The Atlanta Braves have always had great pitching, and looking at the farm system, that isn't going to change any time soon.
While they're dominating the mound, offense remains a point of weakness. Prospects like Jordan Schafer and Jeff Francoeur top a list of disappointing prospects that never panned out.
Trades have been another source of frustration, with players such as Casey Kotchman and Nate McLouth going down in flames. The verdict is still out on Dan Uggla, who had a torrential second half, balanced by a hole-digging first half.
Heading into 2011, the Braves thought they had some rays of hope. Jason Heyward and Martin Prado were both coming off breakout seasons. Instead of keeping that hope, they both struggled.
Brian McCann—Atlanta's only source of consistency—looked to once again carry the lineup on his back.
Then, May hit, and Freddie Freeman lit things up.
The top prospect broke spring training with the big-league club in 2011, and suffered through a miserable March/April—in which he hit .217 with a .695 OPS. Once Freeman hit May, he never looked back, ending the season hitting .282 with a .795 OPS and 21 home runs.
While recent attention has been on super prospects like Heyward and pitcher Julio Teheran, Freeman has continued to grow and develop in the background.
At just 22 years old, the 6'5", 225-lb first baseman from El Modena High School has a chance to turn this team around. His 2011 was phenomenal, and his bat's only going to get better.
Those of you thinking about a sophomore slump, well think again. Despite starting spring slow, Freeman is hitting .382 over his last 10 games. That stretch includes back-to-back games with two home runs.
His spring totals stand at .266/.314/.563 with six home runs and 13 RBI.
Atlanta has something special in Freeman, and that's going to show in 2012. Batting in the middle of the lineup, he's got a chance to support this offense much like McCann has for all his seasons. Together, the duo can be deadly.
The continuing development of Jason Heyward is crucial and something all Braves fans should be interested in. For now, though, I'm keeping my eye on Freeman.