Atlanta Braves: Are They on the Verge of Building MLB's Next Great Dynasty?
From 1991 to 2005, the Atlanta Braves were the best team in baseball.
Thanks to their incredible pitching staff and wealth of young talent, the Braves went 14 straight years without falling short of first place in their division, a feat that may never be repeated.
However, Bobby Cox's Braves could only capture one World Series championship during their reign and will forever be remembered as the team that fell short.
Now, after four years of Philadelphia reign in the NL East, new manager Fredi Gonzalez has the keys to the Corvette and boy, does this engine hum.
Of course, it is premature for the Braves to don the dynasty cape before they have even played one game in 2011, but just for gits and shiggles, let's consider the possibility.
This one is easy.
Brian McCann is the best catcher in Major League Baseball and to be completely honest, Joe Mauer doesn't even come close.
McCann has the power to belt 30 over the fence and the consistency to bat well over .300.
What's the best part? He is only 27 years old and just now entering his prime.
A leader in the clubhouse and a leader in statistics, McCann would be the leader of this "dynasty."
Freddie Freeman is the greatest rookie that the Atlanta Braves franchise has seen since the great Jason Heyward.
Although it is too early to tell, so far in Spring Training, Freeman has shown the world that he can be just as good if not a better hitter than his roommate and that is exciting a lot of Braves fans.
(If this excitement lasts more than four hours, please contact your local doctor.)
Freeman's long list of skills includes above-average defense, power and discipline at the plate and if that doesn't spell Rookie of the Year, I don't know what does.
Because it certainly isn't D-o-m-o-n-i-c B-r-o-w-n.
Unless the evil spirit of Francoeur possesses Freeman, this youngster will be a centerpiece in Atlanta for a long time to come.
For whatever reason, critics like to point out that Dan Uggla is getting old and on a decline, but Uggla had the best season of his career in 2010 and seems to only get better with age.
Uggla is that right-handed presence in the middle of the order that the Braves have been searching for ever since the glory days and all signs point to him making an immediate impact in Hot-lanta.
As long as the slugger can continue to improve defensively and possibly take a more patient approach at the plate, there is no reason not to believe that Uggla can be a force in the dangerous Atlanta lineup for the next five years.
Possibly the biggest question mark on the diamond for the Braves, Alex Gonzalez is far too old to be a part of any future dynasty for the Atlanta Braves.
That is, in no way, an insult to Gonzo's game, but to find a shortstop for this "dynasty," you have to dig a little deeper—all the way to a guy named Tyler Pastornicky.
Pastornicky may be approximately 12 years old, but the "other guy from the Yunel trade" may turn out to be a very valuable acquisition for the Braves.
According to Baseball America, "Pastornicky gives the Braves a solid shortstop prospect with speed or, at worst, a utility player in the making. He's an above-average runner with 108 stolen bases and 78 percent success rate in 251 career games. At shortstop, he has good instincts, plus range and an average arm. Pastornicky's line-drive stroke makes him a potential .275 hitter."
OK, so he's no Hanley Ramirez, but you didn't expect every position to be perfect, did you?
Pastornicky (I'm tired of typing that) is still young and Gonzalez is still the guy at shortstop, but in the long run, Tyler's the man.
Before the Gods strike me down for blasphemy, let me remind you that this slideshow is about the future and not the immediate present.
Right now, the beloved Chipper Jones will man the hot corner in hot-lanta for at least one more year, but in regards to a dynasty, Martin Prado is the third baseman of the future.
I know, citizens of Braves country tear up when talk of Chipper's retirement is even mentioned, but Larry can't play forever... *Sob*
Prado, in my opinion, is the most complete player on the Braves and hopefully, for Atlanta's sake, Frank Wren will pay him accordingly so the Phillies or Yankees don't take him away.
I know, I know, it doesn't make a lot of sense to put the current center fielder on the left field slide, but the next slide should clear things up.
So far this spring, Nate McLouth has been the best hitter on the Braves and there is reason to believe that he is headed toward the best season of his career.
Finally, McLouth has stopped swinging for the fences and started realizing that he is better suited to hit for average and get on base.
As a result of this changed approach at the plate, McLouth is lining balls in the gap and dropping jaws in Spring Training. With that said, McLouth's hefty contract expires after this year (with a club option in 2012,) and nobody knows if Frank Wren is willing to extend the struggling center fielder.
Only time will tell.
Determining a long-term center fielder for Atlanta is going to be tough.
Obviously, Nate McLouth is the center fielder of today, but if prospect Matt Lipka is developed correctly—and aren't all Braves prospects? —then he should be the the go-to guy in center.
Sure, Lipka is like 12 years old, but his bat is solid and he is incredible on the base paths and the fifth grader should have a smooth transition into center field at Turner Field.
Jason Heyward is the right fielder of the future in Atlanta and if Braves fans get their way, Heyward will sign a 50-year contract in 2012 and be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013—all while winning at least 10 MVP awards.
I'm sure you've heard the Heyward speech before: He is the combination of Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., and Hank Aaron, all wrapped up in a shiny, stylish package...His number is dedicated to his deceased best friend...He hit a home run on his first swing in the majors...and how could we forget those clutch, walk-off hits?
But seriously, Heyward is an incredibly special player and he will be a superstar in an Atlanta Braves uniform for many, many years.
Tommy Hanson, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Arodys Vizcaino.... should I keep going, because I can.
The Braves have the deepest, most talented pitching in all of baseball and if you want to argue that, feel free to try in the comment section below.
Other MLB teams have been trying to get their hands on Braves pitching prospects for years and not one team has come close.
In fact, in the trade that sent Javier Vasquez to New York a couple years back, Atlanta acquired Arodys Vizcaino, now one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. How did that one work out Yankees fans?
This is the reason for Braves fans to get excited about the future. This is what the Philadelphia Phillies don't have: young, susperstar-caliber pitchers getting better each and every day, just waiting to get called up to the big leagues.
You don't need me to start throwing stats in your face. You know how to Google. Do some research on every name up there and if you still aren't convinced, remember, I didn't even mention Tim Hudson or Derek Lowe.
Don't be fooled by a couple of shaky outings in spring training, Craig Kimbrel is the real deal and even if the youngster does struggle in the bigs, Johnny Venters is right there to break his fall.
Atlanta has plenty of young arms in their farm system to fill in the missing spots in the bullpen, but until those arms are developed, Peter Moylan, George Sherrhil, Scott Proctor, and Scott Linebrink will do just fine.
Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito were big losses for Atlanta in 2010, but both were toward the end of their careers and if history has taught us anything, it's that dynasties start with the young players.
Yes, the Atlanta Braves are creating a dynasty, and a great one at that.
The only difference between this team and the team of the 90's: this one is better.
The Phillies had their time. Now, they are looking older and older every day, while Atlanta continues it's torrid pace of developing young talent internally.
I guess only time will tell, but if everything falls into place correctly, Atlanta should run away with the NL East this year and for many years to come.
We are looking at the next great dynasty.
You can call me bold, you can call me stupid, you can call me Al.
Thanks for reading. Enter your insults below, Phillies fans.
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