• Michael Bourn

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    Braves get their man: Upton signs with Atlanta

    It’s official: BJ Upton is the newest Atlanta Brave. Having passed a physical this morning, Upton was introduced by the Braves this afternoon as their new center fielder. Upton will wear number 2 for the Atlanta Braves.

    The deal signed by Upton is a 5-year, $75.25 million contract.

    BJ Upton was the 2nd pick in the 2002 draft and came on the scene with the Tampa Bay Rays in a big way, making it to the World Series in his second full season as a Ray.

    Though he has had unusual seasons and his offense has been an enigma in recent years, Upton brings the potential of huge rewards for the Braves. Upton’s defense in center field is as acclaimed as that of now ex-Brave Michael Bourn. In his 8-year big league career, Upton holds a .255 batting average, an on-base percentage of .336 and a .422 slugging percentage. During the 2012 season, BJ had a career-high 28 home runs as well as a .752 OPS while batting .246. He is that coveted right-hand bat that the Braves have been looking for to balance their lefty-heavy lineup.

    One huge plus the Braves hope to capitalize on with the signing of BJ Upton is his career postseason .879 OPS (in 101 post-season at-bats).

    Though Upton has struggled with strikeouts in recent years, he has always been a clutch hitter and has been a menace on the base paths. As Fredi Gonzalez noted in today’s press conference introducing Upton, BJ goes from first to third base on routine singles better than nearly every player in baseball. Upton’s speed will easily take the sting out of losing Michael Bourn in the lineup. Another plus of Upton is his first and second half splits. While Michael Bourn had a steep drop-off in the second half of the 2012 season, Upton remained relatively consistent. While he had significantly more homers in the second half last season, his batting average, stolen bases, walks and on-base percentage were steady.

    With the signing of BJ Upton, the Braves now look to fill the hole in left field due to Martin Prado’s expected move from that position back to third base. The Braves are currently looking at various free agents and/or potential trades for left field including Denard Span, Cody Ross and Dexter Fowler. Even with Upton, the Braves still would like a more traditional leadoff man. Though Upton or Simmons (and Prado in a pinch) could leadoff, Frank Wren is still looking at better options. So far, Upton joins only Gerald Laird as significant signings this offseason for the Atlanta Braves.

    Upton said in his introductory press conference in Atlanta today that he hopes to raise his batting average and reduce the number of times he strikes out. The Braves are betting $75 million that he can do just that.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#%21/framethepitch">@framethepitch.

    Greinke to Angels good news for Braves fans

    RHP Zack Greinke is on his way to the LA Angels

    Since the Ryan Dempster deal that almost was fell apart, fans have been waiting anxiously to see if the Braves will be able to pull off deal to bolster their shaky starting rotation before Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline. And the man atop the wishlist of everyone in Atlanta (fans and team officials alike) was Brewers’ ace Zack Greinke. But alas, it is not to be. Geinke’s on his way to the LA Angels.

    Had the Braves won the Greinke sweepstakes, there’s no doubt he would have made Atlanta’s rotation markedly better.  The former American League CY Young winner would have matched up favorably against any ace the Braves may encounter in the postseason, if they make it that far.

    But for any general manger, exploring an impact trade is always a balancing act, if not a tug of war, between the pressure to win now and his responsibility to think about the team’s long-term success. Budget-conscious teams, like the Braves, are especially reliant upon the continual development of young, inexpensive talent. General Manager Frank Wren understands this, and since taking the wheel in the Braves front office, he has been particularly protective of the team’s most valuable prospects.

    That said, Wren is evidently willing to part with at least one of Atlanta’s prized arms: RHP Randall Delgado.  Delgado was rumored to be half the ill fated trade that would have brought Cubs’ RHP Ryan Dempster to Atlanta. Presumably, the Braves are still open to trading Delgado (or perhaps one of their other young arms) for an impact starting pitcher.

