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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
Cardinals recall Greg Garcia, place Dan Johnson on waivers
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:11 pm ET) The Cardinals recalled infielder Greg Garcia from Triple-A Memphis on Thursday after placing left fielder Matt Holliday on the 15-day disabled list.

The team also designated first baseman Dan Johnson for assignment to clear a spot on the 25- and 40-man rosters for Brandon Moss, who was acquired in a trade with the Indians.


CC Sabathia starts for Yankees, as Michael Pineda goes on DL
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:07 pm ET) Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda was officially placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday due  to a right flexor forearm muscle strain.

CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman reports it is a Grade 1 strain, which is the same injury that kept Yankees closer Andrew Miller out for a month earlier this season.

CC Sabathia was named as the starter for Thursday's game against the Rangers after Pineda was scratched due to the injury.


Cardinals LF Matt Holliday back on DL due to right quad strain
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:02 pm ET) The Cardinals placed left fielder Matt Holliday on the 15-day disabled list Thursday due to a right quadriceps strain. 

The veteran outfielder is on the disabled list for a second time this season due to a right quad strain. He missed 31 games from June 9-July 16 due to the injury. The Cardinals were 18-13 in Holliday's absence.

Holliday appeared in 11 games since his DL activation in mid-July. He hit .207 with one home run, three doubles and five RBI.


Braves land gems Hector Olivera, Paco Rodriguez from Dodgers
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:00 pm ET) The Braves have sent starting pitchers Alex Wood and Bronson Arroyo, as well as closer Jim Johnson to the Dodgers in a three-way trade that brought several prospects.

Atlanta gets infielder Hector Olivera, left-hander Paco Rodriguez and right-hander Zachary Bird from Los Angeles, as well as the Marlins' competitive-balance draft pick in 2016.

The prizes in the trade are Olivera and Rodriguez. The former is batting .348 at Triple-A Olahoma City this season while the latter pitched in 18 games for the Dodgers earlier this year and recorded a 2.61 ERA.

Bird has struggled throughout his minor league career, but does have 95 strikeouts in 89 1/3 innings this year for Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga.

The Dodgers sent several prospects to both teams. First baseman Hector Olivera, lefty Paco Rodriguez and starting pitcher Zachary Bird head to Atlanta while pitchers Victor Araujo and Angel Guzman go to Miami.


Dodgers snag strong starters in deal with Marlins, Braves
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:48 pm ET) The Dodgers have snagged several veterans in a just-completed three-way trade filled with prospects, per Yahoo Sports.

They receive starting pitchers Alex Wood and Bronson Arroyo and relievers Luis Avilan and Jim Johnson, as well as minor league utility infielder Jose Peraza from the Braves. They also get first baseman Michael Morse and starting pitcher Mat Latos from the Marlins.

The Dodgers sent several prospects to both teams. First baseman Hector Olivera, lefty Paco Rodriguez and starting pitcher Zachary Bird head to Atlanta while pitchers Victor Araujo and Angel Guzman go to Miami.

The keys are Wood and Latos, who will likely immediately join the Los Angeles rotation, as well as Johnson, who has been used as the Atlanta closer.

The 24-year-old Wood hasn't performed as well this season as he did in 2014, but he is 7-6 with a 3.54 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 119 1/3 innings.

Latos is 4-7 with a 4.48 ERA, but has come on strong. He has allowed just six earned runs in his last 26 innings pitched.

Johnson has nine saves, but will almost certainly be used behind Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen.


Yankees' Michael Pineda going on DL due to forearm strain
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:31 pm ET) Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda, who was scratched from his start Thursday against the Rangers, will be placed on the disabled list due to a Grade 1 forearm strain, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Pineda is dealing with the same injury that closer Andrew Miller had and missed a month due to it. The Yankees do feel Pineda will pitch again this season.


Report: Yankees SP Michael Pineda won't make Thursday start
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:12 pm ET) A forearm muscle strain will keep Yankees starter Michael Pineda from pitching Thursday night at Texas, per the New York Post, which is further reporting that the injury is not believed to be serious.

The issue could explain his recent struggles. Pineda has lost his last two outings by yielding nine runs on 14 hits in 11 2/3 innings. He is 2-5 in his last seven decisions and has raised his ERA from 3.33 to 3.97.


Report: Tigers receive starters Matt Boyd, Jairo Labourt in deal
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:12 pm ET) The Tigers will receive minor league left-handers Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt from the Blue Jays to go along with fellow pitcher Daniel Norris in return for ace southpaw David Price, per the New York Post.

The 24-year-old Boyd, who has pitched in two games for Toronto, has been lights-out at Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo this season with a 9-2 record and 1.68 ERA. But his ERA in games pitched for the Bisons in 2.77. He has 107 strikeouts in 112 2/3 innings on the year.

Labourt, 21, has pitched all year at Class A Advanced Dunedin. He is just 2-7 with a 4.59 ERA. Walks with been a problem - he has issued 40 free passes in 80 1/3 innings. His fastball has topped out at 95 mph, per fangraphs.com.


Tigers trade standout SP David Price to Blue Jays
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:42 pm ET) Stud southpaw David Price has been traded from the Tigers to the Blue Jays, per CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Aside from the inclusion of Toronto pitching prospect Daniel Norris, details of the deal have yet to be announced. Neither team has confirmed.

Price is enjoying arguably his best season for disappointing Detroit. He is 9-4 and, if maintained, his 2.53 ERA would be the best of his career.

The 22-year-old Norris has made five starts for Toronto this season and owns a 1-1 record and 3.86 ERA.


Scuffling Reds 3B Todd Frazier set to sit Thursday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:29 pm ET) Reds slugger Todd Frazier is not in the lineup for the Thursday night game against Pittsburgh. There has been no word of any physical issue.

He is in a mini-slump with just three hits in his last 27 at-bats. His .271 average is at its lowest point since June 5.


 
 
 
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