ATLANTA (AP) — Fredi Gonzalez says it's easy to see why he has never been more optimistic at the start of spring training.
With pitchers and catchers reporting Monday in Kissimmee, Fla., the Braves' manager already has a clear picture of what his team should look like in April.
Barring any surprises, the only question is third base, where there likely will be a platoon to replace the retired Chipper Jones. The third baseman — Chris Johnson or Juan Francisco — probably will hit eighth. Every other position looks set.
"If everything falls right and everybody is doing what they're supposed to be doing, to worry about the No. 8 spot in the lineup and the third base platoon situation, that's not bad at all, really," Gonzalez said.
Thanks to offseason moves that added the Upton brothers, B.J. and Justin, to the Braves' outfield, the spring training schedule for Gonzalez could look something like this:
— Check on catcher Brian McCann's rehab from shoulder surgery.
— Update the third-base competition.
— Take a look at the battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
— Play golf.
Gonzalez is confident the Uptons will replace the offense lost when Jones retired, Martin Prado was traded and Michael Bourn was not re-signed.
The rotation is almost set. Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Paul Maholm are the top four starters. Brandon Beachy is expected to return from elbow surgery by midseason. Julio Teheran may be the leading candidate for the No. 5 spot until then.
After that, the only questions are the last spot or two on the bench and in the bullpen.
Gonzalez and Braves general manager Frank Wren believe the team is stronger after winning 94 games and losing to St. Louis in the wild-card game last season.
"I'm really excited about the team, more excited than I've ever been really about a team going into spring training," Gonzalez said. "It still boils down to you've got to play the schedule, and it still boils down to you've got to stay healthy."
McCann, a six-time All-Star, is recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Gonzalez said McCann should be cleared for hitting and throwing from the start of spring workouts, but he may be kept out of exhibition games until he also is given the go-ahead for sliding and diving.