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Atlanta Braves 2015 Team Preview

No team looks more different in 2015 than the Atlanta Braves but will their many offseason acquisitions help them contend once again?

Craig Kimbrel

After winning at least 94 games in back-to-back seasons, the Braves finished under .500 for the first time since 2008 last year and had the most turnover of any team in the league this offseason.

The problem is that the team needed to improve their offense and try to keep their above-average pitching staff intact. Instead, the pitching staff appears considerably worse entering the season and the offense doesn’t look any better.

The Braves needed to do a lot this offseason but seemed to make all the wrong moves. So, what can we expect from Atlanta in 2015?

 

Last Season:

Record: 79-83

Runs: 29th

Batting Average: 26th

ERA: 5th

WHIP: 16th

 

Off-Season:

Notable Additions: Shelby Miller, Nick Markakis, Jim Johnson, Michael Kohn, Jason Grilli, Josh Outman, Eury Perez, Jonny Gomes, Eric Young, Eric Stults, John Buck, A.J. Pierzynski, Wandy Rodriguez, Jose Veras, Michael Foltynewicz, Kelly Johnson, Alberto Callaspo, Manny Banuelos

Notable Losses: Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Ervin Santana, Aaron Harang, Jordan Walden, Anthony Varvaro, David Hale, Chasen Shreve, Tommy La Stella, Emilio Bonifacio, Ryan Doumit, Gavin Floyd, Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Ramiro Pena, Gerald Laird

 

2015:

1B: Freddie Freeman, Joey Terdoslavich

Freeman failed to reach 20 home runs for the first time in his career last season, hitting 18, but his doubles skyrocketed from 27 in 2013 to 43 last season, adding another dimension to the All-Star’s bat. Though he didn’t match his fantastic .319 BA, .897 OPS, and 109 RBI from the previous season, his .288 BA, .847 OPS, and 78 RBI are all solid for a first baseman batting in the middle of one of the worst lineups in the league.

The lineup around him might not be much better this season but Freeman is one of the best hitting first basemen in the league. He’s already lighting it up in spring training with two homers, three doubles, and six RBI in just 17 at-bats.

Terdoslavich is a sleeper and while he’s not likely to get a lot, if any, reps at first, he could certainly slide into the outfield. Though his .225 BA through 103 MLB plate appearances don’t pop off the page, Terdoslavich hit for a solid average in the minors, is great at drawing walks, and has hit as many as 20 home runs and a whopping 52 doubles in the minors. Given the state of this lineup, the 26-year-old could certainly find at-bats if he can flash some of that potential in the Bigs.

2B: Alberto Callaspo, Philip Gosselin

The Callaspo signing is a bit of a head-scratcher seeing as his glove is no longer at the level it was with the Angels and Royals and he’s a shell of himself at the plate. He batted just .223 with a miserable .580 OPS with the A’s last season, hitting just 15 doubles and driving in 39 runs. He doesn’t strike out much and walks his fair share but, with his glove no longer as strong as it was in his 20’s, it’s hard to see Callaspo helping the Braves, you know, improve.

Gosselin may work himself into a platoon with Callaspo at second after an impressive run in his first full year in Triple-A. In 96 games with the Gwinnett Braves, Gosselin batted .344 with 39 extra-base hits and 58 runs. He’s not a great hitter but he has a good approach at the plate and a solid glove.

3B: Chris Johnson, Kelly Johnson

After batting .321 in 2013, Chris Johnson batted just .263 last season and saw his OPS freefall from .816 to .653. His 10 HR, 58 RBI, 43 R, and 27 2B are all decent for a third baseman but certainly not good enough to inspire a ton of hope. His 159 strikeouts to just 23 walks last season is perhaps the most alarming number. Given that he doesn’t have a great glove either, the Braves should have looked for an upgrade this offseason.

Kelly Johnson spent time with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Orioles last season and stunk up the joint at every stop. With his glove no longer what it once was, his .215 BA, 27 RBI, and 29 R through 106 games last season were all the harder to stomach. Another head-scratching acquisition by a team that really should have tried harder to improve their offensive needs.