    There are a lot of teams, in addition to Atlanta, looking for a big arm: Angels, Nats, Dodgers, Rangers and Orioles to name a few. But even before Greinke was sent to LA, the market for starting pitching was shrinking. Houston’s Wandy Rodriguez recently landed in Pittsburgh. Cubs’ RHP Matt Garza is on the shelf with fluid buildup in his throwing harm. Cole Hamels wasn’t traded, but instead resigned by the Phillies, who–by the way–now say they will also hang on to Cliff Lee. Florida’s Josh Johnson may be available, but only if there’s a team with a desire to clear out their farm system.

    Given the shrinking market and the number of suitors, the Brewers were so firmly planted in the driver’s seat with the Greinke auction, I’m surprised they didn’t hire Sotheby’s to handle the bidding.

    We’ll never know what the Braves offered Milwaukee for Zack Greinke. Was Frank Wren willing to offer significantly more than Randall Delgado (who already represents no small price for a 2-month veteran rental) alone? That’s anyone’s guess. Wren won’t tell. But whatever the Braves offered, it wasn’t enough.

    But here’s something to bear in mind. Zack Greinke will be a free agent at season’s end. Greinke, a Florida native who grew up as a Brave fan, has expressed interest in playing in Atlanta, and the Braves will have money to spend after this season. Regardless of whether or not they had traded for Greinke, it has been believed all along that the Braves will make him an offer this winter.

    They have a chance to sign Greinke in the off-season irrespective of where he was traded, so a deadline deal for the right-hander would have to be viewed as a rental. Nothing more. If the price tag was Delgado + a mid-level prospect or two, the Braves would most likely have pulled the trigger. But given the package the Angels ultimately sent to Milwaukee, it’s a safe bet that the asking price was higher.

    While Greinke-to-LA is unwelcome news to many Braves fans, I would submit to you that it’s ultimately for the best.

    Consider that free-agent-to-be, Michael Bourn, has been a large part of the Braves’ success this year. It will not be possible for the Braves to sign Zack Greinke AND make a realistic offer to retain Bourn. And if they cannot resign Bourn, they’ll need to replace him. It’s unlikely that they’ll find another leadoff hitter of his caliber this winter, so they may concentrate on adding a power bat to compensate for the loss of Bourn’s speed. In any event, impact players aren’t cheap. To find a suitable offensive replacement for Bourn, the Braves will either have to bring their checkbook to the free agent market (which they cannot do if they sign Greinke) or surrender a significant package of minor league talent via trade.

    Had the Braves dealt for Greinke, they would have had to part with a great deal of talent now, and then to resign him, they would have to spend most of their available cash this winter. To trade for Greinke now and then trade for an impact bat this winter could have greatly diminished Atlanta’s farm system.

    While fans, managers and players alike all want to win immediately, it’s not always worth mortgaging the future. Remember, when this season’s over, we’ll only be 4 months away from pitchers and catchers reporting once again. The Braves are one of the younger teams in the National League with a very promising outlook. And trading for Zack Greinke now would have required Atlanta to trade too much of their future for the present.

    There are still quality starting pitchers available on the trade market, so the Braves may still upgrade their starting rotation before the Tuesday non-waiver deadline. The Braves were wise, however, to stop short of Milwaukee’s asking price for Greinke.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Kent Covington is a World News Group radio reporter/producer and Editor of BravesWire.com.

    2012 Official Lineup Projections

    By Kent Covington

    Braves will benefit from a full year of CF Michael Bourn on the basepaths.

    With the 2012 season officially underway, we’re officially late in releasing our 2012 lineup projections. Better lat than never.

    The new lineup looks a lot like the old one. Many Braves fans find this fact distressing, given the poor performance of the ’11 lineup.  While its true that Tyler Pastornicky and a full season of Michael Bourn are the only changes to the everyday lineup as compared to last year, we believe the offense has an opportunity to be substantially better in 2012.

    NOTE: The following projections assume 500 at-bats from each hitter, with the exception of Chipper Jones, whose projections are based on 400 at-bats.

