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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Atlanta Braves

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Having gone seven years without a division title, the Braves ended their drought in particularly convincing fashion last year, running away from a Nationals team that was favored to win not only the division, but the World Series. And just like during their 15-year run from 1991 to 2005, their starting rotation carried them.

This one was lacking in star power, though. Fantasy owners already knew of Kris Medlen because of his impossible finish to 2012, but even they underestimated the impact Mike Minor and Julio Teheran would have. Not that either's breakthrough was particularly surprising. Minor was nearly as dominant as Medlen to finish 2012 (though his overall numbers did a pretty good job of hiding it), and Teheran was long considered one of the game's top pitching prospects. Both are top 30 starting pitchers heading into 2014, with Medlen just on the outskirts.

2014 Fantasy Outlooks
A.L. East N.L. East
Orioles Braves
Red Sox Marlins
Yankees Mets
Rays Phillies
Blue Jays Nationals
A.L. Central N.L. Central
White Sox Cubs
Indians Reds
Tigers Brewers
Royals Pirates
Twins Cardinals
A.L. West N.L. West
Astros Diamondbacks
Angels Rockies
Athletics Dodgers
Mariners Padres
Rangers Giants

And there's more where that came from. Yes, Tim Hudson is gone, but that's a bigger loss for the clubhouse than for Fantasy owners. Brandon Beachy flashed ace potential when he first broke into the big leagues and should be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery this spring. Alex Wood has impressive ability but may have to wait his turn, especially if he hasn't claimed the role by the time Gavin Floyd returns from Tommy John surgery in May. Freddy Garcia and David Hale are also in the mix. The bullpen has long been one of this club's strengths, anchored by historically dominant closer Craig Kimbrel. He'll again be the first player selected at his position.

The lineup is a different story. Freddie Freeman emerged as the centerpiece with Chipper Jones retired, but Jason Heyward, who seemed a lock for that role just a couple years ago, can't decide how good he wants to be. He still has superstar potential, but Fantasy owners should know not to overpay for him by now. Justin Upton did fine coming over from Arizona and remains an early-round type with room to grow, but brother B.J. Upton completely fell apart with a .184 batting average, joining Dan Uggla to give the Braves two sub-.200 hitters. A first-place team never had it so good.

Apart from baseball's unpredictable nature, neither offers much hope for a rebound. For Uggla in particular, Fantasy owners are just counting down the days until he loses his job to Tommy La Stella, an on-base specialist with little to offer in terms of power or speed. Upton may be salvageable at age 29 -- he'll get every opportunity in light of his big contract -- but frankly, shortstop Andrelton Simmons and catcher Evan Gattis have become the hotter commodities in Fantasy. Both offer plus power for the positions they play but still have some refining to do.

Bounce-back candidate ... Brandon Beachy, starting pitcher

2014 projected lineup
Player Name Position
1. Jason Heyward RF
2. Justin Upton LF
3. Freddie Freeman 1B
4. Evan Gattis C
5. Chris Johnson 3B
6. Andrelton Simmons SS
7. Dan Uggla 2B
8. B.J. Upton CF
Bench Ryan Doumit C/OF
Bench Jordan Schafer OF
Beachy is a rare example of a player who doesn't make a clean return from Tommy John surgery, needing a second procedure to clear up discomfort in his elbow about a year after the first. Though it wasn't such a good thing for those who drafted him last year, it could be for those hoping to draft him this year. Another year out of the spotlight is another year under the radar, and the potential reward for investing a late-round pick in him is an ace, or at least close to it. Remember: This was one of the more exciting rookie pitchers in 2011, averaging 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 25 starts, and he followed it up with a 2.00 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 13 starts before his procedure in 2012. He wasn't quite as dominant during a five-start stretch late last season, but considering he was pitching with discomfort, he was more effective than he had any right to be. He's expected to enter spring training without limitations, and given his track record so far, that's a dangerous thing.

Bust ... Andrelton Simmons, shortstop

In a different time with a different player pool, Evan Gattis would be the choice here instead of Simmons. He exhibits more of the warning signs with his all-or-nothing approach. But given the current state of the catcher and shortstop positions, Fantasy owners are more likely to overextend themselves for Simmons than Gattis, who seems to be going in a reasonable spot for a player with his power potential. The mistake they make is one so many made with Starlin Castro last year: They bank on improvement. Granted, Simmons makes contact at a much higher rate, so he probably won't get worse, but with all the home run hitters in the Braves lineup, he's in no position to steal bases. His BABIP should improve if he doesn't elevate the ball so much, but then what happens to his 17 home runs? Maybe he gets stronger at age 24 and delivers the best of both worlds -- for an 11th- or 12th-round pick, it's a worthy gamble -- but if you select Simmons in Round 6, as happened in one of our recent mock drafts, prepare to be disappointed.

Sleeper ... Alex Wood, starting pitcher/relief pitcher

2014 rotation/bullpen
Player Name Throws
1. Kris Medlen RHP
2. Mike Minor LHP
3. Julio Teheran RHP
4. Brandon Beachy RHP
5. Alex Wood LHP
ALT Gavin Floyd RHP
Bullpen Breakdown
1. Craig Kimbrel RHP
2. David Carpenter RHP
3. Luis Avilan LHP
4. Jordan Walden RHP
5. Jonny Venters LHP
You wouldn't know it from the relative lack of hype, but Wood's career has mirrored Tony Cingrani's up to this point. Both were passed over in the first round of their respective drafts because most teams considered them relievers coming out of college. Both lack major league-caliber breaking balls but still managed to put up eye-popping minor-league numbers because of their deceptive left-handed deliveries. Cingrani of course did what he did last year. Wood had a 2.18 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings in his first seven starts, but when he faded over his next three, the Braves shifted him to the bullpen, removing him from the spotlight and casting doubt over his future role. But in doing so, they made him dual-eligible in Fantasy. Clearly, they want him starting long-term, but the surplus of fallback options will keep some Fantasy owners from taking the plunge. Still, Cingrani-like numbers out of the relief pitcher slot win championships in Head-to-Head points leagues. Even if Wood begins in the bullpen, it's likely just to preserve his innings for later in the year.

