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2015 Atlanta Braves Team Preview: Fantasy 30 For 30

Atlanta Braves Team Preview: Freddie Freeman, Neon Tommy

It was a mixed bag Fantasy-wise when it came to the Braves in 2014. Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel were the stars of the team and Alex Wood made his case for joining them with a big step forward. Unfortunately, Mike Minor lost his mojo, Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen missed the season thanks to Tommy John and Dan Uggla decided to take batting advice from B.J. Upton. The real life results were a 79-win season; tied for second with the Mets and just six games ahead of the last place Phillies.

The Braves will have a new look going into the 2015 season. Upton, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis were all shipped out of town as the Braves attempt to rebuild. In return, the Braves received a number of minor-league prospects, along with a big arm in Shelby Miller. Atlanta also signed a number of veterans like A.J. Pierzynski, Nick Markakis and Jason Grilli to help keep them somewhat competitive in the short term. The big question for our Atlanta Braves team preview is what will the Braves look like in 2015?

We took the projected lineup, rotation and bullpen from RosterResources.com.

Projected “Go-To” Lineup

  1. RF Nick Markakis
  2. CF B.J. Upton
  3. 1B Freddie Freeman
  4. 3B Chris Johnson
  5. 2B Alberto Callaspo
  6. SS Andrelton Simmons
  7. LF Zoilo Almonte
  8. C Christian Bethancourt

If Andrelton Simmons rediscovers the stroke he had in 2013, he could find himself batting at the top of the lineup. Hitting first ahead of Markakis would be the logical choice, with Upton moving down and batting fifth or sixth in the order.

Also, while Christian Bethancourt is listed as the starter, don’t be surprised if Pierzynski plays in more games early on. If Pierzynski’s average bounces back and Bethancourt proves he can handle major league pitching, both could find themselves in a more favorable spot in the batting order. (Doug Anderson has Pierzynski ranked 28th among Fantasy catchers.)

Projected Pitchers

Starting Rotation
  1. RHP Julio Teheran
  2. LHP Mike Minor
  3. RHP Shelby Miller
  4. LHP Alex Wood
  5. RHP David Hale

Hale has the inside track for the fifth and final spot in the rotation with Beachy and Medlen gone, but there are still a number of veteran free-agent pitchers available the Braves could sign.

Bullpen
  • Craig Kimbrel (closer)
  • Jason Grilli
  • Jim Johnson
  • James Russell
  • Arodys Vizcaino
  • Luis Avilan
  • Josh Outman

While this is the projected bullpen, I can see a number of minor-league players being recalled at some point in the season. Shea Simmons, Ian Thomas and Brandon Cunniff are big strikeout guys that could turn out to be better options than Johnson (who shouldn’t unpack), Vizcaino, Russell and Outman. Expect to see Simmons early and Thomas soon after if his control improves.

Atlanta Braves Fantasy Studs

Fantasy-30-for-30-300x300Freeman should see an increase in power, but he will lose some runs and RBI based upon the team around him. He is no longer a first- or second-round pick given the depth of the position, but he’s someone to consider in the middle of Round 3, if you miss out on a big bat first baseman. (Anderson ranks him 11th among Fantasy first basemen.)

Craig Kimbrel is the Clayton Kershaw of closers. He is a virtual lock for an ERA under 2.00, a WHIP under 1.000, close to 100 strikeouts and 30-plus (despite the lack of offense) saves. Don’t be afraid to reach for him at the end of Round 4 or early in Round 5.

Breakout Candidate: Alex Wood

Comparing Wood’s debut in 2013 to 2014, Wood lowered his BB/9 (3.13 to 2.16) and H/9 (8.77 to 7.90). He also refined and increased the use of his curveball (14% to 22.6%). According to Fangraphs, close to 20 percent of his strikeouts over the final three months were due to his curve. Wood should be able to come close the 2.78 ERA he posted in 2014 when you compare it to his xFIP (3.19) and SIERA (3.16). The bonus is that he did all that while maintaining the same K/9 rate (8.91).

