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Ranking the Atlanta Braves' Brightest Young Players to Watch

Lacey DavisContributor IIIFebruary 16, 2014

Ranking the Atlanta Braves' Brightest Young Players to Watch

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    Alex Wood is congratulated after a successful outing.
    Alex Wood is congratulated after a successful outing.Dave Tulis/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Braves are stacked from top to bottom with young stars. However, there are even more young athletes on the team who have yet to become proven veterans in the game. As many players have realized the hard way, one successful season doesn't always equal a successful career.

    Here, I've compiled a list of young stars who have a bright future in the sport. They were ranked by the probability of contributing to Atlanta this season and their chance for success in the majors—although all have already proven themselves at least a little bit.

    Let's take a look at the future of the Atlanta Braves. 

    All stats courtesy of MLB.com

Honorable Mention

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Honorable mention belongs to a few of the young stars who have been a big part of the Braves in the past. The Braves have been fortunate to find several young stars who all seem to want to stay within the organization. 

    Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton are all in their early 20s. They carried the team to first place in the NL East last season and don't show signs of slowing down. The trio will be with the Braves through this season and hopefully for years to come (until their contracts become too expensive or their talents just takes them to other teams).

    Since all three of these players have already proven themselves to be consistently important assets to Atlanta, it didn't seem fair to add them in the ranking, even though they are all young stars within the organization. They are players to watch if you want to see athletic feats and impressive styles of play.

    The rest of the Braves on this list are players to watch because their future seems slightly less concrete compared to the shining stars who are already proven cornerstones of the organization. 

4. Christian Bethancourt

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Christian Bethancourt won’t likely be consistently on the roster in 2014. However, after he improves his offense and Gerald Laird hits the back end of his career, fans will be seeing a lot more of the 22-year-old.

    Considering the fact that Fredi Gonzalez likes the flexibility that comes with having three catchers on the roster, it shouldn’t take too long for Bethancourt to make his way on the roster. One more season in the minors, with a few appearances in the majors, could do wonders for the young catcher’s level of experience.

    Defense doesn’t pose any issues for Bethancourt. He has a strong arm and has shown he can throw from any position he may be in behind the plate.

    Braves general manager Frank Wren seems confident in the catcher’s future. He talked to David Lee of the Augusta Chronicle about Bethancourt’s 2013 performance, “The second half of the season, he was a tremendous offensive player at the Double-A level. We saw what we had hoped to see."

    In the same interview, Wren projected what he expected from the 22-year-old in the future.

    "When he shows he’s ready, he’s going to be our catcher for a long, long time, and we’re excited because we’ll have one of the best defensive catchers. He can really throw and receive, and he’s a very athletic guy."

    Those are bold words coming from the GM. Whether Bethancourt is going to be ready sometime this season or in the near future, Atlanta has a lot to look forward to in the young star.

3. David Hale

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    Twenty-six-year-old pitcher David Hale is definitely a player to watch. Although he only had two appearances for Atlanta in 2013, his future looks bright.

    With the two games that he was given during the season, he made an impression. In his debut he had nine strikeouts and, in the 11 innings total that he pitched during those two games, he had a 0.82 ERA.

    He seems anxious to get his shot at the major league roster in 2014. During the Braves Caravan in Greenville, South Carolina, Hale told Michael Burns of Greenville Online, “They like me in a starter role and a relief role, so I feel like I provide many options for them. Hopefully that’ll give them more of a shot to give me a chance.”

    There may not be many options available for the rookie pitcher in the starting rotation this season but, then again, you never know. Beachy could fail to make a comeback, and the fifth spot on the team is still up for grabs.

    There’s a lot resting on spring training for Hale. If he is able to stay strong in the majors, he could become a true anchor for the pitching staff in the future. It’s hard to tell what exactly is in store for Hale in 2014 but, needless to say, he’ll be making contributions wherever he ends up.

2. Evan Gattis

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Although Evan Gattis isn’t the youngest guy on the team, he’s new to the major leagues, so I felt it was appropriate to put him on this list. After one full season with the Braves, he’s being promoted to the everyday catcher. Brian McCann will certainly be missed, but if Gattis stays consistent with his numbers from 2013, then the transition will be much less painful.

    Many people are familiar with his inspiring story of quitting baseball in college because he was burnt out. He worked as a janitor, ski lift instructor and other odd jobs where you’ll rarely find an MLB-caliber catcher. Long story short, a few years after trying out and making his way up through the minors, he’s now a very loved member of the team.

    The reason I went into his story is because it shows his determination. He’s playing the game because he loves it and knows how lucky he has it now. Gattis has been on the end where he didn’t receive large paychecks for playing the game. The catcher will do what he needs to do to get where he wants to be.

    The only concern about his new role is if he is able to be consistent day in and day out. He played various positions last year including infield, outfield and catcher.

    He batted .243 with a .291 on-base percentage. He was able to come through with his bat in clutch situations.

    He is 27 years old, which isn’t an old player by any means. Also, he hasn’t forced the physical demands of the position on his body for several years up to this point. So, he should be able to last a little longer in the position compared to a player who has been there for a while. His age makes him wiser than the average rookie but less experienced than the average 27-year-old. There are pros and cons to coming in later in your twenties.

    Gattis told Michael Burns of USA Today:

    I can see how you can get tired towards the end of the season catching every day. I still haven't done it yet, so we'll see, but I think the consistency of playing time will be the biggest thing. Also, in catching, I feel like you see so many pitches it kind of does something for your eyes.

    He doesn’t seem worried about his new role but instead ready to see what the future holds. Playing everyday at a position that the pitcher relies on is crucial to the defense of the team. He’s already had the opportunity to prove himself in the majors; this season is all about dependability and consistency.

1. Alex Wood

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    If spring training goes as planned for Alex Wood, he’ll be in the starting rotation at the beginning of the regular season.

    He had his major league debut at the end of May in 2013 and held a 3.13 ERA in 31 games. At 22 years old, he is still a young player who has more experience to gain before becoming one of the standout pitchers on the team.

    Wood is a left-handed pitcher who doesn’t appear to be intimidated when he steps on the mound. He has shown he is able to produce strong innings both as a starter and a reliever.

    Unless he entirely falls apart in spring training, he should be expected to be part of the starting five for the season. His numbers for 2014 might not be as low at first now that batters are more familiar with his style as a starter, but once he gets his bearings, I expect a strong, solid season out of this young pitcher.

    He’s been a member of the bullpen and starting rotation. So, if he happens to have a rough spring or start to the regular season, he might end up as a relief pitcher once again. Regardless of where he ends up, he’ll be gaining more experience this season in order to hopefully be a dependable starter in the future.

    According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he’s been working hard this offseason, along with a few teammates, including Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla and Kris Medlen, with a highly regarded trainer in Duluth. Wood told O’Brien, “I worked as hard as I could, to come in with a chip on my shoulder and try to win a job. I’m excited to get started.”

    Pitching is a crucial, yet somewhat questionable, part of this 2014 Braves team. They need a strong rotation to propel themselves deep into the playoffs (or to even just get to the playoffs in general). If Brandon Beachy has a successful season after his Tommy John surgery and if Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran all have consistent seasons, then it could be a shining spot for the Braves.

    Wood just needs to keep performing the way he has shown he is capable of, and the starting position should be his for the taking.

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