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2011 Fantasy outlooks: Atlanta Braves

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After sending longtime skipper Bobby Cox out with one last playoff appearance, their first since 2005, the Braves got right to work on 2011, turning to former Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez to usher in a new era.

But really, that era already began during their years without a playoff appearance. It began with players like Brian McCann and Jair Jurrjens and continued with Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward over the last two years. And it's about to get a whole lot better.

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Returning to their roots of standout starting pitching, the Braves have stockpiled a system with more arms than they can fit into a starting rotation. We got a first glimpse of it last year with Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy, who will compete for a rotation spot this spring, but the best is yet to come with the elite trio of Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado and Arodys Vizcaino, all of whom have the upside to push Hanson for opening day honors over the next decade or so.

Of course, they'll have to continue developing for now. The Braves still have veterans Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe anchoring the staff, not that they're any sort of letdown. Throw in a young bullpen that has strikeout artist Craig Kimbrel ready to step in for retired closer Billy Wagner (and an equally impressive Jonny Venters backing him up), and the Braves shouldn't have any needs on the mound this season.

But what about their lineup? Freddie Freeman joins Jason Heyward in the team's transition to the future, but the veteran presence remains. Chipper Jones may never be the same coming off knee surgery, but the Braves insured themselves with the addition of Dan Uggla, who gives All-Star second baseman Martin Prado the flexibility to play left field or third base and the lineup as a whole its first 30-homer threat since Mark Teixeira left in 2008.

Breakout ... Jason Heyward, OF

Heyward is almost too obvious here. He was practically a must-start in Fantasy last year even though he had a month when he hit only .181 and even though he finished with just 18 homers. The rookie barely scratched the surface of his potential, yet he still found a way to contribute, showing adaptability well beyond his 21 years of age. He ranked 10th among full-time players with a .393 on-base percentage, which means his progression is mostly a matter of him getting comfortable and developing physically. In other words, he could take off as a .300-hitting, 30-homer machine any day now. Even an offseason of rest for his troublesome thumb -- the reason for that one poor month -- could make a world of difference. Heyward comes with an abundance of hype for the second straight season, but he's worth drafting ahead of his numbers as a top-12 Fantasy outfielder given the likelihood he'll finish in the top five.

Bust ... Alex Gonzalez, SS

Granted, nobody thinks of Gonzalez as a savior at the shortstop position, but his performance last year might lead some people to believe he's more useful than he actually is. Truth is he was a one-trick pony, and that one trick -- his 23 homers -- equaled a career high. The 34-year-old isn't at an age when career highs come easily, and this one wouldn't have happened without an especially hot start with the heavy-hitting Blue Jays. After he went to the Braves, he hit a modest six homers in 267 at-bats. Gonzalez's free-swinging ways have always made him one of the worst on-base players in the game, leaving him with nothing to fall back on if he regresses to his usual 12-15 home runs. Shortstop is as weak as ever, meaning Gonzalez no doubt has his place in Fantasy, but he has the potential to go undrafted in mixed leagues.

Sleeper ... Nate McLouth, OF

Fantasy owners were quick to jump off the bandwagon with McLouth, whose fall from grace last year was just as abrupt as his rise to glory in 2008. Some say his demise made all the sense in the world, that he was an overachiever due for a letdown. But to fall that far that fast? He wasn't just fourth-outfielder bad; he was out-of-the-major-leagues bad, spending almost all of August in the minors. But he returned to hit .273 with three homers and three steals in September, looking like the power-speed threat of old. The Braves certainly liked what they saw, giving him the ultimate vote of confidence by entering spring training without a real fallback option in center field. Power and speed are two attributes that tend to stick around for players in their late 20s, making McLouth a bounce-back candidate no matter what the naysayers say. And the best part is he'll cost next to nothing on Draft Day.

