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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 will not start Madison Bumgarner on short rest
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:05 am ET) The Giants will not start Madison Bumgarner on short rest for Game 4.

Manager Bruce Bochy admitted he was considering giving Bumgarner the start prior to Game 3, but changed his mind following the game. Bumgarner has thrown a combined 256 innings between the regular season and the postseason, and there's a chance the team didn't want to push him any further, especially on short rest. San Francisco will throw Ryan Vogelsong, as originally planned.


Royals RP Greg Holland shuts it down Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) Royals closer Greg Holland did his job Friday against the Giants.

With his team up by one run, Holland was called upon to pick up the save. He had little trouble against San Francisco. Facing the heart of the team's order, Holland induced a flyout and two groundouts against Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence. He threw just eight pitches, five of which were strikes. 


Giants' Michael Morse comes up big as pinch hitter
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) Giants outfielder Michael Morse came up big as a pinch hitter Friday against the Royals.

Morse got his opportunity in the sixth inning and didn't disappoint. With a man on first, Morse worked an eight-pitch at-bat against Jeremy Guthrie. After starting out 0-2, Morse was able to work the count full. On the eighth pitch, Morse managed to double down the left field line, plating the team's first run of the contest. Morse was replaced by a pitcher in the top of the seventh.


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by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) Royals infielder Alcides Escobar reached base twice Game 3 against the Giants. 

Escobar wound up playing a big role immediately, doubling in his first at-bat. He would come around to score later in the inning, giving the Royals a 1-0 lead. Escobar would strike again in the sixth inning. After a single, Escobar would score from first on an Alex Gordon double. Escobar went on to finish 2 for 4, with two runs scored.


Giants SP Tim Hudson saddled with the loss Game 3
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) Giants pitcher Tim Hudson was saddled with the loss Game 3 against the Royals.

Hudson allowed three runs on four hits over 5 2/3 innings. He struck out two and walked one during the outing. Hudson found himself in trouble immediately. After giving up a leadoff double to start the game, Hudson allowed a run on an RBI-single just a few hitters later. He would settle in at that point, tossing four scoreless frames. 

Hudson ran out of gas in the sixth. Alcides Escobar was able to reach on a single, and was driven home on an Alex Gordon double. After picking up a groundout, Hudson left the game. Javier Lopez came on in relief and allowed an RBI-single against Eric Hosmer. The run would be charged to Hudson. 


Giants to go with Ryan Vogelsong in Game 4
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) The Giants will start pitcher Ryan Vogelsong Game 4 against the Royals.

Manager Bruce Bochy was considering starting ace Madison Bumgarner on short rest, but opted against the decision. Vogelsong struggled in his last start, allowing four earned runs over three innings against St. Louis. He'll oppose Jason Vargas. 


Royals' Jeremy Guthrie pulls out a win in Game 3
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie pulled out a win Friday night against the Giants.

Guthrie allowed two runs on four hits over five innings of work. He did not record any strikeouts or walks during the contest. Guthrie gave up plenty of contact during the start, but was helped out by Kansas City's strong defense. He was excellent over the first five frames, not giving up a run. 

Things began to unravel in the sixth inning. After a leadoff single, Guthrie allowed a run-scoring double against Michael Morse. Guthrie was pulled from the game at that point, but was charged with a second run after Morse would come around to score later in the frame. 

The Royals would hold on to the one-run lead over the last couple of innings, giving Guthrie the win. 


Twins prospect Miguel Sano won't play winter ball
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) Twins infielder Miguel Sano won't play winter ball, according to the St. Paul Pioneer-Press

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White Sox OF Michael Taylor decides to become free agent
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(10/24/2014) The White Sox have outrighted outfielder Michael Taylor to Triple-A Friday.

Taylor declined the assignment, and will become a free-agent. He hit .250 over 28 at-bats with the major-league club last season. The team now has 37 players on the 40-man roster. 


Giants will consider Madison Bumgarner for Game 4
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) The Giants will consider Madison Bumgarner on short rest for Game 4, according to CSN.

As of right now, the team is planning to start Ryan Vogelsong. But if the Giants lose Game 3, there's a chance Bumgarner would get the nod on short rest. Bumgarner allowed one run in the team's Game 1 victory. 


 
 
 
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