4 Atlanta Braves Most Important to Team's Success in 2013
After back to back seasons with disappointing endings, along with the loss of Chipper Jones and potentially Michael Bourn, the Atlanta Braves will need to have some players step up in 2013 to improve. The only question is who the Braves most need to have strong seasons.
With talented roster it could be hard to pinpoint which players are the most important to the success of the team. This article will take a look at the four Braves who will need to have strong seasons next year for the club to compete for a World Series.
With the retirement of Chipper Jones, the new leader for the Braves lineup becomes catcher Brian McCann. The six-time All-Star had a career-worst season in 2012 as he battled injury, but he still managed to put up fairly solid numbers overall for a catcher.
After the season ended, McCann underwent surgery to fix his shoulder in hopes of regaining his All-Star form in a contract season. This will make him miss the first part of the season, but he should be back toward the beginning of the season.
For the Braves to be strong in 2013, they need McCann to perform like a veteran slugger in the middle of the order. A strong McCann could help offset the loss of Chipper Jones and protect the youngsters in the middle of the lineup, and with David Ross gone, the team no longer has a top backup behind McCann. All of this makes him the most important player to the success of the team in 2013.
At times, it looked like young first baseman Freddie Freeman was about to really break out after his strong rookie season in 2011. However, an eye injury suffered in Denver due to dirt blowing into his eye caused Freeman to go through some pretty big slumps.
To help replace Chipper Jones in 2013, the team really needs Freeman to have a strong season. If he can hit around .280 with 30 homers and 100 RBI, it would go a long way toward shoring up the middle of the order for the Braves, and those numbers aren't too hard for him to reach. Freeman did hit .282 as a rookie and pick up 94 RBI this season to go with his 23 homers.
Kris Medlen started the 2012 season in the bullpen before being sent to the minors to get stretched out in order to join the rotation. However, by the time he was ready, the Braves decided it was better to leave him in the bullpen. The young pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery was having a strong pitching year in that role while Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty weren't automatic in the first half.
When Medlen got a chance to start, he proved all of his doubters wrong and showed them he belongs in a big league rotation. Medlen was easily the best pitcher in baseball over the second half of the season, going 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts. He was so good that he was being compared to Greg Maddux by many around the game.
While Medlen is going to regress at least a little bit, the Braves need him to at least be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter next year now that his opponents have gotten a longer look at him. This is especially important with the team's other ace, Brandon Beachy, who is out for at least half of the season as he recovers from his Tommy John surgery.
The Braves struggled early in the season, especially with pitching. This is due in part to the weak defense at shortstop by Tyler Pastornicky. So it shouldn't have been a surprise when the pitching really picked it up when defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons was called up.
Simmons quickly became one of the best, if not the best, shortstops in all of baseball. However, he also has plenty of value with his ability to be a threat with the bat and on the bases. When he was in the lineup, it gave the Braves a little boost.
The Braves struggled without Simmons overall, the defense suffered when Pastornicky was the starter early on and the offense suffered when Paul Janish took over while Simmons was injured.
The Braves need Simmons to prove that his success with the bat in 2012 isn't due to a small sample size. After coming up from Double-A in the first half, his lack of minor league at-bats could catch up to him, which would not be good for the Braves.