The Atlanta Braves: 2010 Preview

The 2010 Braves look to reclaim their divisional crown (and then some) after a four year hiatus. The NL East won’t be an easy hill to climb with the Phillies, Mets, and Marlins on board as well. Really, the division crown is a “hill” for Philadelphia and more of a “cliff” for the rest. Luckily for the Braves, the Mets failed to address their pitching issues in the off-season, and the Marlins don’t have any money. However, each team in the division made some improvements from 2009. Even the Nationals should be much improved from years past. The Braves will have to hope that they are the most improved of the bunch if they want to challenge the Phillies for the pennant.

An extra motivator for the Braves could be a last hurrah for manager Bobby Cox, who has affirmed that 2010 will be his last season.

Before I begin, let me preface my analysis with some personal context. I am not a fantasy expert, baseball scout, or ex-star baseball player. However, I do believe that man has three crowning achievements to date:

1. Team sports
2. Sweat pants with pockets
3. The internet, and subsequently – fantasy sports as we know them today

I have been a “fantasy nerd” for 10 years now, and I still haven’t improved upon an estimated 50% accuracy rate for my predictions. I tell you this to keep things in perspective. First, I want to analyze the Braves batters.

Projected Lineup (based on spring training trends and historical tendencies):

1. Nate McLouth, CF
2. Martin Prado, 2B
3. Chipper Jones, 3B
4. Troy Glaus, 1B
5. Brian McCann, C
6. Yunel Escobar, SS
7. Jason Heyward, RF
8. Melky Cabrera, LF

Nate McLouth, CF Age: 28 Bats: L
McLouth was traded to Atlanta from the Pirates after 45 games in 2009, and was plugged into the leadoff spot, where he had moderate success. McLouth offers 20+ homer potential with 20-steal speed. He doesn’t strike out a lot, and has enough patience to draw 50-60 walks per year. McLouth struggled to find his footing at home in 2009, batting .208 in 159 Abs in Turner Field. So far this spring, McLouth has batted exclusively in the leadoff spot, and he has struggled mightily (1 for 22). Defensively, McLouth was an excellent addition to the Atlanta outfield, and his glove will keep him in the lineup no matter how much he struggles.

2009 stats: .256 BA, 86 R, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 68 BB, 19 SB

If I were a bettin’ man…
I have never been big on McLouth as a fantasy owner because I always felt that his 2008 numbers would be his ceiling. I don’t expect him to bat above .260 for a season again, and I also don’t think he will last in the leadoff spot. He is injury prone (hamstrings) and wears down in late summer / early fall. His fragility worries me because he is already 28 and has logged only 2 full seasons in the bigs. His splits from 2008 and 2009 both illustrate the major power drop-off in the second half, as well as a big reduction in ABs due to injury. My fantasy recommendation for draft day: Let him fall, and maybe take him when there’s no OF left but Chris Young and Ryan Sweeney.

I’ll Bet: .255 BA, 90 R, 15 HR, 70 RBI, 60 BB, 15 SB

Martin Prado, 2B Age: 26 Bats: R

Kelly Johnson out, Martin Prado in. Score one for the Bravo’s there. Prado took over the second base duties and the #2 spot in the lineup admirably in 2009 – securing his spot for the 2010 season. Prado was a gap hitting machine last year, racking up 38 doubles in 450 ABs. So far this spring Prado is 8 for 23 with a 5/4 BB/K ratio.

2009 stats: .307 BA, 64 R, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 36 BB, 1 SB

If I were a bettin’ man…

I’d say that Prado is worth drafting in the later rounds. He should offer a decent average with position eligibility at 1B, 2B, and 3B. I see him as a bit of a sleeper in 2010, though I’m not expecting him to Ben Zobrist his way into the spotlight. I really don’t see him hitting more than 15 HR. He isn’t very fast, either. That “position eligibility” thing is salivating though, isn’t it? I know, me too.

I’ll Bet: .295 BA, 80 R, 15 HR, 75 RBI, 50 BB, 3 SB

Chipper Jones, 3B Age: 37 Bats: S

Jones has been a Brave for what seems like an eternity. He was Tomahawk-choppin’ before there were cell phones. However, he still seems to have enough in the tank to compete, and as long as he wants to play the Braves are going to let him. Jones has always thrived in the # 3 spot in the order, and that’s where Bobby evidently intends to keep him. Jones battled injuries in 2009, which is not surprising when you consider that he has played professional baseball for almost 20 years. Jones really struggled down the stretch in 2009, finishing the year with a .264 BA. He has played in only 134, 128, and 143 games the last three seasons, respectively. Don’t be surprised if he is rested often in 2010.

2009 stats: .264 BA, 80 R, 18 HR, 71 RBI, 101 BB, 4 SB

If I were a bettin’ man…

I’d say that he has lost his fantasy relevance. He can still draw a walk, and he should still hit for a high average, but I don’t want to pay for a player who is this close to the end of his career. I would not be surprised to see Chipper retire after 2010. I would prefer batting Escobar third and dropping Chipper to sixth, but again – I’m no baseball guru. There are enough 3B out there who are going to start every game and put up decent enough numbers to justify taking a pass on Chipper. Feels weird, doesn’t it? Saying, “no thanks” to such a familiar name. I’ll tell you what – I’ll draft him if you draft him first.

I’ll bet: .315 BA, 70 R, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 100 BB, 1 SB (that’s being generous)

Troy Glaus, 1B Age: 33 Bats: R

A shoulder injury wiped out Glaus’ 2009 season, and he was brought in to play first base for the Braves in the offseason. In 2008 Glaus batted .270 and hit 27 homers. The Braves will no doubt be hoping for a repeat of his 2008 numbers. So far this spring Glaus has gone 9 for 16 – hopefully a sign that the shoulder is healthy. Based on what I’ve seen this spring I project he will bat cleanup for Atlanta, so if he is healthy he could finish 2010 with a nice RBI total. It’s “wait and see” with Glaus.

