In 2009 the Atlanta Braves were somewhat of an enigma. They went from an offseason of misses, to a season of offensive frustration, pitching brilliance, offensive brilliance, a late season run, to losing it's last six.
So as we are just weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting, I have been contemplating a few moves the Braves should look at making (or preparing to make) to having a very formidable chance at unseating the Phillies as the National League East champions and beyond.
There was never any question whether or not the Braves had the pitching to compete. I predicted (almost correctly I might add) that the Braves would make the playoffs as the National League East champions. But while taking the season series over the Phillies, they went through constant lulls against less formidable teams. They lacked the same energy they played with against the Dodgers, Phillies, Cardinals, and Mets against the Pirates, Nationals, Marlins, Reds and Diamondbacks. One way they can fix that? Truly unleash Yunel Escobar. Here's a 26-year old Cuban who is ready to take that next step as not only a Shortstop, but also as one of the most fascinating offensive players at the position in the game.
He did have his moments of lapses in the field and off of it, but I think coming into this season, having been schooled a few times by Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones, and his work out partner in Miami, he is more than prepared to infuse the energy this team desperately needs. He batted .341 with RISP and I expect that to only climb as he hovered around .400 for most of the season.
As moves go, this one will no doubt get me killed, but there is a player in that Atlanta bullpen that should be groomed as the next Braves closer once Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito are done.
I will let that marinate for a second while I plead my case. Last season while watching Medlen pitch, I wondered where the young Californian would fit in for the Braves for the future. I didn't see him as a starter because the style and energy which he pitches are valuable for short inning stints. I couldn't see him as set-up relief because I consider it a waste of that bulldog tenacity I liked from the kid. Then as I watched him during the second half gain more confidence, cut his walks in HALF, is ERA better in the second half from 5.85 to 2.80 and strike out more batters (39) than innings pitched (35) I thought it would be intriguing to see him close out games.
This thought was only magnified when I watched him come into that important series against the Dodgers and promptly strike out Ethier, Ramirez, and Kemp in succession and then come out the next inning and strike Mark Loretta before inducing a groundout from Orlando Hudson. His 92-93 mph fastball is well complimented with his pinpoint control and the prettiest change-up this side of the greatest.
These are just a couple of musings as I've watched a more quality Atlanta Braves youth movement. As Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson begin to anchor the rotation I'm excited for Heyward and Freeman to join McCann, Escobar, and McClouth in the lineup. They have the makings of something special here as long as they allow themselves to think outside of the box with a few of the pieces they have now.