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Playing Pepper 2012: Atlanta Braves

Posted on February 21, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Filed Under: Atlanta Braves | Playing Pepper
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad.  Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.

Atlanta Braves
89-73, second in the NL East

Atlanta was going to the playoffs.  There was only the sliver of possibilities that they could miss the postseason tournament and, really, those things are always "technically possible" but never actually happen.  It just wasn't possible.

Until it happened.

Cardinal fans know full well about last September, about how the Cards searched while Atlanta stumbled.  The emotions that we feel for that time period are nothing like what our contributors felt.  It was a pretty bleak time in the history of an organization that has some stellar highs as well.

It's a new season, though, and nothing about 2011 counts toward 2012.  Atlanta looks to erase all those thoughts and put the collapse fully behind them with a great new season of Braves baseball.  So, to find out all about this club and what they have to look forward to, we turn to the experts.  The Braves don't have much representation in the BBA, so I had to do some outreach, but got a lot of quality talent to respond.

Ben Duroino can be found writing up the latest in Atlanta news over at Capitol Avenue Club.  He's also a contributor at RotoGraphs as well as SBNation Atlanta.  To keep up with all his work, follow him on Twitter at Ben_Duroino,

Joe Lucia typically follows the Braves at his Chop-n-Change site, but he also writes about baseball on a more general level at The Outside Corner and contributes at Awful Announcing. His Twitter account is JoeCNC.

Jim Pratt also has a couple of places that he writes for.  Along with his major spot over at BravesWire, you can also see him at Bleacher Report.  On Twitter, he's 2outsacbunt.

Carlos Collazo is the most recent head writer for Tomahawk Take and a member of the BBA. Follow him on Twitter at CarlosCollazoTT to find out what he's thinking about the current Atlanta news.

As with Cat yesterday, Leslie Koerdt writes for the Aerys network, covering the Braves on the aptly-named She Is Out Of Your League. You can find her on Twitter at lk_comm.  

After the jump, we'll see if there will be any post-collapse fallout and what youngster might make an impact on the current squad.

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C70: What was your opinion of the team's offseason?

CAC: Frank Wren felt that an 89 win team that had many underperforming players should not be altered much. I agree with him, and think the team is in great shape in both the rotation and bullpen. There are some questions about the bats, specifically at shortstop and left field, but Prado should rebound to his career performance levels and the team has the tools to trade for a shortstop if Tyler Pastornicky struggles out of the gate. It was wise to keep the team intact, and they should again be one of the better teams in the National League.

CNC: Frank Wren did....nothing. Absolutely nothing. He pretty much let Alex Gonzalez, George Sherrill and Scott Linebrink walk...and picked up no free agents to replace them. Rookie Tyler Pastornicky has been named the starting shortstop, and the bullpen roles will likely be filled by minor leaguers. This was a borderline playoff team in 2012, and they didn't need to tweak much with the team, so I'm not really disappointed with the lack of activity during the offseason.

BW: It's been an uneventful offseason outside some "kicking of the tires" discussions with the Baltimore Orioles about Adam Jones and with the Colorado Rockies regarding Seth Smith, until he was dealt to Oakland. 

The Braves have a hard cap number of $94 million for 2012, which includes paying $10 million to Derek Lowe. With only about $4 million left to spend, I wouldn't expect much movement from Atlanta until the trade deadline. 

The biggest need is without question a power bat in left field. The ideal scenario would be to deal Jair Jurrjens at the deadline for a power bat and move Martin Prado back into a super-utility role.

TT: Unlike many Braves fans and writers, I am pretty happy with the Braves off season. Coming into it we didn't have a lot of holes to fill and the most important thing for us to get was a shortstop to back up Tyler Pastornicky. We got Jack Wilson. A lot of people also seem to forget that we got rid of Derek Lowe and now have to pay him $5 million dollars less. This opens up a spot in the rotation for Mike Minor, who will be better than Lowe.

OOYL: Atlanta will seem like they made more moves than they did simply by getting players like Kris Medlen back, having a healthy Tommy Hanson. There were not many moves they could make, especially after they realized Tim Hudson would not be ready for opening day. Shortstop is a move that could have been made, but the Braves feel confident Tyler Pastornicky will be ready.