Prospects Report

Tommy La Stella isn't the only rookie knocking on the door in 2014. Christian Bethancourt may eventually split catching duties with Evan Gattis, especially if an injury creates an opening in the outfield, Gattis' secondary position. Bethancourt is considered a better prospect than La Stella, but mostly because of his defensive prowess. Neither is a safe enough bet for mixed-league consideration, but a big spring would give La Stella fringe sleeper appeal. ... As usual, the Braves have no shortage of pitching in the pipeline. David Hale is first in line and opened eyes in two spot starts late last season, but Lucas Sims is the real prize. A first-round pick in 2012, he dominated lower Class A last year, but the Braves won't rush him at age 19. J.R. Graham should hold them over in the meantime. He missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, casting doubt over his long-term role, but he can hit 97 mph with his fastball and is nearly a finished product at age 24.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite .

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Player News
Mets P Jerry Blevins excited about chance with the team
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:21 am ET) Mets pitcher Jerry Blevins is excited about his opportunity with the team, report ESPN.

"I see a huge opportunity with this organization," said Blevins, who is eligible for free agency next winter. "They've got a lot of talent and high expectations. I'm here to do my part. ... We have a chance to shock some people in the East. We've got such high talent. I'd put this rotation against anybody's, and this experience."

In eight innings pitched this spring, Blevins has an ERA of 9.00 with 11 strikeouts and two walks. He has given up eight earned runs and four home runs.


Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka doesn't impress scouts
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(3/31/2015) Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was 1-1 with a 1.74 ERA this spring. More importantly, he remained healthy, despite the partially torn ligament in his elbow.

But scouts contacted by the Daily News weren't impressed with Tanaka's stuff. 

"I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt based on what he did last year," one Major League scout said. "But would I be worried based on what I’ve seen lately? Yeah, I’d have to be a little worried. ... He’s either saving himself for the season or he’s protecting that elbow a little bit, because his fastball has been around 89-90 (mph), with no life on it today. Two-seamer or four-seamer, it was flat and hittable."


Diamondbacks 1B Paul Goldschmidt goes yard in win over Angels
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt homered in the team's 8-7 victory over the Angels on Tuesday, reports Rotoworld.

Goldschmidt, 27, also hit two singles, going 3 for 5 on the day. His performance raised his batting average to .255 this spring. The right-hander also has two home runs and five RBI this offseason.


Clint Barmes shaking off slow spring start
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Padres infielder Clint Barmes is heating up as spring training closes. 

After getting just four hits in his first 23 at bats, Barmes is four for his last 10. Barmes had no extra base hits in his first 23 at bats, he has a double and a solo homer in the last 10. 

"It's just continuing to work on timing and get my legs underneath me, especially early on in the spring," Barmes said, per U-T San Diego. "Once I felt like, a couple weeks in, I started to get my legs underneath me, then it's just been a process of getting the timing down, defensively as much as offensively."


Braves A.J. Pierzynski catches all nine innings, drives in two runs
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski caught all nine innings on Tuesday for the club, reports MLB.com.

Pierzynski went 2 for 5 from the plate, adding two RBI. For the spring, the 38-year-old is batting .344 on 11 hits with one double and one strikeout.


Rays pitchers Colome, McGee, Moore throw bullpen sessions
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Rays pitchers Alex Colome (illness), Jake McGee (elbow surgery) and Matt Moore (Tommy John surgery) were each able to throw bullpen sessions Tuesday as a part of their rehab, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

"(Colome) looks like he feels really good," manager Kevin Cash said. "It's exciting to see."

The trio has yet to see any action this spring as they recover from elbow injuries.


Report: Nationals will pay Rich Hill retention bonus
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) The Nationals will pay pitcher Rich Hill a $100,000 retention bonus if he doesn't make the team, according to a report by the Washington Post, citing a source. As part of the collective bargaining agreement, Hill will receive a June 1 opt-out date, if he isn't called up to the Nationals by that date. 

Report: Kelly Johnson will make Braves' Opening Day roster
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Kelly Johnson will make the Braves Opening Day roster, according to a report by Yahoo's Jeff Passan.

Johnson's versatility helped earn him the spot--he can play three infield positions as well as the outfield. The decision to keep Johnson could be a bad sign for Joey Terdoslavich, who was believed to be competing with him for a bench role. 


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(3/31/2015) The Mariners have traded pitcher Erasmo Ramirez to the Rays in exchange for pitcher Mike Montgomery, the teams announced.

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Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman fine after 'miscommunication'
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman was believed to have suffered a slight hamstring injury in Tuesday's game against the Brewers, but manager Bryan Price may have misunderstood the pitcher, reports MLB.com.

"We went out there to check on him and the hamstring came up, and just with that history we were extra cautious," Price said. "And by the sounds of it, it may be a non-issue completely."

Chapman was visibly upset with Price when he decided to remove him from the game after facing just one batter.

"By the time the smoke cleared, Chappy was back in the dugout and Brayan got back in the dugout after the half-inning, I just think there might've been a misunderstanding," Price said. "So it's fine. It's frustrating for Chappy but in the big picture, nothing critical."


 
 
 
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