Former Tampa Bay Rays slugger B.J. Upton, right, smiles after his brother and former Arizona Diamondbacks star Justin signed his contract with the Atlanta Braves recently.
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves are looking ahead, not back.
In the process, they hope to match at least some of their success from the 1990s and early 2000s.
Gone is the retired Chipper Jones, part of the Braves’ record streak of 14 consecutive division titles. Added are the Upton brothers, Justin and B.J.
The Uptons — along with other young budding stars such as Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman — give the Braves a bright future. The present shouldn’t be too bad, either.
“I’m really excited about the team, more excited than I’ve ever been about a team going to spring training,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Frank Wren wouldn’t disagree.
“Where we sit today, we like our club a lot,” the Braves’ GM said. “Now we’ve got to go perform.”
The Braves have mostly disappointed their fans recently. They were the victims of a controversial infield-fly call in the National League wild card game against the Cardinals last year, and they haven’t won a postseason series since 2001.
The Braves, though, won 94 games in 2012 and averaged 90 victories the past four seasons. They did that mostly thanks to their pitching. Now they think they have the hitting as well.
Strikeouts could again be a problem, but the Braves feel that they have a combination of power and speed that few teams can match if their young players continue to improve and if catcher Brian McCann can bounce back from a sub-par season after shoulder surgery.
The bullpen, led by flame-throwing closer Kimbrel, is one of the best in baseball, and the starting staff should get a boost in the second half when Brandon Beachy returns after Tommy John surgery. Even without Beachy, the rotation — led by Tim Hudson — could be solid if Medlen, 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA as a starter last season, continues to progress and Mike Minor can build off his impressive final month in 2012.
The Braves don’t have many decisions to make in spring training. Catching the Nationals in the NL East in 2013 won’t be easy, though.
WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC: Medlen withdrew from Team USA for the World Baseball Classic a little over a week after the roster was announced, citing the impending birth of his first child.
“Being asked to play for Team USA was really crazy and awesome, but I think I may have jumped the gun committing that early,” Medlen said. “Once I came back down off Cloud Nine, I was like ‘Wait, I don’t think I’m going to be able to do this.’ ”
MAKING ROOM FOR JULIO?: RHP Julio Teheran, the favorite to be the Braves’ fifth starter this season, was ranked No. 31 on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list. That is a severe drop for the 22-year-old native of Colombia, who was No. 4 at this time last year behind only the Rays’ Matt Moore, the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Nationals’ Bryce Harper. Teheran struggled last season with Class AAA Gwinnett, but he bounced back in the Dominican winter league. He is the only Braves prospect among the MLB.com Top 100.
LIFE NOT A BEACH FOR BEACHY IN REHAB: Beachy, who had Tommy John surgery last June, feels that he is on schedule for a return sometime around the All-Star break this season. The next step is to be cleared for throwing off a mound, which could come by the end of the month. Beachy, 26, was leading the majors with a 2.00 ERA when he hurt his elbow against the Orioles last season.
“I’m just checking days off the calendar,” he said.
SO LONG, JAIR: RHP Jair Jurrjens, non-tendered by the Braves after a disastrous 2012 season, signed a one-deal with the Orioles recently worth $1.5 million, plus incentives that could boost his earnings to $4 million. Jurrjens, 27, could never get on track last season after hurting his knee in 2011 following a great first half of the season that earned him a trip to the All-Star Game. Jurrjens had a 6.89 ERA in 48 1/3 innings with the Braves last year, spending much of the season in the minors.
BIGGEST NEEDS: The Braves didn’t acquire a natural leadoff hitter to replace Michael Bourn, so they likely will turn to SS Andrelton Simmons, who has played just 49 games in that role. Third base also must be settled on, with Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson likely platooning. Both have power.