Behind the backing of some strong pitching, the Atlanta Braves once again reclaimed NL East glory by winning the division in 2013 in rather convincing fashion over the Washington Nationals.
As usual, and as previously mentioned, the Braves do it with pitching, as that has been their staple for years. They also have some quality hitting and they should offer fantasy baseball players with plenty of intriguing options to consider this draft season.
So, let’s assess the Braves’ top-five pressing questions as we approach Opening Day.
5. What role will Alex Wood have in 2014? Although he came to the Braves as a reliever out of college, the Braves stretched Alex Wood out as a starter toward the end of last season and he shone in the middle of the summer. In his first seven starts, Wood accrued a 2.18 ERA, 1.11 WHIP while posting 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings. However, Wood struggled after that and the Braves shifted him back to the bullpen, as to not shatter his confidence.
This hard-throwing lefty now has dual eligibility at starter and as a reliever, which could pay off big dividends to players in head-to-head leagues. While Wood is not certain to be a starter at the start of the season, especially with the Braves signing Gavin Floyd, the upside is too hard to ignore and eventually Wood will shoehorn his way into the rotation.
Just sit tight and be patient with Wood, as his day is coming and you will want him on your team when that day comes.
4. Can Evan Gattis succeed in a full-time role in replacing Brian McCann? Brian McCann will be no small loss the Braves as his leadership was vastly underrated. Evan Gattis will certainly have some big shoes to fill. Sure, McCann has been known to miss some time in the last few years, but his timely hitting and rapport with the pitching staff is something that should not be understated.
Gattis, himself no stranger to injuries, will take control of the catching duties now while occasionally playing first base, outfield and spending time at DH when there are interleague games. By now we all know what Gattis is and that is power bat, who is pretty much an all-or-nothing-type slugger. Look no further than his 21 home runs and 81 strikeouts in 354 at-bats as proof.
You won’t get great consistency from Gattis, but with catcher such a shallow position, Gattis should make for an adequate starter in leagues of 10-12 or more. Just don’t expect a good batting average.
3. Can Brandon Beachy stay healthy and be a fantasy bargain? Because he didn’t quite overcome Tommy John surgery 100 percent last year, Brandon Beachy will be a bit of a question mark this year.
However, since he has some risk attached to his name, Beachy could be a great value pick in drafts this spring. Clearly, he was not ready to pitch last year and had to undergo another surgery in the offseason as a result. With a more cautious approach this season, expect Beachy to find his stride. You remember how well he fared in 2012 before he succumbed to Tommy John? To refresh your minds, he when he went 5-5 in 13 starts with a 2.00 ERA and 0.96 WHIP to go with 68 strikeouts in 81 innings pitched.
While it may take Beachy some time to warm up, you could presumably get close to ace-like numbers from a guy you’re probably penciling in as your No. 3 or No. 4 starter. So, the reward far exceeds the risk here.
2. After an atrocious season last year, does B.J. Upton have any redeeming fantasy value left? There is no way to sugarcoat it: B.J. Upton was an unmitigated disaster in his first season with the Braves.
In 391 at-bats, Upton wound up with a dismal .184 batting average to go with nine home runs, 26 RBI’s and just 12 stolen bases. That’s just gross. Well, he can only go up from here right?
After averaging nearly 23 home runs, 73 RBI’s and 36 stolen bases in his last three years in Tampa Bay, you should expect Upton to improve somewhat. He has to, right? Well, he still has to be considered a risk since he’s no spring chicken at 30. You shouldn’t expect another disastrous year from Upton and he’s not a complete afterthought. Just hope you can hit the lottery late in drafts with him being nothing more than outfield depth.
1. Can Julio Teheran build on his impressive 2013 campaign? After breaking through in 2013, Julio Teheran indeed seems poised to take his game to the next level.
Teheran finally lived up to all of the hype he received in the minors en route to going 14-8 last year. He had a solid 3.20 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, while also recording 170 strikeouts in 185.2 innings pitched.
With the Braves losing Tim Hudson, and to some degree Paul Maholm, in the offseason, the Braves are going to need their young arms in Teheran, Mike Minor, Beachy and Kris Medlen to carry the torch. Now that he has established himself while getting through a full season unscathed, Teheran should only get better.
He should make for a fine No. 2 or No.3 starter.
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