Before they fell victim to the National League Coin-Flip Game last year, the Braves looked poised for another deep postseason run. They went 94-68, tied with the eventual World Series Champion Giants for the third-best record in the NL. They won eight of their final 11 games of the year, and had Cy Young candidate Kris Medlen on the mound against the Cardinals. Of course, the 94-win Braves lost one game to the 88-win Cardinals, thus allowing the Cardinals to move on to the National League Division Series, undermining six months worth of regular season baseball. But that's another argument for another day. Today, we're talking about the Braves, whom I believe are one of the three best teams heading into the season, and their players' fantasy prospects for 2013.
The Braves made two huge moves this offseason, signing B.J. Upton and trading for his younger brother, Justin. Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman are ascendant stars at their respective positions, and Brian McCann remains one of the best fantasy catchers in the league. They dealt promising, yet oft-injured, pitcher Tommy Hanson to the Angels, and prospect Randall Delgado to the Diamondbacks, but the 2013 rotation should be an upgrade over last year's, thanks mainly to getting a full season's worth of starts out of Medlen. Tim Hudson, Mike Minor, Paul Maholm and Julio Teheran round out the rotation, and Brandon Beachy, who was leading the majors with a 2.00 ERA through 13 starts, is due back in late June after Tommy John surgery. The bullpen, meanwhile, still features the three-headed monster of Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty, and even added Jordan Walden, to boot. As a baseball fan, I can't wait to watch the NL East race between the Nationals and Braves this season. Of course, that means one of them will be subject to this year's NL Coin-Flip Game. But I hope that as I'm watching the Nats and Braves battle it out in the East, I'm watching a ton of guys from my fantasy team, as well.
1. Andrelton Simmons, SS 2. Jason Heyward, RF 3. Justin Upton, LF 4. Freddie Freeman, 1B 5. B.J. Upton, CF 6. Brian McCann, C 7. Dan Uggla, 2B 8. Chris Johnson, 3B
1. Kris Medlen 2. Tim Hudson 3. Mike Minor 4. Paul Maholm 5. Julio Teheran
Four advanced stats help guide projections for Freeman in 2013. First, he increased his walk rate while decreasing his strikeout rate last season. Those numbers came in at 10.3 percent and 20.8 percent, respectively. In 2011, they were 8.3 percent and 22.4 percent. That's an impressive adjustment for someone in just his second league in the majors. Meanwhile, despite a dramatically lower BABIP, Freeman actually shaved five full percentage points off his ground-ball rate, dropping it to 37.1 percent, and he posted a line-drive rate of 26 percent, up from 23 percent in 2011. Freeman may have had a great 2012 season, but, somehow, he was actually a bit unlucky. That's really the only way those stats could add up to a .295 BABIP. So long as he continues along this trajectory he has set for himself, he should go .280/.345/.480 with 25 homers and 95 RBI this season. He won't quite reach the elite at his position, but he'll be in the second tier, poised for entry into the penthouse in 2014.
Simmons hit .289/.335/.416 in his small sample at the majors last year. However, in 44 games with Double-A Mississippi before his promotion, he hit .293/.372/.420 with 10 steals. As a 21-year-old at High-A Lynchburg in 2011, he hit .311/.351/.408 with 26 steals in 131 games, and his walk and strikeout rate with Mississippi last year were both 9.9 percent. He continued to walk at a decent pace in the majors, registering a 6.6 percent walk rate, while posting an 11.5 percent strikeout rate -- a solid mark for a rookie. Manager Fredi Gonzalez has already named Simmons as the odds-on-favorite to lead off, so that alone should get him to 100 runs. The protection afforded by Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and the Uptons should also result in him seeing a ton of fastballs. So long as he's patient, a skill he has already shown at the major league level, he should get himself into plenty of favorable counts. I'd rather have him than Alcides Escobar or Everth Cabrera.
NL-only guys to know