Body’s Baseball Preview: The Atlanta Braves

The fine folks here at Heading For The Exits were gracious enough to host my team-by-team baseball previews. Look for a new one every day from March 1st through March 30th. Last but not least, it’s the NL East. And now, put your completely objective hands together for my main sports obsession.

"Well, at least people will stop staring at my waistline."
“Well, at least people will stop staring at my waistline.”

My apologies if this isn’t quite as biting as some other pieces. I’ve been ragging on the Barves for so long now that the snark tank is almost empty, and the promise of potential success has me quite randy. Actually, if I might take this space to bitch about the new wildcard play-in rule that fucked over the Braves last year… no, no, I won’t do that either. Let’s talk about sex.

You see, when a man and a woman love each other very much, they do some nasty things to each other. 9 months later, a baby comes out. 26 years later, that baby spends the better part of 3 months annihilating NL hitters and steals my heart, only to shatter it in a wildcard play-in game against the Cardinals. And yet, and yet… I cannot stay away. I spend the better part of March resisting every urge to spend all of my auction draft money on him.

Kris Medlen, you are Body’s unreasonable sports crush of 2013. May God have mercy on your soul.

How’d The Offseason Go?

[plays Taps for Chipper Jones’s career]

The Braves are finally moving on at third base after saying so long to one of the greatest switch hitters to ever play. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry.

[realizes Juan Francisco is now the full-time starter at third]

[weeps bitterly]

Sorry about that. Anyway, the big move this offseason was helping the Diamondbacks assuage their white guilt by graciously accepting all-star outfielder Justin Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson in exchange for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, and a couple prospects. I’m not going to say it was a steal because Prado was an incredibly versatile player and a team-first guy, but damn does this outfield look good now.

Who else? Jordan Schafer rejoins the team after being sent to the Astros for Michael Bourn. I’m sure he signed the contract saying “Fool me once…” They signed BJ Upton as a free agent after the Rays let him walk. Overall, he’s an upgrade over Michael Bourn, but he’s going to have some ugly games at the plate. They also signed Ramiro Pena to serve as some depth at shortstop and second base… in other words, the Braves don’t have any depth in the infield. Lastly, they traded Tommy Hanson to the Angels for Jordan Walden, a move that makes sense considering the rotation depth they have and the lack of bullpen depth.

Notable departures? Jair Jurrjens elected free agency and was snapped up by the Orioles. Y’all have fun with that now, y’hear? Peter Moylan, my favorite relief pitcher, left and was signed by the Dodgers. I might burn their offices down for that.

The Braves Will Make The Playoffs If

The Nationals suddenly tire of winning.

The Braves Will Miss the Playoffs If

The at-bat of the season comes down to BJ Upton. Seriously, the man hits at the Mendoza line with runners in scoring position.

How The Season Will Go

How’s The Farm?

Probably the top guy to keep your eye on is Christian Bethancourt. Brian McCann hasn’t looked like a top catcher in years, and starting the season on the DL doesn’t bode well for keeping his job after he reaches free agency. It’s a shame, because he’s been a fan favorite for years. Anyway, Bethancourt comes with the opposite pedigree from McCann. He’s got the arm to gun down potential base thieves and a very steady defensive presence, compared to McCann allowing the most steals in the league on a yearly basis. Bethancourt’s bat, however, has a ways to go, and he might not be ready to take over come 2014.

Considering how stacked the Braves are at outfield, the next men up should get another year or so to develop. Todd Cunningham is a Michael Bourn kind of player, a quick defender with a steal-first mentality and a light bat with deceptive pop. He’s got a future in center field. Evan Gattis is an odd outfield/catcher hybrid who has been dazzling with his power this spring but finds himself currently backing up the replacement for McCann while he’s on the DL. He’s not terribly mobile, but he’d be able to spell Heyward or Justin Upton this year should a backup spot open up.

Pitching, quickly. The Braves trading Randall Delgado means Sean Gilmartin gets the next shot at a rotation spot. He’s ready to go, backing up a fastball and slider with a solid changeup and a very aggressive mentality. J.R. Graham is close behind with a mid-to-high 90s fastball, a slider bordering on plus level, a sinking changeup, and impressive command of all three. Expect to see spot starts from both with Graham likely locking up regular duty in late summer.

Your Brief Fantasy Preview

Now this is the good stuff. It’s been awhile since a majority of the Braves team has been fantasy-relevant, and this outfield is as good as any in the league with Jason Heyward and Justin Upton being both top-5 potentials at the position. BJ Upton, on the other hand, is a better real-life baseball player than a fantasy baseball player who’ll supply you with one of the more underwhelming 20-30 campaigns, akin to Drew Stubbs circa 201o. I certainly won’t be targeting him when his best case scenario is only 80 runs and RBIs.

Around the diamond, Freddie Freeman is quickly replacing Eric Hosmer as the slightly creepy man-crush among fantasy analysts. While I don’t think quite that highly of him, a finish as a top 10 first baseman is an easy fate to predict. Dan Uggla will be frustrating as usual with his low, low, low average, but you’ll find a way to work his power in at a thin position. Andrelton Simmons has been making a name for himself in spring training, sliding him up the shortstop ranks from obscurity to the mid-teens. I targeted him as my main SS in one league, and I’m counting on his nailing down the lead-off spot on a potent team. Juan Francisco? Don’t worry about Juan Francisco. He’s a weak hitter at a strong position. Lastly, I would avoid the catcher position altogether… McCann has become quite the batting average liability, and I can’t see him getting better with his recent injury history.

For pitching, I’ve actually been surprised at where people are valuing Kris Medlen. As much love as he’s gotten from the talking heads this year, he’s still entrenched at a pretty reasonable value. If he’s falling to you near his ADP, take a chance on him. He’s backslid a bit this spring, but there weren’t any signs that his dynamite half season last year was a fluke. Tim Hudson’s not going to do much for your strikeout rate, but a solid average, whip, and win total is a near guarantee from him.

I’m not entirely sold on Paul Maholm, seeing him with an ERA closer to 4 than 3.50, and Mike Minor is a no-go for me until he can put together a decent half-season. Julio Teheran is a trendy pick for a late-round sleeper with his incredible showing this spring, but I would wager he’s still a year away from contributing consistently to your fantasy team. For relief, Craig Kimbrel is undoubtedly the best reliever in the game, but on average he’s going ahead of Billy Butler and Adam Wainwright. Adam fucking Wainwright! Let some other jitbag make that pick.

Projected Finish in the NL East?

2nd. I’m finally running out of reasons to predict failure for my Barves.

Oddly Apropos Futurama Quote

“Lets face it, comedy’s a dead art form. Now tragedy! Ha ha ha, that’s funny.”

An earlier version of this piece mis-identified pitching prospect Sean Gilmartin as 2012 draft pick Lucas Sims. Thanks to @ZacHAttach7 for catching the error.

Body By Bacardi has been making bad sports jokes on Twitter since 2010 and on Deadspin since 2011. If you’re not tired of reading things he’s written, you can follow him on Twitter at @wineaccguy.

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