• Exclusives

    If the Braves Reported to Camp Tomorrow…

    By Kent Covington

    Braves remain confident in their current roster, but are hoping for an upgrade.

    As us Braves fans, bloggers and commentators wait patiently impatiently for General Manager, Frank Wren, to upgrade the roster, let’s take a moment to reflect on what’s already here.  What if the Braves reported to camp right now?  What if spring training started tomorrow?

    Here’s the likely opening day roster if it remained mostly unaltered:

    STARTERS:

    T.Hudson

    T.Hanson

    J.Jurrjens

    B.Beachy

    Minor/Teheran/Delgado

     

    RELIEVERS:

    C.Kimbrel (R)

    K.Medlen (R)

    A.Vizcaino (R)

    C.Martinez (R)

    Venters (L)

    O’Flaherty (L)

     

    STARTERS:

    F.Freeman (1B)

    D.Uggla (2B)

    T.Pastornicky (SS)

    C.Jones (3B)

    B.McCann (C)

    M.Prado (LF)

    M.Bourn (CF)

    J.Heyward (RF)

     

    BENCH:

    E.Hinske (1B/LF)

    Ross (C)

    Constanza (OF)

    Diaz (OF)

    unnamed veteran SS/INF

     

    REMAINING QUESTIONS:

    • Will the Braves add another bat?

      RHP, Peter Moylan was non-tendered by the Braves, but could still return to the team.

    • If so, what kind of bat?  Could they broker a deal for a potential everyday impact player… or will they aim for a less costly target, such as Cody Ross?
    • Is Atlanta looking for a situational lefty to replace lhp, George Sherrill, who will depart as a free agent after one year with the club?
    • Will the club bring rhp, Peter Moylan, back?
    • Who will the Braves acquire to back up their rookie starter at shortstop?

    I am convinced that the Braves will find the veteran backup shortstop they seek, even if it happens after the team reports to camp.  I also believe it is more likely than not that the team will add a bat… but who?

    The success of the Braves pitching staff will hinge largely on health.  Before the all star break last season, Jurrjens and Hanson combined to go 22-7 with a 2.14 ERA.  No other pair in baseball put up the kind of numbers “JJ” and Hanson boasted in the first half.  That duo, along with Tim Hudson, formed as effective a trio as there was anywhere in baseball.

    But hampered by shoulder and knee ailments, respectively, Hanson and Jurrjens were non-existent in the second half of the season. After the All-Star break they were a combined 2-6 with a 6.75 ERA.  So again…

    Jurrjens and Hanson:

    Before All-Star break – 22-7, 2.14 ERA

    After All-Star break – 2-6, 6.75 ERA

    If both remain in Atlanta, much will hinge on the health of Hanson/Jurrjens

    Tim Hudson had surgery to address an ailment of his own (herniated disc) over the winter.  He is expected to be ready for spring training, and the Braves don’t seem concerned about him.  That said, he will turn 37 years old during the ’12 season.

    The development and performance of a few young arms will also affect the success of this staff. Can Brandon Beachy build on his impressive ’11 rookie season (7-3, 3.62 ERA, 169 K’s)?  What will the Braves get from their 5th starter (who will likely be the product of a spring competition between rookies Mike Minor, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran)?  And if Jurrjens is traded—he’s been the subject of multiple rumors this winter—the performance of young hurlers will play a tremendous role in the Braves’ 2012 fortunes.

    As for the offense, without a significant upgrade via trade, the Braves will rely heavily on the ability of Martin Prado and Jason Heyward to remain healthy and rebound from disappointing ’11 seasons. They’ll also have to hope Rookie of the Year runner up, Freddie Freeman, fares better in his sophomore campaign than Heyward did last season.  And it certainly wouldn’t hurt if some of rookie shortstop, Tyler Pastornicky’s, offensive success at the AAA level translates to the big leagues.

    Contrary to popular belief, Atlanta COULD compete with Philly in the East and earn another postseason berth without any noteworthy alterations.  The Braves were, after all, just 2.5 games behind the Phillies in July of last season, before injuries effectively sidelined their top two starters for the remainder of the season.  And that was with the horrendous first half of Dan Uggla and no leadoff hitter at the time.

    Consider also that Atlanta led the NL in on-base percentage in 2010 and was 6th in the league in runs scored. After the ’10 season, the Braves upgraded by effectively replacing Troy Glaus and Melky Cabrera in the lineup with Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla. Amazingly, despite a substantial upgrade, the offensive numbers actually went down, not up.

    Point being, this offense considerably underperformed in ’11.  That’s why Larry Parrish’s first year as Hitting Coach in Atlanta was his ONLY year as Hitting Coach in Atlanta (not that he shoulders all the blame).  This lineup is capable of much more than it showed last season.

    If the team reported to camp tomorrow, this would be a ballclub CAPABLE of competing at the highest level.  HOWEVER, if the roster remains largely as is, Atlanta’s chances will be qualified by a lot of “Ifs”.  IF the Braves’ “big 3” of Jurrjens, Hanson & Hudson can remain healthy. IF Prado stays healthy and returns to ’10 All-Star form.  IF Heyward can avoid injury an fulfill his potential of over the course of a full season.

    The Braves can compete with their current complement of talent. But, obviously, the more talent they add, the more margin for error (or injury) they’ll enjoy… and the less they’ll be forced to rely upon good fortune.

    Either way, IF Lady Luck smiles upon the Braves in ’12, they could be among the best teams in baseball next season. There is ample cause for concern, but there are also plenty of reasons to be hopeful.

    P.S. The Fried Baseball podcast will return in early 2012 with an entirely new feel. More guests, more interviews and more insanity. See ya then!