Could BJ Upton hit leadoff for the Braves?
As of right now the Braves have the core of their 2013 team in place, though they are still looking to acquire a player. That player will fill in the spot vacated by Chipper Jones, though the Braves are more likely to acquire an outfielder and move Martin Prado to third base than they are to acquire a third baseman.
The 2013 lineup is looking very strong for the Braves at this time, even with a hole in it and Brian McCann set to miss some time while he recovers from shoulder surgery. My look at the lineup does project one more move for the Braves this winter, trading for an outfielder that has been heavily rumored to be a trade target for the Braves.
My projected trade to fill out the Braves lineup is bringing in Dexter Fowler from Colorado. The Braves have been pursuing a bunch of different outfielders to fill their last starting spot, and Fowler is the guy with the most rumors attached to him.
Fowler hit .300/.389/.474 with 13 homers and 53 RBI a year ago, though those numbers were inflated a bit by playing his home games in Coors Field. Still, Fowler is a guy capable of handling the leadoff role because of his speed and his ability to get on base. He doesn't have a lot of power, but the fact that center fielder B.J. Upton does would help to make up for that.
Fowler is the most likely of the external candidates to end up a Brave right now. If the Braves were to look from within, their top choices would be Reed Johnson and Jose Constanza, each of whom is better in a platoon or bench situation.
This is an obvious pick as Prado had a very good season in 2012 while hitting second in the Braves lineup. Prado hit .301/.359/.438 with 10 homers and 70 RBI a year ago and also came up with a bunch of clutch hits for the team.
Prado isn't a big power threat, but he has enough pop in his bat to have hit at least 38 doubles in three of the last four seasons. He's also a guy that has been on base at a rate of at least .358 in each of the past five seasons minus his injury-plagued 2011 season. That makes him an ideal candidate to hit at the top of the lineup.
The ideal candidate to fill in the spot left behind by Chipper Jones is the best hitter on the Braves team. That means Fredi Gonzalez needs to look at Jason Heyward to hit in the most important spot in the lineup. Heyward has already proven himself to be the best hitter on the team, so it is time to see if he can handle the responsibility.
Heyward bounced back well from his 2011 season and managed to hit .269 with 27 homers and 82 RBI last year while stealing 21 bases as well. Heyward has power, speed, on-base skills and the ability to come through in the clutch, which makes him a very good all-around player at the age of 23.
Heyward may not have posted eye-popping numbers last year, but his numbers were strong. In fact his numbers in 2012 were strong enough that he finished with some MVP votes (28th place). As he continues to head towards his prime, that should become a common occurrence.
Although Brian McCann may miss the start of the season and is coming off a career-worst 2012 season, he is the most likely candidate to hit cleanup for the Braves. McCann has spent a good part of his career in the cleanup role, and although he may not be a true cleanup type he has been solid in that role.
McCann needs to return to his prior form after a disappointing season. It is a possibility after surgery on his shoulder that he once again becomes an All-Star, as he is a guy with a career .279 average that should hit at least 20 homers and drive in at least 75 runs.
If McCann returns to the player that was an All-Star in each of his first six full seasons, the Braves lineup is set to get a major boost. If McCann can not rebound in 2013, the Braves can push him lower in the order and at least get him to hit 20 homers from the catcher position.
The best candidate to protect Brian McCann is Freddie Freeman. Freeman may have had an up and down 2012 season after suffering an eye injury in Colorado, but his current level of production mixed with his potential make him a guy that Fredi Gonzalez needs to place in the middle of the order.
Freeman hit .259 with 23 homers and 94 RBI last year, but at the end of that Colorado series in early May Freeman was tearing it up. As of May 6th, Freeman was hitting .298 with six homers and 26 RBI. If Freeman didn't get his eye scratched he may have hit 30 homers and driven in 100 runs.
Freeman has the potential to be an All-Star run producer as he enters his prime, as he is only going to be 23 years old in 2013 and already has 45 homers and 171 RBI in 324 career games.
This projected lineup has the newest member of the Braves hitting in the six spot, though if the Braves do not make a move to get Dexter Fowler we could see B.J. Upton at the top of the order. Upton is not a true leadoff hitter, but his speed would allow him to be able to be a threat on the bases.
For now I have Upton in more of a run producing spot, where his bat belongs. Over the past two seasons Upton has hit 51 homers, driven in 159 runs and stolen 67 bases. Upton has the power and speed combination to make him a major threat in the lineup, and putting him here would allow him more opportunities to create runs than he would have lower in the lineup.
Scouts have long believed that Upton has the potential to do even more, and the change in scenery could be the key in unlocking his potential. Upton has the potential to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs from this spot in the lineup.
This is the one spot in the projected lineup that could go either way with BJ Upton and Dan Uggla in the six and seven spots in the lineup. Both Upton and Uggla have power, but with the struggles Uggla has had with the Braves and Upton's ability to be a threat with his legs, I project Upton to hit ahead of Uggla.
Uggla had the worst year of his career in 2012, as he hit put up new career-lows in all three major categories. His .220 average, 19 homers and 78 RBI are all disappointing numbers, but before writing Uggla off, one just has to look at his numbers in the previous two seasons. Over those two seasons Uggla set new career-highs with a .287 average, 36 homers and 105 RBI.
Uggla's two seasons with the Braves have been a major disappointment for him with the exception of a 69-game stretch at the end of 2011. Uggla could rebound, but even if he doesn't return to form he could be a decent source of power at the bottom of the lineup.
Andrelton Simmons had a very strong debut last year, as he hit .289/.335/.416 with three homers in 49 games. He was a bit of a surprise as his bat was better than expected, which makes him even more valuable. As long as he keeps hitting, he is among the best shortstops in the game since he is among the best defenders in baseball.
The only reason that Simmons is hitting eighth is because there is nowhere else to put him. Simmons isn't a true leadoff hitter, nor is he ready for that role, so that spot is out. Martin Prado already occupies the second spot in the order, so again he is out of luck. Simmons isn't much of a power hitter, so that takes away the middle of the lineup. With Dan Uggla's All-Star track record and the potential to bounce back in 2013, that leaves just this spot for Simmons.
The fact that Simmons is hitting eighth just goes to show how strong the Braves lineup is from top to bottom. In fact if Dan Uggla and/or Brian McCann can return to form, this could be one of the best lineups in the game.