• Tommy Hanson

    Braves family loses Tommy Hanson

    When news broke Monday that Tommy Hanson was in a coma in an Atlanta hospital after a friend found him not breathing, Braves Country became immediately concerned about the former Brave. The phrase ‘once a Brave, always a Brave’ has never meant as much as it does in times like this. News came Tuesday that Hanson, 29, had died.

    Hanson spent the 2009-2012 with the Atlanta Braves. After the first half of 2012, he was traded to the LA Angels of Anaheim.

    Hanson spent the 2009-2012 with the Atlanta Braves. After the first half of 2012, he was traded to the LA Angels of Anaheim.

    In 2009, Tommy Hanson burst on the big league scene after lighting up the minors with his unhittable fastball. His reputation preceded him. In 2008 while pitching for the Mississippi Braves, Tommy threw a no-hitter, earned a MiLBY for Class A Advanced Single Game Performance, was rewarded for a dominant season with a spot on the Baseball America’s Minor League Team of the Year, was the Arizona Fall League’s MVP and was named Braves Pitcher of the Year. It is no exaggeration to say the league was anxiously anticipating his debut.

    We often forget how promising Atlanta’s pitching staff was in the late 2000s. Jair Jurrjens, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Craig Kimbrel and Tommy Hanson were either on the roster or making their way through the minors to The Show. Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado were only a year or two away. The front office had acquired Tim Hudson, Eric O’Flaherty, Kenshin Kawakami, Derek Lowe and Billy Wagner to round out the staff and offer veteran leadership to the up-and-coming arms. Of course, pitching rarely works out as planned. Kawakami was a bust, the Braves ate money to move Lowe, Medlen and Beachy required Tommy John and Tommy Hanson, well, Hanson saw the highest highs and lowest lows of the sport.

    Hanson did as everyone thought he would: He burst onto the scene in 2009 making his arrival noticed with a 3rd place running in the National League Rookie of the Year vote. That after having debuted in June! People forget that the Atlanta Braves brought Tommy in after cutting none other than Tom Glavine. They had a lot of hope for this young, 6’6″ red head from California. And he didn’t disappoint. His 2009 season is the kind pitchers’ dream of: 11-4, 2.89 ERA and 116 strikeouts (8.2 SO/9) in 127.2 innings pitched over 21 starts. But Tommy wasn’t just a line of stats to the Braves, he was a good clubhouse guy and a great teammate. You won’t find a former teammate that doesn’t say he was a joy to have around and one of the best guys to have on your side.

    In 2010, the Braves sent long-time manager Bobby Cox off in style. Their 91-71 record got them the Wild Card. Hanson’s 10-11 record on the season is hardly as telling of his season as his 3.33 ERA. He was a workhorse, going to the mound for 202-2/3 innings of work. Tommy was in or near the top 30 in both ERA and strikeouts that year. The Braves would go home after a mediocre loss to the Giants in the NLDS, but there was hope for a return to the postseason with such strong arms in the Braves’ system.

    The Braves did make it back to the postseason in the first ever National League Wild Card game, a game they lost. But Tommy Hanson didn’t pitch, his fellow Californian Kris Medlen did. And at this point, it was clear that something was very wrong with the righthander’s arm.

    By the end of 2012, even I, a fan of Tommy, was calling him “a shell of his former self.” In October of that year, I wrote:

    “Though it seemed injury was the likely culprit at the end of last season and again midway through the 2012 season, those who follow the Braves are fearful that Hanson’s drop in velocity and dominance is a sign that the Tommy of old will not be returning.”

    It was painful watching Tommy fall as quickly as he did. In 2009 he looked as if he had a long career in baseball and one that would, if not consistently at least flirt with dominance. At the end of 2011, Tommy dealt with a nagging injury that can reasonably be blamed for his late struggles.

    The trade that sent Hanson to the Angels for Jordan Walden was widely heralded as a wise trade and one that would be good for both players. Anaheim didn’t need Walden to close and the Braves hoped a change of scenery would return Tommy to the pitcher he was when he broke into the league. Tommy’s ERA had been growing, he had spent time on the disabled list with a back strain and he hadn’t looked himself. While it was hard for the team and their fans to part with Big Red, as he had come to be called, everyone was rooting for Tommy Hanson. It was impossible to not root for Tommy.

