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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
Ryan Vogelsong twirls a gem vs. Brewers
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:35 am ET) Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong twirled a gem and received more than enough run support Friday night against the Brewers, scattering two runs on four hits over seven innings to improve to 8-9 on the season. He struck out seven and walked one in a 13-2 victory.

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Haren gave up two runs, one earned, on five hits over six innings. He struck out three and walked one during the outing. Haren’s first run came as the result of an error. In the second inning, Haren walked the leadoff man. The second batter of the inning would reach on a throwing error by Dee Gordon, advancing the leadoff man to third. A sac fly would plate that run and give Haren the early deficit. The Dodgers would tie the game up the following inning, but Haren couldn’t hold on. With two outs in the fourth, Haren gave up three straight singles. The final hit wound up driving in a run.

Haren wasn't a factor into the decision. He’ll take on the Nationals in his next start.

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by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:15 am ET) Angels pitcher Cory Rasmus will get the starting nod Saturday against the A's, according to the Orange County Register. Rasmus has posted a 2.68 ERA over 37 innings this season out of the bullpen. He has not pitched three innings or thrown more than 51 pitches in an outing this season.

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by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
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Hernandez allowed five runs on 10 hits over seven innings. He struck out one and walked one during the outing. Home runs were a major issue for Hernandez. For the first time in his career, Hernandez gave up four home runs in one game. Anthony Rendon got things started in the first inning, hitting a solo shot off Hernandez. Jason Werth would take Hernandez deep for a two-run shot in the third. In the fourth, two other Nationals got into the act. Both Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos clubbed solo shots, putting five runs on the board against Hernandez. Despite the rough start, he gave the Mariners seven innings.

With the loss, Hernandez fell to 13-5. He’ll take on the Athletics in his next start. 


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Zimmermann allowed two runs on seven hits over six innings. He struck out eight and issued one walk during the appearance. Zimmermann was tagged for both runs early. After picking up a strikeout for the first out of the game, Zimmermann allowed a triple against Dustin Ackley. After a walk to Robinson Cano, Zimmermann gave up two run-scoring singles. He was able to get things together after a visit to the mound. Zimmermann would make it through the next six innings without surrendering another run.

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(1:02 am ET) Athletics pitcher Jon Lester put together another solid start on Friday but was hit with a tough-luck loss against the Angels in Anaheim. The left-hander permitted three runs -- two earned -- on seven hits and one walk while striking out five over six innings of a 4-0 defeat.

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(12:41 am ET) Diamondbacks closer Addison Reed picked up his 31st save Friday against the Rockies.

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