Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
My first thought when I sat down to write this preview of the 2014 Atlanta Braves was to start typing about how bad B.J. Upton was in 2013. Then I wondered when I became so negative and cynical. Was I not held enough as a baby? Do I not get enough sun? Have I spent too much time reading YouTube comments?
Research has shown that humans flock to negativity and are more likely to click on critical or pessimistic headlines than positive ones, but I just can’t do it. Despite the disaster that is B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla and the head injury of Jason Heyward, the Atlanta Braves persevered in 2103 and there is a lot of hope for 2014.
So we’re talking flowers and positivity for this post and will adopt as our spirit creatures only holy, blameless creatures like unicorns and red pandas. Maybe a narwal. What’s more, we’ll close this post with an exercise that will reinforce why we should love the Atlanta Braves in 2014. Let’s get started…
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I believe in Jason Heyward. Sure, his inconsistency worries me, but when I think about it, I was pretty inconsistent in my early 20s myself. All signs point to Heyward hitting leadoff in 2014, which is a spot where he absolutely killed it late in the season.
We’ve already seen the best of Justin Upton. Sure, it hasn’t all been in the same season, but we can confidently say that Upton is good for about 25-30 home runs, 90-100 runs, 80-90 RBI, 20(ish) steals and an average between .260 and .290. Good luck predicting if he puts that all together on the high side in one season, as that is something we may never see.
Evan Gattis is the heir apparent to Brian McCann. He won’t do a whole heck of a lot for outside of homers, but he has 25+ power. You’ll get numbers better than Matt Weiters, but a couple rounds later.
More on Freeman below and we have a full profile of Andrelton here.
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The Atlanta Braves have an incredible collection of young arms. But unlike my mint collection of 3.5″ Storm Troopers, the Braves don’t leave their pitching collection mint in package. They open them up and play with them.
I fully suspect that the entire opening 5 will end the season with a sub-4 era. But their youth and fragility may limit innings with some, so the Braves made a shrewd move in signing Gavin Floyd as a nice veteran reclamation project.
Not much can be said about Craig Kimbrel that hasn’t been said before. Over his past two seasons he’s put up a two year stretch that rivals any closer, Dennis Eckersley included. At just 26 years old, he’ll put up another beast of a season in 2014.
We have full profiles of Julio Teheran and Mike Minor’s fly balls (that sounded weird). We look at Alex Wood as you read on, so let’s say a few words about Beachy and Medlen. Beachy had a setback in his TJ surgery, so his health should be monitored closely in spring training. If his price is too high, let another owner take the risk. But if he slides into late rounds or for a buck or two in an auction, don’t be afraid to roster him. We know what his talent level is if he can bounce back.
Kris Medlen finished 2013 like a beast but it was nowhere close to how well he finished 2012. If he can put a full season’s worth of numbers that match his last two second halves (halfs? halfsies?) they’ll be engraving his name on a Cy Young award.
Fantasy Star: Freddie Freeman
Freeman deserves more than just 150 words so we have a full profile here. Freeman has solidified himself as one of the top first basemen in the game as – outside of steals – he provides excellent fantasy production.
I’m not sure about his beard though. Compared to Jason Heyward’s, it looks like Freeman got his beard on layaway. Seriously, does the rest of the beard come later? You’d think a guy with his cash could buy himself a whole beard at full retail value.
Fantasy Bust: Chris Johnson
Too many owners will draft Johnson based upon 2013’s .321 batting average, not understanding that it’s an empty average that doesn’t come with any extra fantasy production.
In fairness, too many will look at his high BABIP and predict he’ll take a total nose dive, a nose dive that doesn’t jive with his .289 career avg. But even hitting a solid .280-.300 won’t help a fantasy team much if a player doesn’t bring more stats across the board.
Prospect Watch: Tommy La Stella
The power in Tommy La Stella whole body doesn’t equal the power in Dan Uggla’s right forearm, but at least La Stella can put the bat on the ball.
La Stella has hit and played solid defense at every level at the minors, ending with him absolutely killing it at Double A last season. He’s a high contact specialist who will cap out around 10 major league home runs, but he’ll also likely strike out less than 13% of the time, which is “striking” next to Uggla’s 31% K rate.
Look for La Stella to push Uggla during the second half of 2014 and if you squint enough he could be a Matt Carpenter lite.
Fantasy Sleeper: Alex Wood
Wood has a delivery that is weirder than Chris Sale‘s. As a result, folks have long predicted he’d either blow out his arm and find a place in the bullpen. But as Chris Sale has shown, it’s working until it’s not working. And Alex Wood sure has been working it.
He logged just 77 major leagues innings last season at age 22, but they were excellent, highlighted by a 3.13 ERA and a 8.9 K/9. The lefty has a great low-90s fastball and a killer changeup, meaning he’ll continue to get outs and be a trendy fantasy sleeper in 2014.
The bad news is that his innings will almost certainly be capped around 160-170, which ultimately limits his ’14 value. Target him mostly in keeper leagues.
I mentioned in the opening that is a lot to complain about in the second half of Atlanta’s lineup (Simmons not included). It’s righty heavy, so tough lefty pitchers will mow them down, but come to think about it, tough lefties mow just about everybody down anyway. While Uggla will almost certainly be out of a job or in a new city by the second half, B.J. Upton has nowhere to go but up.
So let’s focus on the Braves pitching and the top of that lineup, because there is a heck of a lot to love there. I think the best way to show that love is to take a string of popular 80’s songs and replace the word “love” with an Atlanta player’s name. This should be fun!
Crazy Little Thing Called Jason Heyward (Queen)
Making Justin Upton Out of Nothing at All (Air Supply)
Endless Freddie Freeman (Diana Ross and Lionel Richie)
You Can’t Hurry Evan Gattis (Phil Collins)
I Just Called to Say I Julio Teheran You (Stevie Wonder)
I Want to Know What Kris Medlen Is (Foreigner)
The Power of Craig Kimbrel (Hey Lewis and the News)
You Give Mike Minor a Bad Name (Bon Jovi)
OK, that wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be, but the point holds: there is a lot to love about the 2104 Atlanta Braves.
More on the Braves:
All projections in partnership with Tanner Bell of Smart Fantasy Baseball.