    Despite his struggles within the game, outside the game he remained a great friend and teammate. The outpouring of condolences to the Hanson family from members of the Braves, Angels and Rangers organizations are proof. Something former Brave Kris Medlen said in a text to Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution struck me:

    “I also feel bad for anyone who didn’t get a chance to know the man. He was the kindest, most loyal person I’ve ever met. He loved his family more than anything in the world, and his friends felt like family when around them. He was not ‘like’ a brother to me, he was my brother and I’m going to miss him so much.”

    Tommy Hanson joined his teammates in Hawaii for the weddingKimbrel's teammates pose in tribute to the Braves' closer

    Tommy Hanson joined his teammates in Hawaii for the wedding of former (and now current) Brave Peter Moylan.

    We as fans may not have known Tommy personally, but we got to see these young Braves come up alongside him and we got to appreciate just how close they all were.

    I was reminded of when Braves fans everywhere were posting pictures of themselves doing “The Kimbrel” and one of those pictures came from the players themselves. Attending Peter Moylan’s wedding in Hawaii, Tommy joined Medlen, Moylan and Kimbrel to show their support for the unusual stance of their teammate. It is a reminder of something we often forget about these players we watch for 162 games a season: They are first and foremost people. They have friends. They have family. And yes, sometimes their teammates become their family, but that isn’t a given. That Medlen calls Hanson a brother speaks to the kind of man he was.

    Baseball is just a game. This comes as a surprise to some, I know, but after the toughest game, the worst loss, the high of winning and even the end of the season, it’s just a game. There is life outside baseball. Both the game and life outside it aren’t always easy. Tommy knew this better than most. As Braves Country heals from this loss and moves on to another season, the last at Turner Field, it’s important not to forget this.

    Personally, I will never forget Tommy’s brilliant first half in 2011 and how disappointing it was to not have him named to the All Star team. That summer his finest start came against Houston. He entered that game with 2 games already where he’d recorded 10 strikeouts. That didn’t stop him from topping his best. He went 7 innings with 14 strikeouts and 1 earned run. It was one of those games when you knew this kid was special. Not only was his pitching unbelievable, his spirit was contagious. All 6’6″ of him stood on that mound and in that dugout, his flaming red hair and brilliant smile on display, and showed us that there was truly something special about Tommy Hanson.

    May Tommy rest in peace and be forever in our hearts.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    SOUTHERN FRIED BASEBALL RADIO: August 18, 2012

    Kent Covington discusses the ups and downs of the Braves’ starting rotation and the current use of a 6-man roation… as well as the Braves’ path to an NL East pennant.

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

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

    Follow Kent on Twitter: @FriedBasballATL and BravesWire: @TheBravesWire

    Chippers return lifts the Braves

    By Jim Pratt

    Not expected to return to the Atlanta Braves lineup until the home opener on April 13, Jones was able to convince the coaching staff over the past few days that he was healthy enough for game action.

    Chipper, who will play the majority of the season at 40 years old, was activated from the disabled list prior to Tuesday’s game against the Houston Astros after spending the last couple weeks recovering from arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

    Regardless of whether his early return was due to a quick recovery or the fact the Braves have struggled to a 0-4 start to the season, the return was welcomed not only in the lineup but also defensively at third base. Especially after his newly acquired replacement, Juan Francisco, committed a career-high three errors in Monday’s game.

    Chipper made his presence with the glove felt immediately with his classic barehanded pick-up of Jordan Schafer’s first inning bunt for the first out of the game. He later saved a run by taking advantage of a base running mistake by the Astros’ Carlos Lee on a tag play at home.

    It was originally thought that he would make at least one minor league rehab assignment, but he eventually decided to forego any such assignment and join the big league club immediately citing his only concern being his timing at the plate.

    Any concern was quickly laid to rest when he put the Braves ahead with a two-run bomb in his first at-bat of the season. A career .400 hitter in 39 games at Minute Maid Park, Chipper finished the night 2-4 with 2 RBI while batting sixth in the lineup.

