass throw $75,000,000 at a player in need of a major swing over haul?

MrGil2U
MrGil2U

Muscle memory is a tough  thing to overcome. It takes thousands of good swings to unlearn bad habits. If you are thinking about how to swing in the batter's box you have already lost, the only thing they should have to do is hit the ball, major league pitchers only allow enough time for you to react instinctively, if you are think about your head, eyes, elbows, knees or feet, by the time your brain reacts, the ball is past you. Like Yogi used to say about some of his hitters when they struggled, "he;s thinking too much and it's hurting the team". , 

Teddy_B
Teddy_B

Can't wait for the games to start! They don't mean a whole lot to your average position player in February, but the positional battles are really cool to watch. Last year we had Chris Johnson and Don Juan Francesco slugging it out for the hot corner and it was really fun to watch C.J. catch on fire and he never really slowed down once he got going. I always thought that Johnson was an excellent hitter, if he can work on his defense and hit around .300 a year he will be elite. D-Backs are probably upset that they gave up on him so quickly, at least the Astros knew he could be something special.


Hopefully C.J. and the rest of the team can keep pace with all the progress they made last season. Danny Boy and the older Upton need to wake up and quit daydreaming about all those Benjamin Franklins! Yeah, someone made a terrible, TERRIBLE, mistake and way overpaid you...now that they have had time to think about it and let it soak in they should try to at least hit their weight in batting average! Players usually under perform whenever they feel they aren't getting paid enough, NOT the other way around! These guys are probably the most overpaid incompetent athletes the world has seen in quite a long time. All is not lost yet, but they really need to start doing some amazing things to justify their contracts. Why we signed B.J. Upton to that mega deal when ESPN analysts were calling him a "bust", I have no idea.


Here is to hoping that the team continues to have success in spite of having a couple lumps through the lineup who don't seem to remember how to play baseball since they make so much money!


Go Braves, GO HEYWARD, FREEMAN, and SIMMONS! Carry the team yet again in '14!

patriotdog
patriotdog

odd...anyway, they know what to do, but get in the box and it goes out the window. I'm really rooting for BJ to stop trying to slug and start trying to hit. Like Willie Mays Hayes in the movie 'Major League'...hit a pop up give me fifty push-ups.

Uggs has to become a contact hitter. As strong as he is, the HRs will come. He just over swings, takes a cut as hard as he can, every single swing.

I personally am beyond skeptical, but hope to be wrong. Would love to be wrong, in fact.

patriotdog
patriotdog

One blogger said it best, and it goes for both hitters: They

GreeneHornet
GreeneHornet

Everything is all opinion until we all see it on the field. I really think we will see alot of improvement with both Upton and Uggla, but I think especially with Upton. I'm not saying .280, but a good improvement for both. I'm rooting for them as they are the underdogs of the team. I'm glad to hear they are putting in hard work. I hate Uggla is really on the line, but he also understands that's the hole he put himself in from the past few years.


Nonetheless, I think they will be better- how much better is the question. 

ChessMaster
ChessMaster

It's a lot easier to work on issues in the off season and spring training. The pressure of the season takes a toll. This is a new season and true Braves fans have to hope these two get it worked out. No one is claiming they will because we don't know. Hoping the best for your team and its players are what we mean when we say fan.

If you can't be optimistic in February for the season ahead, it must be miserable following baseball. Right now everyone has a chance to shine and I hope that will be each and every player on the Braves roster. We're headed to Florida in a week, and I can't wait. And no, I'm not going to Disneyland.

Stinger2
Stinger2

It would be nice if some of the Braves fans who post on DOB`s blogs would be "cautiously optimistic " (like Walker) instead of dishing out so many negative and meaningless questions and comments.

Bogey
Bogey

The video of BJ I watched showed much less moving parts, but it 's still too much of an uppercut swing. Everything screams a 175 lb. guy trying to be a power hitter.

They should lock him in the video room watching Pete Rose and Rod Carew hit a baseball.

