The 5 Players That Will Make or Break 2012 for the Atlanta Braves

Matt PowersCorrespondent IIApril 1, 2012

The 5 Players That Will Make or Break 2012 for the Atlanta Braves

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    The Atlanta Braves have a bunch of key players that will need to have success in order for the Braves to win a playoff berth in 2012. If some of these guys struggle, the Braves are likely to struggle. However, if some of these guys get on track the Braves could compete for the NL East title.

    This article talks about the five guys that are the most important in terms of the Braves having a good season or a disappointing one. Sure a player like Freddie Freeman could break out or someone else could get hurt, but the five guys in this article have some reason to worry about their 2012 performance.

Jason Heyward

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    Coming into 2010, Jason Heyward was getting compared to the great Ted Williams by fans and media, due to his ability to hit for average and power as well as get on base at a great rate. He was more than just a little successful that season, as he nearly won the NL Rookie of the Year Award. It was an extremely impressive year for a 20-year-old rookie, let alone one that missed a chunk of the season with an injury.

    Heyward came into 2011 with many around the game calling for him to take his game to the next level. After a solid start to the year, Heyward was hurt again. He tried to play through the injury, but that only made things worse as he lost his natural swing and his confidence. Overall it was the worst possible season that anyone could have imagined for the promising youngster,

    Heyward is the most key player to the season for the Braves, as a healthy and productive Heyward makes the Braves offense dangerous, while the 2011 Heyward will be a below-average hitter. Heyward has spent the entire winter trying to re-make his swing as well as get healthy, and he's been hitting for some power in spring even though the batting average isn't too special.

Chipper Jones

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    Chipper Jones announced last week that he was ending his career after the 2012 season, a decision that was right for both him and the team at this point in his career. However, shortly after that announcement there was another announcement, that Jones will miss the start of the season with a knee injury.

    Jones isn't the same player he once was, but he was still an All-Star in 2011. If he can't give the Braves a productive season for about 120 games, the offense could struggle as Martin Prado would likely move to third with Eric Hinske and Matt Diaz splitting left field. A healthy Chipper over 120 games is still significantly better than either of those two guys.

Tim Hudson

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    Tim Hudson is no longer a true ace, but in the last two years since returning from Tommy John surgery he has gone 33-19. He is the leader of the Braves fairly young pitching staff and the guy that would get the ball in a clutch start because he has a bunch of postseason experience.

    Hudson underwent a surgical procedure on his back after the 2011 season ended, and because of that isn't expected to be ready to pitch in a game until the end of April. For the Braves to reach their full potential, they will need Hudson at his best. If he isn't himself when he comes back, it will be an issue.

Tommy Hanson

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    Heading into the All-Star break last year Tommy Hanson was among the best pitchers in the National League, despite being left off of the All-Star team. Hanson looked like he was finally becoming the ace that many projected before shoulder pain caused him to struggle in his next few starts before missing the remainder of the season.

    The Braves need to have a healthy Hanson pitching because they dealt Derek Lowe and can't afford to rely on young prospects Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran at this point. A healthy Hanson would give the Braves rotation one of the top young pitchers in the game and help them match up better with the group that Philadelphia has.

Jair Jurrjens

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    Similar to Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens was having a great year until the All-Star break. Jurrjens may have been the best pitcher in the National League before getting injured, and deserved to start the All-Star Game. The only reason his numbers don't reflect this is because they got a bit inflated because Jurrjens tried to pitch through the injury.

    Jurrjens is important for the same reason that Hanson is, because the Braves don't have Derek Lowe and their top prospects don't appear to be ready for the big time just yet.