C70: Will the collapse of 2011 play any role in the 2012 season?

CAC: I doubt it. They understand how close they were to making the playoffs, and how only a few bounces or breaks could have gotten them in. There is a ton of talent on the team, with a good mix of veterans and younger players, and the clubhouse has not had any issues since Yunel Escobar was traded in 2010. I think they put it past them and have moved on.

CNC: If anything, I think it'll just make the team more driven to win in 2012. Coming that close to the playoffs, and spending most of 2011 as the second best team in the league, only to not be playing in October is a major demerit for the team, and I think it'll drive them even harder to get to the playoffs in 2012. Also, Fredi Gonzalez should take a long look in the mirror at his handling of the bullpen, and how his top relievers tired down the stretch. Better usage for them will be key for the Braves this season.

BW: I doubt it will have any effect on the players, I suspect a couple weeks into the season all the talk of last season will fade away. The Braves were lucky enough to have the Boston Red Sox collapse take the majority of the media thrashing away from Atlanta last season. 

The whole collapse was a domino effect down the stretch. Injuries to pitchers Tommy Hanson and Jurrjens caused the Braves to call upon a couple rookies in Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado. Those young pitchers weren't equipped to go deep into games which caused a strain on the bullpen. 

The offense was anemic all season and without many blowouts to ease the use of the bullpen, the late inning relievers just got overworked.

TT: It was fortunate for the Braves that the Red Sox decided to collapse as well. Most of the media attention fell to them and the Braves have been under the radar all off season. Frank Wren didn't freak out after the collapse, or after every team in his division started going wild with trades and free agent signings. I think that is a great sign, and it seems like the Braves have put last season behind them. The most important change in my opinion is the addition of Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher. Larry Parrish may be a great guy but he did not help the offense at all. Walker is already making strides with Heyward's swing.

OOYL: Only as an example of what not to do. The offense has to realize that the pitchers would not have been gassed if there had been run support. With a team so young, this could be a valuable learning experience.

C70: What player has the most to prove in this coming year?

CAC: It is probably Jason Heyward. Skeptics have begun to worry about whether he will reach the potential many believe he has, so proving that his rookie season was no fluke will be somewhat of a backstory. Martin Prado also has something to prove as well, as his second season as a full-time starter did not go nearly as well as his first season.

CNC: Two players actually: Jason Heyward and Martin Prado. Heyward's sophomore season was an overall disappointment due to poor luck on balls in play, and a balky shoulder that sapped a lot of his power and resulted in a change in his stance. As for Prado, his first year as the everyday left fielder was a complete disappointment. Prado's lack of power or patience at the plate was absolutely fatal to his overall production, and if he's not able to increase those facets of his game this season, he could be shifted into more of a utility infielder role as opposed to an everyday corner outfielder.

BW: The player with the most to prove has to be Jason Heyward. After a successful rookie season (17 HR, 72 RBI), he had Braves fans salivating over what was to come in 2011. 

Battling a bad shoulder and the inability to make adjustments to how pitchers were attacking him at the plate caused a lot of criticism to be piled on such a young player. He was eventually replaced in the lineup for a period of time by minor league unknown, Jose Constanza

Heyward has spent the offseason retooling his swing and all reports tend to lean towards him having a bounce back season. Sometimes our expectations are for young players to reach their full potential immediately, when we all know that realistically players need time to adjust to the talent level of the big leagues.

TT: This could go to Jason Heyward or Martin Prado but because of Heyward's potential I am going to go with him. Last season was awful for Jason and he needs to go out and prove he can be a middle of the order bat for a long time. Getting healthy and getting his wrists involved like 2010 is one step but if he wants to take it to the next level he HAS to cut down on the ground balls. A 50% ground ball percentage is not going to allow him to come near 30 home runs, and he has the power to get there.

OOYL: Jason Heyward. Jason has to prove to himself as much as anyone that his rookie year was not a fluke. A good start for him will go a long way for his confidence.

C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season?

