Atlanta Braves 2011 Season Preview

Leading up to the start of the 2011 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of MLB’s 30 teams . Today’s preview features the Atlanta Braves. Stay tuned as Diamond Hoggers previews every team division by division until the start of the regular season.


I’ll admit it, I’m kind of sweetheart for the Braves. That’s a damn good baseball town down there in the heat. It’s in the heartland. The South. They’re serious about their baseball down there. A lot of people down in Florida are crazy about these guys as well–forgetting that they have a couple of teams they can call their own in their home state.

I can understand why they’re called America’s Team.

The identity really does work. Where I’m going with this is that the Braves have gone from the hated to the hunters now. They’re clearly underdogs in a division that they called their own for the better part of a decade and half. They’ve quietly shifted to playing second fiddle at the very least to the mighty and evil Philadelphia Phillies; with Chipper Jones being the only artifact or link that links this 2011 version to the storied years of the past. And thank God for him.

And thank God for John Schuerholz. This is a classic example that when your organization has a guy who is part of things at the center, things can’t get too bad for too long. There is clearly a plan laid–a plan that none of us know the secrets to–but about 28 other teams in baseball would love to be as consistent in scouting and churning out talent; in other words re-loading, as the Atlanta Braves.

The Core

They’ve got a nice, solid little core going. The gem of the whole thing is obviously Jason Heyward. The way we see it he can either go one of two ways in 2011. He can just be a phenom which is about what he was last season, or he can hulk up into a monster. The thing is, Atlanta’s success will be highly determinate on what the 21-year old right fielder does this year. If he’s just strong like he was last season, they’ll most likely be a competitive team. If he starts to jump off the page a little bit, they’re going to be very dangerous.

The next jewel in the crown is Dan Uggla, acquired in the off-season from the Florida Marlins and inked soon there after to a long term deal. The rest of the infield is filled out by Martin Prado, Alex Gonzalez, and the next big thing (they hope) first baseman Freddie Freeman. I don’t think Freeman has the type of year that Heyward had last season. But I think that he can be a nice little boost along the lines of (.265/15/60) and I expect him to be spelled at points when he struggles.

After Heyward, the outfield is thin

For some reason, Nate McLouth is going to be the starting centerfielder. I really don’t see him ever justifying the contract he originally signed with the Pirates, and I think this ends badly. But if McLouth can regain whatever it is he lost this past year he could be a huge dark horse shot in the arm for the Bravos. It’s highly unlikely, but some might like him as a comeback player of the year candidate. Like, people who just look at the back of his baseball card and haven’t seen his miserable at-bats in the flesh. Eric Hinske is more of a strong bench guy than every day player. There were whispers of them bringing back Andruw Jones to a 1-year deal. That should give you an idea of what they think of their current cast of characters in the outfield. They need Heyward to produce for a spot and a half.

The rotation isn’t glam–but they’ll beat you

Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, and Derek Lowe aren’t the Phillies big four, but what other team in the National League can run out four that will be more consistent if healthy? Look for young left-hander Mike Minor to emerge as the 5th starter after these proven four. We’re high on Tommy Hanson. We’ve been waiting for a Cy Young type year out of him and maybe predicted it a year too early in 2010. If it’s coming, it will be this year or next. It wouldn’t shock us if Tim Hudson began to show a little long in the tooth, either. But this group is at the very least, dependable.

The Bully is up and coming

Keep your eyes on Julio Teheran. He’s a little flamethrower who will be parts Neftali Feliz and parts unhuman we bet. If the Braves make him a starter long-term because Craig Kimbrell does the  job no one in Atlanta would mind. Kimbrell will be an exciting young arm to watch on a team that should give him plenty of opportunities to do the job.

Will Fredi get fingered?

We don’t even know what that means other than it was Tom Green’s five minutes of fame. Fredi Gonzalez takes over for one of our all-time favorite in Bobby Cox. He told players that he’ll try to manage like Cox. But no one can manage like Bobby Cox. He was his own entity. Gonzalez was 276–279 in three-plus seasons with the Marlins. We’re not impressed but we think that he’ll do an adequate job in his first year in Atlanta and will avoid the hot-seat.

Prediction

We’ve got them going 90-72 and finishing behind the Phillies in the NL East. We think that they’ll be good enough to snag the Wildcard spot.

And we all remember this from growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, don’t we?

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