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MLB Atlanta Braves

Power Ranking the Atlanta Braves’ Opening Day Roster

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Power Ranking the Atlanta Braves' Opening Day Roster

JHEY
Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

All the speculation concerning the roster and lineup can be put to rest. The Atlanta Braves’ Opening Day roster is set with Opening Day right around the corner.

This offseason brought tons of excitement and curiosity among Braves’ fans. The roster went through some major changes from the losses of Chipper Jones, Michael Bourn and Martin Prado to the additions of B.J. Upton, Justin Upton and Chris Johnson. You could add top prospect Julio Teheran, Kris Medlen returning as a full-time starter and the intriguing Evan Gattis to the list of exciting additions to the ball club.

The buzz surrounding the team should come as no surprise. On paper, this team looks capable of challenging the defending NL East champion Washington Nationals for the division title in 2013. Arguably the most talented outfield in the MLB, a top-tier bullpen and a rotation with high potential are among the reasons the Braves and their fans should have high expectations in 2013.

Power ranking the talented and deep roster proved to be a difficult task. This list does not include players on the disabled list to start the year, so you will not see Brian McCann, Brandon Beachy or Jonny Venters. It is strictly the Opening Day roster.

I based my rankings off the individuals’ talent, impact at his position and projected success. This gave me a certain criteria to sort out the difficult task of comparing pitchers and everyday starters. With that said, here are my power rankings for the Atlanta Braves’ 2013 Opening Day roster.

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25. Anthony Varvaro

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Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

The 28-year-old appeared to be on the outside looking in before the injury to Venters, which has opened up a spot for Varvaro.

He has made brief stints with the Braves the past two seasons, and he compiled a 5.40 ERA in 12 games last year with the Braves. He had a decent spring training—4.26 ERA/.265 opponent batting average/1.34 WHIP.

Varvaro will serve primarily as an innings eater in games where the outcome has all but been decided. That means middle innings in losses and end of games in big wins. He could work more key situations by utilizing his lively fastball while showing improved command, but for now, he kicks off the list at number 25.

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24. Ramiro Pena

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Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

The Braves acquired Pena in the offseason to provide some depth in the middle of the infield.

Pena has shown to be a reliable fielder who plays primarily at shortstop but has the ability to play some second and third base. Anything he provides at the plate is a bonus as he’s just a career .233 hitter. He hit .231 with Mexico during the World Baseball Classic while hitting .320 in the Grapefruit League to help him beat out Tyler Pastornicky for the last roster spot.

Pena will be asked to come in late-game situations for defensive purposes. The 27-year-old will see a few pinch-run and pinch-hit situations.

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23. Cristian Martinez

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Brad Mills-USA Today Sports

Martinez was competing with Varvaro for the last spot in the bullpen before the injury to Venters but likely would have been safe due to his past experience.

Martinez has pitched in 118 games with the Braves over the past three seasons and been a solid pitcher out of the bullpen. In 2012, he posted a 3.91 ERA and 3.42 strikeout-to-walk ratio in over 70 innings of work.

The 31-year-old will see a similar role as Varvaro, primarily pitching in long-relief duty. However, he has been more consistent and features more movement on his pitches with a plus changeup.

Martinez should see more “meaningful” innings. Hence, the higher ranking.

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22. Jordan Schafer

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Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

On talent alone, Schafer would be higher on this list. He has elite speed, plays great defense and shows pop at the plate for a guy his size.

Problem for him is that he has never turned that talent into production—failing to hit .250 or better in his career at the MLB level.

Schafer will also have a limited role in mostly running situations. Who will he play over in the outfield for defense at the end of games?

Despite his great talent, a limited role and lack of production leaves Schafer near the bottom of this list.

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21. Reed Johnson

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Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

Speaking of limited role, Johnson won’t see as much time with the acquisitions of the Uptons this offseason.

Johnson is a classic fourth outfielder, who can play all three outfield positions at an above average level. He has speed and hits for a good average.

He will occasionally spot start for one of the starters in the outfield and will likely be the go-to pinch-hitter as he led the league in pinch-hits with 18 in 2012.

Johnson is a very good bench player who produces in the limited amount of opportunities he receives.

