StrategyFebruary 7, 2011

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Atlanta Braves

By R.J. White

The Atlanta Braves surprised many in 2010 by winning 91 games and winning the NL Wild Card. In the playoffs, the Braves fell in the Divisional Round to the eventual champions, the San Francisco Giants. With the Phillies loading up the pitching staff to nearly unfathomable heights, the Braves will need much to break right to compete for the NL East crown in 2011. Luckily, the offense features the most exciting young slugger in the game while the pitching staff continues to add bright young stars. Atlanta also bolstered its lineup with the addition of one of baseball’s top slugging second basemen. Surely one of the favorites for a second consecutive Wild Card berth, the Braves offer plenty of fantasy options for 2011.

In “30 Teams in 30 Days,” the Fantasy Baseball Cafe will preview each team in Major League Baseball on a daily basis. In addition to projecting starting lineups, rotations and closing situations, the Cafe will identify potential targets for 2011 fantasy baseball drafts.
Offensive Starters

C Brian McCann.269.375.4536321775479 
1B Freddie Freeman.319.378.5217318876461in AAA
2B Dan Uggla.287.369.508100331054589w/FLA
SS Alex Gonzalez.250.294.4477423881595 
3B Chipper Jones.265.381.4264710465317 
LF Martin Prado.307.350.45910015665599 
CF Nate McLouth.190.298.322306247242 
RF Jason Heyward.277.393.45683187211520 

Unsettled: First Base. Promising prospect Freddie Freeman is penciled in as the Opening Day starter at first base, and the Braves don’t have many options besides him. Despite struggling during his brief work in Atlanta (20 games, 24 at-bats, 4 hits, 0 walks, 8 Ks), Freeman has developed very quickly, posting a quality .899 OPS in Triple-A last season at the age of 20. While he’s unlikely to provide any fantasy value in 2011, dynasty league owners will want to monitor his performance early in the year to see if he has staying power in the league. If he falters, the Braves could consider adding a veteran stopgap and giving Freeman another year of seasoning in the minors.
Target: Jason Heyward. The cat’s out of the bag regarding Heyward’s nearly limitless upside. After destroying minor-league pitching in 2009 at the age of 19 and earning Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year Award , The J-Hey Kid captured national attention early, hitting .292 with 10 HRs and a .988 OPS heading into June. While his production tapered off over the rest of the year, due in large part to a thumb injury suffered in May, the 20-year-old rookie spent two months showing us his monstrous upside. He’ll likely be selected quite early in 2011 fantasy drafts — half of our Cafe rankers pegged Heyward as a top-10 OF, while the other half had him in the 11-15 range — and he’s worth every penny of his auction price.
The Rotation
Tim Hudson (R)17-92.831.1513974228.2 
Derek Lowe (R)16-124.001.3713661193.2 
Tommy Hanson (R)10-113.331.1717356202.2 
Jair Jurrjens (R)7-64.641.398642116.1 
Mike Minor (L)3-25.981.57431140.2 

Unsettled: Even though he posted an ugly ERA in 2010, Mike Minor is expected to be the favorite for the Braves’ final rotation spot. The ERA isn’t indicative of Minor’s talent — the former first-round pick has been on a fast track to the majors since being selected seventh overall in the 2009 draft, and for good reason. He’s struck out at least 10 batters per nine innings at every minor-league stop, and his K/9, BB/9 and K/BB numbers from his short run in Atlanta last season show his true upside. The Braves could go with Brandon Beachy or Rodrigo Lopez in the fifth spot if they don’t think Minor is ready. Beachy’s 1.73 ERA was tops in the minor leagues last season, and it 148/28 K/BB ratio showed he has the talent to back it up.
Target: Tommy Hanson. Like Minor and Beachy, Hanson dominated the minor leagues coming up as a prospect a few years back. Striking out a batter per inning in the first half of the 2010 season, Hanson had very pedestrian ratios to show for it. But even though the Ks slacked off at the end of the year, his BABIP nosedived and Hanson posted a 2.55 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in the second half. His true fantasy value lies somewhere in the middle, though it’s likely it falls closer to the elite side than the average side. Drafted as a second starter in fantasy leagues this year, Hanson has a great shot at joining the top-tier guys and finishing the season as a top-ten pitcher.
The 8th and 9th Innings
Craig Kimbrel (R)10.441.21401620.2 
Johnny Venters (L)11.951.20933983.0 

Chasing Saves: Billy Wagner heads off into the sunset after giving the Braves an excellent 2010 season. Even with Wagner and Rafael Soriano, who was one of the American League’s best closers in 2010, out of the picture, the Braves bullpen still features two excellent arms. Kimbrel wowed in his ability to keep runners from crossing the plate while nearly striking out two batters per inning. Venters dominated all season long while proving to be one of the best setup men in the NL. The fact that Kimbrel’s right-handed would suggest that he has the inside track for the ninth-inning role, but those who value skill as an indicator of future save opportunities should cast their lot with Venters. For what it’s worth, the two have very close Median Draft Positions, with Kimbrel being selected a round earlier on average.
Final Thoughts
Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla and Tommy Hanson will generate the most fantasy buzz among Braves players, but there are great value picks to be had throughout. Martin Prado contributes solid numbers at 2B, a scarce position for which he qualifies this year. Brian McCann is one of the few talented catchers around with a great record of fantasy success. Tim Hudson, 2010’s Comeback Player of the Year, had luck on his side to post such low ratios last season, but his groundball tendencies should lead to his continued success. Finally, I’d look at drafting both closer candidates in Atlanta, as the pair could combine for 40 saves while doing wonders to ratio totals and racking up big strikeout numbers per inning.
Check back tomorrow for our look at the Florida Marlins.

R.J. White is a fantasy blogger at the sports site FanHouse. Check out his work both here and there, and feel free to talk to him in the forums, where he posts under the name daullaz.
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