Braves’ Fredi Gonzalez looks ahead to 2014

After losing three of four games to the Dodgers to lose the franchise’s sixth consecutive division series, the Braves and manager Fredi Gonzalez were left to regroup this week.

Clad in blue jeans and a black button-down shirt, Gonzalez met with members of the local media in his office to share his thoughts on the highs and lows of the 2013 season and what he envisions for 2014.

Here are excerpts from that conversation in the second of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s two-part Q&A.

Part 2 includes Gonzalez’s thoughts on what to expect in 2014.

Q: Will you call Dan Uggla to discuss what happened late this season, with him not being on the postseason roster?

A: I think we'll let that simmer down a little bit and probably reach out to him and discuss that.

Q: Is it realistic to think Uggla will be back on this team next year?

A: I don't know. I know that every year we make a lot of tweaks and changes to the club, and we have to to keep competing, keep getting better.

Q: What about (Brian) McCann?

A: I don't know how that's going to play out. Right now the way I'm answering it is McCann is an Atlanta Brave. And until whatever way that plays out, I will always consider him an Atlanta Brave.

Q: From what you saw from Evan Gattis, can he handle catching on an everyday basis?

A: Yeah, I think so. Going into it, the little stuff that I saw, he does a good job. Obviously his bat is what is going to carry him. Shoot, I feel pretty good about him playing left field. He got better and better, or maybe we got more comfortable watching him. He wasn't a train wreck. I could mention to you five or six off the top of your head, you cringe every time the ball went out there. Jonny Gomes, Pat Burrell, Greg Luzinski, Adam Dunn, we could go on and on. Any position I think you can live with a guy that drives in more than you let in. I've seen first basemen, guys behind the plate … Mike Piazza.

Q: Do you think Gattis is better behind the plate than Piazza?

A: Similar. I just remember Mike, the last couple years of his career with his arm, he started (having problems), but he was a little older then. He caught the ball fine. I think Gattis will be a Mike Piazza-type catcher behind the plate. You drive in more than you let in? You play. Then make a defensive substitution in the end.

Q: If McCann goes elsewhere, would you go into spring training thinking Gattis was the odds-on favorite to be your No. 1 catcher?

A: Well (Gerald) Laird is still with us. Maybe you're thinking about (Christian) Bethancourt, give him a chance and bring him along a little bit. You go with Gattis and Laird and throw Bethancourt a bone every once in a while and put Gattis out in left field because we know that he can do it. But Laird, boy he was productive as a backup guy and you love to have him around for the clubhouse also.

Q: Did Elliot Johnson show you enough where you’d be comfortable bringing him back as a utility guy?

A: Yeah, I think so. I think Elliot was a National League player that just happened to be playing in the American League for a long time until he came here. He can steal you some bases. Switch-hitter. Shoot he can play. I love those guys from (Tampa Bay). There are like eight guys on that team that could play five different positions.

Q: If you were making a depth chart going into spring training, who’s your starting center fielder?

A: B.J. (Upton).

Q: Have you experienced guys coming back from bad seasons?

A: I've had guys who've had not good years and come back and had their normal years. Sure. I don't think he's happy about his season. I think the best thing for him and Danny is to say 'Season is over.' Start over next year and see where we're at.

Q: Will you talk to Uggla about doing things differently at the plate, with the helicopter (follow-through) for example?

A: We've been talking about that. (Hitting coach Greg Walker) has been talking to him about that for a while. All the corrections — with everybody not only the guys who've been struggling — you try to fix those problems as long as you have them here. You identify it and try to bring it to their attention, whether it's hitting, pitching, or ground balls.

Q: Would you like to have a traditional leadoff hitter and let Jason Heyward get back to the middle of the order, or is he telling you he belongs up there?

A: He's done both and done pretty good. Last year before he hit third and did pretty good. Yeah, you would like to have that prototypical leadoff guy, sure, and have Jason hit in the middle some place and be productive, but I think the world of him. He brings energy. He can play defense. He can lead off, hit a home run, steal you a base. He can do a lot of different stuff.

Q: Does Simmons get another look at leadoff hitter?

A: He's developing into one of those middle of the lineup guys, for me — 17 home runs this year, and he's still learning how to hit in the major leagues. Again he doesn't have to hit 20. The glove he has, offensively he can do whatever. Maybe not hit leadoff, maybe not third or fourth or fifth, but maybe that sixth or seventh spot, where he could cause some damage. I could see him coming back next year and doing that.

Q: Do you envision Freddie Freeman as a No. 3-hole hitter for the next 10 years?

A: I don't see any reason why not. He's special. He's a guy that could do it. When we put Heyward in the leadoff spot, he really took to that 3-hole. He came in that one day when we put Reed Johnson in the game against Cliff Lee, just to get Reed three or four at-bats before he had to play nine innings. (Freeman batted fourth that day) came in and said, "You're not going to change the lineup?" I said, no, no. I had to explain to him. We've clinched the division, I'm trying to get at-bats for Reed. If I hit him seventh or eighth, it may be the ninth inning before he gets three at-bats. And he goes, "OK, OK." I think he liked being sandwiched in between Justin Upton and Gattis.

Q: Would B.J. be the obvious guy to lead off if he can get it together?

A: Yeah, he's a guy that you could. Of the guys who are on the roster right now, everything being equal, I still like Jason Heyward leading off.