LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Even if their bullpen is better and their starting rotation benefits from the improvements Matt Wisler and Mike Foltynewicz have made since the end of last season, the Braves' bid to remain competitive throughout this season primarily rests on the durability of Freddie Freeman's right wrist.
Fortunately for Freeman, the only setback he has encountered during Spring Training amounted to the five-minute scare he experienced when some scar tissue in his hand tore after he checked his swing during a March 11 game against the Phillies. Now, the 26-year-old first baseman can only hope that his wrist remains as cooperative once he subjects it to the daily grind of a season.
"I have full confidence in my wrist now," Freeman said. "I do have to get treatment every day to get it warmed up, but once I get done in the training room, I don't even think about it at all. This has eased my mind, and hopefully it has eased everybody else's that I can go out there with no problem."
Coming off a season in which they scored 40 fewer runs than any other Major League club, the Braves are optimistic about Ender Inciarte's capability to provide the consistent spark they did not receive last year from the leadoff spot. At the same time, they are hoping to gain more power from Nick Markakis, now about 15 months removed from neck surgery.
But the enhanced production the Braves could receive from Inciarte and Markakis could go for naught if they are not able to keep Freeman in the middle of their lineup. The club's hope for additional power sources rests on Adonis Garcia's ability to extend last year's surprising home run trend and Hector Olivera's bid to live up to expectations.
Though he missed nearly two full months last season, Freeman was still Atlanta's only player to hit more than 10 home runs. Before Freeman began experiencing right wrist discomfort on June 13, the Braves ranked sixth in the National League with 4.23 runs per game. Over the 100 games that followed, they ranked last in the Majors with 3.11 runs per game.
"He's our best player, and he's our best hitter," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "He's a huge part of our team."
As Freeman prepares to ease back into the third spot of Atlanta's lineup, he believes he is capable of getting back to where he was when he had played in a Major League-high 243 consecutive games.
Freeman came to Spring Training planning to take it slow after avoiding batting practice all winter. But it did not take long for him to once again display his tremendous talent. Freeman doubled in his first plate appearance of the Grapefruit League season and homered in four of his first 19 at-bats.
"I don't think it can get much worse than it was last year, both personally and team-wise," Freeman said. "It was definitely a tough year, but you try to learn from those mistakes that happened. We've got a good team this year, and hopefully that translates on the field when the season begins. Health is a big factor for every team, so, hopefully, good things will happen and I'll be able to stay healthy."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.