    Bourn .278 2 60 39 .343 58
    Prado .296 14 66 36 .339 5
    Chipper .277 16 60 29 .368 3
    McCann .286 23 85 32 .361 4
    Uggla .268 38 108 31 .351 3
    Freeman .285 27 96 35 .350 3
    Heyward .280 24 87 33 .367 13
    Pastornicky .264 3 50 21 .322 24
    TOTAL .279 147 612 256 .350 113

    Since our pre-spring projections, we have added to our projected power numbers for Freddie Freeman after he led the Grapefruit League in homeruns with 7. Sure, it’s only spring. But the kind of power he displayed to the opposite field in March cannot be discounted.

    Could a career-best homerun total be in store for Dan Uggla this year? We think so.

    We have also edged up the projected power numbers of Dan Uggla a bit. The notoriously slow starter appears poised to hit the ground running after a torrid spring.

    As for Heyward, if he bounces back—and most analysts predict that he will—I find it difficult to limit him to 20 or 21 homers. When he’s right, there’s simply too much power there to envision a homerun total not at least in the mid-20’s range.

    We expect the Braves lineup to rebound from its epic underachievement in ’11 to finish top-5 in the National League in runs scored, as they did two seasons ago.  The Braves led the NL in on-base percentage in 2010 and finished 5th in runs. This is a more talented lineup than that ’10 team featured, and even with stingier pitching in the NL East these days, this offense should be expected to get the job done.

    Also, before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Did you miss our 2012 season preview podcast? We’ve posted it below (part-1).

    Grading future Braves talent (part-3): Outfield

    By Jim Pratt

    Editor’s note: In part-1 of his evaluation of future Atlanta Braves talent, BravesWire’s Jim Pratt graded the Braves’ young pitching talent. You can see part-1 here and part-2 here

    The weakest link in Atlanta’s pipeline from the minor leagues is undeniably the outfield. With seemingly no immediate help on the way and possible vacancies in both left and center field for the 2013 season, the Braves will be forced to fill those voids through trades or free agency. Most notable is the impending loss of center-fielder Michael Bourn, who will be a free agent at season’s end and will likely price himself out of the Braves’ plans.

    Potential replacements Matt Lipka and Mychal Jones are both more athlete than baseball player at this point in their development.

    The following is a look at the top five outfield prospects in the Braves system.

    Matt Lipka (Grade: B) – This former shortstop shifted to the outfield prior to last season, remaining in one of the premium up-the-middle spots as a centerfielder where the arm-strength is above-average. Without labeling him an athlete-only prospect, he has displayed more athletic ability than baseball skill thus far. His speed is plus, but he still needs to learn how to ply that quickness on the basepaths. His contact skills at the plate have yet to turn into the elevated average he will need to display to continue climbing the ladder within the Braves’ system. He could have double digit power potential as his body continues to mature. Look for Lipka to start 2012 at the High-A level where he needs to take another step in his development as a baseball player.

    Mychal Jones (B-) – Jones can best be described as “toolsy”. In the field, he is flexible enough to play either middle-infield position in addition to the outfield. Offensively, his numbers weren’t overly impressive, but it was a solid year overall considering he was making the full-time jump to Double-A. Playing most of 2012 at age 25, time is becoming a factor in Jones’ progress to become more than just another minor league filler and occasional call-up.

    Adam Milligan (C+) – Milligan’s biggest crutch has been his inability to stay on the field, injuries have limited him to 152 games since being drafted in 2009. When healthy, he has displayed a high ceiling offensively. Limited to 64 games in 2011, he hit .291/.345/.557 with 12 home runs and 40 RBI. His strikeout rate of 29.5 percent is a concern and it will be interesting to see how he handles the likely jump to Double-A in 2012. It would also be refreshing to see what Milligan could do with a full season of at-bats.

    Todd Cunningham (C) – Cunningham’s potential needs to translate into production at some point in 2012 or he could be in jeopardy of non-prospect status. Granted, injuries did limit is playing time to 87 games last year, so there is still some projection there albeit most likely as a fourth outfielder. He has solid contact skills and plate discipline, but until he begins to provide some power with his swing his sole value lies in his ability to play all three outfield positions.