If I were a bettin’ man…

I’d be broke. Not really, but I’d be eating ramen noodles A LOT. Look, Glaus is going undrafted in almost every league out there, so if you want to use your last pick on him I guess you could do worse. He intrigues me; he should bat cleanup in a solid lineup, isn’t getting drafted, and has a history of hitting 30+ HRs. A power hitter coming off an injury has the potential to bounce back with improved strength. However, he also has the potential to injure himself again and be worthless. If I run out of options at the CI spots on draft day I might take him with my final pick… But that’s only if the likes of Todd Helton and Nick Johnson are already gone. Yuck, I hope I’m not in that position when the day comes…

I’ll bet: .265 BA, 65 R, 25 HR, 90 RBI, 85 BB, 0 SB

Brian McCann, C Age: 26 Bats: L

The Braves are proud to claim ownership of the best catcher in the National League, and in 2009 he led the team in RBI (94). McCann batted primarily in the cleanup spot in 2009, and he may yet bat there again in 2010. McCann struggled against left-handed pitching in 2009 after batting .299 against southpaws in 2008. A vision problem limited his production early in 2009, but once that was rectified he went on to post All Star caliber numbers. So far this spring he has gone 8 for 12, with two homers and three doubles. Mmm, tasty!

2009 stats: .281 BA, 63 R, 21 HR, 94 RBI, 49 BB, 4 SB

If I were a bettin’ man…

I’d rank McCann third among catchers in fantasy. You know who the top two are. He’s only 26, and probably still has his best season ahead of him. Maybe it will be 2010. I expect him to hit lefties again in 2010, and I see an increase in power coming. On draft day, he’ll be on my radar between rounds four through seven.

I’ll bet: .295 BA, 65 R, 30 HR, 95 RBI, 60 BB, 5 SB

Yunel Escobar, SS Age: 27 Bats: R

Escobar quietly turned in a solid 2009 season where he improved in nearly every statistical category from 2008. The value of his bat was punctuated by a .373 BA with RISP in 2009, and he is projected to bat sixth in 2010. Escobar is a straight-line hitter, but in 2009 he hit 228 fly balls – 35 more than he hit in 2008. Escobar defines consistency as his first and second half splits are nearly identical.

2009 stats: .299 BA, 89 R, 14 HR, 76 RBI, 57 BB, 5 SB

If I were a bettin’ man…

… Which I’m not, but I wouldn’t mind adding Escobar to my roster. Fantasy relevant SS are a rarity in 2010, and Escobar offers some upside at a depleted position for a cheap price. He’s not a speed guy, and he’s not going to turn into one in 2010. He does offer a good average with increasing power. I will probably target him somewhere in the early to mid teens on draft day.

I’ll bet: .305 BA, 70 R, 18 HR, 80 RBI, 60 BB, 4 SB

Jason Heyward, RF Age: 20 Bats: L

The hottest prospect in all of baseball will make his Major League debut in 2010 after storming through the minor leagues with 46 extra base hits in 351 AB. He played only three games of AAA ball in 2009, but all signs point to Heyward starting for the Braves in RF this season. So far this spring Heyward is 8 for 18 with 5 extra base hits and two steals. His mix of power and speed might even garner him the leadoff spot in 2010. Mark Bradley with the Atlanta Journal Constitution speculated in a recent article that Heyward might not be on the opening day roster because of financial reasons:

Heyward is different from a lot of these over-hyped players. He can’t even legally buy a beer in America, yet he has the poise and composure of a 10 year vet. Maturity goes a long way in turning potential into production. I have linked a Jeff Schultz article from the AJC:

2009 stats (A/AA): .323 BA, 66 R, 17 HR, 61 RBI, 51 BB, 9 SB

If I were a bettin’ man…

I would bet on Heyward being in the mix for ROY in 2010. If McLouth continues to struggle into May, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Heyward plugged in at the top of the order. But that’s just me. I’m totally sold on this one – I just don’t know where to draft him. Players like this can go at any time during the draft. There are always those guys who just HAVE TO HAVE the young hype, and they might take him way too early… That is, until he ends up in the leadoff spot and puts up ROY numbers. Personally, I’m not taking him before 10, and even then I’m going to have to feel things out. Play it by ear, as they say.

I’ll bet: .280 BA, 75 R, 15 HR, 70 RBI, 35 BB, 15 SB
(too modest? Add 20 R and 5 SB if he leads off)

Melky Cabrera, LF Age: 25 Bats: S

Cabrera came over from the Yankees in the Vazquez deal this offseason. He was a serviceable bat and glove for the Yankees for the past four years, and he should fill in nicely for Atlanta in the 8th spot in the order. Cabrera hasn’t shown any progression through his major league career, and time will only tell what the change of venue means for his production.

2009 stats: .274 BA, 66 R, 13 HR, 68 RBI, 43 BB, 10 SB

If I were a bettin’ man…

I’d wager that Cabrera isn’t fantasy relevant. Nothin’ personal – just callin’ a spade a spade.

I’ll bet: .260 BA, 60 R, 5 HR, 60 RBI, 50 BB, 8 SB

You can decide for yourself – but I know that the Braves 2010 lineup is better than that of 2009. They added some speed without losing any power. They added some youth without losing any discipline. They have CHIPPER JONES. Will it be enough to win the NL East? Nope. Hitting is only half of it.

Next up: Pitching


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