The roster of the Atlanta Braves has changed drastically from the start of the 2009 season. Key changes at numerous positions will likely decide whether the Braves make their first playoff appearance since 2005.
2009 Players to 2010 Players (Changes in Bold):
- Kelly Johnson, 2B ----> Martin Prado
- Yunel Escobar, SS ----> Yunel Escobar
- Chipper Jones, 3B ----> Chipper Jones
- Brian McCann, C ----> Brian McCann
- Garret Anderson, LF ----> Matt Diaz/Melky Cabrera
- Jeff Francoeur, RF ----> Jason Heyward
- Casey Kotchman, 1B ----> Troy Glaus
- Jordan Schafer, CF ----> Nate McLouth
My, has this ball-club changed.
So let's start at second base. Martin Prado simply won the job over Kelly Johnson midseason. Prado will hit around .300 and can power about 12 home runs. The home runs seem about around what Johnson would have done, but the average and consistency would be better. Much better.
Shortstop, third base, and catcher stay the same with Escobar, Jones, and McCann, and they are huge pieces for 2010. The Braves will be counting on a bounce-back year from Jones, and they will likely need at least some improvement for a shot to make the playoffs.
In 2009, Garret Anderson patrolled left field and had a solid year despite much of the ire he gained from Braves fans. His replacements this year will most likely be the platoon between Diaz and Cabrera, both who are definitely capable of being able to do more than
Anderson can. Diaz is a player to love; runs hard, clutch hits, great team player. Cabrera will likely be just a solid player, although his defense is above average.
In right field, one former "future of the franchise" will be switched for another. Jeff Francoeur was widely considered to be in the heart of the Braves order for years to come, but his inability to bounce back from a horrible 2008 season resulted in being shipped off to the New York Mets. His replacement will be the kid everyone will keep their eyes on this spring: Jason Heyward. He will likely serve as a big piece to the Braves puzzle in 2010 and most are expecting an average better than Francoeur's .270. Heyward also has solid, above average defense.
At first base, Casey Kotchman will be replaced by Troy Glaus. This is clearly an improvement at the offensive department if Glaus can stay healthy. The Braves should be able to rely on him for 20-25 home runs in 2010. The only minus I see here is the defense. Kotchman would have been a Gold Glove candidate had he stayed in Atlanta, and Glaus will be making the switch from third base.
In center field, Nate McLouth will hope for a better year than last. Although he hit 20 home runs, McLouth's average hovered at around .260 for most the season. The Braves need higher than that for their quick lead-off man. This a clear upgrade over Jordan Schafer, whose wrist wrecked the start of his major league career.
Then there's the pitching staff, from 2009 to 2010 (changes in bold):
- Javier Vazquez ----> Tim Hudson
- Derek Lowe ----> Derek Lowe
- Kenshin Kawakami ----> Kenshin Kawakami
- Jair Jurrjens ----> Jair Jurrjens
- Tom Glavine ----> Tommy Hanson
The trade of Javier Vazquez clearly puts the dominance of the pitching staff back a second. Tim Hudson will be solid, but he can't be expected to put up an ERA lower than 3.00 like Vazquez did.
It will be interesting to see how Derek Lowe rebounds after a dismal 2009 campaign. The Braves' success lies on the shoulders of whether Lowe can improve or not, as Atlanta's payroll is also taking a hit.
Kenshin Kawakami was a solid number four starter last season. After adjusting to the Majors, Kawakami put up an ERA around 3.50, clearly above average. The Braves trust that he can improve, and its safe to predict an ERA around 3.75 for him.
Jair Jurrjens is the true ace of this pitching staff, and it will be tough for him to improve on a fantastic 2009 campaign. Although we shouldn't expect a complete drop off, we are likely to see Jurrjens come down to Earth a little more.
Tom Glavine was penciled in as the fifth starter in 2009, but following his release, super-prospect Tommy Hanson stepped in and performed higher than his already high expectations. This may be pushing it a little bit, but I wouldn't be extremely surprised to see Hanson contend for a Cy Young crown.
In the bullpen, the departure of Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano left big holes. Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito will be the replacements, and should do a decent job. There won't be the same dominance present as there was with Gonzalez and Soriano, but Wagner and Saito shouldn't be a big problem in 2010.
Overall, the Braves roster has improved from the start of the 2009 season. There is room to argue that the second-half lineup of the 2009 Braves was better than the current roster, but there could be some surprises in the 2010 Atlanta Braves.