    <a href='http://www.foxsportssouth.com/pages/video?videoid=89033164-1ff1-4fa4-b27b-1ed47e39073b&#038;src=v5:embed::' target='_new' title='Jones, Gonzalez on win over Astros' >Video: Jones, Gonzalez on win over Astros</a>

    With Chipper leading the way for Atlanta’s first win of the season, it almost goes without saying that manager Fredi Gonzalez was his biggest fan of the night. Gonzalez told reporters after the game, “I’m glad we didn’t make [Jones] go on that rehab assignment. I think today, he won our game single-handedly — home run, base hit and a couple nice plays defensively. I think today he made a statement that Spring Training is too long. I think next year we’ll show up the 20th of March, play 10 games and then say, ‘Go get them.’ But the stuff he does, nobody else can do.” – Via MLB.com

    Overshadowed by the return of a future Hall of Famer, rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky hit his first career home run in the fourth inning to extend the Braves’ lead. Eric Hinske later put the finishing touches on the victory scoring Jason Heyward with a pinch-hit single to left field in the eighth inning.

    Although starter Tommy Hanson struck out eight batters on the night, he had to work his way out of trouble multiple times, throwing 101 pitches in only five innings of work.

    The combo of Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel kept the “Stros at bay in the 8th and 9th innings. Venters faced five batters giving up a walk and a hit while striking out three. Kimbrel got himself into some early trouble allowing a single and a walk. He eventually escaped the inning unscathed with the help of a 6-4-3 double play ball and another nice play by Chipper to end the game.

    Randall Delgado will make his season debut tonight in the rubber match of the series, while the Braves offense will try to solve their woes versus left-handed pitching as they face the Astros’ Wandy Rodriguez.

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

    Braves progressing as season nears

    By Andrew Hirsh

    Catcher Brian McCann is 9 for 24 with 2 HR in his last 10 games.

    With April fast approaching, Spring Training is nearing its end. Organizations across the league are now in the process of finalizing their rosters, and players have begun to transition into the proper mindset for the start of a new MLB season.

    For the Atlanta Braves, a team that immediately plummeted into the basement of the Grapefruit League, this spring has been anything but smooth sailing.

    However, they’ve shown marked improvements of late, losing just three of their last 11.

    As we’ve discussed before, it’s illogical to put too much stock into the results of Spring Training games, both in the standings and in individual performances. That being said, it’s now time to look for the players to be ready for action, especially with opening day less than two weeks away.

    Fredi Gonzalez believes that Spring Training needs to be separated into three segments, each serving its own purpose.

    “I always divide Spring Training into thirds,” Gonzalez told MLB.com. “The first 10 games is just get your at-bats and get your timing down. … The second 10, you kind of let them look for signs like we’ve been doing. Then the next 10, you try to play it as close as you would during the season to a certain extent.”

    The Braves currently find themselves in Gonzalez’s final ‘third,’ and fans should look for the players be prepared for the grueling 162 game schedule on the horizon.

    With this in mind, we’ve reached the point in which it’s fair to start applying a certain level of significance to what we see on the field. With so little time between now and April 5, it’s important for the Braves to be properly adjusted both physically and mentally to ensure a strong start to the 2012 season.

    Contrary to the beginning of spring, many of Atlanta’a position players have been hitting well recently. Tylor Pastornicky, Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman are all coming along nicely after slow starts out of the gate, and Martin Prado and Dan Uggla have produced all month.

    Pastornicky, who has no MLB experience, is currently riding a five game hitting streak and is starting to look like the legitimate big leaguer the Braves need him to be. His recent streak, which includes a four-hit performance against the Marlins, is a nice contrast to his start this spring in which he only accumulated three hits in his first 30 at bats.

    1B Freddie Freeman is 6 for 13 with 3 HR in his last 4 games.

    Freeman, who will attempt to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump this year, has hits in seven of his past nine; McCann started slow but has four hits and two homers in his last five appearances.

