Who Will Become the Atlanta Braves' Next Chipper Jones?

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Who Will Become the Atlanta Braves' Next Chipper Jones?
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Chipper Jones leaves behind a legacy in Atlanta, one that will be a test to match.

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?

Not quite.

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.

Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
Though both are great players, Heyward nor McCann is the next Chipper.

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.

During his September call-up in 2010, Freeman absolutely launched his first career home run off Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay.

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.

A striking similarity is seen in Freeman's spray chart compared to Jones' chart. Both graphs consist of data from 2012 games at Turner Field and are courtesy of FOX Sports.

Freeman isn't afraid of taking the ball the opposite way and clearly has the ability to use it.

Here's the one invalid argument of the day, maybe Freeman stole a little bit of Jones' talent during Chipper's final game against the Miami Marlins.

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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.

Larry Wayne, for example, has a patented barehanded play seen here and also here.

Freeman has already made a name for himself with his range, reaction and glove. He boasts a .994 career fielding percentage in more than 2,500 total chances.

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.

Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Jones and Freeman made a great combination at the corners in 2011 and 2012.

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

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