Players Who Must Improve for the Atlanta Braves to Contend in 2013

Daniel Kock@@dannykockContributor IIIDecember 13, 2012

Players Who Must Improve for the Atlanta Braves to Contend in 2013

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    The Atlanta Braves have their sights set on improving on their first-round playoff loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012.

    The pieces are in place for them to make a deep run.

    The rotation has depth, the lineup features some young studs, and there is just enough of a veteran presence in the locker room.

    That, along with some key offseason additions, gives the Braves a realistic shot at having a special year in 2013.

    For that to happen, the Braves will need to see improvement from a significant portion of their roster.

    Here's a look at some of the players who have to improve this year for the Braves to take that next step.

1. Dan Uggla

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    If the Marlins' version of Dan Uggla shows up in Atlanta, the National League East better watch out.

    The Braves acquired Uggla to be a powerful, right-handed run-producer in the middle of a lineup dominated by left-handed hitters.

    Uggla has slipped to the bottom third of the lineup on multiple occasions and even lost his starting job at one point last year.

    2013 offers another chance for Uggla to get back to hitting 30 home runs with an .800 OPS.

    Although Uggla hit 30 home runs with Atlanta in 2011, he failed to get close to that in 2012, and his OPS has been below .800 in both years with the Braves. (His OPS with the Marlins never dipped below that mark.)

    A dominant Uggla would arguably give the Braves the most dangerous lineup in the National League in 2013.

2. Brian McCann

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    It was an odd, down year for Brian McCann in 2012.

    The six-time All-Star battled injuries for the majority of the season and never looked like himself.

    McCann underwent shoulder surgery in an attempt to regain his old form in 2013. The downside to the surgery is that McCann will likely miss the first few weeks of the season.

    However, the upside will outweigh the downside if he is once again spraying the ball to all parts of the field with power and average.

    There was much added pressure on the top of the order in 2012 with both McCann and Uggla struggling to produce.

    McCann needs to improve from last year in order for the Braves to have a much more consistent, potent lineup.

3. Kris Medlen

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    How can Kris Medlen improve on a season in which he posted a 10-1 record with a 1.57 ERA?

    Yes, Medlen was incredible in 2012, and words cannot describe just how efficient he was last season.

    However, Braves fans are already declaring him the ace of the 2013 staff and have compared him to former pitcher Greg Maddux.

    Could he be those things? Sure.

    To make that happen he's going to have to make adjustments.

    Medlen has not pitched more than 150 innings or started more than 14 games in a season in his career. He will need to prepare this offseason to pitch much more than he ever has.

    You can also bet the National League will be watching film on him and learn his tendencies.

    Medlen will likely have to adjust himself in order to maintain his dominance on the mound.

    The Braves are expecting a lot from Medlen in 2013, and he will need to make strides in his game this offseason to meet those expectations.

4. Andrelton Simmons

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    Andrelton Simmons emerged as a potential superstar with his play in 2012.

    Everyone knew about his excellent fielding, but Simmons surprised everyone with his success at the plate.

    In 49 games, Simmons hit .289 with 19 RBIs and a .751 OPS.

    Much like with Medlen, the Braves are expecting a lot from Simmons in 2013. He is now the unquestionable everyday shortstop and a key contributor in the lineup.

    The Braves have not added a leadoff hitter so far this offseason, and it appears Simmons could see some time at that top spot as the current roster looks.

    That will be a big test and opportunity for a player entering his first full season at the major league level.

    To make the most of that opportunity, Simmons needs to continue to listen to hitting coach Greg Walker and the veteran hitters in the lineup.

5. Randall Delgado/Julio Teheran

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    It appears the Braves are unlikely to deal either Randall Delgado or Julio Teheran.

    While both were rumored as potential trade bait for the Braves to acquire a left fielder, general manager Frank Wren has been careful to not force a deal involving either player.

    The Braves will need one to clearly establish himself as the No. 5 pitcher in the rotation, but the other will also be called upon to contribute in 2013.

    Brandon Beachy will be out a large portion of the year, so that means Delgado or Teheran will have to be a consistent everyday starter at the big league level.

    The other will get some spot starts unless the Braves are extremely lucky with injuries to their pitching rotation.

    This means that both need to be ready to make the jump from top prospect to a major league pitcher.