The glory days for the Braves are a distant memory after winnings fewer than 70 games in back-to-back seasons. Their offense did score 76 more runs than the previous two seasons (573) with continued fade on the pitching side (19 more runs allowed). Over the last three years, they’ve finished 66.5 combined games out of first place in the NL East.
Atlanta ranked 14th in the National League in runs scored (649) with a league low 122 home runs.
For the Braves to become a threat again to win a World Series title, they need to develop a core of frontline starting pitchers plus find to a couple of foundation impact bats. Their starting lineup has one stud in 1B Freddie Freeman plus a solid complementary player in OF Matt Kemp. SS Dansby Swanson has the potential to be an upside shortstop.
They only lost in free agency was a fading C A.J. Pierzynski. They signed a pair of veteran starting pitchers – Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey. This will take the pressure off the bullpen while allowing some of their younger arms to develop. SP Jaime Garcia was acquired from the Cardinals for 2B Luke Dykstra, SP Chris Ellis, and SP John Gant. SP Max Povse and SP Rob Whalen were dealt to the Mariners for OF Alex Jackson. In another trade with Seattle, the Braves added SP Luiz Gohara, RP Thomas Burrows, and SP Tyler Pike for OF Mallex Smith. They signed C Kurt Suzuki and IF Sean Rodriguez to improve their bench depth. IF Micah Johnson came in a minor deal with the Dodgers.
Atlanta came in 11th in the NL in ERA (4.51). Their bullpen finished 19th in the majors in ERA (3.95) with 28 wins, 29 losses, and 39 saves.
Their starting rotation has one edge pitcher in Julio Teheran followed by three steady arms. Most of the Braves top prospect are pitchers while being a couple of years away from the majors.
The bullpen has a couple of hard throwers with command issues plus veteran closer Jim Johnson who still has job loss risk.
Another losing season looks to be in the cards.
1. OF Ender Inciarte
Inciarte looked rather boring to me in 2016, but the Braves signed him to a five-year $30.5 million deal in December. Ender suffered a hamstring injury leading to month on the DL. He struggled in May (.216 with no HRs and two RBI over 88 at bats). Over the last two months of the season, Inciarte hit .342 with 50 runs, two HRs, 17 RBI, and five SBs. He hit well against both RH (.281) and LH (.319) pitching. His K rate (11.8) is an asset while showing growth in his walk rate (7.8). Ender is a ground ball hitter (51.1 percent in his career) with a low HR/FB rate (2.5). Over nine seasons in the minors, Inciarte hit .284 with 13 HRs, 173 RBI, and 161 SBs over 2293 at bats. His Judy skill set should produce a high volume of steals with an edge in batting average. Possible 5/40 player with a chance at 100 runs with continued growth in his walk rate. If he doesn’t run, he’ll be a losing play.
2. SS Dansby Swanson
Swanson was the first overall pick by the Diamondbacks in 2015. It took him less than a season to make it to the majors after being traded to the Braves last season. Over 494 at bats in the minors, Dansby hit .277 with 10 HRs, 66 RBI, and 13 RBIs while playing at High-A and AA. His walk rate (11.2) gives him top of the order ability with above average K rate (17.2). He handled himself well in the majors over 129 at bats (.302 with three HRs, 17 RBI, and three SBs). Swanson took fewer walks (9.0) percent with a step back in his K rate (23.4). His CTBA (.411) did overachieve in the majors when looking at his short-term success in the minors. His AVH (1.462) offers enough upside to deliver 20+ HRs shortly. Dansby is a leader with top baseball instincts. His feel for the game give him a chance at 20+ steals as well. Nice building block for the Braves. Let’s set the bar at .270 with 15 HRs and 15 SBs with a chance to score 80+ runs while hoping for upside in all areas. Solid value pick as the 18th shortstop off the table in 15 team leagues with an ADP of 185.
3. 1B Freddie Freeman
I must admit I had buyer's remorse with Freeman early in the season after struggling in April and May (.251 with eight HRs and 15 RBI over 191 at bats). The light bulb clicked on in June leading to an impressive finish over the last four months of the seasons (.327 with 26 HRs and 76 RBI over 398 at bats) highlighted by his hot finish in August and September (.340 with 16 HRs and 49 RBI over 194 at bats). Freddie handled himself well against righties (.303 with 27 HRs over 396 at bats) and lefties (.301 with seven HRs and 24 RBI over 193 at bats). Despite his growth, Freeman did have a career high K rate (24.7) while his walk rate (12.8) was the best output of his career. His RBI rate (15) hasn’t offered an edge over the last three seasons after showing impact value in 2013 (23 percent). His AVH (1.882) moved up closer to the big boys with an elite CTBA (.426). His jump in HRs was tied to a change in his swing path that led to a career high in his fly ball rate (40.5) and career high HR/FB rate (19.9). In addition, Freddie hit the fewest ground balls of his career (30.3 – 36.9 percent in his career). Last year wasn’t a fluke. Freeman is just reaching the prime of his career where 30 HRs should be expected over the next few seasons. With a correction in his K rate, Freddie could make a run at a batting title. I see 100/30/100 with upside in all areas. If Dansby plays well in the two hole, Freddie could have the most RBI chances of his career.
4. OF Matt Kemp
Kemp has lost some of his game over the last couple of seasons, but he’s also improved in some areas as well. He has 434 RBI chances, which is pretty surprising when considering he played for the Braves and Padres. He did catch a hot streak from Wil Myers and Freddie Freeman hitting in front of him. His K rate (23.2) fell in line with his career average (23.5) with a step back in his walk rate (5.4) while improving in this area with the Braves (8.3). His presence behind Freeman was a key part of Freddie’s late season success. His RBI rate (18) has graded well in four of his last five seasons. He has a rising AVH (1.862) while his CTBA (.358) is a step back from his success from 2012 to 2014 (.407, .380, and .391). Matt drilled lefties (.306 with 11 HRs and 27 RBI over 134 at bats - .612 SLG) with fade against RH pitching (.258 with 24 HRs and 81 RBI over 489 at bats). Kemp played his best ball in September (.318 with nine HRs and 22 RBI over 107 at bats). His rise in HRs was tied to a rise in his fly ball rate (39.7), which was much higher than his last four seasons (35.0, 34.7, 31.1, and 35.2) while his HR/FB rate (18.4) fell short of his top three years in the league (21.4, 21.7, and 20.0). Last season Matt only attempted one steal. Some regression in power should be expected while a slight uptick in steals would make sense. More of a .270 hitter with 25+ HR, 100 RBI, and a chance at double digit steals. Even with his success, his ADP (95) is lower than 2015. In my thoughts if he falls on draft day as Freeman will be on base over 250 times in front of him.
Nick had his best two seasons in the majors in 2007 (.330 with 23 HRs, 112 RBI, and 18 SBs) and 2008 (.306 with 20 HRs, 87 RBI, and 10 SBs) when he looked like elite upside player. Markakis has fewer than 20 HRs in his last eight years with his best output in RBI (89) over this period coming last season. His K rate (14.8) is favorable while being above his career average (13.1). His walk rate (10.4) has been an asset over the last two years. His swing was empty vs. lefties (.243 with one HR and 21 RBI over 181 at bats). Even with a downtick in average, Nick hit over .273 in five of six months with his failure in May (.190 with a HR and 10 RBI over 100 at bats) dragging him down. Over the last three months of the season, Markakis hit .281 with 11 HRs and 47 RBI. His swing path was improved as well leading to his highest fly ball rate (35.1) since 2010 with a lower GB rate (43.0 – 52.3 percent in 2015). Even with pulse in HRs (13), his HR/FB rate (7.3) came in below his career average for the seventh time in eight seasons. Major league hitter with a solid eye, but his success was much better when JUICE was part of the game. His only value with come in 15 team leagues where he’ll be a 5th outfielder. I know one Fantasy owner that won $100,000 because of him in the season long games. Backend flier with replaceable value on the waiver wire. If you like hot second half players, Nick fits the bill.
6. 3B Adonis Garcia
Garcia hits his way to the minors after a slow start over the first five weeks of the season (.246 with one HR and eight RBI over 118 at bats). He played well at AAA (.356 with four HRs and 18 RBI over 73 at bats) to get him back to the majors by the end of May. Over the last three months of 2016, Adonis hit .295 with nine HRs, 44 RBI, and a SB over 322 at bats. He hit the ball against LH pitching (.302 with two HRs and 16 RBI over 139 at bats) while most of his power came against righties (.262 with12 HRs and 49 RBI over 393 at bats). Garcia has a favorable K rate (16.5) while barely taking walk (4.3 percent). His swing delivers a high volume of ground balls (52.4), which restrict his upside in power. Over 723 at bats in the majors, Adonis hit .274 with 24 HRs and 91 RBI. He did have a higher AVH (1.792) in 2015. At best a 75/15/75 player with 550 at bats. His power could rise with more volume of at bats. In his career in Cuba, Garcia hit .313 with 92 HRs, 419 RBI, and 78 SBs over 2373 at bats.
7. 2B Jace Peterson
Peterson struggled out of the gate (.182 with no HRs and four RBI over 44 at bats) leading to a trip to AAA. His failure continued at AAA (.186 over 110 at bats with no HRs, six RBI and two SBs), but an injury at the major level forced the Braves to call him back up. He flashed in June (.352 with two HRs, seven RBI, and a SBs over 71 at bats), but his bat was empty over the last half of the season (.238 with five HRs, 18 RBI, and four SBs). His K rate (16.9) was improved with a nice step forward in his walk rate (12.8). With Atlanta, Jace struggled to hit the ball in the air (57.7 percent GB rate). He had a bump in his HR/FB rate (10.4). Over five years in the minors. Peterson hit .281 with 14 HRs, 193 RBI, and 150 SBs over 1562 at bats. There’s a better player here, but his lack of output in power and speed will lead to him being a platoon player with more downside than upside in playing time with Sean Rodriguez on the roster. Possible sneaky speed if he plays well out of the gate.
8. C Tyler Flowers
Tyler has been the weaker link at catcher over the last two seasons with the White Sox and the Braves. His K rate (28.0) was a career low with improvement in the last two seasons. He had his highest walk rate (8.9) of his career when having 300+ at bats. Flowers played better against RH pitching (.277 with six HRs and 28 RBI), which was an improvement over his career path (.233 with 37 HRs over 1113 at bats). When given a bump in at bats in May and September, Tyler struck out 51 times over 142 at bats (32.5 percent of the time). He has a bump in HRs in 2014 due a career high HR/FB rate (21.1), which as twice his success in 2016 (10.5). Backend catcher with a power swing that invites batting average risk. If he gets 400 at bats, Flower will have a chance to be a 15/50 player.
9. SS Sean Rodriguez
Rodriguez will qualify at 1B, 2B, SS, and OF in 2017 in 20 game minimum leagues while also playing 11 games at third base. He played his best ball of his career in 2016 (.270 with 18 HRs and 56 RBI over 300 at bats), which may give him the inside track to the starting second base job for the Braves. He’s never had a starting job in his nine-year major league career due to a high K rate (25.1 in his career – 29.8 in 2016). Sean did set a career high for walks (9.7 percent). Rodriguez has been a better hitter vs. lefties (.249 with 23 HRs and 106 RBI over 859 at bats) in his career). In 2016, he had a high slugging percentage against both RH (.507) and LH (.519) pitching. When given close to starting at bats in September, he hit .325 with six HRs and 17 RBI over 80 at bats. Solid power swing with batting average risk. Sean makes the most sense as an injury replacement if he’s swing the bat well. Don’t dismiss if he earns full time at bats.
BN: SS Ozzie Albies
Over three seasons in the minor, Ozzie hit .310 with seven HRs, 109 RBI, and 81 SBs over 1144 at bats. He had 222 at bats at AAA at age 19 leading to a dip in his success (.248 with two HRs, 20 RBI, and nine SBs). Albies has a low K rate (13.5) with a walk rate (9.0) that is just above the league average. His AVH (1.441) is trending up, but Ozzie still needs to bulk up if he’s going to add power. His speed would play well at the top of the Braves order. I expect him to start the year at AAA with his ticket in the majors coming as a result of the play by the second base options in the majors. In 2016, he played 2B and SS. Possible base stealer in waiting in deep DC leagues.
C Kurt Suzuki – The Braves added Kurt to compete for at bats at catcher. His HR total has improved slightly in the last two seasons even with regressing at bats. Over ten years in the majors, Suzuki hit .256 with 83 HRs, 519 RBI, and 19 SBs over 4191 at bats. He’ll do a better job putting the ball in play than Flowers (12.0 percent K rate). May emerge as a C2 option in deep leagues if he earns the starting gig.
IF Chase D'Arnaud – Atlanta gave Chase the best opportunity of his career for at bats in the majors in 2016. He hit .245 over 233 at bats with one HRs, 221 RBI, and nine SBs. Over nine years in the minors, d’Arnaud hit .261 with 37 HRs, 287 RBI, and 218 SBs over 3029 at bats. Low upside bat with a weak chance of making the roster after the Braves added Sean Rodriguez.
3B Rio Ruiz – Over five years in the minors, Rio hit .264 with 39 HRs, 265 RBI, and 21 SBs over 1947 at bats. His K rate (18.9) was just above the league average with strength in his walk rate (12.1). Ruiz has almost a full season at AAA (.271 with 10 HRs and 62 RBI over 465 at bats) at age 22. If Garcia trips up, Rio will get a chance to prove his worth in the majors. Line drive type hitter with his power expected to develop.
OF Micah Johnson – Over the season at AAA, Micah hit .281 with 15 HRs, 101 RBI, and 66 SBs over 1048 at bats. Last season he split time at 2B and OF in the minors. Johnson will compete for a backup in 2016 while providing speed off the bench.
1. SP Julio Teheran
Teheran regained his 2014 form after running off the rails in 2015 (4.04 ERA). He finished with the best walk rate (2.0) of his major-league career with slight uptick in his K rate (8.0). Julio had great control vs. RH batters (12 walks over 391 at bats) with a high level of success (.212 BAA). He issued 29 of his 41 walks to LH batters leading to a poor strikeout to walk ratio (1.86). Lefties hit .237 against him. After a poor April (4.60 ERA), Teheran was electric over 11 starts in May and June (1.64 ERA with 74 Ks over 76.2 innings). His arm lost value in July and August (4.63 ERA) before landing on the DL with a back injury. Teheran rebounded in September (3.57 ERA with 31 Ks over 35.1 innings). His AFB (92.0) was the lowest of his career. Every one of his pitches graded well – four-seam fastball (.245 BAA), sinker – (.229 BAA), changeup – (.234 BAA), slider – (.185 BAA), and curveball (.226 BAA). Julio will give up fly balls (41.9 percent) with a 10.0 percent HR/FB rate. Excellent chance of a sub 3.00 ERA with more wins and 200+ Ks in 2017. The depth of pitches points to breakout ability. Teheran just needs to improve his command against lefties. Very attractive SP3 in 15 team leagues if he’s overlooked. I view him as low value ace.
2. SP Jaime Garcia
Over eight years in the majors, Jaime has a 62-45 record with a 3.57 ERA and 723 Ks over 896 innings. His resume points to him being the SP2 for the Braves even with a poor 2016 (4.67 ERA with 26 HRs allowed over 171.2 innings). Over his first 11 starts, Garcia had a 3.48 ERA with 58 Ks over 64.2 innings. He allowed four runs or more in eight of his next 17 starts with a disaster run in August (17 runs, 26 baserunners, and seven HRs over 16 innings). Jaime was league average against righties (.273) while issuing 50 of his 57 walks over 534 at bats. His HR/FB rate (20.2) was massive for the second time in three seasons. Garcia is a ground ball pitcher (56.7 percent in 2016). His AFB (91.2) was in line with his last two seasons. His off-speed pitches held value – slider (.186 BAA), changeup (.235 BAA) and curveball (.125 BAA). His failure was all tied to the life in the zone on his fastball (four-seam - .300 and sinker - .317) leading to 20 HRs allowed. History of injuries while being in a contract year. 2016 was only the second time in his career that Jaime was able to make 30 starts in a season. The fade in his walk rate (3.0) and rise in HRs allowed suggesting something was going on with his arm. Pretty much a freebie as a 23rd round pick in 15 team leagues. Without any injury news this spring, Garcia is worth a swing with Fantasy owners having a short leash if he stumbles out of the gate.
