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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Atlanta Braves

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Though they didn't get as much attention as the Red Sox, the Braves suffered their own late-season meltdown in 2011, losing the wild card to the eventual World Champion Cardinals on the final day of the season after leading by 8 1/2 games in early September.

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Yup, they were that close in a year when just about everything that could go wrong did. New acquisition Dan Uggla was a black hole in the lineup for the first three months. All-Star Martin Prado hit under .300 -- well under .300 -- for the first time in four years. Emerging face of the franchise Jason Heyward wasn't even good enough to keep his starting job. Tommy Hanson hurt his shoulder. Jair Jurrjens hurt his knee. Brian McCann hit only .180 after returning from a strained oblique in mid-August.

Add it all up, and you can understand why the Braves fell apart so quickly. You can also understand why they won't need much to get back over the hump.

Given their quiet offseason, they apparently feel the same way. But before you pencil them in for another second-place finish in an improved NL East, keep in mind that not all that went wrong for them then is suddenly right now.

The pitching staff, which has always been the foundation of the Braves' success, is the biggest concern. Jurrjens should be fine, but Hanson has to prove himself all over again after sitting with a torn rotator cuff. And Tim Hudson might actually be the most likely to begin the year on the DL following offseason back surgery.

Fortunately, the Braves still have an abundance of minor-league pitchers to step in for Hanson, Hudson or anyone else who can't take the hill, led by elite prospects Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado. They also have a shutdown back of the bullpen with young guns Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.

Between the majors and minors, the pieces are in place for the Braves to return to prominence. All they need is the right mixing and matching and a little better luck.

Bounce-back player ... Jason Heyward, OF

OK, let's all just take a step back here for a minute. Yes, Heyward was hyped as a top-10 Fantasy outfielder last season given the expectation that he'd build off his All-Star rookie season, and clearly, it was an overreaction. But the bigger overreaction would be to assume he's a lost cause after he slumped to a .227 batting average last year. Granted, it was a miserable season -- worse than anyone could have imagined given his elite pedigree and impressive rookie showing -- but it's not without explanation. He developed numbness in his shoulder in spring training and, in an effort to play through the injury, altered his mechanics. His popout rate was through the roof, which is a clear sign his swing wasn't right. With an offseason of rest and the fresh perspective of new hitting coach Greg Walker, Heyward should be in for a bounce-back season. Expecting other-worldly numbers from him would, of course, not be prudent, but even a return to his rookie form would make him a top-25 outfielder.

Breakout ... Brandon Beachy, SP

Beachy went from being a nobody minor-leaguer midway through 2010 to a clear somebody as a rookie last year, leading all full-time starting pitchers with 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings. But his shortcomings ultimately caused him to rank outside the top 60 starting pitchers in Head-to-Head leagues, which is why Fantasy owners still regard him as more of a curiosity than an emerging star. He already has the important stuff down --- the high strikeout rate, the low walk rate and the low hit rate. He already knows how to dominate. The parts of his game that need refinement are the ones that can only come through experience, such as learning how to extend himself both deeper into games and deeper into the season. If he follows the usual progression for young starting pitchers, he'll approach 180 innings this year, which would mean more wins and a significant surge up the rankings. As long as his peripherals don't suffer in the process, Beachy has the makings of a poor man's Zack Greinke.

Sleeper ... Mike Minor, SP

Minor's progression may seem slow to those who have been hearing him hyped in Fantasy for nearly two years now, but keep in mind he's made only 23 starts in the big leagues. He bounced between the majors and minors last year, his full-time arrival delayed by the discovery of Brandon Beachy (hard to argue with that one now, right?), and never got a chance to find his comfort zone. Still, his strikeout and walk rates showed he has the skills to become a top-of-the-rotation-type pitcher, and with Derek Lowe banished to Cleveland, he suddenly has a rotation spot to refine them. The Braves' decision to clear that spot for Minor this offseason should give the 24-year-old a renewed sense of purpose entering spring training. If his performance during his final nine starts last year, when he posted a 3.83 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning, was a sneak peak at what he can do with a defined role, he'll be a late-round find on Draft Day.

2012 Atlanta Braves Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Michael Bourn CF 1 Tim Hudson RH
2 Martin Prado LF 2 Tommy Hanson RH
3 Chipper Jones 3B 3 Jair Jurrjens RH
4 Brian McCann C 4 Brandon Beachy RH
5 Dan Uggla 2B 5 Mike Minor LH
6 Freddie Freeman 1B Alt Randall Delgado RH
7 Jason Heyward RF
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Tyler Pastornicky SS CL Craig Kimbrel RH
Top bench options SU Jonny Venters LH
R Jose Constanza OF RP Eric O'Flaherty LH
R Eric Hinske 1B/OF RP Arodys Vizcaino RH
R Matt Diaz OF RP Kris Medlen RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2011 high Destination
1 Julio Teheran 21 SP Majors Triple-A
Teheran is the best of the Braves' pitching prospects, drawing comparisons to Pedro Martinez. A year younger than Delgado, he'll probably be second in line for a midseason callup.
2 Randall Delgado 22 SP Majors Triple-A
Delgado's numbers exceeded Teheran's in a late-season trial last year, and the Braves think he's ready for a rotation spot now. If Hudson's back holds him out, it's a possibility.
3 Arodys Vizcaino 21 RP Double-A Triple-A
Vizcaino probably has a higher ceiling than Delgado as a starter, but the Braves seem committed to using him in relief right now. He could factor in NL-only leagues.
4 Tyler Pastornicky 22 SS Triple-A Majors
The projected starter will get plenty of attention on Draft Day, but his lack of pop could make him no more than a slightly speedier Ryan Theriot. He's not the best long-term choice.
5 Andrelton Simmons 22 SS Class A Double-A
This would be the Braves' long-term answer at shortstop. Simmons still has a bit of a climb ahead of him and, like Pastornicky, lacks power. But he's a high-upside player.
Best of the rest: Sean Gilmartin, SP; Edward Salcedo, 3B; Christian Bethancourt, C; Anthony Varvaro, RP; J.J. Hoover, RP; Ezekiel Spruill, SP; Matthew Lipka, SS; Joseph Terdoslavich, 1B; Brandon Hicks, 3B; Adam Milligan, OF; Todd Cunningham, OF; Jaye Chapman, RP; Erik Cordier, SP; Todd Redmond, SP; Mauro Gomez, 1B; Cory Harrilchak, OF; and Mycal Jones, SS.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Matt Shoemaker dominates Red Sox Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:29 pm ET) Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker gave up one hit against the Red Sox.

