Wednesday, March 25, 2015

2015 Pre-Season Profile: Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves are coming off a rare down year, which was followed by an even rarer selling spree this offseason.  What will the team look like when the dust settles?

Last Season
79-83, 2nd in NL East

For only the third time since Bobby Cox took over as manager in 1991, the Atlanta Braves finished with a record below .500.  However, their division was so weak last year it was still good for second place.  There were some good things that happened, but it was also clear by the end of the season that some changes were needed for the team to get back to its expected success.

2015 Additions / Subtractions

Like I said, changes were needed.  Like I said, they were not the changes Atlanta was used to seeing.  The revamped front office saw a roster that was good, but not great.  They also saw a depleted farm system that would be bringing no help in the future.  So the Braves sacrificed some marginal success in the short-term to improve their chances to be great in the long term.  With this mindset, Atlanta dealt Evan Gattis, Tommy La Stella, Justin Upton, and Jason Heyward.  The nucleus that was supposed to bring back the glory days of Braves baseball was gone.  However, the farm system was replenished with top end talent as they began to build towards the future.  The only major additions that will affect the squad this season were Shelby Miller coming over in the Heyward trade and Nick Markakis signing in free agency.  However, the farm system was flooded with new talent, with five of the top 10 and 11 of the top 20 prospects in their system being added in offseason trades this year.  So depending on your definition, this offseason was a success for the Braves.

Most Important Hitter
Chris Johnson

Two years ago, Chris Johnson was winning a batting title while replacing Braves legend Chipper Jones.  Last year, his batting average dropped 60 points.  For the Braves to show any signs of success in the big club this year, Johnson needs to return, maybe not all the way to his 2013 form, but at least start to look like the formidable hitter he did that year.

Most Important Pitcher
Shelby Miller

The Braves have been defined by their pitching ever since the days of Glavine, Smotlz, and Maddux.  Shelby Miller came over from the pitching-rich St. Louis Cardinals in the Jason Heyward deal as a guy who needed a fresh start.  If he is at his best, he could challenge Julio Teheran for the ace of the staff.  However, that potential has not been yet in the big leagues.  With the amount of talent now flowing through the farm system, Miller better figure it out soon or else he may be changing addresses again.  Maybe Atlanta is just what he needed.

Player to Watch
Christian Bethancourt

Why did the Braves let Brian McCann walk in free agency two years ago?  Why did the Braves trade lumberjack Evan Gattis away this year?  Christian Bethancourt is why.  He has been their catcher of the future for years, and after getting a taste of the majors last season, the future is now for this 23 year old backstop.  The Braves were smart bringing in a professional veteran like AJ Pierzynski to mentor Bethancourt throughout the season.  Watch for him to be a standout for the Braves this year.

3rd in NL East

Many predictions show the Braves falling further this year, but there are too many proven pieces left on the club in Julio Teheran, Freddie Freeman, and Craig Kimbrel to see them drop much further than this.  They definitely took a step back this year from where they were a year ago, but it will pay off in the future.  In the meantime, we may need to put up with some Braves baseball that is below the caliber we have become accustomed to.

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