The Atlanta Braves had a great season in 2011 end on a sour note when an awful September collapse(led the Wild Card by 8.5 games on September 6th) saw their season come up a win short in the final day of the campaign. The team is set at several spots featuring a good mix of veterans as well young up and comers. A 2nd season with Dan Uggla at 2nd base should help the offense as well as 1b Freddie Freeman’s sophomore campaign. CF Michael Bourn, a midseason trade acquisition, should spark the top of the lineup and healthier seasons from 3B-OF Chipper Jones, C Brian McCann and INF-OF Martin Prado could make this offense scary good. Pitching wise, this an excellent group with depth and options. Lets look at the issues the team faces as the Braves enter spring training.
1- ROTATION- With the offseason trade of veteran Derek Lowe, the team cleared a rotation spot but still has several options to fill slots 4 and 5. Righthanders Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson(Only 22 starts in an injury plagued 2011 campaign) and Jair Jurrjens(23) are set in the first 3 spots but Hanson and Jurrjens both battled arm injuries in the 2nd half of 2011. Lefty Mike Minor(5-3,4.14 ERA in 15 starts in 2011) and RH Brandon Beachy(7-3,3.68, 25 starts) appear to be strong favorites for those slots. Rookie RHs Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado(2 of the top pitching prospects in the game) as well as veteran Kris Medlen(recovered from elbow surgery that cost him most of 2011) are the other candidates to start. Regardless of who wins these spots in camp, due to injuries and/or attrition, depth is never bad. This team should be in good shape rotation wise. Manager Fredi Gonzalez can rest easy when he thinks of his starters.
2- SHORTSTOP- The team let veteran Alex Gonzalez walk in the offseason hoping that promising rookie Tyler Pastornicky could win the job after he tore up Triple A in 2011(.365 in 27 games after hitting .299 in 90 AA contests). The youngster has hit for average and stole bases in the minors but has not appeared in the majors. The Braves signed veteran INF Jack Wilson as both an insurance policy and mentor. INF Brandon Hicks, who played in 17 games with the big club in 2011, is another option.
3- HEALTHY HEYWARD-2010 National League Rookie of the Year Jason Heyward was never right in 2011 due to a shoulder problem. After hitting .277 with 18 homers he fell to .227 with 14 in 2011, a 100% healthy Heyward would great improve the Braves defensively as well as offensively. In a very subtle yet underrated move, the team added former Atlanta Outfielder Matt Diaz(2006-2010) as a back up player. Diaz has hit 41 of his career 43 homers in a Braves uniform and murders left handed pitching(.329 average, .506 slugging percentage). He joins INF-OF Eric Hinske and OF Jose Constanza to give Gonzalez much better bench options in the outfield.
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