Shoemaker went 7 2/3 innings, giving up one hit and one walk. He struck out nine during the outing. Shoemaker was actually throwing a no-hitter through 6 2/3 innings before Will Middlebrooks doubled. Middlebrooks did not start the game, and was a replacement for Yoenis Cespedes, who left due to personal reasons. Shoemaker gave up his walk in the eighth inning, and was pulled from the game at that point. He threw 116 pitches during the start.

With the win, Shoemaker improved to 12-4. He’ll take on the Marlins in his next start. 


Rubby De La Rosa loses despite strong start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:28 pm ET) Red Sox starter Rubby De La Rosa turned in a strong performance Thursday against the Angels.

De La Rosa allowed two runs on eight hits over 6 2/3 innings. He struck out eight and walked three during the outing. De La Rosa ran into trouble early, giving up a single and a run-scoring double in the first inning. He settled in at that point, tossing five scoreless before the seventh. Erick Aybar led off the inning with a double, and came around to score on a sac fly. De La Rosa was replaced after giving up a single to Mike Trout.

De La Rosa was matched by Matt Shoemaker during the outing, and was a hard luck loser. He fell to 4-5. He’ll take on the Blue Jays in his next start.


Julio Teheran turns in a strong start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:27 pm ET) Braves pitcher Julio Teheran turned in a strong start Thursday against the Reds.

Teheran allowed four hits over six scoreless innings. He struck out three and did not issue any walks during the outing. Teheran was perfect over the first two innings, but hit the leadoff man and gave up a single in the third. Despite those issues, he was able to get through the inning unscathed. The only other time the Reds threatened with Teheran on the mound was in the sixth inning, when Brandon Phillips reached second with a double. Teheran was able to work around the hit. He threw 87 pitches during the outing. 

With the win, Teheran improved to 12-9. He’ll take on the Mets in his next start. 


David Holmberg pounded in loss
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:26 pm ET) Reds pitcher David Holmberg had a rough game Thursday against the Braves.

Holmberg gave up six runs on five hits over 2 2/3 innings. He struck out two and walked four during the outing. Holmberg was able to get through the first without any issues, but was touched up by a solo home run in the second. Things really fell apart in the third. Holmberg loaded the bases with no outs, and couldn’t get out of it. A single and double drove in three additional runs, making the score 4-0. Holmberg was able to get two outs on a sac fly and flyout. He then ran into trouble with his control. Justin Upton was intentionally walked, but Holmberg then hit Julio Teheran with a pitch to load the bases. He walked in the sixth run and was pulled from the game.

With the loss, Holmberg dropped to 0-1 on the year. He’ll take on the Cubs if he receives another start. 


Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz being considered for spot start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:43 pm ET) Athletics pitchers Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz are being considered for a spot start next week, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

The A's want to line up their pitching staff so that their top four pitchers will face off against the Angels in an upcoming series. The team would add either Chavez or Pomeranz for a spot start in this scenario. 


Everth Cabrera could begin running Monday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:04 pm ET) Padres infielder Everth Cabrera will begin jogging Monday, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune

Cabrera is attempting to work his way back from a hamstring injury. He was able to take grounders and hit in the cages Thursday, but won't begin running until Monday. Cabrera hit .232/.272/.300 over 357 at-bats prior to the injury.


Joaquin Benoit could return Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:01 pm ET) Padres pitcher Joaquin Benoit could return Friday, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Benoit was able to get through a bullpen session Thursday, and stressed that he didn't think he would need a trip to the disabled list. He's posted a 1.64 ERA over 49 1/3 innings. 


Dan Otero sent down Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:59 pm ET) Athletics pitcher Dan Otero has been optioned to the minors Thursday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

Otero's stay in the minors should be short, as he's expected back up when rosters expand. He has a 2.28 ERA over 71 innings. Otero was likely sent down in order to make room for Craig Gentry. Gentry is expected back Friday.


Albert Pujols ejected Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:56 pm ET) Angels first baseman Albert Pujols was ejected from Thursday's game against the Red Sox.

Pujols was thrown out in the sixth inning. He struck out earlier in the inning, but was thrown out a few batters later. Manager Mike Scioscia left the dugout to argue balls and strikes, and was immediately tossed from the game. Though Pujols remained in the dugout, he was also thrown out. Pujols went 0 for 3, with two strikeouts before he was ejected. It was just the sixth time in his career Pujols was thrown out of a game. 


Blake Parker is the 26th man Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:40 pm ET) Cubs pitcher Blake Parker will act as the 26th man Thursday against the Giants.

Parker was added for Game 2 of the team's doubleheader. He'll likely be optioned to the minors following the game. Parker has a 6.57 ERA over 12 1/3 innings in the majors. 


 
 
 
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