StrategyFebruary 6, 2012

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Atlanta Braves

By R.J. White

We’re back for 2012! The Atlanta Braves looked like they were on their way back to the playoffs on September 1, 2011, which would mark their second straight postseason trip after a four-year break. By the end of September, they had lost 18 of 27 games, including five straight losses to end the year. That streak of futility handed the NL Wild Card to the Cardinals and, well, you know the rest.

The beginning of the 2012 season sets up almost exactly like the previous year. The Braves will be looking for young players to mature, Chipper Jones to hang on for one more year, and elite pitching prospects to contribute to an attempt to knock off the juggernaut Phillies rotation. Can they do it? With plenty of NL talent departing for the AL, are the Braves the Wild Card favorite? If the MLB follows through on its two-wild-card-per-league plan, do the Braves feel like a shoe-in?

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 2012 fantasy baseball drafts.
Offensive Starters

C Brian McCann.270.351.4665124713466 
1B Freddie Freeman.282.346.4486721764571 
2B Dan Uggla.233.311.4538836821600 
SS Tyler Pastornicky.314.359.4146574527459in MiLB
3B Chipper Jones.275.344.4705618702455 
LF Martin Prado.260.302.3856613574551 
CF Michael Bourn.294.349.3869425061656w/2TM
RF Jason Heyward.227.319.3895014420396 

Unsettled: Shortstop. Despite a January signing of Jack Wilson, the Braves starting shortstop position appears to be going to rookie Tyler Pastornicky. He takes over for Alex Gonzalez, with whom he traveled from Toronto to Atlanta in last year’s Yunel Escobar trade. Unlike Gonzalez, Pastornicky relies on speed and contact as opposed to power. He’s hung with older competition and is now 21 and ready to play in the majors. If he can consistently get on base early, he’s likely to rise from the eighth spot to the second spot of the lineup, where Martin Prado’s uninspiring 2011 numbers are expected to be. He’s a last-ditch MI in standard 14/9 formats, but he could be valuable if he can keep a high contact rate.
Target: Jason Heyward. The J-Hey Kid graced this section last year, and that turned out terribly. He couldn’t stay healthy (which may be becoming a trend) and hit just .227 when he was on the field. It seems we deemed Heyward the Next Big Thing a little early when we made him a top 12 outfielder last year. Now, his ADP is 108 over at Mock Draft Central, making him the 31st outfielder drafted. At that price, could he be a steal? We all know he has the talent, and he’s slimmed down this offseason after packing on weight heading into last year. I like his chances as staying healthy this year, which should lead to top 20 numbers in a rebound season.
The Rotation
Tim Hudson (R)16-103.221.1415856215.0DL?
Jair Jurrjens (R)13-62.961.229044152.0 
Tommy Hanson (R)11-73.601.1714246130.0 
Brandon Beachy (R)7-33.681.2116946141.2 
Mike Minor (L)5-34.141.49773082.2 

Unsettled: Prospects Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado and Arodys Vizcaino are all primed to make contributions for the Braves this year, and while Vizcaino seems likely to spend the season in the bullpen, Teheran and Delgado should see some starts early. Tim Hudson is still recovering from back surgery, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him miss 4-6 weeks at the beginning of the year. Tommy Hanson dealt with shoulder discomfort late last season, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be ready when pitchers report. Teheran has the most upside of the prospects after destroying Triple-A last year with a 2.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 122 Ks in 144.2 innings en route to a 15-3 record. If the news on Hudson doesn’t get better quickly, Teheran looks like an excellent late-round pick that could pay off huge if he sticks in the rotation and if Jair Jurrjens is ever traded (just do it already!).
Target: Brandon Beachy. Beachy’s first big-league season can be called nothing but a resounding success. As Chris Cwik of FanGraphs noted, Beachy brought his college slider to the big leagues after not using it in the minors, and batters could do nothing with it in 2011. As a result, the rookie posted a ridiculous 10.74 K/9 rate last year, best in the majors for pitchers who threw at least 80 innings. With his youth, K rate and placement in the NL, you’d figure Beachy would be ticketed for a top 10 SP pick in drafts, but Mock Draft Central has him as the 33rd guy off the board, right between Johnny Cueto and Yu Darvish. Get him at a similar price, and you’ve added an ace at a fraction of his value.
The 8th and 9th Innings
Craig Kimbrel (R)462.101.041273277.0 
Johnny Venters (L)51.841.09964388.0 

Chasing Saves: Last season, the closer role was up in the air between the two guys above. However, Kimbrel took it and ran with it, earning himself the NL Rookie of the Year award by posting 46 saves and 127 Ks in 77 innings. Venters was no disappointment though, posting a sub-2.00 ERA for the second straight year while racking up 35 holds. Kimbrel should be the first closer off fantasy boards in 2012, while Venters definitely should be rostered in all leagues as one of the best setup men in the game. Throw in Eric O’Flaherty (0.98 ERA in 73.2 innings last year) and uber-prospect Vizcaino, and this bullpen could be the strongest in the league.
Final Thoughts
The Braves disappointed in 2011, both by missing the playoffs and by the failures of 2011 fantasy draft picks Jason Heyward, Martin Prado and even Dan Uggla to an extent. However, the pitching staff looks amazing top to bottom, and a rotation with Hudson, Hanson, Beachy, Minor and Teheran would look even better. Count on a bounce back from the J-Hey Kid, expect good value wherever you wind up drafting Michael Bourn and, if you’re a Braves fan, pray for a Phillies collapse.
Check back tomorrow for our look at the Miami Marlins.

R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe, writes for FanDuel and Razzball and has previously written for FanHouse. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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