2008 MLB Preview: Atlanta Braves
Manager: Bobby Cox
Arrivals: OF Josh Anderson, SP Tom Glavine, IF Omar Infante, SP Jair Jurrjens, OF Mark Kotsay, C Javy Lopez, RP Will Ohman
Departures: SP Lance Cormier, P Joey Devine, RP Octavio Dotel, 1B Julio Franco*, OF Willie Harris, OF Andruw Jones, RP Ron Mahay, IF Pete Orr, RP Chad Paronto, SS Edgar Renteria, RP Oscar Villareal
Offseason grade: B
With the [re]addition of Tom Glavine, Atlanta's rotation will be formidable in 2008. Tim Hudson and John Smoltz both were excellent in 2007 and there's no reason to think they can't repeat that performance in 2008.
The last two spots in the rotation will go to either Mike Hampton, Chuck James, Jair Jurrjens, Jo-Jo Reyes, Jeff Bennett, or Buddy Carlyle depending on who performs well in Spring Training.
If Hampton is healthy, look for him to take the fourth spot in the rotation. However, Hampton has proved to be about as durable as a piece of cheese cloth in the last five years, which means James, Jurrjens, Reyes, Bennet, and Carlyle all have good chances to crack the rotation.
James is probably the best bet of the group to make Atlanta's starting five after pitching well in both 2006 and 2007, going a combined 22-14 with an ERA hovering around 4. However, Jurrjens comes over from Detroit as the key component in the Edgar Renteria trade and will have every chance to prove he deserves a rotation spot in Spring Training. Both Reyes and Carlyle saw time in Atlanta's rotation in 2007 and also could win the spot out of Spring Training as could Bennett.
No matter what happens, there will be great competition for the final two spots in the Braves' rotation during Spring Training. That can only be a good thing for Atlanta, as they will be able to select the two best starters out of a group of six when they break camp in late March.
Starting rotation grade: A (for those that have been reading my previous previews, I definitely underestimated the Braves' rotation when glancing at the pitching in the NL East.)
After six years in the league, Rafael Soriano finally will get the opportunity to be a team's everyday closer this year with Atlanta. Soriano has a great fastball/slider combination that is perfectly suited for a closer's role, where he should have success this year.
Behind Soriano, the Braves have a few good right-handed arms in Manny Acosta and Peter Moylan, but will have to rely on Will Ohman and/or Royce Ring as a left-handed setup man until Mike Gonzalez returns in June or July.
Watch out for Ring, though. He's bounced around a number of teams since being drafted in the first round by the White Sox in 2002, but has good stuff and could be an effective lefty setup man in lieu of Gonzalez in the first half.
After Moylan, the Braves won't have many proven, good arms in their bullpen. Jurrjens, Reyes, and Bennett would be best suited to start in AAA than relieve at the MLB level if they don't make the rotation, but the Braves may be forced to bring one of them up with their lack of bullpen depth.
Bullpen grade: B
Atlanta returns three players from 2007 who had over 100 RBI in Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira, and Jeff Francouer, giving Bobby Cox a powerful 3-4-5 trio in the order. Brian McCann hit well below his career averages last year, and if he can return to the .296 batting average that he sports for his career, the Braves lineup will be that much better.
The much-hyped Yunel Escobar, the reason why Edgar Renteria is no longer in Atlanta, could be in for a big season in 2008. Escobar played about half a season with the Braves last year, hitting .326 over 319 at-bats. If Escobar keeps those stats up, the Braves easily could have five hitters in their lineup hitting at or above .300 at season's end.
An interesting player in the Braves' outfield mix is Josh Anderson, acquired from Houston for Oscar Villareal. Anderson hit .290 over five seasons in the minors--but hitting isn't the best part of his game. Over those five seasons, Anderson stole 238 bases, suggesting that he's the only legitimate stolen-base threat the Braves have. If Mark Kotsay struggles out of the gates, Anderson could take over and be an able leadoff hitter for the Braves.
I think Atlanta's lineup hinges on two things: 1) Chipper Jones staying healthy and 2) Yunel Escobar hitting the way he did in 2007. If both those things happen, the Braves will have a lot of offensive success in 2008.
Lineup grade: A-
Out of principle, the Braves should get an F here for expecting Javy Lopez to be their backup catcher when they break camp. Seriously? Javy Lopez? This isn't 1999, Atlanta.
But I digress. Omar Infante is a very good reserve infielder who can play all four positions in a pinch. Anderson could be a very good pinch-runner in a late-inning situation and Scott Thorman provides some pop off the bench.
Bench grade: B+
To be honest, I never considered the Braves anything more than a third-place team before really looking at them for this preview. Now, I definitely see that this team will compete with the Mets and Phillies for a chance to play into October.
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