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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 want to talk extension with Yoenis Cespedes
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington told MLB.com the team plans to discuss a contract extension with outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who hit .260 with 22 homers and 100 RBI. Cespedes is owed $10.5 million next season, the final year of his contract.

Josh Donaldson says his knee feels more 'stable'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson, who's been dealing with a knee injury, said he's encouraged because it feels more "stable" than it did the past couple days, reports CSNCalifornia.com. Donaldson should be in the lineup when Oakland visits the Royals in Tuesday's Wild Card game.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis to stay in the hospital longer
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) Updating an earlier report, Mets outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis is expected to remain in the hospital the next few days while undergoing tests related to the infection he contracted, reports Newsday.

Tanner Roark expected to come out of the bullpen
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark is expected to be used as a reliever in the NLDS despite going 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA in 31 starts this season, reports MLB.com.

Mariners bring Jesus Montero back to 40-man roster
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) The Mariners activated designated hitter Jesus Montero from the suspended list, which puts him back on the 40-man roster. Montero was suspended after getting into an altercation in late August with a team employee in the minors.

Corey Hart designated for assignment
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) The Mariners designated Corey Hart for assignment. The designated hitter had six homers and 23 RBI in 232 at-bats.

Wade Miley, Josh Collmenter 'are locks' for Arizona rotation in 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) New Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart said Monday starting pitchers Josh Collmenter and Wade Miley "are locks" for the rotation in 2015, according to FOX Sports Arizona. Stewart added the team will "have a nice competition for the other spots."

A's reliever Eric O'Flaherty (elbow) throws live BP Monday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) Athletics reliever Eric O'Flaherty threw live batting practice Monday after missing eight days due to a sore elbow, according to Yahoo! Sports.

Offseason foot surgery not needed for Red Sox OF Allen Craig
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington told reporters that outfielder Allen Craig will not need surgery to repair his foot, per MassLive.com.

Craig suffered Lisfranc tear which interrupted his 2013 season and led to a disappointing .215 batting average in 2014. He is hopeful that a full offseason will have his foot back at 100 percent.

"He's just focused on having a good offseason," Cherington said. "I think we've done everything we can to make sure that the foot is OK going forward. No further testing needed."


Red Sox 3B Will Middlebrooks chooses not to play winter ball
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks will forgo playing winter ball and instead spend the offseason in Dallas working out in prep for the 2015 season, according to The Providence Journal.

The Red Sox wanted Middlebrooks to make up for some of the at-bats he lost this season due to injury. However, Middlebrooks decided it was best for him to work on being 100 percent by spring training.

"He’s made a decision he’s going to focus on other things," general manager Ben Cherington said. "He feels like he can address what he needs to address without playing winter ball, so that’s the decision that he’s made. Ultimately, the offseason belongs to the players."


 
 
 
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