5 Braves Who Will Benefit Most from the Upton Brothers' Addition
Pairing Justin and B.J. Upton together in the Atlanta Braves outfield represents a unique situation for baseball siblings and the future of the Atlanta franchise. Not only will the Upton brothers be expected to replace the production and professionalism of Michael Bourn and Martin Prado, but they'll also be expected to make their teammates better while pushing each other to new heights.
The five-year, $75 million deal signed by B.J. early in the offseason gave Atlanta a power-hitting, defensive stalwart in CF. The seven-player trade for Justin in late January gave Atlanta a 25-year-old former MVP candidate. When combined with Jason Heyward, the Braves could field one of the best outfields in a generation.
As a team, Atlanta is looking to take the next step from playoff contender to champion. The Uptons can lead, but they'll need help.
Here are five Atlanta Braves who will benefit most from the Upton brothers' addition to the team.
Julio Teheran, SP
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Despite being a darling of Baseball America's prospect rankings, the 22-year-old Julio Teheran hasn't been able to crack the Atlanta rotation. His 5.19 ERA over 26 MLB innings hasn't impressed, but the sample size is very small. Instead, his career 3.50 ERA and 8.1 K/9 over 5.14 minor league innings give a better indication to his ability moving forward.
Teheran hasn't disappointed this spring. After Sunday's outing, his spring numbers look rotation-worthy: 20 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 25 K, 6 BB. Fredi Gonzalez all but announced his inclusion in the rotation by saying Teheran will be part of the club "barring something crazy" in the final weeks of spring.
Of course, ample run support and stellar defense are the best friend of any pitcher. The Upton brothers are expected to help improve an offense that finished seventh in the NL in runs scored last year. Defensively, both will play major roles behind a starter that doesn't project as a ground-ball specialist.
Andrelton Simmons, SS
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If you've been watching the Netherlands' run through the WBC, Andrelton Simmons has undoubtedly made an impression. When the regular season starts, he's poised to become a household name.
Defensively, there are few better at shortstop right now. Simmons, 23, has the range, arm and feel for the position that few ever develop. It's not crazy to compare his defensive prowess to Ozzie Smith.
An improving bat could change Atlanta's lineup, though. Despite not profiling as a "true" leadoff hitter due to a low (6.6 percent) walk rate, he'll likely be asked to assume the role after the losses of Michael Bourn and Martin Prado.
While not overly patient at the dish, Simmons is not strikeout-prone. If he can continue to make contact and use his speed and line-drive hitting ability, they will carry him to a solid batting average and good on-base percentage.
From there, he'll be in position to potentially score 100 runs, with the Uptons driving him in early and often.
Jason Heyward, RF
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No matter how dynamic the Upton brothers are in Atlanta, they might be battling for the No. 2 ranking of Braves outfielders.
Using Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index, the first few seasons of Jason Heyward's young career come into full context. Since 1901, only 24 hitters have at least a .352 OBP over 1,600 plate appearances though their age 22 campaign. Names that standout on that list: Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Frank Robinson, Miguel Cabrera...and Justin Upton.
Heyward doesn't need much help on his path to becoming a superstar. He's become exactly the type of all-around threat Atlanta envisioned during his rise through the team's system. If his new outfield partners can help push him to even greater heights, an NL MVP award isn't out of the question.
Freddie Freeman, 1B
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Freddie Freeman has quietly put up a .271/.343/.452 line through his first two big league seasons. With additional help in the middle of the Atlanta lineup, his stature could grow by taking on a "less is more" mentality in the batter's box this season.
While a career OPS+ of 114 is solid, it could grow with increased patience at the plate. Freeman's walk numbers jumped from 53 to 64 between 2011 and 2012. His walk percentage rose from 8.3 to 10.3, while his strikeout percentage dropped from 22.4 percent to 20.8 percent. It's clear that Freeman recognized balls and strikes better in his second full big league season.
That's even more remarkable considering the load Freeman was shouldering due to injuries and lineup construction. He was slotted into the third, fourth or fifth slot in Fredi Gonzalez's order in 135 of his 147 games played last year. Injuries to Chipper Jones and Brian McCann expedited his jump to the middle of the order.
Freeman is more prepared for the task this season. If he can remain patient and pass the baton to the 30-home run potential of the Upton bats, he is an All-Star in waiting.
Dan Uggla, 2B
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Dan Uggla could use the spotlight off of him for a season. Braves fans have good reason to be disappointed in their second baseman. Since signing a five-year, $62 million contract prior to the 2011 season, Uggla has posted a .227/.329/.421 slash line. His .330 wOBA—weighted on-base average—is 78th among qualified hitters over the last two seasons.
Although Uggla's struggles were predictable before Atlanta committed to him long-term, his uneven performance hasn't been horrible.
Despite seeing his home run total dip below 30 for the first time in years, Uggla showed uncanny patience at the plate in 2012 by leading the NL in walks. Of course, some of that was due to batting eighth in front of the pitcher spot. Still, his .348 OBP tied for fourth among all second baseman—behind only Robinson Cano, Ben Zobrist, and Aaron Hill. Even Uggla's defense—always considered below average—was markedly better than in recent seasons.
Bill James of FanGraphs.com projects Uggla for a .238/.341/.421 with 28 home runs in 2013. If he can provide that offense, adequate defense and close to the walk numbers he did in 2012, Braves fans won't cast their ire toward him this year.
Even if he doesn't, the success or failure of the Uptons will take the spotlight off Uggla for the first time since the contract was signed.
Joe Giglio is a MLB Lead Writer covering the NL and AL East. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports.