Atlanta Braves 2015 Preview: 3 Up and 3 Down

The 2014 season was a disappointing one for the Atlanta Braves. After winning its first division title since 2005 the year before, 2014 saw the Braves fall to 79-83. Their offseason could be described as a good old fashioned housecleaning. Gone are the likes of Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis. In are the new faces that are all around the organization. A flurry of moves were made to retool the lineup, pitching staff and bullpen. Interim GM John Hart was promoted to the full time position. Hart took over late last season after the canning of Frank Wren. They have a new hitting coach in Kevin Seitzer and also a new third base coach in Bo Porter.

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Freddie Freeman

3 Up

Best Case Scenario

Though anything is possible, the Braves are not viewed as likely contenders in 2015. The Washington Nationals ran away with the N.L. East a season ago and the New York Mets and Miami Marlins showed that they, too, are on the rise. According to a Feb. 25 article from USA Today, the Braves aren’t rebuilding as previously speculated, but rather remodeling. Quite a few young arms were acquired in the offseason. Their pitching staff is headlined by Julio Teheran and Alex Wood, but Shelby Miller is only 24. He was brought over from the St. Louis Cardinals in the Heyward trade. The club acquired Michael Foltynewicz from the Houston Astros for Gattis back in January and the 23-year-old right hander is seen as having a very bright future.

With Gattis gone, the Braves inked A.J. Pierzynski during the offseason and he’ll be behind the plate in 2015, sharing time with the young Christian Bethancourt. Nick Markakis signed with the team after spending his entire career with the Baltimore Orioles. He’s a decent hitter, but is recovering from neck surgery. Also new to the team is Jonny Gomes, who has become a journeyman in recent years.

2015 ought to be a year of growth for this club with some youngsters on the team mixed in with veteran experience.

Most Important Braves

Atlanta needs Freddie Freeman to lead the way in 2015 and beyond. After a Top-5 MVP finish in 2015, Freeman’s numbers dipped last year, albeit slightly. He’s 25 years old and is a durable as a player. Freeman took more walks last year but also struck out more. The 2x All Star could be making many more trips in the future to the Midsummer Classic.

Despite speculation that he might have been traded, Craig Kimbrel is back in uniform in 2015. 2014 may have been disappointing for Kimbrel’s team, but not Kimbrel himself. Even though his numbers were a little off last year by his standards, he still performed beautifully. For the fourth year in a row, he led the N.L. in saves and finished Top-10 in the Cy Young voting. He became the inaugural recipient of the Trevor Hoffman Award for the best reliever in the Senior Circuit. No matter what kind of shape the team might be in, if he’s on the mound in the 9th inning, most likely the Braves will emerge victorious.

Is there a better defensive shortstop in the game than Andrelton Simmons? He won the Gold Glove for the second consecutive year in 2014. Simmons is also the two-time reigning recipient of the Fielding Bible Award at his position In 2013, the fans voted for Simmons as the winner of the N.L. Platinum Glove. He might not be the team’s most potent offensive weapon, but his defense is top of the line. Let’s not forget that good defense can help a team win games, just ask last year’s Kansas City Royals.

Potential breakout players

Foltynewicz has drawn rave reviews for his fastball. The Braves might never again see a legendary rotation of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Still, this pitching staff ought to be fun to watch for years to come and Foltynewicz could be a key cog. He got a small taste of the big time last year. Foltynewicz still counts as a rookie because he only worked 18.2 innings last year. It’s possible he could find himself in the rotation sometime this year.

Bethancourt also constitutes as a rookie. He made his debut on the final day of the 2013 regular season and got a little more experience last year. Considering how Pierzynski is 38 and his playing time has declined, it seems obvious that Bethancourt is who the Braves are going with as the team’s catcher of the future. This became especially true after the Gattis deal. Should the Braves rise again soon, the young backstop is certainly a player to keep eyes on.

3 Down 

Worst Case Scenario 

Players with potential don’t always pan out. The young players Atlanta has assembled over the last several months might not be the answer. It’s definitely possible the team could experience growing pains and have a worse record than they did in 2014. Perhaps the youth movement will continue if they are sellers at the trade deadline this year. Maybe Hart could change his tune and ultimately trade Kimbrel if need be. Certainly any deal the Braves make involving their closer ought to call for a very nice return package.

Areas of Concern 

Then again, maybe now isn’t the best time to trade Kimbrel. If he goes, who is going to replace him as closer? Jim Johnson is on the roster, but he performed poorly with both the Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers last year. Johnson had a couple of nice years with the Baltimore Orioles, but now he’s a gamble. The team did have Jose Veras before he was released by the club March 19. Jason Grilli signed with the team over the Winter. He struggled with the Pittsburgh Pirates last year, although he did improve after a trade to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Still, we might never again see the magic Grilli produced in 2013 as he’s 38. It’s no secret that Kimbrel can bring it, but other than that, how much depth does this bullpen really have?

Who needs to bounce back from a down 2014

Once known as B.J., Melvin Upton Jr. could use a bounce back in the worst way. He had a disappointing 2014 and was even worse the previous year. Like it or not, he is set to make $14.45 million. At one point, in the late 2000’s, it looked like he was on his way to a bright career. Now he’s 30 and needs to pick up the pieces. Upton has shown before that he can steal bases and hit for power. Unfortunately for the Braves, Upton has stalled progress instead of living up to his contract. Still, every year is a new year and there is always hope.

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