The Braves have finalized their opening day roster that will travel to New York. We take a look at every player on the roster to help preview the 2012 season. For the rest of the BravesFTW 2012 season preview, go here.
Brian McCann – Catcher
McCann should make his seventh All-Star team this season. He has been improving defensively and looks completely healed from an injury that hurt his production last September. One of the best catchers in the league, McCann will be a force in the middle of the Braves lineup.
Freddie Freeman – First Base
Coming off a spectacular rookie season, Freddie will look to avoid the sophomore slump. If he avoids the slow start he got off to in 2011, Freeman could hit 25-30 homeruns and improve on his numbers across the board in 2012.
Dan Uggla – Second Base
After one of the worst starts of any MLB player last season, Uggla reeled off a long hitting streak and finished the season with 36 homeruns. Uggla hit just .253 on balls in play last year, and as that number regresses toward the mean, Uggla should see his batting average and overall offensive production go up in 2012.
Chipper Jones – Third Base
Larry Wayne Jones Jr. will start the season on the disabled list but shouldn’t miss too much time as he is already back to taking batting practice. The Braves elder statesman, Jones will likely continue to hit in the middle of the order and hopefully will put up a strong season to end his career.
Tyler Pastornicky – Shortstop
Despite essentially being given the shortstop spot in the winter, Pastornicky had to battle with Adrelton Simmons to clinch his spot on the roster. After a good season in AAA, Pastornicky shouldn’t be any worse offensively than Alex Gonzalez, but won’t be as good with the glove.
Martin Prado – Left Field
After a disappointing season and an injury, Prado seemed to return with a vengeance this spring. Prado is still a career .293 hitter and should be back to his old self for the Braves. Last year Prado had a .266 BABIP, well below his career mark of .315 and well below any number that he ever put up in the minors. Prado should return to hitting close to .300 this season and should return to being a 3-4 win player.
Michael Bourn – Centerfield
Acquired last year at the trade deadline, the Braves will be a better team with an entire season of Bourn. Bourn has become a consistent 4+ win player and could very likely lead the NL in stolen bases. The Braves will have their first full season of a legitimate leadoff hitter since Rafeal Furcal left. Oh, Bourn is also playing in a contract year.
Jason Heyward – Right Field
Before we really worry about Jason Heyward, I feel the need to point out that he is still 22 years old and won’t reach his peak for another 5 years. Yes, he is coming off a terrible season and didn’t look great this spring, but it’s somewhat ridiculous that one injury filled season is making some people forget that he was once the top prospect in all of baseball. Even in his miserable season last year, Heyward was a 2 win player, a mark he should be able to improve upon easily in 2012.
Juan Francisco – Third Base
Francisco will be the opening day third baseman with Chipper Jones on the disabled list. A young (24) hitter, Francisco has tons of raw power but won’t be winning any batting titles. He’s not Chipper Jones, but Francisco will be a serviceable third baseman who can provide good power off the bench when Chipper returns.
David Ross – Catcher
Ross has become one of the best back-up catchers in the league in his time with the Braves. Terrific defensively, Ross has good power and has 4.9 WAR in 165 games over the past three seasons. If McCann is forced to miss significant time, Ross is more than capable of stepping in and still giving the Braves some pop from behind the plate.
Eric Hinske – First Base/ Outfield
Big Damage has become the Braves go-to pinch hitter in his time with the team. The former Rookie of the Year will again be providing good power from the bench while occasionally spelling Prado and Heyward at their corner outfield spots. Hinske’s been a solid 1.7 WAR producer in under 600 plate appearances over the past two seasons.
Matt Diaz – Outfield
After finding success in Atlanta, Diaz struggled through the 2011 season with Pittsburg before finding himself back on the Braves. A lefty-killer at the plate, Diaz will likely spell Jason Heyward a lot when southpaws are on the mound. A fan favorite, Diaz will be used as the Braves top right handed pinch hitter when on the bench.
Jack Wilson – Infield
Never much of a hitter, Wilson’s defense has begun to decline in recent years. However, he is a good veteran presence for a young shortstop like Tyler Pastornicky and can comfortably play three positions in the infield. The Braves will be in trouble however, if they are forced to play Wilson for an extended period of time.
Jose Constanza – Outfield
The bat-licking havoc-wreaking (more-so to Braves fans than the opposing team) outfielder somehow finds himself on the Braves opening day roster despite an awful finish to 2011 and a similarly terrible spring. Fredi seems to have a soft spot for Constanza, who has speed (but also gets caught stealing a lot) and produces some of the most awkward swings in the majors. The fact is, Constanza doesn’t walk, has no power and doesn’t belong on the opening day roster.
Tommy Hanson – Starting Pitcher
Hanson will be making his first opening day start after missing the majority of the second half of 2011 due to injury. With a new look windup (that no longer includes such a drastic hitch) Hanson will look to regain his first half form from a season ago. Hanson has the potential to be the best pitcher on the staff, but needs to stay healthy the entire year to live up to that promise.
