The Atlanta Braves lost the cornerstone of its franchise to retirement leaving fans wondering who the next Chipper Jones will be.
Taking a look at the current roster seems to present two options. Between Jason Heyward's superstar ceiling and Brian McCann's tenure in Atlanta, the majority of arguments likely would focus on one of those two players.
Based on the youth and sky-high potential of the blossoming outfielder, the answer would most certainly appear to be Heyward.
The right fielder played 158 games, raised his batting average 42 points from the previous year and slugged 27 home runs in his third—and most impressive—season in the majors.
J-Hey also became the first 20/20 player for the Braves since Andruw Jones in 2000 and won the first Gold Glove for Atlanta since 2007.
Make no mistake that 2012 was a great year for Heyward, but it doesn't necessarily make him the next Chipper.
So the clear choice has to be veteran Brian McCann—the six-time All-Star catcher who has played eight seasons in Atlanta—right?
McCann had the worst season in his major league career in 2012, underwent offseason shoulder surgery according to ESPN and is in the final year of his contract.
His $12 million dollar option was picked up according to the Braves' official site, but McCann could be reaching the end of the road with his home state team.
Top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt is looming in Double-A Mississippi and hopes to be major league-ready in 2014. McCann's 2013 season will definitely decide his future with the Braves organization, and his shoulder surgery could be a decisive issue in his performance.
Enter Freddie Freeman, the first baseman from Fountain Valley, Calif.
Not a bad start in my opinion.
Throughout the season as I watched Braves games, opponents' broadcasters would comment on how impressed they were with the young first baseman. A couple times I even heard announcers say that they believed Freeman would win a batting title. Remember what Chipper did in 2008?
Well, I agree.
Freeman isn't afraid of taking the ball the opposite way and clearly has the ability to use it.
Will Freddie Freeman develop into the Braves' next great lifetime achiever?
Another interesting point is looking at each player's first two seasons in the big leagues.
Jones- .289 BA, 115 XBH (53 HR), .374 OBP, .493 SLG
Freeman- .271 BA, 111 XBH (44 HR), .343 OBP .452 SLG
While Jones posted his typical numbers we've all come to know so well, Freeman has not been too far behind the future hall of fame third baseman.
Both players happened to finish second in Rookie of the Year voting in their respective seasons as well.
Though Chipper and Freeman play at opposite corners, both players have tremendous fielding abilities.
The 23-year-old must improve his patience at the plate, though, to be in a full comparison with Jones.
Freeman struck out 271 times to just 117 walks in his first two seasons while Chipper went down on strikes 187 times with 160 base on balls.
Even with that knock on the first baseman, he has been a fantastic player for the Braves so far in his career.
It is near-impossible to fully replace a player who brought such dedication, presence and consistency to a single team like Chipper Jones, but Freddie Freeman is a big step in the right direction.
He did send the Braves to the playoffs on a walk-off home run in Chipper's final season after all.
The torch has been passed.
Note: Statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com