    Cory Harrilchak (C) – At best, Harrilchak also projects as a fourth outfielder in the major leagues. He can play solid corner outfield defense with an above-average arm. Good strike-zone judgment suggests he can eventually hit for average, but he has yet to produce the power needed from a corner outfielder. He should start the 2012 season at Triple-A Gwinnett and might be in line for a September call-up as a bench player if he can prove the progress he seemed to make with the bat in the second half of 2011 was no fluke.

    Overall outfield Grade – C+

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    2012 Braves Lineup Projections

    By Kent Covington

    Lineup Projections — Pre-spring edition

    Braves will benefit from a full year of CF Michael Bourn on the basepaths.

    With respect to Christmas lovers everywhere, baseball fans understand that this is in fact the most wonderful time of the year. Pitchers and catchers have officially reported to the Braves spring training complex at Disney’s Wide world of Sports in Orlando (Lake Buena Vista, to be exact). And while position players are not yet due in camp, most have arrived early, anxious to gear up for a promising ’12 season.

    As we prepare for Grapefruit League action, we thought now would be a good time to post our pre-spring 2012 lineup projections.  We’ll post our official ’12 projections later in the spring, when we’ve had a chance to see how everyone looks and how the batting order is likely to shape up. But as of now, here are our best guesses.

    NOTE: The following projections assume relatively healthy seasons.

    Bourn .278 2 60 39 .343 58
    Heyward .280 24 80 33 .370 11
    Chipper .277 17 74 33 .368 3
    McCann .285 24 85 32 .361 4
    Uggla .268 35 102 31 .351 3
    Freeman .285 23 91 37 .350 3
    Prado .294 15 83 36 .339 5
    Pastornicky .260 4 50 21 .322 24
    TOTAL .278 143 625 262 .351 111

    We’re slightly more optimistic about the power numbers of players like Martin Prado, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman than are many other prognosticators. Many of the projections I’ve seen so far predict 2 or 3 fewer HR’s for each of those three players than what we’ve projected here.

    Braves OF Martin Prado is looking to rebound from a disappointing '12 season.

    Prado, in our view, has a bit more pop than most give him credit for. He might have hit 20 HR’s in 2010, if not for late season ailments.

    Freeman is not the 15 HR—and—lots of doubles type of first baseman many took him for upon his arrival in the big leagues. I spoke with Braves minor league broadcasters prior to last season who told me of mammoth shots off Freeman’s bat and assured me we could expect 20+ homeruns from Freddie. He’s a big strong kid with power to all fields. In truth, I think 23 HR may be a bit conservative.

    As for Heyward, if he bounces back—and most analysts predict that he will—I find it difficult to limit him to 20 or 21 homers. When he’s right, he just hits the ball so hard that I’ve got to place his homerun total at least somewhere in the mid-20’s range.

    We expect the Braves lineup to rebound from its epic underachievement in ’11 to finish top-5 in the National League in runs scored, as they did two seasons ago.  The Braves led the NL in on-base percentage in 2010 and finished 5th in runs. This is a more talented lineup than that ’10 team featured, and even with stingier pitching in the NL East these days, this offense should be expected to get the job done.

    Later in the week, we’ll take a look at how this lineup stacks up against other lineups in the NL East. And we’ll project the 2012 Braves pitching staff in the near future.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Join us on Twitter @FriedbasballATL, @TheBravesWire, @2OutSacBunt


    Glimpse of the Future (part 2): Braves 2014 Outfield

    By Jim Pratt

    Editor’s note:  Last week in part-1 of his look at the 2014 Braves, Jim Pratt gave us a look at the Braves infield of the future. See part-1 here

    Continuing our look at the Braves roster of the future, today we forecast the 2014 Atlanta outfield.

    Outside of who will replace Chipper Jones at third base once he decides to start the clock on his Hall of Fame candidacy, the rest of the Atlanta Braves infield can already be penciled in for the next two seasons. The same can’t be said for the future of the outfield, which at this point, has more questions moving forward than any of the other part of the roster.