His early rankings are all over the place depending on which site you frequent, ranging anywhere from the mid-20s to the low 50s. While he had a breakout moment in 2014, a large number of people are still skeptical. He could go early in some leagues, but overall, he will likely be selected in the mid-teens — and that is great value for a potential top-20 pitcher. There is a reason the former University of Georgia product shot through the minors — and this will be the last year you get him at a discount.

Sleeper Candidate: Andrelton Simmons

Simmons lost his mysterious power from 2013 and made no improvements in the other areas of his game. Walks, strikeouts and batting average all trended in the wrong direction. Part of this can be contributed to the approach change at the plate the Braves implemented to have Simmons hit fewer balls in the air. It worked as the FB% came down, but overall results were not what they expected. There were a few months where Simmons batted above .270 and he did hit for a high average in the minors as well as his debut in 2009 (.289), so there is reason for optimism. Not too long ago, Simmons was regarded as an up-and-coming shortstop that could hit for average and steal 20-plus bases annually. If last year was a learning curve, then a positive step forward in 2015 isn’t out of the question. If Simmons figures things out and rediscovers the speed he had in the minors, he could very well be a candidate for the bottom half of the top 12 shortstops for next year. Plus, he’s good at this:

Bust Candidate: Julio Teheran

Teheran improved upon his stellar rookie season and most of his numbers trended in the right direction, but a few things worry me. First, his 2.89 ERA was almost a full point below his xFIP (3.72) and SIERA (3.68). A number of pitchers have made a living doing this, so it is not a deal breaker, but it is cause for concern. Next is the increase in the FB%, up to 43.8%. If Heyward were still there I would not be worried, but Markakis is no Heyward defensively. You also lose Upton in left to Almonte (insert whoever will be playing left by mid-May). In addition to the 22 home runs he gave up in 2014 — a number which could go up — you now have to worry about the defensive liabilities due to the recent moves the Braves have made. Finally, there is the drop in strikeouts — his K/9 went from 8.24 in 2013 to 7.57 in 2014.

I don’t think Teheran will be a complete bust, but he will be for his draft position. People will take him expecting an ERA close to or below 3.00 and a WHIP around 1.100. Those numbers make him worthy of being taken in the second half of the first 10 rounds. The numbers he will put up, though, will be more in line with someone taken in Round 13 and beyond. Not a complete bust, but money not well spent.

Top Rookies

Jose Peraza is not a power guy; this one is all speed with 64 steals in 2013 and 60 more in 2014 between Class A+ and Double-A. He still needs to take more walks, but his strikeouts are low and the batting average was close to .340 last season (in a non-PCL league which is impressive). The Braves added him to the 40-man roster in November, so it is a matter of when and not if he will be called up this season. If Peraza hits this year the way he did in 2014, I can see a midsummer call-up and it will not be hard to beat out Alberto Callaspo for the job.

Newly acquired Mike Foltynewicz (don’t ask me to pronounce his last name) is another player to watch. He has big time heat and can touch 100 mph regularly, which in enough to get anyone excited. While he is profiled as a starter, I have stated a number of times I believe he is better suited for the bullpen. Folty could be the eventual heir apparent to Kimbrel, once he gains some more control and refinement over his secondary pitches. He should see time in the majors in 2015, but short of a Dellin Betances breakout, I think it might be another year or two before we see what he can really be.

What Should We Know About the 2015 Atlanta Braves?

2015 Team Previews: NL East

It is hard to get excited about the Braves after gutting their offense. Other than Freeman, there are not a lot of — well, any — hitters to get excited about. On the mound, if Minor bounces back, the Braves will have a very solid rotation. Wins will be hard to come by, though, so if you draft an Atlanta pitcher, don’t count on more than 12 wins from any of them.

Grab Freeman and Kimbrel in the early rounds, Teheran, Miller and Wood between Rounds 8-13, Minor shortly after that and maybe Markakis and Simmons late in the draft if you’re looking for bench material in deeper leagues. Everyone else in the lineup: just hit the ignore button.

Check out the rest of our Fantasy 30 For 30 Series: 2015 Fantasy Baseball Team Previews!

Freddie Freeman Photo Credit: Neon Tommy

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Jim Finch

Jim Finch is a writer and editor for FantasyAssembly.com. While he is not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, he will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.
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