Make no doubt about it: The Braves will contend. While not as loaded on paper as the Nationals, the Braves have retooled their offense and hope that developing pitchers as well as those coming off of surgical repair can make their staff respectable. There are a lot of ifs in that starting rotation though.
With that in mind, here are 10 players to watch in 2013.
1) Kris Medlen (SP): Medlen had an ace-like second half after returning from Tommy John surgery and while many are optimistic he can maintain those gains there are plenty of reasons to be concerned. Strain on that post surgery elbow, a lot of time off and the below average HR/FB ratio, as well as a below average number of ground balls going for hits, all point to some regression. The question is how much. For the right price he’s a gem, but if he goes for ace-type money, you might be better off with a more durable proven pitcher from that same tier.
2) Craig Kimbrel (CL): Kimbrel’s numbers from last season make even the most devoted fans of Mariano Rivera blink: 63 innings pitched, 42 saves, 116 Ks, 1.01 ERA and 0.65 WHIP. He’s clearly the number one closer going into 2013. It’s reasonable to assume there will be some regression not to mention a few more bumps in the road for the 25 year old, but even at 80% of last year’s numbers he’ll be money in the bank.
3) BJ Upton (OF): The older Upton brother isn’t suddenly going to morph into a .300 hitter or even a .265 one, but he flashed his power again in the second half last year and has us believing that 30-plus home runs are more than possible. Combine it with his speed and the upside is immense. Of course it’s all potential for now, but he’s on the edge of being a top 5 OF.
4) Justin Upton (OF): The younger Upton took a big step back last season in his power numbers and to a lesser extent with his speed. They could be bumps in the road for the outfielder, but they could show that his 2011 season was really an outlier. Moving into a home park that favors pitching is going to cut into his potential. Don’t overpay. Expect last year’s results but hope for a lot more. The talent is certainly there.
5) Dan Uggla (2B): 2012 was a brutal season for Uggla, who set careers lows in batting average, home runs and RBIs. He’s 33, an age when hitters are in the inevitable decline. That said, at his position he’s not a bad choice and will likely hit for either better power or average this upcoming season, but probably not both. The end is coming for Uggla, but it could be this year or five years down the road he falls off the precipice. I’ll bet this year isn’t the one, but it’s not far off.
6) Brian McCann (C): McCann has been such a solid fantasy catcher for so long that you expected it to continue forever. He’ll miss at least the 4-6 weeks of the season, maybe longer, due to surgery to repair a torn labrum. Still if there are no complications his power should return and he’ll produce enough in 350-400 ABs to warrant stashing him in one of your DL spots. I’d take him over a full season of 80% of the guys who qualify at catcher.
7) Tim Hudson (SP): Hudson is what, about 80 now? No, he’s actually 37 and yeah, he’s been around a while. The skills are slowly slipping and his fastball no longer registers in the low 90s. Still he can help quite a bit in the ERA and WHIP categories and post 12-15 wins in his sleep. Health is the big issue here. Any problem at his age could snowball quickly.
8) Mike Minor (SP): Minor is a better than average middle of the rotation guy with some upside. He’ll never be an ace but playing in Atlanta offers him a chance to keep a better than average HR/FB rate and the offense should score him some runs. His strikeouts, which average just under 8 per 9 innings, make him a complete package provided he keeps his walk rate down and his strand rate up.
9) Jason Heyward (OF): It’s hard not to like the big slugger who comes into the season at just 23 years of age. It’s hard to imagine he’ll match that 20 stolen base total again, and his batting average (.269) is likely to take a step back, but his power is growing and he could be a 40 home run per year guy in the making. I wouldn’t bet the farm on that happening this year though. Pay for last year or maybe a buck or two more and there should be at least a break even if not a slight profit in terms of value.
10) Freddy Freeman (1B): Freeman isn’t an elite first baseman, but he has plenty of upside. His numbers have been trending in the right direction and there is no reason to believe that the 23 year old has reached his peak yet. That said he clearly has some limitations. Twenty-five home runs and a .275 average are possible, but they are a little bit of a reach. The addition of the two Upton brothers may push him out of the prime RBI spots, but watch where he’s batting late in the spring to see how that looks to be shaking out.