One more weekend has to pass before we can officially start the 2013 baseball season and I couldn’t be more ready. After an extended spring training and the World Baseball Classic, I’ve got to watch plenty of baseball, but there’s nothing like the games that count. I just wanted to take a minute and dissect the Braves 2013 roster and playoff possibilities.
To start with, we’ll look at the outfielders on the opening day roster. The starting three could be the best outfield trio in baseball: Jason Heyward, BJ Upton, and Justin Upton. All three of these guys are possible 30/30 guys and will really create problems for opposing pitching staffs. They also are the best defensive outfield in baseball. These three cover a ton of ground and will really be fun to watch. Reed Johnson, who is one of the best pinch hitters in baseball, will serve as the 4th outfielder on the roster. The 5th outfield spot went to Jordan Schafer. I really only see Schafer being used as possibly a pinch runner or working mop up duty at the end of the game to maybe give one of the starters an early shower.
When you look at the infield, you have to start with who’s replacing Chipper Jones. The answer has virtually come down to a platoon with Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco. Both guys have surprisingly had very good springs, thus neither outright winning the position. I personally feel Johnson will win it outright and could be a possible 20 homer guy and hit for a high average, something that is certainly acceptable for your seven spot in your lineup. At short is Andrelton Simmons of course who has had an absolutely dominate spring with the Braves spring training as well as playing in the WBC with the Netherlands. He will bat leadoff for the team this year and got plenty of reps doing so in the WBC. His numbers were impressive and, after listening to him talk, he seems to understand the need to take more pitches batting at the top of the lineup.
On the other side of the infield is Freddie Freeman at first, who has also had a great spring, leading the team with 7 homeruns and second in RBIs with 16. He’s another guy that should have 20+ homeruns and right at 100 RBIs. Dan Uggla will play second and will hopefully have a season that is more aligned to the numbers you expect to see from him. Given the dynamic speed and power in this lineup, he won’t be expected to really carry the team or feel the pressure to hit 30 homers, and maybe this will allow him to take a more relaxed approach. The only utility infielder on the bench will be Ramiro Pena, who is a excellent defensive shortstop. The other bench spot will go to either Chris Johnson or Juan Francisco, depending on who is starting.
The catching spot is an interesting one. Brian McCann won’t be ready to start the season after his offseason shoulder surgery. Because of this, the Braves will start the season with Gerald Laird as their opening day catcher. Serving as the backup is Evan Gattis. If you don’t know his story, then it’s one that you should. He’s had an eye opening spring and earned a spot in on the roster. The interesting thing about Gattis is that he has started a lot of games in the outfield and could potentially be used as the 5th outfield spot. If he proves that he really is major league ready, and continues his numbers from spring training into the first month or so of the season, whenever McCann returns, the Braves will have a decision to make. I think if he’s hitting as well as he is now, the will place Schafer on waivers, and keep Gattis on the roster. He would be able to serve as the 5th outfielder, an emergency 3rd catcher (Laird will move to the backup spot), and serve as a power bat in a pinch hitting role. Also, depending on how well he plays this year, and how quickly Christian Bethancourt develops in the minors, the Braves will have to decide if it would be worth resigning McCann, who is a free agent at the end of this season. Gattis could be the temporary starting catcher if he’s consistent this season and it proves that Bethancourt isn’t quite ready at the start of 2014.
Finally we get to the pitching staff. Tim Hudson will serve as the anchor of the rotation and the veteran of the group. The other starters are Paul Maholm, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, and Julio Teheran. Teheran will be ready to prove that he is ready for a full time role in the majors after serving his dues in the minors. Apparently the Braves believe he’s ready for that spot because they traded away both Tommy Hanson (finally!) and Randall Delgado. Medlen has become one of the best starters in baseball and should be solid again this year. I don’t think he’ll match last year’s freakish numbers but he will still be solid. If anything should happen to any of these 5, Sean Gilmartin would be the first in line to make an emergency start. Alex Wood had a great spring and is someone to keep an eye on in the minors this year, as well as #1 prospect J.R. Graham. Most people expect Graham to be the emergency starter but I think he’ll be better serve with another full year at AAA to make sure he’s ready in 2014 to possibly replace Hudson or Maholm. Keep an eye out in late July when Brandon Beachy returns from his Tommy John surgery. The Braves will have a decision to make on what to do with him and who they would replace in the rotation, or if they’ll use him in the bullpen. The starting rotation should be good, but for the first time in a long time, won’t be the focus of the Braves team.
Lastly, the bullpen will continue to be probably the best in baseball. Craig Kimbrel will be closing of course and Eric O’Flaherty will be a key fixture in the pen also. Jordan Walden will be another power arm coming out of the bullpen that will be exciting to watch. He’s the piece that the Braves received in the Tommy Hanson trade with the Angels. Johnny Venters will be another piece in the pen that will be a force but will start the season on the DL. Luis Avilan, Cory Gearrin, Anthony Varvaro, and Cristhian Martinez will fill the rest of the bullpen spots.
I think the Braves will have a very exciting team this year, as they have become a very young team. I expect to see a lot of power and will probably be at the top of the majors in homers. As far as the regular season goes, I think they’re a 90 win team, but not quite able to overtake the Nationals. They will certainly win a Wild Card spot and make the playoffs. Hopefully, they will be able to get through the play-in game…as long as there are no infield flies. Once they get in the playoffs, I wouldn’t want to face this lineup if I’m an opposing team. They also still have several million dollars of payroll that they can use to go after a key piece in the middle of the season if they find they need one. The team should be exciting to watch and I can’t wait to start chopping! Go Braves!
The Starting lineup should look like this:
- Andrelton Simmons
- Jason Heyward
- Justin Upton
- Freddie Freeman
- B.J. Upton
- Dan Uggla
- Chris Johnson
- Gerald Laird
- Pitching spot