MADISON, March 18, 2014 — Over the next few weeks this column will unveil MLB Power Rankings starting with the weakest team and working towards the strongest. Today the process continues by looking at number nine, the Atlanta Braves.
2013 Record: 96-66 with a +140 run differential.
Key Additions: RHP Ervin Santana and RHP Gavin Floyd
Key Losses: C Brian McCann, OF Reed Johnson, 3B Paul Janish and 2B Eliot Johnson
Projected 2014 Lineup:
OF Jason Heyward
OF Justin Upton
1B Freddie Freeman
C Evan Gattis
3B Chris Johnson
SS Andrelton Simmons
2B Dan Uggla
OF BJ Upton
Projected 2014 Rotation:
Freddy Garcia/Gavin Floyd
Best Case: The Braves’ young players take a step forward making their front office look smart for locking so many of them into extensions. Julio Teheran becomes one of the top pitchers in the NL while logging over 200 innings, continuing to increase his strikeout rate and posting an ERA+ over 135. Justin Upton is much more consistent and boosts his slugging percentage posting a year more in line with his 2011. Justin’s older brother, BJ, sees a bit of a dead cat bounce posting a .225/.315/.400 slash line, which is far more productive than his 2013. Jason Heyward puts everything together and benefits a bit from BABIP posting a .290/.375/.500 line to vault into the NL MVP conversation. The Braves’ bullpen replicates its 2013, when it led the majors in ERA and OPS allowed, enabling the team to overcome the loss of Kris Medlen for the year. The Braves repeat as NL East champs despite their margin of victory over the Nationals decreasing.
Worst Case: Ervin Santana proves a poor replacement for the production of Kris Medlen as his WHIP, BB/9 and HR/9 drift back to his 2012 levels making him a below league average starter. BJ Upton and Dan Uggla both continue to see their careers decline essentially rendering them unplayable. While not regressing to league average, Chris Johnson sees his BABIP dip to .320 decreasing his productivity from last year. Jason Heyward continues to be derailed by injury as he makes three trips to the DL for various nagging injuries. The Braves slip to second in the NL East and miss the playoffs forcing fans to imagine how the season would have gone had they been healthy.
Prospect Watch: While the system seems down compared to what the Braves usually have on the farm there are some bright spots. If Evan Gattis struggles behind the plate there may be an opening for defensive standout C Christian Bethancourt. Bethancourt spent last year in AA where he
posted a .277/.305/.436 slash line, but is better known for his skills on defense. The Braves pitching help appears to be too far off to help this year as RHP Lucas Sims spent last season at A ball where he logged 116.2 innings with 134 K’s and a 2.62 ERA to stake his claim as the top arm in the system. RHP JR Graham is closer to the majors having started last season in AA, but threw only 35.2 innings before suffering a shoulder strain and missing the rest of the year. He will likely start the season again in AA.