2010 Atlanta Braves Preview

Rotation
Derek Lowe, RHP
Tim Hudson, RHP
Tommy Hanson, RHP
Jair Jurrjens, RHP
Kenshin Kawakami, RHP

Closers and Setup
Billy Wagner, LHP
Takashi Saito, RHP

Starting Lineup
Nate McLouth, CF
Martin Prado, 2B
Chipper Jones, 3B
Brian McCann, C
Troy Glaus, 1B
Yunel Escobar, SS
Melky Cabrera, RF
Matt Diaz, LF
Pitcher

Player in Decline
Chipper Jones provides an easy answer, but his age and health risks are all tied into his lowered price tag these days. Jair Jurrjens, on the other hand, has a high price tag and some luck-related statistics that may go the other way and detract from his value in 2010.

Player on the Rise
Everyone is wondering about Jason Heyward, who has considerable upside but may run into an adjustment period as a young Justin Upton did before him. Jordan Schafer could surprise if he has put that adjustment period behind him and is ready to cash in some of his potential.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Brian McCann – Elite
Tommy Hanson – Average
Billy Wagner – Average
Jair Jurrjens – Average
Chipper Jones – Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Jason Heyward, OF
2. Freddie Freeman, 1B
3. Julio Teheran, RHP
4. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
5. Craig Kimbrel, RHP
6. Randall Delgado, RHP
7. Mike Minor, LHP
8. Zeke Spruill, RHP
9. Christian Bethancourt, C
10. Cody Johnson, OF

Overall team outlook: After 14 straight years of playoff appearances, any year without extra games is considered a failure in Atlanta. Then again, this team seems to be coming together nicely with a combination of the fruit of the club’s prodigious talent development system and some decent free-agent acquisitions. The Braves will be interesting in 2010.

The Starting Rotation: Because of their veteran status, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe remain the titular No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers in the rotation. However, both have shown decline and Hudson is coming off of Tommy John surgery. Though both veterans could provide some nice bounce-back value in the short term, the “real” top two starters on this team are wunderkind Tommy Hanson and the surprising Jair Jurrjens. Jurrjens doesn’t quite do it with smoke and mirrors, but there’s been some luck in his numbers and he may come back to earth a little. He’s already a risk because of his lower strikeout rates.

Though the departed Javier Vazquez had a top-five season among NL starters last year, this team always seems capable of coping with loss. Even fifth starter and Japanese import Kenshin Kawakami was decent last year, and Jo-Jo Reyes and Kris Medlen are the young swingmen that have shown promise in the upper minors.

The Bullpen: Replacing two young studs like Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez with old men like Billy Wagner and Takaishi Saito seems like two large steps in the wrong direction, but in terms of real-world baseball, the decisions were laudable. Instead of sinking long-term money into a fungible position, the team has two reliable veterans on short-term contracts. This could all work out and create the bullpen of a contender, or it could fall apart and the team will see a lot of Peter Moylan. Either way, the club won’t be on the hook for a ton of bullpen salary in 2010.

The Starting Lineup: Nate McLouth returns and gets a chance to improve on his poor Turner Field numbers, and he’ll be followed by a lineup that could shape up to be strong in 2010. Martin Prado gives us no real reason to doubt his natural progression and development, Chipper Jones is stellar when he’s in the lineup, and catcher Brian McCann is a young stud with real power at a premium position.

Where Troy Glaus lands depends on how his surgically repaired shoulder holds up, but as recently as 2008, Glaus was a powerful corner infielder. He could easily return to his old status. Yunel Escobar doesn’t do any one thing at a superstar level, but he has enough on-base skills to supplant a struggling Prado and enough power to fill in for an injured Glaus. He might hit anywhere in this lineup, as he did in 2009. The outfield is still up in the air, with as many as five candidates for the corner outfield positions. Melky Cabrera does just enough to guarantee at-bats, and Matt Diaz is a lefty killer at the very least. Beyond that, projecting the corner outfield in Turner Field is a mystery in 2010.

The Bench: Depending on what happens with wunderkind Jason Heyward, the outfield is in a state of flux. Cabrera and Diaz could platoon if Heyward makes the team, and that would be the best use of their talents. If one is pressed into a full-time role, that means Jordan Schafer is getting a shot to recoup his former status as a rising star. Eric Hinske backs up the corners and could be useful if Glaus isn’t healthy. Gregor Blanco can play all over the outfield, and Omar Infante will back up the infield, but neither should be relevant in most fantasy leagues.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

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