Standing O Sports is previewing all 30 Major League teams seasons, division by division, team by team. Up next in the National League East is the Atlanta Braves.
What Happened Last Season:
The Atlanta Braves continued to improve after a strong 2012 campaign. Atlanta won 96 games and took the National League East crown for the first time since 2005 last season. It was the second season in a row, and 3rd time in 4-years the Braves made the playoffs, but Atlanta’s season once again ended in disappointment after the Los Angeles Dodgers eliminated the Braves in 4-games in the Division Series. Atlanta has not made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2001 when the team lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Championship Series. There’s plenty of optimism surrounding this Atlanta team entering 2014, and the pieces are in place for them to make a serious run at the title.
The Braves signed the following players to extensions:
First baseman Freddie Freeman: 8-years $135 million
Outfielder Jason Heyward: 2-years $13.3 million
Closer Craig Kimbrel: 4-years $42 million
Starting pitcher Julio Teheran: 6-years $32.4 million
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons: 7-years $58 million
**Lost catcher Brian McCann who signed a 5-year contract with the Yankees
On a non-roster note: Team announced that 2016 would be the teams last at Turner Field with a new stadium set to open in Cobb County in time for the 2017 season.
Take: The Braves are right in the middle of the pack in terms of payroll. Atlanta ranks 16th out of 32 teams sitting at $89.9 million in salary. Still, you have to like the approach General Manager Frank Wren is taking with this team. He’s securing the core, and building a foundation for the Braves to be a great team for not just this year, but many years down the road. Wren certainly has plenty of flexibility to add to this team in the coming years with a more than reasonable payroll. Other GMs in baseball, take notice.
Jason Heyward (RF)
Justin Upton (LF)
Freddie Freeman (1B)
Evan Gattis (C)
Chris Johnson (3B)
Andrelton Simmons (SS)
Dan Uggla (2B)
B.J. Upton (CF)
The Braves lineup has the potential to be the most dangerous in all the National League, but a lot of things have to break the right way. Leadoff hitter Jason Heyward was once upon a time the number 1 prospect in all of baseball. In his first 3-years, he’s looked average at best. Heyward sports a career .259 life-time average, and missed 58 games last season due to injury. Now at age 24, it’s time for Heyward to blossom into one of the games biggest stars.
Justin Upton can be a lethal offensive player, but consistency has been the problem with him. April and August were Upton’s 2 most productive months in 2013. He hit 20 of his 27 home-runs, and drove in half of his 70 RBIs on the season. Manager Freddie Gonzalez would like to see Justin spread those numbers out more evenly in 2014.
Freddie Freeman signed the largest contract in Braves history over the off-season and it’s no secret who GM Frank Wren sees as the player he wants to build around.
Evan Gattis will take over as the teams starting catcher and he’s got power in the cleanup spot. Gattis hit 23 home-runs for Atlanta last season. The bigger issue for Gattis will be guiding Atlanta’s suspect pitching rotation.
Third-baseman Chris Johnson had a career year last year when he came out of nowhere to hit .321. We’ll see this year if last year was just a fluke.
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons signed on long-term this off-season, and took a giant leap forward in the 2nd half of last year offensively. The Braves certainly hope Simmons only gets better this year.
The last 2-spots are occupied by Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton who lets face it, can’t be any worse than they were last year.
Overall, this is one scary looking lineup on paper.
Projected Pitching Rotation:
It’s the biggest question mark for the Atlanta Braves entering the 2014 season, the starting rotation. After a career year last season, 26-year-old Mike Minor will be heavily relied upon to lead what is a highly inexperienced starting rotation. Kris Medlen has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career, and finished last year in dominating fashion.
It’s clear what the team thinks of 23-year-old Julio Teheran who signed on for 6-years over the winter. Teheran got off to a great start in 2013 before tailing off at the end. He was still a rookie though, and Teheran is poised to take that next step this year.
Fourth starter Brandon Beachy has yet to show he’s 100 percent recovered from Tommy John Surgery. Atlanta is counting on Beachy and if he can’t be their every 5th day, the Braves will be in big trouble.
The 23-year-old Alex Wood has only started 11 games in his career, and as of now, looks to be Atlanta’s 5th starter. Wood has just 77.2 innings under his major league belt.
X-Factor: Starting Rotation
The Braves will go as far as the pitching staff takes them in 2014. While there’s too much potential and talent in this rotation, the reality is there are so many question marks. If they can hold hit together, the Braves will be the team to beat. If not, watch out.
Things continue to look up for the Braves, but with an inexperienced pitching rotation, that recent success is all of a sudden in serious doubt. Atlanta capitalized on the Washington Nationals failing to meet expectations in 2013. Don’t expect that to happen again in 2014.
Frankel: 90-72 (2nd in NL East)
AJ: 2nd in NL East
Jack: 1st in NL East
Mike: 2nd in NL East