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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
Giants' Sabean: No plans to talk to Max Scherzer
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) Giants general manager Brian Sabean said that the Giants have not talked to free-agent pitcher Max Scherzer and have no plans to do so, the Mercury News reports.

Scherzer is the biggest name on the pitching market and could be seeking a deal north of the $155-million pact signed by Cubs pitcher Jon Lester. His price tag may not be feasible for the Giants' budget. The 2013 AL Cy Young winner went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA and 252:63 K:BB ratio in 220 1/3 innings with the Tigers in 2014.


Report: Nick Hundley has two-year offer, unlikely to rejoin Orioles
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) Free-agent catcher Nick Hundley has a two-year offer on the table from an unidentified team, making him unlikely to return to the Orioles, masnsports.com reports.

The Orioles declined a $5-million option on Hundley for the 2015 season but had interest in bringing him back into the fold at a lesser salary. He hit .243/.273/.358 with six home runs and 22 RBI in 218 at-bats between Baltimore and San Diego in 2014.


Report: Phillies could join Asdrubal Cabrera market
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Phillies could become involved in the market for free-agent infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, ESPN.com reports.

The Phillies traded their longtime starter at shortstop to the Dodgers this offseason and will be looking to fill that hole in the infield. However, the team will have to shed some additional payroll in order to make a run at the infielder, according to the report. Cabrera hit .241/.307/.387 with 14 home runs, 61 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 553 at-bats between Cleveland and Washington in 2014.


Rangers release Ben Rowen
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Rangers have released relief pitcher Ben Rowen . Rowen, who was designated for assignment earlier in the week, posted a 4.15 ERA in 8 2/3 innings with the Rangers in 2014 as well as a 3.45 ERA and 31:9 K:BB ratio in 47 innings with Triple-A Round Rock.

Nationals sign Mark Minicozzi to minor-league deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Nationals have signed infielder Mark Minicozzi to a minor-league deal.

Minicozzi, 31, hit .298/.400/.470 with 12 home runs and 62 RBI in 315 at-bats with Triple-A San Jose in 2014. He has yet to appear in a regular-season game in the majors.


Indians sign pitcher Scott Downs to minor-league contract
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Indians announced they signed pitcher Scott Downs to a minor-league contract Saturday.

Downs also received a non-roster invite to MLB camp.


Red Sox, Padres complete Hanigan-for-Middlebrooks trade
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/19/2014) The Red Sox and Padres completed a trade Friday, with catcher Ryan Hanigan heading to Boston in exchange for third baseman Will Middlebrooks, the Red Sox announced.

Hanigan, 34, is signed for two more seasons with a team option for 2017. He hit .218/.318/.324 with five home runs and 34 RBI in 225 at-bats in 2014.

Middlebrooks, 26, is eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2015 season. He hit .191/.256/.265 with two home runs and 19 RBI in 215 at-bats in 2014.


Giants get Class A hurlers for Marlins 3B McGehee
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/19/2014) The Giants are trading minor league right-handers Kendry Flores and Luis Castillo for Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee.

Both pitched at a Class A level last season and averaged more than a strikeout per inning.


Dodgers dump RHP Brian Wilson
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/19/2014) Three days after designating reliever Brian Wilson for assignment, the Dodgers have released him.

Wilson struggled in 2014 after a strong stint upon his arrival with Los Angeles in 2013. He finished the year with a 4.66 ERA and 29 walks in 48 1/3 innings.


Report: LHP Craig Breslow staying with Red Sox
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/19/2014) Left-hander reliever Craig Breslow is set to sign a one-year deal with the Red Sox for $2 million, per WEEI.com.

Breslow pitched for Boston the last two years, but collapsed in 2014 after compiling a 1.81 ERA the previous year. He finished with a 5.93 ERA and 73 hits in 54 1/3 innings.


 
 
 
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