SS: Andrelton Simmons

Stuck in a lousy lineup, Simmons saw his 17 home runs in 2013 drop to seven while his 76 runs fell to 44 and his 27 doubles slipped to 18. We’d like to see Simmons hit for more extra-base hits but his true value is on the field, where he owns one of the best gloves in the league. He has now won back-to-back Gold Gloves and has led the National League in defensive WAR in each of those seasons. In a league that’s increasingly defensive-based, Simmons is easily one of the best shortstops in the game.

C: Christian Bethancourt, A.J. Pierzysnki, John Buck

The Braves are excited about Bethancourt’s ability behind the plate but he still needs more development at the plate to reach his top-100 prospect potential. He hit for a middling .270 BA in 539 minor league games and has never walked more than 17 times in a season. 17. The 23-year-old has become a better extra-base hitter as he’s moved through the farm system, has a bit of speed, and seldom strikes out. With a bit of luck, Bethancourt could blossom into Salvador Perez with double-digit steals.

Pierzynski is on the Braves’ 40-man roster and Buck isn’t so he’s the most likely vet to make the team this spring. That’s not surprising since Pierzysnki was still a decent part-time catcher for the Red Sox and Cards last season, putting up a .251 BA, .625 OPS, and 37 RBI. That doesn’t pop off the page but Buck managed to play just 32 games for the Mariners and Angels last season and batted .225 with six RBI. In any case, either one gives the Braves a better bat at catcher than most backup backstops.

 

Outfield:

Nick Markakis is a far cry from the .300 hitter with 48 doubles and 112 RBI we saw early in his career but he won’t hurt you at the plate or in the field. Last season he batted a solid .276 with a .729 OPS, 14 HR, 50 RBI, 81 R, and 27 2B. Based on his last three seasons, that’s about what we can expect from him on a regular basis.

Melvin Upton Jr. is out for spring training and may miss the start of the season. At this point, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Although his numbers weren’t as miserable as his 2013 campaign, his .208 BA, .620 OPS, 12 HR, 35 RBI, 67 R, 19 2B, and 20 SB could be replicated by plenty of Triple-A outfielders. He doesn’t walk as much as he used to either, and struck out a career-worst 173 times last season. There weren’t any buyers for his services but the Braves certainly let the wrong Upton brother go.

Jonny Gomes doesn’t hit for a strong average, no longer has 20 home run pop, doesn’t hit any doubles, and can be a liability in the field. He’s a decent on-base guy but he’s no longer start-worthy in this league and it remains to be seen how effective he can be as a part-time player at 34.

Eric Young has speed for days and a serviceable glove at center but he’s not a great hitter and is very streaky. He has stolen 30+ bases in two straight seasons, including an NL-best 46 in 2013, but the speed is the only tangible asset he brings to this lineup.

Eury Perez only has 23 MLB plate appearances but he’s likely to start in Upton’s place while he’s hurt (and, really, should be starting over him once he returns too…). Perez has speed that puts Young to shame, stealing 45+ bases in three straight seasons in Washington’s farm system. He also owns an impressive .305 career BA in 699 minor league games, doesn’t strike out a lot, and can cover a lot of ground in the outfield.

Zoilo Almonte only has 47 games under his belt and wouldn’t even be mentioned here if the outfield was healthy but the 25-year-old is in line to play at least part-time in the early going. In the Yankees’ farm system, Almonte hit as many as 21 home runs in a season and stole as many as 18 bases. He strikes out a lot and doesn’t walk much but he has a serviceable glove and can play anywhere in the infield and outfield.

 

Starting Rotation:

Julio Teheran has established himself as one of the best young pitchers in the game and he just turned 24. Over the last two seasons, Teheran has won 28 games while posting a 3.03 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 7.9 K/9 to 2.1 BB/9. He’s still developing and got even better last season but if he can do a better job of keeping the ball in the park he’ll be as good as anyone in the league.

Alex Wood looked strong in his first 77 innings with the Braves in 2013 but turned heads in his first full-ish year as a starter in 2014. In 24 starts and 11 relief appearances, Wood posted a 2.78 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 170 K to 45 BB. This is hardly a surprise as Wood needed just 123 minor league innings to reach the Majors as he put up a monstrous 1.68 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 122 K to 35 BB in 26 starts. With both Wood and Teheran just 24 years old, the Braves could have a Maddux-Glavine type 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation for years to come.

Shelby Miller saw his 3.06 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 8.8 K/9 in 2013 slip to a 3.74 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 6.2 K/9 last season and will need to work on his control and keeping the ball in the park if he’s going to be successful again. The former top-5 prospect used to have the potential to be a 10+ K/9 guy with a low ERA but looked nothing of the sort last season. The Braves have a great system, though, and could certainly help Miller look like the Rookie of the Year candidate we saw in 2013 – if he still has it in him.

Mike Minor is expected to start the season on the DL but won’t need surgery which is a major plus. Injuries aside, it’s his production that’s most questionable. He had a great season in 2013 as he posted a 3.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 181 K to 46 BB. The problem is he had posted ERAs north of 4.00 in the previous two seasons and slid in an injury-shortened season last year, going 6-12 with a 4.77 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. The former top-30 prospect certainly has the ability to be a great middle-of-the-rotation arm but he’ll need to do a much better job of limiting hits and home runs.

Eric Stults was impressive as he posted a 2.91 ERA and 1.20 WHIP with the White Sox and Padres in 2012 but then posted a 3.93 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in his first full season at Petco before regressing even further to a 4.30 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while going 8-17 for the Padres last year. If he can’t be a serviceable arm in a pitchers park, it’s hard to see the 35-year-old give the Braves a lot of help on the backend.

Michael Foltynewicz is rated the league’s No. 78 top prospect by MLB this season but has struggled with his control over the last couple of years in the minors. The Astros’ former first-round pick owns a 3.98 career ERA (and posted a 5.08 last year) and an uninspiring 1.40 WHIP. His 4.6 BB/9 in each of his last two seasons are worrisome but a bit of work and he could be a major steal on the backend of this rotation. At the very least, the Braves should consider giving him a chance to develop in a season where they aren’t likely to do much rather than waste the spot on a 35-year-old who never hit his potential.

Wandy Rodriguez is also a candidate for the fifth starter job but he has been limited to just 18 starts over the last two seasons and allowed an insane 10 home runs in six starts last season. He was a very serviceable starter for the Astros but, at 36, the Braves are better off letting one of the youngsters have this spot.

Manny Banuelos is a former top-15 prospect who has struggled with consistency and control in the minors. He put up great numbers in the lower levels of the Yankee farm system but went on to post a 3.89 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in 159 Double-A innings and has struggled mightily with a 4.17 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 73 Triple-A innings. He’s clearly not ready for the Bigs, perhaps not even Triple-A.

 

Bullpen:

Craig Kimbrel is the Mariano Rivera of his day, leading the NL in saves in four straight seasons and posting a freak 1.27 ERA and 0.815 WHIP over the last three years. He hasn’t blown more than four saves in three straight years and, at 26, should continue to dominate hitters in the ninth for a long time to come.

Jason Grilli was an All-Star as Pittsburgh’s closer in 2013 but failed to repeat that production last year as he went 1-5 with a 4.00 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 54 innings between the Pirates and Angels. He didn’t really blossom into a good reliever until his age 34 season but we’ll have to wait and see if the 38-year-old still has anything left in the tank.

Jim Johnson led the AL in saves in 2012 and 2013 but had a disaster of a season last year as he moved to Oakland and later Detroit. He posted a 7.14 ERA with Oakland and a 6.92 ERA with Detroit (at least he’s consistent…) while adding an equally jaw-dropping 1.95 WHIP and 5.9 BB/9. He had a nice four-year stretch as a quality reliever for the O’s but the Braves will need to fix whatever Oakland broke last year.

Jose Veras struggles too much with walks (5.3 BB/9 last year) to be a successful reliever.

James Russell  looked better than ever as a member of the Braves late last year and seems to have grown into a very solid middle reliever.

Josh Outman posted a strong 2.86 ERA last season but his 1.41 WHIP and 5.1 BB/9 is going to be hard to overcome longterm.

 

Grades:

Offense: C

Defense: C+

Starting Pitching: B-

Bullpen: A+ (Kimbrel), C (Everyone else)

Overall: C+

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