3. SP R.A. Dickey
Dickey lost his command in 2016 (3.3 walks per nine) leading to shorter innings per starts, and a bump in HRs allowed (28 – 1.5 per nine). This knuckleballer had more life on his pitches in 2012 when R.A. posted his best season in the majors (20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and 230 Ks over 233.2 innings). In 2016, his KB came in at 76.5 mph (78.0 in 2012). His arm had a minimal edge against RH (.264) and LH (.250) batters. Over 17 starts in May, June, and August, Dickey had a 3.35 ERA with 69 Ks over 105 innings. R.A. has a disaster April (6.75 ERA) and July (6.28 ERA). The Blue Jays removed him from the starting rotation in September (4.82 ERA and 1.714 WHIP). At age 42, there isn’t an “A” left in his game. Innings eater with possible short-term value with a rebound in his command.
4. SP Bartolo Colon
The Braves have the two oldest pitchers in the majors pitching in the starting rotation. Since turning 40, Colon has 60 wins and 40 losses with a 3.59 ERA. If he pitches until his 50, Bartolo will have a chance at 300 wins ?. He led the NL in back-to-back season in walk rate (1.5) with five straight seasons of elite success. His K rate (6.0) has no chance of becoming an asset. Colon had league average success vs. both righties (.267) and lefties (.270) while allowing 18 of his 24 HRs to LH batters. Over his first 16 games, he had a 2.86 ERA with 58 Ks over 88 innings. Bartolo lost his rhythm in July (5.51 ERA with eight HRs over 32.2 innings). His AFB (90.3) was a career low with three straight years of regression. Batters still can’t hit his sinker (.255 BAA), which he threw 62.2 percent of the time. This season he’ll make $12 million. Colon just knows how to win games, but his arm could go bad at any time. I wouldn’t fight for him while understanding Bartolo could still have serviceable value a double starter.
5. SP Mike Foltynewicz
Over 56 games in the majors, Foltynewicz has a 4.92 ERA with 202 Ks over 228.2 innings. His walk rate (2.6) was a career best in the majors with two straight seasons of improvement. This led to a slight bump in Ks (8.1 per nine). Mike did win games while struggling to keep the ball in the ballpark (1.3 per nine – 1.5 in his career). He failed to make the Braves out of spring training. After his call up in May, Foltynewicz had a 3.51 ERA with 28 Ks over 33.1 innings – six home runs allowed. He suffered an elbow in June, which led to a month on the DL. His arm has less value over the last three months of the season (4.55 ERA with 81 Ks over 87 innings). Mike had no edge against vs. righties (.273) with work still to do against LH batter (.251). His AFB (96.4) is elite with above average success (.247 BAA – nine HRs allowed over 162 at bats). His best pitch is his slider (.207 BAA) while his sinker invites risk (.317 BAA). Over seven years in the minors, Foltynewicz had a 3.84 ERA with 566 Ks over 646.1 innings. He looks close to becoming Fantasy relevant if his elbow issue doesn’t flare up again. With repeated command and a lower HR rate, Mike should be in line for a sub 3.75 ERA with 150+ Ks if he pitches 175 innings.
6. SP Aaron Blair
Headed into 2016, Blair went 23-13 with a 3.22 ERA and 332 Ks over 363 innings in the minors. He had solid success at AA (10-4 with 2.43 ERA with 110 Ks over 129.2 innings) while pitching well at AAA in 2015 (7-2 with a 3.16 ERA and 56 Ks in 77 innings). Aaron struggled at AAA last year (4.65 ERA) due to a decline in his walk rate (4.0). His arm was worthless in the majors (7.59 ERA with 14 HRs allowed over 70 innings). Blair struggled to strike batters (5.9) with a poor walk rate (4.4). His AFB (91.8) came in below the league average. As bad as he looks, he did have an edge with his secondary pitches (changeup – .204 BAA, slider – .158 BAA, and curveball – .207 BAA). Batters drilled his four-seam fastball (.364 BAA and .679 SLG) and his sinker (.344 BAA). Aaron needs to be in better shape while finding his command of his fastball. I expect him to start the year at AAA. He has the talent and upside to show growth in the majors, but I must see his success on the field before taking on his downside.