Tim Hudson – Starting Pitcher
Like Chipper Jones, Hudson will start the year on the disabled list. Although he recently threw in a spring training game, he will have to get stretched out in order to make starts. Of all Braves pitchers, Hudson will likely miss Alex Gonzalez the most, as he routinely gets hitters to beat the ball into the ground. Hudson has topped 200 innings in each of the past two years and is the veteran presence in the Braves rotation.
Jair Jurrjens – Starting Pitcher
Like Hanson, Jurrjens had a terrific first half in 2011 but was eventually done in by an injury. Jurrjens hasn’t looked all that great this spring and is coming off a season which saw him post the lowest strikeout rate in his MLB career. After a winter full of trade rumors, Jurrjens will look to return to form in the middle of the Braves rotation.
Brandon Beachy – Starting Pitcher
After a sensational rookie season Beachy’s journey from undrafted prospect to MLB starting pitcher has been well documented. As good as Beachy was in 2011, his peripheral numbers suggest that he could be even better heading into 2012. Beachy struck out over a batter per inning last year while keeping his walk rate low. A big area where Beachy needs to improve is how deep into games he goes, as he averaged less than six innings a start in 2011.
Mike Minor – Starting Pitcher
While Jurrjens and Hudson both outpitched their underlying stats in 2011, Minor (like Beachy) underperformed compared to his. In 15 MLB starts, Minor had a 4.14 ERA and a 3.39 FIP. Minor is coming off a fantastic spring and has seen his ceiling rise a lot since the Braves drafted him. With a guaranteed rotation spot for the first time, Minor should break out in2012.
Randall Delgado – Starting Pitcher
Delgado will start the year as the Braves fifth starter despite coming off a bad spring. While Delgado doesn’t have as high a ceiling as Julio Teheran, he is a polished pitcher who should dominate the minor leagues and be ready for a full time job in the rotation in 2012. Delgado has only made 11 total starts above AA (7 in the majors) and could use some more seasoning once Tim Hudson returns.
Craig Kimbrel – Closer
Fresh off winning the Rookie of the Year award, Kimbrel will look to cement his status as one of the best closers in the game and put a rough September behind him. The most valuable relief pitcher (in terms of WAR) in 2011, Kimbrel should continue to strike batters out like he’s playing a video game. As hard as it may to believe, Kimbrel’s underlying numbers were actually better than his 2.10 ERA and he could get even better as long as he doesn’t tire again down the stretch.
Jonny Venters – Set-up Man
Everyday Jonny, like Kimbrel, returns as one of the best relievers in baseball despite tiring out down the stretch. Although Venters gave up three earned runs in just seven spring innings, he allowed only six hits and no walks, which is a good sign heading into 2012. The MLB leader in appearances last year, the Braves would be wise to limit his workload to keep him dominant all season.
Eric O’Flaherty – Set-up Man
The final third of O’Ventbrel, EOF is another dominant lefty who can get hitters on both sides of the plate out. EOF may not be as dominant in 2012 judging by his peripheral’s but he should again be one of the best seventh inning guys in the game. Despite his high number of appearances, O’Flaherty was at his best last September, when he didn’t allow a run in fourteen innings.
Kris Medlen – Relief Pitcher
Medlen is back for his first full season following surgery. Although he likely could fit in the starting rotation, it appears the Braves will use him in the bullpen for the foreseeable future. Medlen is coming off a strong spring and should be able to be a dominant reliever. If he pitches as expected, it would give the Braves another strong arm to use in close and late situations, which would help alleviate some of the pressure on O’Ventbrel.
Cristhian Martinez – Relief Pitcher
Martinez is coming off a good season while serving as the long man in the bullpen, and it appears the Braves will give him more high leverage situations in 2012. While Martinez is clearly behind the first four members of the Braves bullpen (and is nowhere near as dominant) he should be an above average middle reliever. The 2011 season was easily the best of Martinez’ career, but his underlying stats show he might be in for a bit of a regression in 2012.
Chad Durbin – Relief Pitcher
The newest member of the Atlanta Braves, Durbin isn’t much of an upgrade over any of the available minor league arms. While he has plenty of experience, his best years appear to be behind him at this point. When Peter Moylan or Anthony Varvarro return to health and show they are ready to pitch in the majors again, it should be Durbin getting the axe.
Livan Hernandez – Long Reliever/Spot Starter
The best things about Livan Hernandez being on the Braves are that a) we don’t have to face him and b) the opportunity to watch opposing hitters which at 65 miles per hour pitches. Livan truly has a rubber arm and should be able to eat innings up no matter where the Braves use him. His fastball is humorously slow but the truth is that Livan really hasn’t been all that bad a pitcher lately. Considering that he will likely only pitch in low leverage situations, Livan is a great addition to the bullpen because he can probably throw 150 pitches if needed.