    Prado and Uggla are batting .362 and .313, respectively, so far in Grapefruit League action. After all the struggles they experienced in 2011, it’s encouraging to see them both hitting well on a regular basis. If anything, it will give them the confidence they will surely need to find success in the regular season.

    In addition to their hitting, the Braves have also seen improvements on the mound. Jair Jurrjens looked awful through most of the spring, but his last start on Sunday resembled the pitcher we saw during the first half of last year, as he tossed six innings, allowing one run and three hits. Tommy Hanson, who got a late start this spring after suffering a minor concussion, allowed one hit, one unearned run and one walk in four innings Wednesday against the Nationals.

    All in all, this year’s team appears to be coming together. For the most part, the players that the Braves need to succeed are doing so (or are at least on the right path). Again, while Spring Training results should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s important to see the team near its regular season form as the exhibition schedule comes to a close.

    By the way, we talked with BravesWire scribe, Bud Ellis, about Chipper’s retirement on our most recent Southern Fried Baseball podcast. You can hear it here.

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

    Follow Andrew Hirsh on Twitter: @andrewhirsh … and BravesWire: @TheBravesWire

     

    Braves camp update: Hanson, Freeman feeling better… Pastornicky having fun.

    By Kent Covington

    Braves RHP Tommy Hanson

    First, an injury update.

    Tommy Hanson: The ill effects of a mild concussion sustained by Hanson in a single-car accident last week have largely subsided. Hanson reported that Wednesday morning’s bullpen session went better than expected. He hopes to resume training without restriction soon.

    Freddie Freeman: Freeman’s right kneecap briefly popped out of place Tuesday while kneeling to pick a throw during a defensive drill. While publicly expressing optimism, he now admits to being a bit more anxious about the injury than he originally let on. However, tests revealed the knee to be structurally sound, and when Freeman woke up Wednesday morning, he was able to get out of bed “without really any pain”. The Braves first-baseman will begin wearing a brace on his right knee from now on. The team hopes to have him in the lineup at some point next week after Grapefruit League action begins.

    Tyler Pastornicky is enjoying his first spring training camp since being named the Braves starting shortstop. He’s also drawing praise from Chipper Jones (see video below), which is always a good thing, given Chipper’s reliable candor. When Jones offers praise, he’s not blowing smoke.

    By the way, the Spring Preview Fried Baseball podcast up now. You can hear it here.

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

     

     

    Tommy Hanson feeling good after throwing session

    By Kent Covington

    The health of Tommy Hanson, along with fellow starter, Jair Jurrjens, is a major key to Atlanta’s postseason hopes in 2012.  The sore shoulder that sidelined him for most of last season’s second half is no longer sore, and the Braves are optimistic that off-season strategic conditioning and retooled pitching mechanics will help keep it that way.

    The team was given a new health scare, however, a little more than a week ago when Hanson was involved in a car accident and showed up to camp hours later complaining of concussion symptoms.  Hanson did indeed suffer a concussion, but only a minor one.

    Hanson resumed throwing on Monday and felt good afterward.  The Braves will proceed with caution and will continue to monitor their co-ace closely, but there appears to be little doubt that he’ll be ready to pitch come opening day.

    By the way, we’ve got a new Spring Preview Fried Baseball podcast up now. You can hear it here.

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

     

    Glimpse of the Future (part-3): 2014 Braves Pitching

    By Jim Pratt

    Editor’s note:  Last week in part-2 of his 2014 Braves preview, Jim Pratt gave us a look at the Braves outfield of the future. Prior to that, he previewed ’14 Braves infield

    The 2014 pitching staff will feature many familiar names as the Atlanta Braves continue to dip into their deep farm system after the eventual loss of Tim Hudson to retirement and Jair Jurrjens to trade or free agency. It’s difficult to say the pitching staff will be better after those losses because of the youth of the arms that will replace them, but there’s no question the talent level will be raised. The potential top three starters are all hard throwers with plus strikeout ability and will be expected to anchor the staff for years to come.

     

    RHP Tommy Hanson

    2014 ROTATION

    1) Tommy Hanson

    Hanson will be making his third consecutive Opening Day start to begin the 2014 season. In his prime at age 27 and with previous shoulder troubles well in the past, he should be ready to make his first legitimate run at the Cy Young award.

