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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
Red Sox trade Anthony Ranaudo to Rangers for Robbie Ross
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:40 pm ET) The Red Sox and Rangers announced a two player trade Tuesday where Boston sent Anthony Ranaudo to Texas and the Rangers sent Robbie Ross to the Red Sox, both teams announced.

Ranaudo posted a 4-3 record with a 4.81 ERA in 2014 for Boston in 39 1/3 innings pitched. Ross went 3-6 with a 6.20 ERA in 78 1/3 innings for the Rangers.


Report: Blue Jays also interested in Jonathan Papelbon trade
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(6:20 pm ET) Along with the Brewers, the Phillies have also discussed trading closer Jonathan Papelbon to the Blue Jays, soruces told MLB.com.

Papelbon is due $13 million next season, which is believed to be one of the sticking points in negotiations. In 2014, Papelbon had 39 saves with a 2.04 ERA.


Report: Orioles, Pirates rekindle Travis Snider trade talks
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:50 pm ET) The Orioles and Pirates have revived trade talks regarding Pittsburgh outfielder Travis Snider, a source told The Baltimore Sun. The Orioles are closing in on a framework for a deal for Snider and are encouraged a trade will happen in exchange for one or two minor-league players.

The 26-year-old Snider is in his second year of arbitration and will be a free agent after the 2016 season. He will make $2.1 million in 2015.


Report: Angels, Garrett Richards set arbitration date
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:50 pm ET) The Angels and pitcher Garrett Richards have reportedly set an arbitration date for Feb. 11, according to the L.A. Times.

Talks for the new contract have been moving slowly with no discussion of a multi-year deal coming, according to the report. Richards asked for $3.8 million, but the team only offered $2.4 million.

Richards went 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA in 2014, amassing 164 strikeouts in 168 2/3 innings.


Giants SS Brandon Crawford agrees to $3.175M salary for 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:34 pm ET) The Giants and shortstop Brandon Crawford avoided arbitration Tuesday, agreeing to a $3.175 million salary for 2015, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. Crawford, who is in his first year of arbitration, made $560,000 in 2014.

Crawford just finished his fourth season in the majors and third full season in 2014. He had career highs in triples (10), home runs (10), runs (54), RBI (69), walks (59) and games played (153).


Mariners' McClendon toying with idea of using Wilhelmsen as starter
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:28 pm ET) The acquisition of J.A. Happ means Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon doesn't have to head into spring training with long reliever Tom Wilhelmsen competing for a spot in the rotation.

However, McClendon hasn't totally given up on the idea of Wilhelmsen potentially transitioning to a starting role down the road, per MLB.com.

"I don't think it's totally dead," McClendon said. "I would say it's probably a long shot. My plan, as we speak right now, is to maybe stretch him out in spring and just play with it a little bit and see what happens, but I think it's a long shot. He was just so good in the role he was in, it'd be hard to take him out of that role."

Wilhelmsen pitched multiple innings in 24 of his 57 appearances last year. The former closer went 3-2 with a 2.27 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 79 1/3 innings.

"I really tried not to change anything at all, [other than] try to simplify a little bit," Wilhelmsen said. "If I was going in in the fourth inning, I knew I'd have to throw two or three innings and I just really attacked the zone. But it's not like you don't attack the zone any other time. It's the same thing. You have to get outs."


Tigers' Castellanos works to be 'more comfortable' at 3B in 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:17 pm ET) Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos struggled in his first full year playing third base at the major-league level in 2014, so he is hard at work this offseason improving his defense

"Last year was [about] the actual ground-ball catching," Castellanos said, per MLB.com. "This year is a lot more [about] quickness, working on my range, lateral movement."

On top of committing 15 errors, Castellanos' Ultimate Zone Rating of negative-18.4 was nearly twice as bad as the next-lowest rating among third-base regulars. He also had a Defensive Runs Saved of minus-30 and a plus/minus rating of minus-39, which was lowest in the majors last year.

"I'm going to be more comfortable this year," Castellanos said. "Last year, I knew nobody [in terms of hitting tendencies]. Also I was getting used to the tempo of the game. It wasn't like I was in the big leagues for a while at another position and then had to go to third base. It was pretty much me making my first year in the big leagues at pretty much a new position, or trying to relearn an old position."


Santana, Escobar to compete to be Twins' starting shortstop
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:56 pm ET) While Danny Santana is considered the front-runner to be the Twins' starting shortstop, first-year manager Paul Molitor said nothing has been decided yet. Santana will compete with Eduardo Escobar for the starting job this spring.

"It's probably been one of the more awkward things for me this winter in dealing with that situation," Molitor said, per MLB.com. "Obviously, I have to go in there open-minded about how it will play out. I can't say Santana will be the shortstop because things can change. Escobar deserves an opportunity to play and whether it's spotting around the organization or he has to go back to shortstop, I can't tell you it all will work out."

Escobar started a team-high 86 games at shortstop in 2014 for Minnesota. He made it clear he wants to play every day, but is willing to play where Molitor needs him.

"This season is important for me," Escobar said. "I'm coming in ready to play. I don't know if I'm going to be the starting shortstop or not, but I've been working hard to be ready for spring training. If Molitor wants me to play shortstop, or wherever, I'm ready for it."

Santana said he is excited he is moving back to shortstop after making a team-high 62 starts in center field last year. He's been fielding 200 grounders per day in the Dominican Republic to get ready for the season.

"I'm very happy about playing shortstop. I was waiting for that moment," Santana said. "Shortstop is my natural position. I just need to keep working and I can do the same thing as last year."


Rockies' Bridich: 'Highly unlikely' Tulo, CarGo traded before opener
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:17 pm ET) Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich told FOX Sports on Tuesday that it is "highly, highly unlikely" shortstop Troy Tulowitzki or outfielder Carlos Gonzalez will be traded before opening day.

Tulowitzki, who has been linked to trade rumors involving the Mets this offseason, is under contract through 2020 on a six-year, $118 million deal. He is also recovering from August hip surgery.

Gonzalez is under contract through the 2017 season on a seven-year, $80 million contract. He is also recovering from surgery in August to repair the patellar tendon in his left knee.


Pitcher Johan Santana shut down in Venezuelan Winter League
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(2:46 pm ET) Free-agent pitcher Johan Santana has been scratched from pitching in any of the remaining Venezuelan Winter League championship series games, reports FOXSports.

Santana has been experiencing discomfort in his shoulder. Teams that have indicated interest in Santana include the Yankees, Blue Jays, Padres. Santana's agent said Santana may still throw for major-league scouts, but wasn't sure.

He last pitched in the major leagues in 2012 and produced a 4.85 ERA in 21 starts.


 
 
 
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