Atlanta Braves’ Projected 2014 Outfield
Projected 2014 Outfielders for the Atlanta Braves
In 2013, excitement surrounded the Atlanta Braves in anticipation for a set of brothers that were supposed to set the team apart from the rest of the National League. Justin Upton and B.J. Upton came around with great expectations, but only one of them put up any kind of numbers. With the struggles of B.J. and the injuries to Jason Heyward, there is no doubt that the team may have out-played themselves and raised expectations for the fans in this upcoming season. In 2014, there will be a lot expected of this set of players to put up better numbers than they did last season and to stay healthy.
The starting three guys: Heyward and the two Upton's have the potential of becoming one of the most explosive and talented outfields that the game of baseball has seen in several years. Heyward and Justin have the ability to hit 25 home runs each, while B.J. could easily hit 15. On top of that, each player is an above average defender when it comes to his respective position.
The rest of the outfield was pretty successful when they were a healthy group. They covered just as much ground as any team in baseball did last season and definitely deserve more credit than they were given. Guys like Todd Cunningham and Jose Constanza were guys that were key to filling the void when Heyward went down with an injury. The most impressive guy off of the bench last season was Jordan Schafer who may, if B.J. doesn’t improve, see time starting in center field.
Also, one man that will not be included in this list is Evan Gattis. Even though he played a considerable amount of left field in 2013, he did that only for extra at-bats and with the loss of Brian McCann, he will be behind the plate more than any other player this season.
6. Jose Constanza (AAA)
Jose Constanza contains one piece that the Braves truly need on their team this season: speed. He has had trouble getting on base when he has played for the big club with a career on-base percentage of .322 and he has struck out at least two times as much as he has walked. He has next to no power and would probably serve best as a late inning defender seeing that he has made only one error in his three lengthy stints with the Braves. Constanza will probably end up with the Gwinnett Braves in Triple-A this season for a while and I imagine we will see him if an injury occurs at some point.
5. Todd Cunningham
The most interesting guy, to me, in this whole list is Todd Cunningham. The sample size from his major league experience is quite small, but the soon-to-be 25-year-old has impressed in his time in the minors. His career average there is .276, but better than Constanza in getting on base with a .350 on-base percentage. He doesn’t have crushing power, but is more of a gap-to-gap hitter with average to above-average speed. In his time in the minors he has stolen 66 bases. As a fielder, he is about average with a good glove, but doesn’t seem to cover the same ground as some of his teammates. However, I feel his bat and ability to get on base will give him a spot in Atlanta with the Braves when it comes to opening day.
4. Jordan Schafer
Now, other than the Upton brothers and Jason Heyward, who could possibly be an everyday starter in the Atlanta outfield? Last year, until he was plagued with injuries, Jordan Schafer showed that he is capable of taking one of those spots. Through July 2nd, before he missed a month due to injury, he was hitting .312 and played very solid center field. He never seemed to be able to regain any momentum when he came back, and his average eventually dipped to .247. Much like Constanza though, Schafer can run and that is an important asset to the Braves with their obvious lack of speed anywhere in the lineup minus B.J. Upton and Heyward
3. B.J. Upton
Most likely to lose his spot in 2014: B.J. Upton. I’m not ready to crucify him and say that he was a complete waste of money, but if he doesn’t perform in early 2014, I would not be surprised to see Schafer in the lineup fairly quickly. If he can return to the guy that hit .250 with 15 home runs and 25-30 steals, the Braves will feel like they were winning with Upton. As far as being a defender is concerned, he can loaf at times but he is pretty solid overall with an arm that is just above-average
2. Justin Upton
The better of the Uptons last season and one of the most refreshing players to watch in 2014 was Justin Upton. With him likely to hit second in the lineup on Opening Day, Braves’ fans might want to be prepared to see him and Heyward crossing the plate together. Justin can hit, and hit the ball hard. He hit 27 home runs in 2013 and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him match all of his numbers from last season and even improve on his career low .263 batting average.
1. Jason Heyward
He is almost easily the best all-around outfielder that the Braves will field for a long time to come. Jason Heyward has all of the tools to make for an all-star caliber player. If he stays healthy this season, the Braves will expect him to hit 20-25 home runs from mostly the lead-off spot in the lineup. On top of that, he has the ability to steal 20-30 bases on the season and will create more offensive opportunities for the team. As a fielder, there is not a better outfielder on the team. Heyward won a Gold Glove award in 2012 and narrowly missed out on his second one in 2013. Overall he can carry this offense when others are struggling and can also hold his own and then some while patrolling the outfield.