    2) Brandon Beachy

    Before 2011 there was a question on whether or not Beachy had the “stuff” to be more than a number 3 starter. After he re-introduced his college slider back into his arsenal those questions slowly became moot. Beachy establishes himself as a solid number two behind Hanson and continues to maintain an above average SO/9 rate.

    3) Julio Teheran

    Even though his mound maturity is well beyond his age of 23, he will need one more year of refining his pitches at the major league level before challenging Hanson as the staff ace. His fastball and changeup are both plus pitches, but his curveball is still a work in progress.

    4) Mike Minor

    Minor remains the lone lefty in the rotation. In an effort to place a left-handed starter in the middle of the rotation, Minor could be bumped into the number three spot ahead of Teheran for the 2014 season. Minor is a solid mid-rotation starter

    RHP Randall Delgado

    that will have an ERA around the 4.00 mark for most of his career. The command/control will improve, but he doesn’t have the overall stuff to continue racking up the 8.76 SO/9 he has showed in the majors to this point.

    5) Randall Delgado

    By 2014, Teheran has separated himself from Delgado as the better pitcher, but with Delgado listed as the fifth starter the Braves will once again boast one of Major League Baseball’s best starting rotations.

    Rotation Depth includes: Sean Gilmartin, Zeke Spruill and JR Graham.

    2014 BULLPEN

    By now Craig Kimbrel is established as the top closer in MLB as he continues to post 40-plus saves a season.  With the full time addition of hard throwing Arodys Vizcaino to the bullpen, the eighth inning workload on Jonny Venters is lifted. Sharing the set-up duties, the righty/lefty combo of Venters and Vizcaino turns any ballgame into a 7 inning affair.

    The biggest loss to the bullpen will be the free agency departure of Eric O’Flaherty. With O’Flaherty gone, Atlanta turns to Kris Medlen as the primary bridge to the back-end trio of Kimbrel, Venters and Vizcaino.

    By the way, we’ve got a new Spring Preview Fried Baseball podcast up now. You can hear it here.

    Also, 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 @TheBravesWire@2OutSacBunt@FriedbasballATL

    Not One, but TWO Braves Rotations?

    By Kent Covington

    Earlier this week we pointed out that the Braves boast the deepest pitching staff in baseball (If you missed it, here it is). But the most vivid illustration of this occurred to me just this afternoon. The Braves are so ridiculously pitching rich that they could literally field TWO viable big league starting rotations…

    Braves RHP's Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens

    ROTATION #1
    Tim Hudson
    Brandon Beachy
    Kris Medlen
    Julio Teheran
    Arodys Vizcaino

    ROTATION #2
    Tommy Hanson
    Jair Jurrjens
    Mike Minor
    Randall Delgado
    JJ Hoover or Christhian Martinez

    RHP Tim Hudson is now the elder statesman of a very young staff.

    How’s THAT for depth?  And only one of the above starters is over the age of 26. Future look bright to you?

    On a separate note, Braves single game tickets go on sale March 5.  While the season opens April 5, we won’t see any action at Turner Field until the Braves’ April 13th contest against the Brewers.  Best start making your plans now, though. Home opener tickets sell quickly, especially when that opener falls on a Friday.

    Got tailgate plans? Check out our Turner Field tailgating tips.

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

     

    Braves Boast Deepest Pitching Staff in Baseball

    By Kent Covington

    For a second consecutive season, the Braves head into spring training uncertain of who their fifth starter will be.  For some teams, this could be a problem. It could be an indication that a team possesses no more than 3 or 4 quality starters and must head to camp hoping some AAA journeyman or mid-level prospect will pleasantly surprise and lay claim to the job.

    Not so in Atlanta.

    RHP, Randall Delgado

    The Braves have the opposite problem, if that’s what you want to call it. They have no fewer than nine—that’s right, NINE—viable starting rotation options. Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Brandon Beachy are locks for the ’12 rotation.  That leaves five deserving young arms for just one job opening, which was created when veteran, Derek Lowe, was traded to Cleveland over the winter.