7. SP Matt Wisler
After a mediocre April (4.26 ERA), Wisler flashed upside in May (2.51 ERA with 29 Ks over 43 innings). Over his first 11 games, batters had only 52 hits over 68.1 innings. Matt turned into a disaster in June and July (7.71 ERA with 16 HRs allowed over 53.2 innings) leading to trip back to AAA. In the minors, Wisler had four starts with improved results (3.71 ERA with 22 Ks over 26.2 innings). He threw the ball well in first two starts back in the major in August (two runs and six hits allowed over 14 innings with 14 Ks). Aaron finished the year with continued struggles in September (6.53 ERA). Overall, his walk rate (2.8) was in a favorable area with a low K rate (6.6). Wisler issued 37 of his 49 walks to lefties over 296 at bats. His AFB (93.7) was in line with 2015. His slider (.173 BAA) offers an edge while every pitch had losing value. Over six years in the minors, Matt had a 3.54 ERA with 451 Ks over 488.1 innings. Getting closer, but he appears to have trust issues. Wisler needs to throw more strikes to lefties with better location with all pitches in the strike zone. There was enough good in 2016 to take a reserve flier in deep leagues if he wins a starting job out of spring training.
CL Jim Johnson
After two poor seasons, Johnson emerged as the best closing option for the Braves over the second half of the season in 2016. His walk rate (2.8) was in line with his career resume (2.9) while finally figuring out how to strikeout batters (9.5 K rate – 6.5 in his career). His AFB (94.0) was a career low. Batters had success with his sinker (.293) while dominating with his curveball (.170 BAA), changeup (.211 BAA) and four-seam fastball (.103 BAA). Over the last four months of the season, Jim had a 1.76 ERA with 54 Ks over 51 innings. His stuff wasn’t dominating against righties (.252) while offer upside vs. LH batters (.218 BAA). Johnson has two season with 50 saves on his major-league resume so it’s his job to lose based on the end of 2016. Last year he converted 20 of 23 saves. If you believe in him, I would buy insurance. His value will be determined by the spring training reports.
Over six seasons in the minors, Cabrera had a 4.24 ERA with 310 Ks over 356.1 innings. He struggled at High A (5.55 ERA) over two seasons with below winning value at AA (4.06 ERA). Most of his struggles in the minors were due to a high walk rate (5.0 – 5.9 in 2016). His stuff was tough to hit in the majors (.225 BAA) with his best edge coming against righties (.189 BAA). Mauricio still needs to improve against LH batters (.266 with eight walks and 11 Ks). Cabrera had a lower walk rate (4.5) with the Braves while his K rate (7.5) came in low. His AFB (101.1) was one of the best in the game. Both his sinker (.207 BAA) and his slider (.136 BAA) were tough to hit. Not ready for the 9th until he throws more strikes, but he did convert six of seven saves in 2016.
Vizcaino threw the ball in April and May (1.66 ERA) while converting six of seven saves. His arm held value until June 26th (1.93 ERA and 10 saves on the year). Over a five-game stretch from late June and early July, Arodys allowed five runs and 13 base runners over 3.1 innings with two blown saves. This led to a trip to the DL with an oblique injury. Vizcaino was worthless in July and August (19.30 ERA with seven walks and three Ks over 4.2 innings). He finished with 19 walks over his last 17 innings. Arodys ended the year on the DL with a right shoulder injury that didn’t have surgery. His AFB (98.3) was electric. Closing upside, but he has plenty of risk with his bum right shoulder.
Baseball America Prospect Handbook. (n.d.).
Baseball-Reference. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.baseball-reference.com/
Brooksbaseball.net. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.brooksbaseball.net/
Fangraphs. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.fangraphs.com/
Roster Resource. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rosterresource.com/mlb
Rotowire. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rotowire.com/
RotoWorld. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rotoworld.com/
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