    Right Field: Jason Heyward (Depth: Todd Cunningham, Joe Terdoslavich and Jose Constanza)

    Braves RF Jason Heyward

    Let’s all step back for a moment and realize the lofty expectations that have been loaded upon the shoulders of this 22 year old kid. The simple fact that Hank Aaron’s name was mention alongside of Heyward’s upon his arrival in Atlanta was unfair and Turner Field itself couldn’t hold the expectations placed on him once he hit a homerun in his first big league at-bat.

    After an injury to his shoulder just rubbed salt in the wound of a sophomore slump, Heyward has been working hard this offseason not only on his swing, but the mental part of his game as well.

    Positive signs from Heyward this season could mean he is on a path similar to the one taken by fellow prodigy Justin Upton, an Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder who struggled to live up to expectations in his first couple seasons. Last year was Upton’s fifth in the major leagues, during which he hit .289/.369/.529 with 31 HR and finished top five in MVP balloting.

    If Heyward’s career mimics that of Upton, his 2014 season might look something like .285 AVG, 25 HR and 90 RBI and set up what could be his first run at an MVP the following year.

    Centerfield: Michael Bourn
    (Depth: Jose Constanza, Todd Cunningham)

    There are two things that, when added together, can make any general manager in baseball cringe: Scott Boras and free agency. Michael Bourn is eligible for free agency following this season, and guess who is agent is.

    Braves CF Michael Bourn

    We’re going to take the road less traveled with this prediction and say Bourn re-signs with Atlanta. Using Cot’s Baseball Contracts as a reference, the money to sign Bourn should be available if a five-year deal worth $50 million is an acceptable number by both sides.

    A quick look at a few of the major salary changes for 2013 suggests Chipper Jones’ option , a decrease from $13 million into the range of $7-9 million, will be offset by Brian McCann’s club option increase of $8.5 to $12 million.

    Unless the Braves decide to buy out Tim Hudson’s 2013 season for $1 million, he’s salary will remain the same at $9 million. Also remaining the same will be Dan Uggla at $13 million.

    Taking into consideration the normal arbitration increases, along with Derek Lowe’s $10 million coming off the books and the possible trade of JairJurrjens ($5.5 million without incentives); the resigning of Bourn is possible.

    With Bourn atop the lineup, the Braves will be one of the few teams in Major League Baseball to have a true leadoff hitter with Gold Glove capabilities.

    Braves minor league OF Todd Cunningham

    Left Field: Todd Cunningham (Depth: Joe Terdoslavich and Jose Constanza)

    The left field position falls under the assumption that Joe Terdoslavich will be at third base awaiting the arrival of Edward Salcedo. That will eventually push our 2014 incumbent, Todd Cunningham, into a fourth outfield role being replaced by Terdoslavich.

    Cunningham slugged a lowly .353 for Class-A Lynchburg last season and does not profile as a corner outfielder. In the majors he projects as a top of the lineup guy that can hit for average and provide double-digit stolen bases.

    He gets the nod in these projections because of his defensive skill set. He is considered by Baseball America as the Braves’ best outfield defender in the minor leagues.

    The best case scenario would be for Salcedo to progress a year quicker than expected or for Atlanta to sign a cheap one-year placeholder so that Terdoslavich can become the answer in left field.

    The pitching staff is next. Will Arodys Vizcaino be a member of the bullpen or the rotation? Who will be listed as the Opening Day starter for the 2014 season?

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.





    SOUTHERN FRIED BASEBALL RADIO: 8-8-11… Can the Braves Match the Phillies?


    Braves stil boast the NL's second-best record

    The Braves are winning. BUT… they still aren’t firing on all cylinders.  The NL East pennant race is likely a lost cause. However, the NL Wild Card leading Braves could still be on a collision course with the Phillies come October.  So how ’bout it…  Can the Braves match the Phillies? Kent Covington breaks it all down in this week’s edition of Southern Fried Baseball radio.

    (NOTE: Please notice “play in popup” link under flash player. This is often a more convenient way to listen.)

    Braves articles, video & more…BravesWire Home >>>

    Follow Kent on Twitter: @FriedBasballATL