Final Predictions for Who Will Make the Atlanta Braves' Roster
The Atlanta Braves are poised for major success in 2013. As the final roster decisions are debated between Fredi Gonzalez and the front office, remember that the Opening Day roster is just that: an April 1 roster.
Beyond the pageantry of Opening Day, many moves will be made to solidify a roster on the rise.
With a mix of veterans, ascending superstars and young players looking to establish themselves, Atlanta has a deep and diverse group.
Of course, they're led by the Upton-Upton-Heyward outfield that was assembled via free agency and trade.
Here are final predictions for who will make the Atlanta Braves' roster. For the first time in a long, long time, Chipper Jones won't be on this list.
Gerald Laird and Evan Gattis
Star Wars Day at Disney's Wide World of Sports aside, the catching position will have a new look early on for Atlanta.
Former long time back-up David Ross is gone to Boston. Meanwhile, since Brian McCann is slowly recovering from shoulder surgery, Atlanta will trust the staff to a pair of new Braves.
In Laird, Fredi Gonzalez can trust the game to be called well by a veteran behind the plate. Unfortunately, he'll also represent a black hole in the lineup. Over the last seven years, Laird has produced a .300 on-base percentage and an OPS+ well below league average.
Gattis provides youth, a power bat, and mostly, a remarkable journey to the bigs. If he can hit during McCann's absence, there's a chance his versatility will make him the permanent back-up as the season moves along.
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1B: Freddie Freeman
2B: Dan Uggla
SS: Andrelton Simmons
3B: Juan Francisco
Reserves: Chris Johnson, Ramiro Pena
The retirement of Chipper Jones leaves a gaping hole at the hot corner, as well as in the leadership department.
Expect Freddie Freeman to handle the latter, along with stellar production.
Despite battling eye and finger ailments in 2012, Freeman cranked 23 home runs, drove in 94 and posted a .796 OPS as a 22-year-old.
He's a year older, healthier, and thanks to a workout regimen with Dan Uggla, is 11 pounds lighter, but with more muscle.
Uggla led the NL in walks and stands to benefit from the acquisitions of the Upton Brothers.
Simmons has the potential to be the breakout star. This spring, while playing for the Netherlands in the WBC, the 23-year-old shortstop showed increased power and plate discipline.
Francisco and Johnson will platoon at third base, but aren't exactly ideally suited for the alignment. Despite being a lefty-right tag team, the duo doesn't quite profile to mash the pitchers they will face.
In 163 career games against left-handed pitching, Chris Johnson has a replacement level-esque .667 OPS.
If there's a glaring roster weakness in Atlanta, third base is the obvious choice.
Ramiro Pena was an odd choice to give a major league contract to this offseason. During his years with the New York Yankees, Pena rarely showed more than glimpses of being able to handle good pitching.
Considering the spring that former starting shortstop Tyler Pastornicky had, Atlanta general manager Frank Wren might already be regretting the signing of Pena.
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LF: Justin Upton
CF: B.J. Upton
RF: Jason Heyward
Reserves: Reed Johnson, Jordan Schafer
This winter, Atlanta spent $75 million on B.J. Upton and traded Martin Prado and prospects for Justin Upton.
Yet their best outfielder is the lone holdover from last year's trio, Jason Heyward.
If all three can play to their potential, the Braves can field one of the best groups in a generation.
Using FanGraphs' WAR and the top WAR seasons of Upton, Upton, and Heyward's short, but stellar, young careers, the potential is there for greatness.
Projecting an NL MVP out of this group isn't difficult, but deciding which to pick is an arduous task.
Reed Johnson is a classic fourth outfielder, capable of defense, power, and lethal against one type of pitching—left-handers.
With a career .828 OPS against LHP, Johnson gives Fredi Gonzalez the ability to match-up late in games with opposing bullpens and can spell Heyward against a tough lefty during the year.
Schafer is a former Braves prospect back with the organization and out of minor league options.
His speed and defense would make him a prime candidate to be claimed if Atlanta tries to pass him through waivers.
Speed, power, defense, specialists, youth, versatility.
Atlanta is loaded in the outfield for 2013 and beyond.
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1. Kris Medlen
2. Tim Hudson
3. Mike Minor
4. Paul Maholm
5. Julio Teheran
Tim Hudson still may be named the Opening Day starter, but, make no mistake, Kris Medlen has taken the reigns as the staff ace.
Beginning on July 31, Medlen was the best starting pitcher in all of baseball last season.
He started 12 times. Atlanta won 12 times.
His numbers over those 12 starts: 83.2 IP, 84 K, 10 BB, 57 H, 0.97 ERA
Despite a rough spring, there's little reason to think he won't perform at a high level in 2013.
As Tim Hudson advances in age, his craftiness grows. At age 37, the former ace will provide more than credible innings as long as he stays healthy.
If not for Medlen's emergence last summer, Mike Minor would be the rising Atlanta pitcher getting the publicity.
On June 30, Minor walked five Nationals, gave up five hits, and four runs in just five innings. Atlanta lost the game. The young lefty saw his season earned run average balloon to 6.20.
After that night, something clicked. Over Minor's last 15 starts in 2012, he pitched to a 2.21 ERA, while striking out 73 and walking only 18 in 93.2 innings.
As Dave Schoenfield pointed out last September, Minor began to locate his change-up better, thus limiting big damage against right-handed power hitters.
In short, he figured it out.
Maholm, 30, was a rotation stabilizer after coming over in a mid-summer trade with the Chicago Cubs. He won't blow hitters away but can give Atlanta effective innings.
Julio Teheran is the wild card of the group. If he's ready to produce at the level Baseball America projected him for just a year ago, Atlanta has enough pitching to challenge Washington in the NL East.
If you are a believer in spring training stats, you're a believe in Teheran.
Watch out for Brandon Beachy on his return from Tommy John. If he's healthy late in the summer, he has the ability to make a difference.
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Closer: RHP Craig Kimbrel
Set up: LHP Jonny Venters*
Set up: RHP Jordan Walden
Middle reliever LHP Eric O'Flaherty
Middle reliever: RHP Cory Gearrin
Middle reliever: LHP Luis Avilan
Long reliever: RHP Cristhian Martinez
*Venters left a Tuesday afternoon start with a left elbow sprain.
This group starts and ends with Craig Kimbrel. He has surpassed Mariano Rivera for the moniker of best closer alive. If Atlanta can get the ball to him with the lead, games will be closed.
Walden has a back issue and is questionable for the start of the season, but, when healthy, he gives Fredi Gonzalez the luxury of two dynamic setup men to pair in front of Kimbrel.
Walden is a fireballer from the right side. Venters, a former co-closer with Kimbrel, possesses one of the nastiest pitches in baseball: a diving, ducking, hard two-seam fastball.
Eric O'Flaherty will return to his middle relief role, along with Gearrin and Avilan.
Cristhian Martinez is the favorite to be the long man here, over Anthony Varvaro, due to Fredi Gonzalez's familiarity with him in that role over the past few seasons.
As long as Kimbrel, Walden, Venters and O'Flaherty continue to strike batters out at an extreme rate, Atlanta will have the bullpen advantage in most games.
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On paper, Atlanta possesses the second-best roster in the division, behind only Washington.
Every team has ifs heading into the season.
If Atlanta receives positive responses to the following 'ifs', they are headed back to the postseason:
If Brian McCann can return healthy and productive...
If B.J. and Justin Upton can play to their potential...
If Freddie Freeman can take a leap to stardom...
If Kris Medlen and Mike Minor are the pitchers they were in the second half...
If Andrelton Simmons can get on base enough atop the lineup...