Monday, March 11, 2013

30 Team in 30 Days: Atlanta Braves

It was an eventful off-season in Atlanta
 as they acquired both B.J. and Justin Upton,
who look to combine with Jason Heyward
to make one of the best outfields in baseball.
2012 Record: 93-69

Key Additions:

Key Subtractions:

Which New Guy Will Help the Most?
          Of all of the new faces that the Braves have added to the mix this offseason, I have to go with Justin Upton as the player that will help the most. Not that his elder, B.J. won’t help out a lot, but Justin simply has a higher upside as evidenced by his monster 2011 season in which he finished 4th in the NL MVP voting, when he was worth 5.7 rWAR . I expect Justin to put up numbers in between his 2009 and 2011, as he is entering a little more of a pitcher friendly ballpark and has a new team, but still, I expect big things from this 25 year old slugger (something in the 4 WAR range). He'll adjust to playing in a star studded lineup this year, but in 2014 and beyond, there is little doubt in my mind he could be one of the top outfielders in league year in and year out.

Spring Training Battles:
          In Atlanta, there really isn’t a lot of competition for any spots on the diamond other than 3rd base since Martin Prado was dealt to Arizona in the Justin Upton blockbuster, which is between Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson. Both of these guys have shown flashes of brilliance so far in their careers, but have failed to do so consistently over a full season, which is why I see this ending up as a platoon with Francisco playing against RH Pitching and Johnson against LH Pitching. Other than this battle though, there really isn’t much else to speak of in terms of Spring Training battles to watch out for over the next three weeks. It's not an ideal situation for the Braves, especially because they haven't had to worry about the hot corner for years due to future HOF and recently retired Chipper Jones.

Questions Heading Into the Season:
Do the Braves have enough to overtake the Nationals for the NL East crown?
          My answer to this in no and this is simply because of how complete the Nationals are as a unit. They really had no holes heading into the offseason, but still went out and traded for CF Denard Span to be their everyday CF’er and leadoff hitter and signed CL Rafael Soriano to a 2yr/ $26 MM deal in February to solidify an already stacked bullpen (they have 3 closers now!). Pair that with a full season of Stephen Strasburg, Jason Werth, and Byrce Harper, and this team could be deadly comes playoff time. As much as the Braves have improved this offseason, the Nationals are still the better team.

What will Kris Medlen do for an encore?
          This question is a much tougher one to answer as really your guess is as good as mine. Medlen went 10-1 with an unheard of ERA of 1.57 over 138 innings of work. Will he be able to repeat that level of success again? Probably not. Is he still a more that capable starting pitcher in the Big Leagues that has a chance to turn into one of best pitching finds of the last decade? Yes.

Prospect who could have the Biggest Impact in 2013:
          So much has been made about SP Julio Teheran and how he hasn’t lived up to expectations. Let’s give this guy a break, he just turned 22 and although he has a career ERA of over 5, he is still one of the more highly touted young arms in the game, so let’s see what he can do this year before we make any judgment of him. Some might argue that C Christian Bethancourt could have a major impact this year, and that could be the case, but even with Brain McCann missing the first month of the season due to injury, Gerald Laird is likely to become the starter and the Braves don’t want to rush their young catcher at all. I see Teheran posting a line along the lines of a 3.90 ERA, 155 SO, 170 IP which is not too bad considering how young this guy is and how much potential he has.

Projected Roster:
Projected Starting Lineup
1.    Andrelton Simmons (SS)
2.    B.J. Upton (CF)
3.    Jason Heyward (RF)
4.    Freddie Freeman (1B)
5.    Justin Upton (LF)
6.    Dan Uggla (2B)
7.    Chris Johnson/ Juan Francisco (3B)
8.    Gerald Laird (McCann out until Mid- April) (C)
9.    Pitcher

Projected Bench:
Chris Johnson/ Juan Francisco (3B)
Paul Janish (UTIL)
Christian Bethancourt (until McCann is back) (C)

Projected Starting Rotation:
1.    Tim Hudson
2.    Kris Medlen
3.    Mike Minor
4.    Paul Maholm
5.    Julio Teheran
Projected Bullpen:
Eric O’Flaherty (SU)
Jordan Walden
Christian Martinez

2013 Projection: 93-69 (1st Wild Card)
          Other than the Blue Jays, no team in baseball has had a more productive offseason that the Atlanta Braves and I believe that that will show on the field. From signing FA Outfielder B.J. Upton to a 5 yr/ $72.5 MM deal back in November, to acquiring his younger brother Justin in a trade with the D-backs back in January, the Braves really filled their RELATIVEly(get it?) few holes very effectively this offseason. While Georgia’s team may not have enough to take over the best team in baseball, the Washington Nationals, they are certainly front-runners for a wild card spot and a very well positioned to return to the post-season, only this time for a little longer than 3 hours.

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