2015 Season Previews: Atlanta Braves

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Atlanta Braves

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 73-89 (4th in NL East, 26th in MLB)

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez (358-290 in four seasons with Atlanta, 634-569 overall in eight seasons)

Top Three Players: SS Andrelton Simmons (4.1), 1B Freddie Freeman (4.1), Alex Wood (2.3)

Bounce-back Player: LHP Mike Minor

Minor missed some time in the 2014 season due to left shoulder inflammation. The shoulder is a tricky injury to struggle with for pitchers, and Minor struggled, going 6-12 with a 4.77 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over 25 starts and 145.1 innings. He was much more hittable in 2014, which likely has something to do with leaning on his fastball more than ever before. He threw the fastball 61.2 percent of the time (a career-high), while using his change just 8.3 percent of the time (the lowest of his career). Minor has a four pitch mix, using a curve and slider along with the fastball and changeup, so the shoulder issues may have led to some discomfort in mixing his pitches and keeping hitters off-balance. If he is healthy, he could be the same pitcher who posted a 2.90 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over 47 starts (298.1 IP) from July 5, 2012 through the end of the 2013 season, and if that is the case, the Braves have one of the strongest rotations in the National League.

Can Peraza boost the Braves and your fantasy teams? Courtesy: foxsports.com
Can Peraza boost the Braves and your fantasy teams?
Courtesy: foxsports.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: 2B Jose Peraza

Peraza is an interesting fantasy prospect thanks to his speed. He made it to AA last season at the age of 20 and promptly hit .335/.363/.422 over 44 games, while stealing 25 of the 60 that he stole during the entire 2014 season. Atlanta did sign Alberto Callaspo this winter, who could battle Chris Johnson for time at third or Jace Peterson for the Opening Day second base job, but Peraza is the man to watch for the keystone position in Atlanta. He is certainly worth grabbing in dynasty and NL-only leagues due to the potential that he offers with his legs, and he appears to have a similar skill-set to what Luis Castillo brought in his earlier seasons with the Marlins, which likely helped win several fantasy titles. He’s very unlikely to be on the roster when camp breaks, but if he continues to impress in the way that he has since his 2011 debut and the Braves are struggling to find production, this young man could spark the offense.

Offseason Overview: The Braves has a very busy offseason, dealing away more expensive, proven talent for younger, more affordable potential after a disastrous 2014, which saw the team finish 17 games back of Washington in the NL East. Sure, it was good for second place in the weak division, but Atlanta was hoping for more. After re-tooling (and decreasing payroll by approximately $12 million) by dealing Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to St. Louis for RHP Shelby Miller and RHP prospect Tyrell Jenkins,  shipping Justin Upton to the Padres (along with RHP Aaron Northcraft) for a package of prospects (LHP Max Fried, 3B Dustin Peterson, OF Mallex Smith, and 2B/3B Jace Peterson), and moving C/OF Evan Gattis to Houston (with RHP James Hoyt) for 3B Rio Ruiz, RHP Michael Foltynewicz, and RHP Andrew Thurman, the Braves have stockpiled their system with depth while decreasing payroll. The club did add OF Nick Markakis and OF Jonny Gomes to make up for the loss in offensive output, albeit not nearly as intimidating on paper. However, it wasn’t as if Upton and Heyward had been individually producing at Mike Trout levels, even if it will be hard to replace the 9.6 WAR that they combined to post in 2014 with their new additions. They lost Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, and Ervin Santana to free agency from the rotation, but they were able to replace them through the moves or with other candidates, such as the smart minor league contract invites LHP Wandy Rodriguez and LHP Eric Stults. The addition of RHP Jason Grilli to the bullpen in front of RHP Craig Kimbrel shores up the bullpen, especially if he pitches as well as he did for the Angels last season, and especially if he returns to the dominance that he showed in 2013 for the Pirates.

The Verdict: While this may look like a totally different team from the 2014 season, the Braves could be very solid. They will thrive with their pitching and defense, possessing elite-level defenders in Simmons, C Christian Bethancourt, Freeman, and, if he returns to form, B.J Upton (a.k.a. Melvin). The big issue will be their offensive production. By dealing Upton and Heyward, they rid themselves of two players who were set to become free agents after the 2015 season, but Markakis and Gomes really won’t cut it in replacing them. Atlanta must be assuming that there will be further gains for Freddie Freeman, while counting on resurgent seasons from Simmons, 3B Chris Johnson, and Upton. Atlanta may be familiar with having a solid young group of arms, and now with RHP Julio Teheran, RHP Shelby Miller, and LHP Alex Wood at the top of the rotation, there could be reminders of the Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery led youthful rotations that once turned into a dynasty. This is exactly how a team that knows what they’re doing spends an offseason. John Hart will look like a genius for the moves that he has made to rebuild the Braves in a couple of seasons, but it would take some pretty impressive breaks for the team to be a .500 team in 2015.

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