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20. Gerald Laird

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Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

Laird will open the 2013 season as the starting catcher in the absence of McCann. The Braves acquired Laird this offseason when David Ross left in free agency.

His greatest value will come from things that don’t show up in the box score—solid defense, veteran leadership, managing he game. Meanwhile, his production at the plate will not overwhelm Braves’ fans.

He hit just .154 this spring with two extra-base hits. The Braves would take his .282 batting average in 2012 in a heartbeat.

Slotting Laird at 20 may be a disservice to his value on the team, but I think it’s accurate in following the criteria.

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19. Cory Gearrin

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Derick Hingle-USA Today Sports

The right-hander is proving to be an effective pitcher. He finished the 2012 season in Atlanta with a 1.80 ERA in 20 innings and followed that up by posting a 1.64 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 11 innings this spring.

Gearrin has used his side-arm delivery and sinker to be effective against right-handed hitters.

As of now, he appears to be a right-handed specialist in groundball situations. To expand that role, he needs to prove he can get out left-handed hitters as they hit .345 off him last season.

If he can start getting hitters out on that side of the plate, his role will grow and he’ll work his way up this list.

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18. Luis Avilan

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Douglas Jones-USA Today Sports

Similar to Gearrin, the left-handed pitcher came on strong to finish the year with the Atlanta Braves. In 31 games, Avilan posted a 2.00 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over 36 innings.

Avilan began the 2013 spring training where he left off, but stumbled down the stretch in some rough outings and finished with a 5.56 ERA.

However, there are still a few things working in his favor.

The loss of Venters leaves a natural hole for a left-handed pitcher to fill. Avilan also features a better overall arsenal of pitches which helps him to avoid huge discrepancies in his splits against right or left-handed hitters.

These factors give Avilan the edge over Gearrin in rankings to begin the year.

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17. Evan Gattis

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Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

Gattis received the news earlier last week that he made the Opening Day roster.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez went out of his way to not call him a backup catcher but stated he could see “as much” or “more” playing time than Laird at catcher.

The 26-year-old’s ascension through the minors has become one of the more intriguing storylines on this Braves team.

He continues to hit at a torrid pace everywhere he goes and led the team this spring training with a stellar 1.165 OPS (among players with at least 10 at-bats).

Coming in at 17 could be high for a player who has zero MLB at-bats. But he has given no reason to believe he won’t be able to hit at this level.

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16. Jordan Walden

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Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

The Braves haven’t seen much of Walden to date as it’s his first year with the team and missed some time this spring with back problems.

Walden has all the talent to be an effective end of game pitcher. He can routinely hit the upper 90s with his fastball and saved 32 games with the Los Angeles Angels in 2011.

However, Walden lost that closer job in 2012 thanks to struggles with his command that saw his WHIP elevate to 1.36.

The Braves will count on him to work the seventh inning with Venters out of the mix for now.

Which Walden will the Braves get in 2013?

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15. Juan Francisco

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Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

Francisco got a golden opportunity at the starting third base job with the departures of Jones and Prado in the offseason.

The power-hitting left-hander impressed in winter ball, which carried over into spring training.

In 69 at-bats, he hit .333 with six home runs, 14 RBI and a 1.013 OPS. He also made just one error in 48 chances this spring.

While Francisco enjoyed a good spring training, he still finds himself in a platoon situation to begin the year. That means starting on the bench on Opening Day with the southpaw Cole Hamels set to start for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Francisco will still see plenty of playing time this year and will continue competing for the sole starter at the position.

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14. Chris Johnson

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Brad Barr-USA Today Sports

Unable to separate in spring training, it felt appropriate to rank Johnson and Francisco back-to-back.

Johnson matched Francisco’s spring with a solid spring of his own—posting a .361 average with three home runs, 12 RBI and a .879 OPS.

Johnson struck out less than Francisco but the five errors he made in the field—second most on the team—are a glaring concern.

That will be something worth monitoring during the season and could prove costly if he doesn’t clean up those errors.

Eventually, I see Johnson earning more playing time as he’ll prove to be a more consistent hitter.

However, this competition is real close and could go either way.

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13. Mike Minor

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Rob Foldy-USA Today Sports

The starting pitchers were the toughest players for me to rank as the Braves have some tough pitchers to project.

