Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: Atlanta Braves

by Tim Heaney on February 8, 2013 @ 11:40:47 PDT

 

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KFFL answers important fantasy baseball questions about each Major League Baseball team as spring training approaches. What must fantasy baseball players know about the Atlanta Braves?

With the brothers Upton in town, what's the potential of this lineup?

Well, Turner Field's wind chill stands to increase. (Hint: oodles of strikeouts.) The Bravos ranked seventh in the bigs last year, far above the eighth-place squad, and they'll probably move closer to the top. A decrease in productive outs casts a shadow over any slate, but the penalties, at least for fantasy players, should ease up thanks to their elite trio of mash-and-dash bats. Fredi Gonzalez has plenty of permutations for this lineup.

Atlanta Braves SP Kris Medlen
Medlen with markets

You'll get a productive homers-steals combination from both B.J. Upton and Justin Upton. The elder bro will contribute more on the swipes side, as well as punchouts; he's an ideal complement if you build up batting average with three players before him in mixed leagues.

Justin ... well, his 2012 cost many players, but accentuate the positives - in other words, the pace of his six-homer run in the final month-plus last year, when it looked like his thumb was healed. His cume line, which reflects that he suffered while playing through the malady, might scare others away.

Their new domicile isn't kind to right-handed power, but that chiefly applies to those who need immense help. Per ESPN's Home Run Tracker, all of Justin's 2012 homers would've cleared the Turner Field dimensions anyway. Only one of B.J.'s didn't surmount the virtual fences.

Justin was a bit more dependent on his home digs, and some might fear this move will hurt him. It's a small sample size, and he hit only one homer during it, but the 67 plate appearances he's had in Atlanta registered a .293 BA and a .871 OPS. It's not as if he's going to PETCO Park.

Their presence, of course, secures the potential of the other swatters, notably two heart hitters that ooze of a breakout. Well, Jason Heyward already has arrived, sort of, but these acquisitions cement his ludicrous counting-category ceiling. Freddie Freeman, the likely cleanup hitter, has to be drooling over his new cast-mates.

Dan Uggla was whiffing before it was cool in The A, but if he falls to middle infielder territory, where one's domination of a single category can lift your squad, you're more willing to forgive him.

Brian McCann (shoulder) should remain on the productivity periphery regarding the impact of the new arrivals. He probably won't start the season on time, but even if his power doesn't come back immediately and batting-eye woes persist, he'll be a decent two-catcher speculation if you have a backup plan(s).

Will Andrelton Simmons settle into an advantageous spot? The 23-year-old's proximity to the top of the order will go a long way in determining his mixed relevance, especially since his skills, while intriguing, remain incomplete.

Though stuck in a hot corner platoon with the streaky Chris D. Johnson, at least likely seven-hole clubber Juan Francisco is on the majority side. When he connects, he connects: plenty of liners and titanic power potential. Contact problems will restrict his upward mobility without outlandish luck, but when you're scrounging for bench-filling thump, bold his name. He could pelt the bleachers 30 times in full-time work.

How will Kris Medlen follow his brilliant 2012 run?

Revised: What are you comfortable betting to figure out what 83 2/3 innings of a 0.97 ERA meant?

Upon entering the rotation last summer, his rejuvenated stuff following Tommy John surgery posted an elite level of induced ground balls, and he efficiently worked the strike zone with pristine walk limitation. His changeup rated as one of the best in the league last year, per PITCHf/x, and he can be suffocating at times.

But there was also an abundance of exaggerated fortune in this dazzling but small window. Stranding runners at a high level, to some extent, can mold into a tendency, if not a skill; some hurlers escape jams better than others, via raw ability, pitch sequencing, their defense, or some combination of those and other traits.

Behold Medlen's dizzyingly outlandish 93.3 left-on-base percentage ... as a starter! (Boo, exclamation points, but there's one.) Come on! (Two.) That's even lofty for the best relief pitchers! (Yup. Three.) Even in his 2010 stretch as a rotation member, his 76.0 rating was a bit high. Other expected backlash targets: .249 BABIP and, even with his downward-moving pitches, 0.39 homers per nine.

The 27-year-old heads into his first full season as an MLB starter. He may experience fatigue late in the year and a minor conservation, following his 138 total innings last season, to keep him fresh; they have plenty of rotation alternatives to help them accomplish this goal.

Predicting he'd be a significant contributor when you could buy him for pennies hardly matches the pressure of tabbing him as one of your staff anchors. Might be obvious, but worth a reminder: Few, if any, starting pitchers face a bigger regression factor than him, even if his numbers return to quote-unquote normal. That alone should make you want to think twice about paying a bloated price.

He'll more closely resemble the 2010 version of himself that, in 84 frames from a game-opening rubber, posted a 3.68 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 6.60 K/9 and 1.71 BB/9; we'll give a tad more credit on the strikeouts, though, because of his progress. Those aren't bad numbers, but they surely don't suggest making him an ace or second mixed hurler. As a third with two relatively stable throwers in front of him? Better, yet still not as ideal as an SP4 designation.

Which hurler has the best chance at a Medlen-like breakout?

Atlanta Braves SP Mike Minor
Not just a Minor piece?

Mike Minor seems to be the closest, but he's garnered some hype in recent campaigns, so your interest won't sneak past most in your draft room. The southpaw matured last year, showing more composure over the final three-plus months while getting his control and off-speed approach in order. Someone may want him more than you, and he's still best deployed as a home-start weapon, but as a depth option, Minor presents major gains. Heck, most Braves candidates do.

Well, not necessarily Paul Maholm, who finally showed more punch from his innings-eater record (thanks, cutter), but he's not a surge candidate. And don't expect stash candidate Brandon Beachy to be all that effective until late in the year as he uses 2013 to get back in shape after TJS.

Maybe it'll be one of the rotation-capping options, with Randall Delgado gone. Even with his early-career bumps, Julio Teheran remains widely rated as one of the top prospects, if not the top prospect, in this organization. Atlanta's restoration of Teheran's natural delivery corrected most of the issues that tormented his latest Triple-A Gwinnett run. Here's a stealth selection with noteworthy pay-off.

Sean Gilmartin and J.R. Graham impressed on the farm but are behind Teheran in the race and need more polish. Of course, brass could always sign an established vet, including Javier Vazquez, which would chop these youngsters off many draft lists.

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.


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