After blowing the NL Wild Card lead in dramatic fashion to the St. Louis Cardinals in the final month last year, the Atlanta Braves have a lot of questions that need answering heading into 2012.
The Braves have a good balance of youth and veteran experience and should once again contend for the NL East crown or at least earn the Wild Card berth that was so elusive last year.
So, here are five pressing questions surrounding the Braves as we enter 2012:
5. Can Jason Heyward rebound?
After breaking into the majors in 2010 at the age of 21 and having a solid season in his inaugural MLB campaign, Heyward took a major step backwards in 2011 while battling both injuries and inconsistencies in what can only be described as a disappointing season.
In 2011, Heyward saw his batting average drop 55 points, his slugging percentage plummet to a paltry .389 and, worst of all, his OPS dropped from .849 in 2010 to .708 in 2011.
Opposing pitchers effectively picked up on Heywardâ€™s weaknesses and exploited his shortcomings. However, Heywardâ€™s pedigree and raw skills will likely be on full blast this year as he adjusts to the rigors of what it takes to be a consistent hitter in the major leagues.
Remember he is still only 23 years old. Draft Heyward with confidence.
4. Does Chipper Jones still possess fantasy value?
Jones has proven to be a major headache over the years; tantalizing fantasy owners by posting more than respectable numbers but always dealing with various ailments that curtail his season.
In 2011, Jones hit .275 with 18 home runs and 75 RBIâ€™s in 126 games. Jones has played in more than 130 games only twice in the last seven years, but when he is on the field he can produce.
Expect Jones to go to the infirmary at one point or another in 2012. However, he can still be a valuable reserve that you can plug into your lineup when he is healthy. As long as you handcuff him with another legitimate third baseman/corner infielder, Jones can be an appreciated asset to your team.
Just be sure not to overreach for him in drafts. You should have your full starting lineup set before you think of drafting Jones, thus making him a decent option in rounds 18 or later.
3. Can Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson stay relatively healthy and be productive front-line starters?
When these guys are on, they are nasty.
Both Hanson (11-7, 3.60 ERA, 142 strikeouts) and Jurrjens (13-6, 2.96 ERA, 90 strikeouts) had solid albeit shortened seasons due to shoulder and knee injuries, respectively. Hanson only started 22 games while Jurrjens started in just one more contest (23). If these two can stay healthy with the Braves also getting contributions from veteran Tim Hudson and two emerging stars in Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor, the Braves can lay claim to one of the deepest, strongest staffs in the league.
You shouldn’t hesitate to draft Hanson, as he seems to be in good shape heading into spring training. However, the Braves are not entirely sold on Jurrjens ability to stay healthy and have reportedly shopped him in the offseason. Jurrjens has tons of upside if he can stay healthy and should be a decent pick in rounds ten or later.
2. Is Freddie Freeman ready for primetime?
After a brutal start, Freeman tore it up on in the second half and had a solid overall stat line (.282 batting average, 21 home runs, and 76 RBIâ€™s) in 2011. Freeman also showed his durability in 2011; missing only five games.
Freeman isnâ€™t a prodigious slugger but more of a gap-to-gap hitter who can spray hits to all parts of the field.
Donâ€™t expect Freeman to slug many more than the 21 home runs he had last year, but with more plate discipline and a year of adjustment under his belt, Freeman could be in line for a .300 plus batting average this year. Freeman makes for a lower-tier starting first baseman, but is an ideal corner infielder for leagues that use that designation.
1. Can Tyler Pastornicky have an impact in fantasy circles?
After the Alex Gonzalez experiment didnâ€™t yield the most optimal results, the Braves didnâ€™t bother signing him in the offseason. Instead the Braves will give the speedy Pastornicky a shot to win the job in spring training.
Pastornicky has shown in the minors he can hit, get on base and steal bases. However, Pastornicky comes with little pop and with him adjusting to never playing in the majors heâ€™ll have his limitations. Pastornicky should be drafted in NL-only leagues for sure and has enough upside to warrant attention late in mixed league drafts.
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