CAC: Tyler Pastornicky will be the starting shortstop, so his impact will be noticed and felt immediately. Other than him, both Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino should be on the opening day roster. Tim Hudson will eventually likely replace Teheran in the rotation once his back heals, but Teheran could pitch around 150 innings at the Major League level as the team's sixth starter. Vizcaino is expected to make the bullpen out of camp, and he should be the team's best right-handed set-up man.

CNC: For better or worse, Tyler Pastornicky is going to be making a large impact on the 2012 Braves, due in part to being named the starter at shortstop already. He has limited experience above AA ball, and throwing him right into the fire could be an absolute disaster. Also, with the injuries suffered last season by starters Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, and Tim Hudson's offseason surgery that he may not be recovered from by Opening Day, top starting prospects Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado could be shifted into the rotation if the injuries continue to be a concern. Both players could use more time in the minors, especially Delgado, but they both should be able to hold their own in the majors if necessary.

BW: Yes and it's not who non-Braves fans might think of. The shortstop job is Tyler Pastornicky's to lose at this point. He can be described best as "a gamer" with speed being his best offensive tool. Braves fans should expect something in the range of a .260 AVG, 5 HR and 20-plus stolen bases. Defensively, he has decent range and should play a solid everyday shortstop. 

He will make the biggest impact because he plays an up-the-middle position and there is no back-up plan even worth mentioning. Pastornicky is ultimately just a placeholder for prospect Andrelton Simmons, who many scouts list as a plus-plus defender.

TT: For the fourth year in a row the Atlanta Braves are giving a rookie a starting job. Jordan Schafer didn't work out but Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman have shown they can play. Tyler Pastornicky is hoping to join them at arguably the most important position in the infield. After playing great at Mississippi and Gwinnett (and not other real options) the organization has decided to give TP a chance. His fielding is average at best and he doesn't have much power but he does bring some speed and a high average to the table. He's never going to be a star but there is nothing wrong with a shortstop who is solid defensively and putting up a .270/.330/.390 line. That is much better than what most teams get and miles better than Alex Gonzalez's performance last year.

OOYL: Tyler Pastornicky.

C70: Where will the team finish in their division and what are you most excited about for 2012?

CAC: I expect them to finish second. The Marlins and Nationals have both improved, but I still see the Braves as the second best team behind the Phillies. The division is much tighter than it has been in the past though, and the Phillies are beginning to age. I would not be completely shocked to see any of the four teams finish first.

CNC: The NL East is going to be a tough run this year. The Nationals and Marlins have both vastly improved their clubs, while the Phillies and Braves have remained largely stagnant. I don't think Atlanta will win the division, but a second place finish doesn't seem improbable at all. However, if everything goes wrong, they could finish as low as fourth. I'm excited most about Jason Heyward's 2012 season, and whether or not he'll be able to get back on the right track and show that he's an elite bat in the majors, or just another guy who got rushed too soon and isn't ready. I'd put a good bit of my money on him returning to his All-Star form.

BW: The Philadelphia Phillies won't win 102 games again, but are still the well-deserved favorites heading into the season. Even with the NL East seemingly getting tougher every day, Atlanta is still the second-best team in the division and should be in the wildcard hunt again in September. 

Speaking as a fan, I am most excited about the potential of this team. There are still a lot of "ifs" involved, but a healthy pitching staff combined with a couple bounce-back season's offensively and a deep run in the playoffs is well within reach.

TT: I think the Braves will finish second even though the Marlins and Nationals have taken huge steps this off season. I think it will go Philly/Atlanta/Washington/Miami/New York. The Marlins rotation doesn't compare to the other three, and the Nationals still have some questions offensively in my opinion. Like most baseball fans right now I'm just excited for baseball to start up again. But specifically I am excited to see how the offense performs under Walker and Fletch, if Beachy can continue his dominance on the mound, and how well Pastornicky handles the everyday shortstop job.

OOYL: The Braves have the opportunity to win the division this year. If they can stay relatively healthy and get run support they lacked in 2011, they should be in good shape.
I appreciate Ben, Joe, Jim, Carlos and Leslie all chiming in on this one.  There will be a lot of talk about last September, at least early on this season, but it's a new chapter in Atlanta and it'll be interesting to see how they write that chapter in 2012.

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