Some of my fondest childhood memories stem from spending summers at my grandfather’s house on Long Island. The swimming pool was nice and some of the neighborhood kids were pretty cool, but one of my favorite things to do was to pull up a chair next to his beloved BarcaLounger and sit and watch the ballgame together. When I would ask why we were always watching the Braves play, he, a man of few kind words, was never afraid to share his feelings about the Dodgers and Giants moving west, his hatred for the Yankees and an inexplicable disdain for the Mets. He was one of the few cable owners in the neighborhood back in 1980 and when Ted Turner brought him the Braves games, he “turned injun,” so to speak. Every season, amid cries of how free agency killed the game, he would lay out the roster for me and shout a variety of expletives with each new name he was forced to learn. So when the Braves offered up virtually the exact same roster this year as they did in 2013, I thought of him and how happy he would have been on Opening Day. But while looking at this outfield, one has to wonder if the roster consistency is also good for fantasy owners.
We can start off in left field with Justin Upton as consistency would, most definitely, be a good thing. Especially because, when you look at his year-to-year numbers since his rookie season in 2008, they have been anything but consistent. Power-wise, he seems to be suffering from that every-other-year syndrome, but in truth, he’s had just two really great seasons out of six. His “down” years haven’t been terrible, but certainly not representative of his elite talent/potential and certainly not reflective of where he usually goes in fantasy drafts. And what’s worse is that the problems are never the same either, whether it’s injury-related, strikeouts are too high, fluctuating walk rate, spike in ground balls, drop in line drives, etc. At some point you’d like to see him put everything together all at once and just plateau. Perhaps this is the year that starts as he is just entering his age-26 season; the prime of his life, career-wise. There’s no denying the talent, but unfortunately, all we can do from our end is hope.
Moving over to center field and looking at B.J. Upton, Justin’s brother, I am often reminded of a George Bernard Shaw quote that reads, “success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.” If you owned B.J. last year, you know exactly what that means and if you even thought about returning to that well this year, I can only imagine how much those words sting. You’d like to think that last year’s .184 average with just nine home runs and 12 stolen bases is rock bottom for the elder Upton sibling, but the phrase “hitting rock bottom” tends to imply that it can’t get any worse and that he is capable of pulling himself back up. In truth, it’s hard to imagine that. Sure, some of the power could return and he could end up hitting roughly 15-home runs, but the strikeouts certainly aren’t going away, the average is unlikely to land anywhere desirable and as for as the stolen base total goes, Fredi Gonzalez doesn’t like to give the green light to anyone, let alone a guy whose success rate has been declining recently. Despite the potential he’s shown and the crazy bargain price he’ll be at, the outlook doesn’t appear to be all that rosy.
While the Shaw quote can rightfully be reiterated as we discuss Jason Heyward in right field, I still find myself a believer in his talent and, much to the chagrin of the 2013 version of me who said, “never again,” will happily walk down that path at least one more time. Last year I thought that Heyward was primed for his big breakout season; ready to take that 20-20 2012 season up a notch, perhaps somewhere near the stratosphere. But injuries derailed him once again, and not just one injury, but quite a few. Between the appendectomy, the hamstring and the jaw, it just went from bad to worse. There was some nice stuff in between at times, but a season of just 382 at-bats wasn’t what any of his owners signed up for. The improved plate discipline might breed a little hope, but while I still think there’s imense talent here, you have to walk in with cautious optimism. His ADP is hovering between 75 and 80 right now in the NFBC and that’s probably a fair spot for him to go. A healthy season will vault him back up towards the first couple of rounds, but for now, you still need to hedge your bets.
Sitting in a back-up role, the Braves again have Jordan Schafer who, if he gets playing time, can be a nice choice for some cheap steals. But the Braves also brought in Ryan Doumit. The switch-hitting Doumit brings more pop to the table than Schafer does and he can also play behind the plate, but as far as being an outfield glove, he’s a bit of a liability. If the trio of Upton, Upton and Heyward can stay healthy, then neither figures to see much time, but they’re legitimate back-ups who gain value with increased playing time so neither should be ignored. In addition to that, there’s always Evan Gattis who can play the outfield, as well as Joe Terdoslavich. However, Gattis’ focus is not behind the dish, and Terdoslavich, if not in the minors, is also backing up at third.
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