Minor was abysmal in the first half of the 2012 season. Then something clicked and he pitched like an All-Star in the second half.

Will he put it together for the entire season in 2013?

To do that, he must cut down on the walks and home runs allowed. That was the big difference between his first and second halves in looking at the numbers.

Minor has the talent to be an All-Star but hasn’t produced like one on a consistent basis to date.

That puts him square in the middle of these rankings for now.

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12. Dan Uggla

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Derick Hingle-USA Today Sports

Braves fans are still wondering where the 2010 version of Uggla has been.

Uggla has disappointed by setting career lows in almost every offensive category in his past two seasons with the Braves.

He produced a less-than-stellar .200 batting average with a team-leading 25 strikeouts and six errors in the field.

The strikeouts and pop-ups are infuriating, but Uggla still does things to help the team win.

He posted a .348 on-base percentage in 2012 which was better than both Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward.

He is one of the best base-runners on the team, is a good teammate and posted a 3.3 WAR last season—fourth best in the National League.

Uggla hasn’t produced up to his contract but still brings value to the team from the second base position.

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11. Julio Teheran

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Derick Hingle-USA Today Sports

I’m a sucker to buy into hype surrounding top prospects.

Teheran has made just four starts at the MLB level, but it’s impossible to ignore what he’s done this spring training.

He has been almost unhittable with a 1.04 ERA, 0.62 WHIP to go with a MLB-leading 35 strikeouts. He threw six hitless innings with 10 strikeouts in his last outing against the Houston Astros.

Teheran has taken some velocity off on his fastball. But, what he has lost in velocity he has gained with movement.

This adjustment along with the return to his old delivery has given Teheran more confidence on the mound this spring.

I’m projecting it translates to success this season.

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10. Paul Maholm

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Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

The left-hander garners the least amount of attention of any members of the starting rotation but quietly enjoyed a successful spring training.

Maholm compiled a 4-1 record and 1.53 ERA in seven starts this spring and finished second on the team with 20 strikeouts.

Maholm does not have the “wow” factor on the mound with his stuff but continues to be a consistent, reliable starter.

The Braves are hoping to get a strong season from him in his last season under contract. Still, I wouldn’t expect a spectacular season from him.

I would project a third consecutive season averaging less than four earned runs a start.

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9. Tim Hudson

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Derick Hingle-USA Today Sports

Hudson will lead the Atlanta Braves into the 2013 season by pitching on Opening Day.

The 37-year-old will look to continue being a top-end starter in possibly his last season with the Braves.

He has pitched over 175 innings and compiled an ERA less than 3.75 in three straight seasons and had an ERA more than four in just two seasons in his entire career.

The Braves will need that type of production with a talented but young and unproven starting rotation.

Early innings will be worth watching as he struggled in the early innings of games in 2012. Starting games better could lead to longer and more efficient starts in 2013.

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8. Eric O'Flaherty

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Daniel Shirey-USA Today Sports

O’Flaherty is arguably the most undervalued member of the team, and I thought about moving him up a few positions.

He is one of the best set-up men in the game and allows Craig Kimbrel to flourish as the closer.

In his past two seasons, O’Flaherty has posted a 0.98 and 1.73 ERA. Left-handed hitters hit just .113 off him last season.

The Braves are at their best when they can shorten the game, and O’Flaherty has become a big part of that in Atlanta.

All he did this spring was allow zero earned runs in five appearances. I’d expect another strong campaign from the left-hander in 2013.

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7. B.J. Upton

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Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

Upton takes over in center field in 2013 as the highest paid Brave in team history.

The Braves signed the super-talented outfielder to a five-year deal with the hopes the 28-year-old can reach his limitless potential.

Upton’s best season came in his first full season in 2007 when he hit .300 with 24 home runs and 82 RBI. In the past four seasons, Upton has failed to hit .250 and finished with a career-low .298 on-base percentage last season.

There is still no denying his talent.

He has hit at least 25 home runs and stole at least 30 bases the past two seasons and has stolen more than 40 bases twice in his career.

Upton can easily move into the top five by improving his average and OBP in 2013.

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6. Andrelton Simmons

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Douglas Jones-USA Today Sports

Simmons appears to be on the way to stardom.

