The season is young, and evaluations will be made over time. But when the Atlanta Braves signed B.J. Upton as a free agent this offseason, then traded with Arizona for Justin, a determination was made, both internally and across baseball: The Braves’ outfield is where balls to the gap become easy outs, where shots to the warning track look, in the scorebook, like popups.
“I feel like most of the balls that stay in the yard, that aren’t going off the wall,” Heyward said, “I feel like all three of us have an opportunity to catch them.”
When the Braves come to bat in the first inning of Friday night’s series-opening game at Nationals Park, the Washington Nationals will trot out Bryce Harper to left field, Denard Span to center and Jayson Werth to right. And over the weekend — as the two favorites in the National League East play the first of six intriguing series against each other, with the Braves already on a six-game winning streak — Nationals Park could serve as the stage to debate which outfield is the NL’s best.
“They have a very good outfield, and they’re good baseball players,” Braves General Manager Frank Wren said of the Nationals. “That’s what makes them such a tough, competitive ballclub, and I think we have players like that, too.”
The Nationals’ major offseason desire was to cure what had long ailed them — a lack of a leadoff hitter and center fielder, and trading top prospect Alex Meyer for Span addressed that need. Span is off to a fine start, with a .475 on-base percentage entering Friday’s game.
But it’s also not a stretch to think Span could have ended up in Atlanta, where the Braves allowed Michael Bourn to walk as a free agent.
“We were all talking to the same players,” Wren said. “We were all talking to the same teams.”
On Nov. 29, the day the Nationals traded for Span, the Braves signed B.J. Upton to a five-year, $72.25 million deal. But it wasn’t until nearly two months later the Braves traded Martin Prado — a former all-star and one of their best players — top pitching prospect Randall Delgado and three minor leaguers to Arizona for Justin Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson.
“We knew it was a special group,” Wren said.
Justin Upton, 25 and the top pick in the 2005 draft, entered Thursday’s games leading the National League with an on base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.365, and he has six home runs in his first nine games. B.J. Upton, 28 and the second overall pick by Tampa Bay in the 2002 draft, is off to a slow start, hitting just .103, slugging just .207.