Other than the punching of the keys of the keyboard, one of my favorite noises in the world is that of a baseball making impact with a glove. Especially when it hits it right in the middle.
Luckily for me (and baseball fans everywhere) we are a mere hours away from being able to listen to that noise echo throughout the ballpark, as Spring Training is set to begin. This means fantasy baseball is right around the corner, and while it isn’t exactly my forte, it’s incredibly addicting, especially when you dive into the vast number of statistics available.
Speaking of statistics, there were plenty to be had in Atlanta in 2013, and they kick off our Team Preview series. Let’s take a look at the fantasy prospects of the Atlanta Braves.
2) J. Upton
8) B. Upton
Jason Heyward is probably the most intriguing Braves player this year. Immense upside and talent, Heyward, a former top prospect, dealt with multiple injuries last season, limiting him to just 104 games played. He has the ability to become a superstar fantasy asset, but fantasy owners also shouldn’t overpay for him on draft day. However, I personally will target him almost always because he reminds me of my favorite athlete of all time, Ken Griffey Jr. But hey, that’s just me. Heyward is definitely capable of a 20-home run, 20-steal season, of course, barring injury. His plate discipline is strong, only swinging at above 28 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone once in his career. His RBI totals could take a hit, seeing as he is batting leadoff, but with Freeman and Upton behind him, he should cross home plate plenty of times.
Speaking of Freddie Freeman, the Braves must agree with me that he is the real deal, as they signed him to an 8-year, $135 million dollar contract extension a few days ago. Wowzers. Coming off an incredible season where he batted .319, hit 23 homers and drove in 109 runs, the extension is well deserving for one of baseball’s brightest stars. He’s now hit at least 21 home runs in three consecutive seasons, but the scary part is that he’s only going to get better. His walk rate has gone up, while his strikeout rate has gone down in each of the last three seasons, meaning that with the power and hitting skills he has, he is also becoming a more disciplined, intelligent player when in the box. Batting third behind Heyward and Upton should provide Freeman plenty of RBI opportunities, and he should be considered a top-seven first baseman on draft day.
As exciting as Freeman and Heyward are, both Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton are quite the opposite. Last season, both of these guys batted under .200, which is absolutely killer for your categories leagues. Uggla? More like Ugly (in my best Billy Madison voice), will likely still be drafted quite a bit, strictly because the second base position is so shallow, but you are really going to want to go another direction, as he is now all the way down to seventh in the lineup. The guy hasn’t had a BABIP above .250 since all the way back in 2010, so he hardly puts the ball in play, meaning if he isn’t hitting a home run, he’s probably finishing the game 1-for-5 with a single. Upton, meanwhile, may not be as bad, seeing as he’s younger and provides more upside, but he was incredibly bad last year, sporting a strikeout rate of 33.9 percent. You’re going to want to stay away from both of these guys.
One year after dominating, many believed Kris Medlen would regress. Well duh. The guy clearly wasn’t going to repeat his 2012 performance, but was still very, very good during his first season as a starter in Atlanta, finishing with a record of 15-12, a 3.11 ERA and 157 strikeouts. He went out with a bang, sporting a 5-0 record with a 0.84 ERA during his final six starts of the season. The larger role was great for a young arm like Medlen, who posted a career high 197 innings in 2013. As the team’s top dog, in a relatively pitcher-friendly park with a strong lineup behind him, Medlen should win around 15-18 games, making for a solid number two fantasy pitcher.
Julio Teheran was also a very pleasant surprise for fantasy owners, as the Braves prospect broke out in 2013, winning 14 games, posting an ERA of 3.20 and striking out 170 batters. He simply looked really, really good, and may have the most upside out of anyone in this rotation. His strikeout (8.2 K/9) and walk rate (2.2 BB/9) were very fantasy friendly, and with yet another season under his belt, it wouldn’t surprise me if Teheran finished the year as the most valuable arm in Atlanta.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.