BravesFan1966
BravesFan1966

BJ hit .300 once, and .273 once.  Everything else is well below that.  So, for his swing to go away after early success, I would wonder what success.  Those two seasons were not back to back.  His seasons were not that great except for a few seasons where he hit some HRs.  His D is good, speed good, but he has never, and will never be a good average hitter.  If he hits .250, that will be like Freddie hitting .300-plus.  As for Uggla, I will believe it come July 15th or so and he is hitting above .240.

gfw
gfw

It's true, of course, and everyone could see it last year, that BJ had way too many moving parts in his swing.  Why he couldn't change that last year is mystery #1.  Maybe he doesn't take instruction from Walker very well.  But then again everyone would have been telling him the same thing, including his brother.  Ugg's is another head case.  I don't know, and I don't think anyone knows, what he needs to do to get back to being the old Uggla.  Nothing they tried worked last year.  And I'm sure they tried everything.  This is mystery #2.  You can bet that Freddie and Frank spent mucho hours on these two mysteries in the off-season. 

dogman46olf
dogman46olf

beau 1500

Walker is as tough as nails and knows hitting and how to teach hitting. Me thinks you are the IDIOT.

panamaralph
panamaralph

If you go back and watch (video of) B.J., his misses got bigger from year to year,” Walker said


Why is it that no body noticed that before they sold the farm and signed him to a five year 75 million dollar contract?

Beau1500
Beau1500

My opinion is that Greg Walker is an idiot.

bigcooterb
bigcooterb

How many DP's did they hit into?  With men on base you could get Las Vegas Odds that they would strike out or hit into a double play.



58Supersports
58Supersports

Walk didn't have much to say about Uggla.   Both better  get with the program

Hammerman
Hammerman

This is going to be anything but a deep line up.Uggla,Upton,and the pitcher 3 automatic outs right there.Simmons and his sub 300 OBP to go along with Heyward who is the second coming of Brad Kominisk.

northbeach_scott
northbeach_scott

Yeah, fresh bloggage for the weekend, albeit not the main. We really need some contributions from these two toads.

KevinMcCarthy
KevinMcCarthy

Weren't they talking about BJ working on a quieter swing halfway through last year? The moment he stepped in the box, it all went out the window. I'll be optimistic when I see them bring their changes to bear against live pitching.

MikeWhitten
MikeWhitten

I couldn't have said it any better......... other than adding Uggla to it..........

58Supersports
58Supersports

@Beau1500 That's because you don't know Greg Walker.  Walker knows more about baseball than Carter's got little pills. Just ask Chipper and some of the people in MLB.

Someone said, why didn't he teach them last year?  You can't make someone learn if they don't wish too.( he's not a eye Doctor) Some people believe they know it all and won't  listen. Don't blame GW for $$$ players not doing what they are taught to do.  Go Braves!

TEXAS DAWG
TEXAS DAWG

@bigcooterb Not many. You have to actually make contact with the ball, and that was a rare occurrence last year

Stargazer II
Stargazer II

@bigcooterb Strike out, yes. But they don't hit into that many double plays. Only 14 between the two of them. Andrelton Simmons had 20 by himself last season.

DOB
DOB moderator

@KevinMcCarthy  Yes, it was too drastic a fix to make in a span of a few days on the bench at midseason. It needed to be a "winter change" in words of Walker, to take hold. And it has. But whether it'll last, we won't  know till he starts facing pitchers. But he never got to this point last year, or even close, when he tried to make the changes at midseason.

YoungerThanThatNow
YoungerThanThatNow

With all due respect 'panamaralph', every post that you make goes a little further in showing that you know zero (-0-) about baseball. That is all...

YoungerThanThatNow
YoungerThanThatNow

It's very difficult to make wholesale changes mid season, regardless of how much of a 'student of the game' the hitter may be. It takes a lot of consecutive days in the cage, working on nothing but the proposed change. And in BJ's case, there were several changes, as Greg Walker pointed out. You can't tackle all the changes at one time. You do them one at a time and add them to the last change until you've got them all worked out, and the hitter is comfortable and feels natural with them all together. And then it's repetition after repetition until it's as natural as walking. That takes time... time that you don't have at mid season.

Believe it or not, in the midst of all that changing and adding, it gets worse before it gets better! Hopefully BJ and Uggs are on the upswing and are getting better... the Braves need them and I'm pulling for them!

GO BRAVES!