    Here’s a look at their options for the 5th spot in the rotation:

    Kris Medlen was impressive in his 14 starts in 2010, going 5-0 with a 3.86 ERA before losing the remainder of the season to “Tommy John” surgery. Any team in Major League Baseball, including the Braves, would be happy to have a now healthy Medlen at the back of their rotation. But Kris has also proven valuable in relief, and with Atlanta’s glut of starting pitchers, Medlen figures start the season in the bullpen.

    Arodys Vizcaino, the top-rated prospect acquired from the Yankees in the Javier Vasquez trade a couple years back, has been a starting pitcher nearly his entire professional career. In four minor league seasons, the hard-throwing righty made only 15 bullpen appearances. His first big league opportunity, however, came in relief last year after an August promotion from AAA Gwinnett. Vizcaino struck out 17 batters and allowed 16 hits in 17 innings. His 4.67 ERA was skewed upward by one especially poor September outing. Overall, however, he impressed the Braves’ brass enough to figure into their ’12 plans. But like Medlen, while deserving of an opportunity to compete for a starting job, Atlanta’s pitching depth, coupled with his value to the ‘pen means he will almost certainly pitch in relief.

    Julio Teheran is widely considered the top right-handed pitching prospect in baseball. Triple-A hitters would be hard pressed to argue with that evaluation after watching him post a 15-3 record with a 2.55 ERA in 24 starts for the “G-Braves” last year. His performance in five ’11 Major League starts wasn’t all that fans may have hoped for from the young phenom, but a few welcome-to-the-big-leagues moments from a 20 year-old getting his first taste of Major League Baseball won’t concern the Braves in the slightest. He is universally expected to take his place at the top of the Atlanta rotation in the not-too-distant future and will compete for the 5th starter job this spring.

    Randall Delgado had spent the better part of two years standing in the king sized shadow cast by Julio Teheran.  However, Delgado cemented his own blue chip status after posting a 2.83 ERA in seven big league starts last season. Most analysts consider Delgado to be the second-best young arm in the Braves organization, behind Teheran. But make no mistake, many other franchises would consider him their foremost pitching prospect. He too will compete for a place in the Braves’ rotation.

    LHP, Mike Minor

    Mike Minor, while well regarded, is not nearly as celebrated as Teheran or Delgado. He is, however, perhaps the most developed of the three and is the only lefty among all of Atlanta’s starting pitching candidates. Minor made his big league debut in 2010 and set the Braves franchise record for strikeouts in a game (12) in his third Major League start. He put up respectable numbers in 15 starts for the Braves last season (5-3, 4.14 ERA) and is thought to be a favorite to claim Derek Lowe’s old job.  Minor is in the hot seat. He’s reached a critical crossroads in his career where the Braves must determine whether or not he factors into their future plans. He must either take the job and run with it… or make way for all of the other young arms patiently waiting for their big chance. For this reason, Minor is widely believed to be at the front of the line.

    While the Braves will eventually be forced to choose just one starter from the trio of Teheran, Delgado and Minor, all three could go north with the big league club prior to opening day. With Hudson expected to open the season on the DL while making his way back from off-season back surgery, two of these three young hurlers could begin the season in the starting rotation. And Braves GM, Frank Wren, says both Teheran and Delgado will be considered candidates for a bullpen job if either or both fail to earn a place in the rotation.

    RHP, Julio Teheran

    Remarkably, Atlanta’s pitching depth doesn’t stop with the aforementioned arms. Sean Gilmartin, JJ Hoover and Zeke Spruill headline the next wave of Braves pitching prospects currently blazing a big league path.

    As for the already established talent in the Atlanta rotation… Prior to the all-star break last year, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson arguably outperformed every other trio in Major League Baseball. And Brandon Beachy turned heads with a remarkable rookie campaign (7-3, 3.68 ERA, with 169 strikeouts in 141 innings.

    Health is the only concern for this Atlanta rotation. While now reportedly 100% healthy, Jurrjens and Hanson missed nearly the entire second half of the ’11 season to injury. And again, Hudson will open the season on the DL (expected back in April or early May at the latest). The Braves are genuinely optimistic about all of their “big 3” starters, but they’re undoubtedly happy to have tremendous pitching depth, just in case.

