For the first time since 2005, the Braves had a realistic shot at making the playoffs last year. They figured to contend this year even if they just stood pat.
Well, they didn't stand pat -- for better or worse. General manager Frank Wren insists he improved the team even though he traded away ace Javier Vazquez and added little more than career disappointment Melky Cabrera and aging slugger Troy Glaus, who might not be such a slugger anymore following shoulder surgery.
Wren also revamped the bullpen, but Billy Wagner's age, not to mention his still-recent return from Tommy John surgery, makes him a bigger risk than the departed Rafael Soriano. Takashi Saito takes over as setup man, but again, he's an older alternative to Mike Gonzalez.
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Fortunately, the Braves' always-deep farm system is once again about ready to pop. Their willingness to settle on Glaus as the big bat they promised fans indicates just how much they expect to lean on 20-year-old Jason Heyward, whose performance this spring will go a long way toward determining how much Matt Diaz plays. If Heyward's destruction of minor-league pitching is any indication, not much. The Braves also have a new ace in 23-year-old Tommy Hanson. He and Jair Jurrjens, an effective if not dominant 24-year-old, give the Braves a long-term solution at the top of their rotation, with veterans Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami and Tim Hudson, himself back from Tommy John surgery, holding down the back end to give the Braves perhaps the deepest rotation in baseball.
As for the rest of the Braves lineup, longtime anchor Chipper Jones took a noticeable step back last year, leaving Brian McCann as the team's only legitimate early-round pick in Fantasy. Of course, Heyward and Hanson might have something to say about that next year. They also might have the greatest say in the team's playoff chances this year.
Breakout: Tommy Hanson, SP
Hanson was the most-hyped rookie in Fantasy last season, and he lived up to the hype ... once he got to the majors, that is. If not for the delay, we Fantasy types might already view him as an ace, but because he pitched less than a full season, we have to maintain some skepticism. That sounds like a warning, but it's really more of an opportunity. At age 22, Hanson did nothing to scare anyone away from him on Draft Day, pitching without any of the control and endurance issues that even an immediate breakthrough like Tim Lincecum had to combat at first. You probably can't get him as less than your second starter, but that's still a value considering he already looks capable of contending for the Cy Young award.
Bust: Chipper Jones, 3B
You could blame Jones' downfall last year on a mechanical issue or general wear and tear, but wouldn't you be sidestepping the obvious? The man was 37 years old and still playing like one of the premier middle-of-the-order hitters in baseball, coming off his first ever batting title and finishing with an OPS (1.044) second only to Albert Pujols. Something had to give, and now that it has given, it probably won't give back. For all the injuries Jones has had to endure throughout his career, the fact he maintained such a high level into his late 30s is impressive enough. Even he has his doubts now, suggesting he might retire if he can't bounce back this year. You shouldn't write him off completely, but if you draft him as your starter, you might have a glaring need by midseason.
Sleeper: Jason Heyward, OF
Every five years or so, a player gets an opportunity to achieve superstar status before his 21st birthday. This time around, that player is Jason Heyward. Sure, he tore through three minor-league stops with a .323 batting average and 17 homers in 362 at-bats, but even more notable for a player his age and with his power potential was his 51 strikeouts to 51 walks. Where's the flaw in his game, the way for veteran pitchers to force him into some on-the-job learning? He doesn't seem to have one. Of course, you never know how well a player will fare in the majors until he actually gets there, but considering Heyward's low price tag on Draft Day, he's worth whatever minimal risk he presents. The Braves could lose their heads and delay his arrival until June, but even then, he'd still have time to make an impact.
| ||Pos.|| |
|1||Nate McLouth||CF||1||Derek Lowe||RH|
|2||Martin Prado||2B||2||Jair Jurrjens||RH|
|3||Chipper Jones||3B||3||Tommy Hanson||RH|
|4||Troy Glaus||1B||4||Tim Hudson||RH|
|5||Brian McCann||C||5||Kenshin Kawakami||RH|
|6||Yunel Escobar||SS||Alt||Kris Medlen||RH|
|7||Jason Heyward||RF||Top bullpen arms|
|8||Melky Cabrera||LF||CL||Billy Wagner||LH|
|Top bench options||SU||Takashi Saito||RH|
|R||Matt Diaz||OF||RP||Peter Moylan||RH|
|R||Eric Hinske||1B/OF||RP||Eric O'Flaherty||LH|
|R||David Ross||C||RP||Jesse Chavez||RH|
|Best prospect in baseball. Huge power, high contact rate, patient approach. Braves prepared to lean on him.|
|Almost as sure of a bet as Heyward, but a year behind him. Should routinely hit .300 with plus power.|
|3||Mike Minor||22||SP||Class A||Double-A|
|Seventh overall pick last year out of same Vandy machine as David Price. Frontline SP should rise quickly.|
|4||Julio Teheran||19||SP||Class A||Class A|
|Poise beyond his years, but Braves can afford to move slowly with him. Profiles as a frontline starter.|
|5||Arodys Vizcaino||19||SP||Class A||Class A|
|Prize of Javier Vazquez deal still years away from majors, but in the same class as Minor and Teheran.|
|Best of the rest: Cody Johnson, OF; Craig Kimbrel, RP; Cole Rohrbough, SP; Christian Bethancourt, C; Brandon Hicks, SS; Randall Delgado, SP; Zeke Spruill, SP; Todd Redmond, SP; Adam Milligan, OF; Steve Marek, RP; Rudy Darrow, RP; Eric Campbell, 3B; Matt Kennelly, C; Paul Clemens, SP; and James R. Parr, RP.|
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