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Breaking Down Atlanta’s Projected 2013 Opening Day Rotation

The Atlanta Braves‘ lineup with newly acquired outfielder Justin Upton has been analyzed to the 10th degree.

Consequently, It is time to break down the team’s pitching rotation as we head closer to spring training. 

The Braves made many moves this offseason, as the team shipped Tommy Hanson to the Los Angeles Angels for flame-throwing right-hander Jordan Walden in November. Randall Delgado was among five players sent to Arizona in the Upton blockbuster nearly a week ago.

Both were part of the team’s rotation in 2012. 

With the spark Kris Medlen brought to the pitching staff in the second half of the season, general manager Frank Wren had some flexibility to play with the rotation in the open market. He knew that by trading Hanson, he would save the team around $4 million to put to another resource.

It didn’t seem like the right move initially, as trading a starting pitcher could be, in a sense, like playing with fire. Ask the 2008 Atlanta Braves, who struggled to put together a consistent pitching staff and therefore only won 72 games.

Yet, with the depth Atlanta currently has in their minor league system, Wren felt more comfortable making the move. 

Four obvious names should break camp as members of Atlanta’s starting rotation: Medlen, Tim Hudson, Mike Minor and Paul Maholm.

The fifth spot, however, is a little up in the air. Most believe the favorite is top prospect Julio Teheran, but that is no guarantee.

Teheran had a stellar 2011 campaign, as he posted a 15-3 record with a 2.55 ERA in 24 starts in Triple-A Gwinnett. Fortunes changed in 2012 when he produced a 7-9 mark with a 5.08 ERA in 26 starts at the same level. In four career major-league starts, moreover, Teheran has a 5.19 ERA.

After the right-hander’s major-league debut against the Phillies and a start 11 days later in Arizona, which both resulted in losses, the Braves tinkered with his delivery.

His velocity dipped from the mid-90s to the low-90s, and the Braves saw that as a red flag. These changes led to many of his struggles in the 2012 season.

In the offseason, the Braves allowed him to go back to his original throwing motion, which led to winter-ball success. If Teheran can regain the form that he enjoyed in the minor leagues in 2011 and bring it to the big leagues, the sky is the limit for his potential in the Braves’ rotation. 

There are other candidates, though, who could take over in the back end of the rotation if Teheran were to falter in spring training. Prospect southpaw Sean Gilmartin and right-handed pitcher J.R. Graham could grab the opportunity and run with it.

Gilmartin, who was selected 28th overall by the Atlanta Braves in the 2011 draft, spent time between Double-A Mississippi and Gwinnett and posted a 6-10 mark with a 3.84 ERA in 27 starts last season. 

The 22-year-old played his college ball at Florida State and is similar to the lefty Minor. Gilmartin possesses a fastball, curveball, changeup and slider. He isn’t overpowering but can be a crafty pitcher.

Many scouts have compared Gilmartin to Tom Glavine, but we will see how he handles the majors first. 

Graham was deemed untouchable by Wren in the trade talks involving Upton. The 23-year-old is a flame thrower who can get his fastball up to 98 MPH. He is undersized, as he is just above 6’0″ and under 200 pounds.

Graham also has a slider as his complimentary pitch. He mixes it well with his fastball and can induce ground balls with the pitch. If he can control it in the big leagues consistently, the slider will grade out well.

He needs to develop a third pitch, however. He does currently throw a changeup, but will need to improve it enough to translate it to the big leagues. He hasn’t needed the pitch as much in the minors but will need it in the majors to compliment the fastball and slider. 

Teheran is the current favorite to win the fifth spot as we near spring training, but it is possible that Gilmartin or Graham could out-pitch the top prospect for an opportunity. 

Whomever wins the spot will need to pitch well to stay in the rotation with the impending return of right-handed pitcher Brandon Beachy from Tommy John surgery.

Atlanta has a luxury with the talent they possess in their top four rotation spots, plus the organizational depth to make a wise decision for the back end. 

