Thursday, February 23, 2012

MLB Preview: Atlanta Braves

2011 Recap
At the end of August, it seemed a foregone conclusions that the Braves had locked up the NL Wild Card, holding an 8.5 game lead with just one month left to play. The Braves stumbled to an 9-18 record in the month, which while bad, would still more than likely find them in the postseason. Unfortunately for Braves fans, the Cardinals went 18-8, beating out Atlanta for the Wild Card by just one game. Despite the unfortunate late-season letdown, the Braves had plenty to be excited about. Rookie closer Craig Kimbrel set the MLB-record for most saves by a rookie (46), while rookie starter Brandon Beachy set the franchise record for strikeouts by a rookie (169). The team also had solid production out of starting pitchers Tim Hudson (16-10, 3.22 ERA), Jair Jurrjens (13-6, 2.96 ERA) and Tommy Hanson (11-7, 3.60 ERA).
Offensively, the Braves had surprisingly steady play from rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman (.282 BA, 21 HR, 76 RBI), as well as typical steady seasons from third baseman Chipper Jones (.275, 18 HR, 70 RBI) and catcher Brian McCann (.270, 24 HR, 71 RBI). Both second basemen Dan Uggla (.233) and outfielder Jason Heyward (.227) struggled making consistent contact at the dish.

New Arrivals
The team added only one player to their 40-man roster in the offseason, left-handed reliever Robert Fish in the Rule 5 Draft. As with most young teams, Atlanta will likely rely on organic growth from its farm system.

Prospect to Watch: RHP Julio Teheran
Teheran has a real shot to crack the starting rotation coming out of Spring Training, as he has solid command, with a fastball that can touch the upper 90's. While not wholely successful in five appearances for the big club last season (1-1, 5.03 ERA, 8 BB in 19 IP), he has two solid secondary pitches (change-up, curve), and his AAA numbers (15-3, 2.55 ERA, 2.54-1 K/BB, .232 OBA) indicate he should project as no worse than a #3 or #4 starter.

2012 Outlook
The team will need to see improved performance from the plate from both Uggla and Heyward this season. Heyward's dip was especially concerning, as he seemed to try and alter his swing to try and hit more home runs when he's more productive as a line-drive hitter. The pitching staff is its strength, as it has three true established starters, as well as a solid bullpen with Eric O'Flaherty (0.98 ERA, 32 holds, 1.09 WHIP) and Jonny Venters (1.84 ERA, 35 holds, 1.09 WHIP) in front of Kimbrel (the reigning NL rookie of the year). While its unlikely the team unseats Philadelphia atop the NL East, I believe they should be competing with the Miami Marlins for a potential Wild Card berth.

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