Atlanta Braves Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Martin Prado LF 1 Tim Hudson RH
2 Nate McLouth CF 2 Tommy Hanson RH
3 Chipper Jones 3B 3 Derek Lowe RH
4 Brian McCann C 4 Jair Jurrjens RH
5 Dan Uggla 2B 5 Mike Minor LH
6 Jason Heyward RF Alt Brandon Beachy RH
7 Alex Gonzalez SS
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Freddie Freeman 1B CL Craig Kimbrel RH
Top bench options SU Jonny Venters LH
R Eric Hinske 1B/OF RP Peter Moylan RH
R Joe Mather OF RP Eric O'Flaherty LH
R Jordan Schafer OF RP George Sherrill LH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2010 high Destination
1 Craig Kimbrel 22 RP Majors Majors
Won't make the biggest impact long-term, but expected role should make him instant success in Fantasy.
2 Freddie Freeman 21 1B Majors Majors
Projected starter perhaps not as ready as Heyward was last year, but long-term potential is similar.
3 Mike Minor 23 SP Majors Majors
Some doubts when taken seventh overall in 2009, but strikeout rate confirmed top-of-rotation stuff.
4 Julio Teheran 20 SP Double-A Double-A
Pedro Martinez type has most upside in system. Could force way into crowded rotation by midseason.
5 Brandon Beachy 24 SP Majors Majors
Crazy numbers put him on map last season. Not as much upside as Minor but could beat him for job.
Best of the rest: Randall Delgado, SP; Arodys Vizcaino, SP; Matt Lipka, SS; Brett Oberholtzer, SP; J.J. Hoover, SP; Carlos Perez, SP; Edward Salcedo, SS; Christian Bethancourt, C; Erik Cordier, SP; Juan Abreu, RP; Brandon Hicks, SS; Mycal Jones, SS; Adam Milligan, OF; and Tyler Patornicky, SS.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Team outlooks in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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Player News
Dizziness causes Dioner Navarro scratch Thursday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:48 pm ET) A bout with dizziness that prevented Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro from playing Wednesday has also kept him out of the lineup Thursday night against the Yankees. Josh Thole is set to start instead.

Navarro owns a stat line of .282/.324/.410.


Red Sox issue Thursday lineup sans Rusney Castillo
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:42 pm ET) Red Sox ballyhooed rookie outfielder Rusney Castillo is not in the Thursday lineup in Pittsburgh. He had his major league debut Wednesday night and went 1 for 4.

Arismendy Alcantara absent from Thursday lineup
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:38 pm ET) Cubs rookie outfielder Arismendy Alcantara has been ruled out again Thursday against the Dodgers. A wrist issue has caused him to miss the last two games.

Alcantara has been on an all-or-nothing run throughout his time with Chicago. He has nine home runs and 75 strikeouts in 245 at-bats.


Yoenis Cespedes set to sit Thursday night
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:33 pm ET) The Red Sox have benched disappointing left fielder Yoenis Cespedes for the Thursday night game in Pittsburgh.

Cespedes, who has not homered since Aug. 22, has just four hits in his last 34 at-bats and one RBI since Sept. 6.


Pedro Florimon lands with Nationals
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:24 pm ET) The Nationals have claimed veteran infielder Pedro Florimon, who managed just seven hits in 76 at-bats early this season for Minnesota.

Florimon was a regular for much of 2013 with the Twins, but finished that year with a weak stat line of .221/.281/.330.


Manager: Chris Bassitt to receive another starting opportunity
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:39 pm ET) Robin Ventura has right-hander Chris Bassitt pegged for another start this season despite an outing Tuesday in wich he allowed three earned runs on six hits and four walks in just 3 2/3 innings.

"He's going to get another shot at it," Ventura told MLB.com. "I see Bass still throwing in the Detroit series."

Bassitt is currently scheduled to pitch Monday against the Tigers.


Josh Reddick nursing left ankle injury
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:19 pm ET) Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick is dealing with a sore left ankle sustained on a fall heading to first base Wednesday night against Texas. He is being checked by trainers and is not in the lineup for the Thursday afternoon game.

Eury Perez sent packing by Nationals
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:15 pm ET) The Nationals have designated for assignment outfielder Eury Perez, whom they demoted to Triple-A Syracuse in late July.

Perez will likely finish this season without a major league at-bat.


Paul Konerko could be ready to return to plate this weekend
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:59 pm ET) White Sox retiring designated hitter Paul Konerko is slated to return this weekend in Tampa Bay from a fractured hand that has kept him out since Sept. 2. But Robin Ventura doesn't want to rush him.

"I think during the weekend we'll be able to give him hopefully a couple of at-bats," Ventura told MLB.com. "If he's up for it, he can probably DH one of those games."

Konerko could play significantly when the team returns home as he concludes his farewell season.


Stephen Vogt still a no-go Thursday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:50 pm ET) Athletics first baseman Stephen Vogt remains out of the lineup for the Thursday game against visiting Texas. He has been dealing with an ankle issue that has prevented him from playing for two weeks aside from one at-bat Wednesday.

When Vogt returns full-time, he will do so in a 3-for-22 slump.


 
 
 
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