The 23-year-old is already one of the best fielding shortstops in the game. He makes difficult plays look routine and makes his fair share of spectacular plays.

He showed he was capable at the plate by posting a .289 batting average with 19 RBI after being called up to Atlanta in 2012.

He followed that up by showing some pop by hitting two home runs and three doubles in 30 at-bats with the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.

The big question mark concerning Simmons will be how he handles the lead-off duties. However, Simmons never appears to be fazed by the big moment, and I expect a smooth transition for him in 2013.

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5. Kris Medlen

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Daniel Shirey-USA Today Sports

Medlen has high expectations entering the 2013 season after his historic end to the 2012 season.

He entered the starting rotation at the end of July in 2012 and never looked back. He finished with a 10-1 record and 1.57 ERA and allowed two earned runs or more in just two starts to conclude the 2012 season.

That conclusion has led many to believe Medlen will be the ace of the staff in 2013. That’s tough to debate, but it is worth remembering Medlen has never made more than 14 starts in a season.

Barring injury, he will obviously make more than 14 starts in 2013 and could be something Medlen has to adjust to.

However, Medlen possesses great control over all his pitches and combines that with good movement to give him the tools to become an ace at the MLB level.

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4. Freddie Freeman

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Brad Barr-USA Today Sports

Freeman is another player who is primed for a breakout season.

The 23-year-old first baseman struggled with a hand injury as well as vision issues in 2012 but still managed to post career highs in home runs (23), RBI (94) and OPS (.796).

A healthy 2013 season should give Freeman a great chance at making the National League All-Star team. Hitting behind Heyward and Justin Upton will give him plenty of RBI chances while B.J. Upton and McCann should allow him to still see good pitches to hit.

Freeman may be the most talented pure hitter on the team. He can hit to all parts of the field for both power and average and keeps his strikeout total fairly low for a power hitter.

Not to mention his Gold-Glove level skills in the field.

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3. Jason Heyward

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Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

Heyward endured some struggles the entire 2011 season after bursting onto the scene in his rookie season.

He began 2012 in a slump but quickly settled down to finish with his first career 20-20 season and a Gold Glove. He found comfort hitting the No. 3 hole where he finished second best on the team with a .814 OPS and 82 RBI.

It’s hard to believe that he’s just 23 years old entering his fourth season and still just scratching the surface of what he can do. He is already the best athlete on the team. Now, it’s just a matter of becoming a more consistent player.

Another 20-20 season seems likely and a 30-30 season is not far-fetched. Heyward will have to adjust to hitting in the No. 2 hole in 2013, but hitting in front of Justin Upton should help make that transition a little easier.

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2. Justin Upton

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Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

Speaking of potential 30-30 players, there is a reason why the Braves acquired Upton in the offseason.

The Braves traded away one of their most valuable players in 2012, which shows how highly they think of Upton.

It is still baffling why the Arizona Diamondbacks were so eager to trade a 25-year-old outfielder who finished fourth in the MVP voting in 2011. In that season, Upton finished with a .289 batting average, .898 OPS with 31 home runs and 88 RBI.

Upton struggled with a thumb injury last season and led to a decline in numbers (.280/.785/17/67).

Upton should be rejuvenated with a fresh start in Atlanta alongside his brother. He led the team this spring with 19 RBI and finished second with six home runs—many of those were crowd pleasing towering shots.

The Braves are lucky to get this kind of talent for at least three years. Big things are in store for Upton in Atlanta.

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1. Craig Kimbrel

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Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

The prestigious No. 1 power ranking on my list goes to the closer with the rocket arm.

Kimbrel routinely hits the upper 90s at his fastball that appears he even faster with his delivery in which he explodes off the mound. He combines that with a hard-biting slider that makes it nearly impossible for hitters to have any success off him.

He had arguably the best season ever for a closer in 2012. He struck out the side in 15 games in 2012—twice as many earned runs he allowed all season (7). He finished with a 1.01 ERA, 42 saves and an absurd 16.7 strikeout to nine inning ratio.

And he’s just 24 years old.

It’s hard to imagine he’ll be able to replicate those numbers once again in 2013. However, he should still be one of the most dominant and feared closers in the game, and why he ranks No. 1 on the Atlanta Braves in power rankings.