    How ‘bout the bullpen?  Boasting the game’s most dominant relief trio of Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty, Atlanta’s ‘pen is considered by many analysts to be baseball’s best. Setting the table for “The Untouchables” at the back end of the ‘pen is a solid cast, which could include Peter Moylan and Chisthian Martinez, as well as Medlen and Teheran or Delgado.

    This Atlanta pitching staff proved its metal throughout the first half of last season (before injuries to Jurrjens and Hanson), running a back-and-forth horserace with the acclaimed Philadelphia staff for the league’s top team ERA.  If healthy, the Braves could brandish MLB’s most stifling pitching staff in ’12.  Only time will tell.

    This may or may not be the best pitching staff in the game, but it is certainly the deepest.

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

     

    What if Braves Stand Pat? Can They Win?

    By Kent Covington

    As the opening day countdown clock ticks away, the candid truth is that the hopes of an off-season impact trade grow dimmer by the day.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution recently asked Braves General Manager, Frank Wren, about the likelihood of another trade before the start of the season.  Wren responded, “I think every day that goes by it’s probably less likely.  It doesn’t mean you stop trying.”

    Despite trade rumors, it appears Braves LF Martin Prado may be staying put

    Trade rumors have swirled for months around Braves RHP Jair Jurrjens and LF Martin Prado.  These rumors have included trade targets such as Baltimore’s Adam Jones and Colorado’s Seth Smith, but none of those trade negotiations progressed past the “preliminary” stage.

    In the end, the Braves may be relieved that none of the Jurrjens/Prado trade scenarios materialized (if in fact that remains the case). Either or both could prove to be critical cogs in Atlanta’s 2012 season.  Their ability to remain healthy is the biggest question, and only time will answer it.

    But while the possibility of a noteworthy trade is diminishing, that possibility certainly still exists.  The acquisition of a moderately priced free agent, such as Cody Ross, remains perfectly plausible as well.

    We’ll post our thoughts on trades/free agent deals that are still possible here within the next couple days.

    But let’s assume for a moment that the Braves are set to dance with their current cast. What if the Braves stand pat?  Can they challenge the Phillies and return to the postseason without major changes?

    I believe they can.

    Braves will need more offensive output from RF, Jason Heyward in 2012

    Recently, I shared my belief that the Braves offense has a chance to be among the NL’s best, even without an impact trade or free agent addition. I understand that this is difficult for many to accept, given the subpar performance of the lineup last year.  I won’t restate that case today, but here it is if you missed it.

    In a nutshell, here is the winning offensive equation for Atlanta’s offense:

    Higher team on-base percentage + health + a strong season from OF Jason Heyward = success.

    The Braves led the NL in on-base percentage in 2010.  If they can return to the patient approach we saw from this team two seasons ago, there’s no reason why they could not cure their 2011 empty-bases syndrome.

    And we all know Heyward is capable of far more than his disappointing ’11 output.

    As for pitching, the depth of this staff should ensure that pitching remains a strength of this Braves team.  But how great a strength depends upon the health of Jurrjens and fellow starter, Tommy Hanson, both of whom missed most of the season’s second half last year.  The first-half numbers of this duo underscores the impact of a healthy Jurrjens and Hanson. I pointed out the following in a recent blog:

    Much will hinge on the health of Hanson and Jurrjens

    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 their “big-3” (Jurrjens, Hanson and Tim Hudson) can avoid lasting injuries, Atlanta’s rotation—coupled with a dominant bullpen—could once again form one of baseball’s most formidable pitching staffs.

    Bottom line: Even without substantial changes, the Braves’ offense has a chance to be very good, and their pitching has a chance to be great. The more talent you add, the greater the margin for error (underperformance) or injury, so upgrades are always welcome.  But without changing a thing, the Braves do in fact have the talent to compete.

    It comes down to a very simple formula: Stay healthy and play up to potential. If the Braves can do that, they’ll play October baseball. If they can’t, they won’t.

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