While their lineup has gotten all the accolades recently, the Braves project to have one of the better rotations in baseball in 2013.

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2013 Projections for Jason Heyward & Freddie Freeman

They were taken in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft. Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman consider themselves best friends on and off the field. They are expected to do big things again for the Atlanta Braves in 2013.

Atlanta’s two core players helped lead the team to their second playoff appearance since 2005. It was a short stint as they were defeated by the St. Louis Cardinals in the inaugural National League Wild-Card game. Heyward and Freeman have the experience to help take the Braves back to the playoffs this season. 


Jason Heyward

After an abysmal sophomore campaign in 2011, Heyward felt the pressure of having to bounce back with a better 2012 season. At the beginning, the concerns grew as he batted .232 with six home runs and 23 RBI through the first two months of the season, which included a .200 average in May. 

The concerns reached a boiling point after a Bryce Harper base hit to right field that was played casually by Heyward. The Nationals‘ outfielder took an extra 90 feet and slid safely into second base. The play was ruled a single and error. Not only were fans worried about their right-fielder’s production at the plate, but they were also frustrated with his lack of effort on the field.

That play changed the whole season for Heyward as he heated up in the month of June. Heyward then hit an astounding .348 with six homers and 15 RBI in June. He made spectacular plays in the field including some incredible home run-saving catches in the second half of the season. 



Heyward finished 2012 with a career-high 27 home runs, 82 RBI and 21 steals, and is looking to build on his success in 2013. He is a year older, mature and adjusted well to pitchers who tried to pitch him in last season. He drove the ball to all fields, which made him more of a power threat.

Heyward needs to improve on a .200 average with runners in scoring position in order to increase his RBI total. If he can do that, expect to see a .280, 30 homer and 100 RBI season as he continues to develop his game.  

Official 2013 Projection: .283 BA, 31 HR, 102 RBI, 22 SB in 157 games.


Freddie Freeman

Freeman showed signs of greatness at different points last season. The Braves’ first baseman won multiple N.L. player of the week honors.

Although an eye and left index finger injury sidelined him for 15 games, Freeman had a solid 2012 campaign with a career high 23 homers and 94 RBI. He is considered one of the better defensive first baseman in the game and saves a lot of badly thrown balls that hit the dirt. 

Freeman is the man who officially clinched the Braves their postseason birth with a walk-off two-run homer over the center field wall against the Marlins.

This season, Freeman has a chance to show everyone around the MLB that he is among one of the best first baseman. He doesn’t get a lot of the spotlight other players at his position receive. Of course, Freeman is still young, but 2013 could be the year he receives the recognition he deserves. 

Official 2013 Projection: .279 BA, 27 HR, 105 RBI in 155 games. 

Follow Andrew Vigliotti on twitter @Andrew_Vig & his Outside Pitch MLB radio show.

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Decisions Looming for the Atlanta Braves’ Roster for 2013

The plan was for Turner Field to still be filing in nearly 50,000 Braves fans for the postseason. Unfortunately, the lasting images remembered are the cleanup crews picking up debris from angry Atlanta fans after the infield fly call made by Sam Holbrook and Chipper Jones walking off the diamond for the final time. It wasn’t suppose to end that way. 

Nonetheless, decisions have to be made about the 2013 club. Who will replace Chipper at third? Will they re-sign gold-glove center fielder Michael Bourn? Do Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm fit into their plans next season? Will Martin Prado and Jason Heyward receive long-term contracts? Who are free-agent and trade targets?

Those are just a few items on the docket for General Manager Frank Wren this winter. 

The Braves have nearly $30 million to spend after the contracts of Chipper Jones ($14 million), Derek Lowe ($10 million) and Michael Bourn ($6.8 million) are erased from the books. Expect starter Jair Jurrjens, who made $5.5 million in 2012, to be non-tendered or released.

Atlanta is expected to pick up the options of Brian McCann ($12 million), Tim Hudson ($9 million) and Paul Maholm ($6.5 million)—as they should. All three are key components to the team’s success. 

The Braves could re-sign David Ross because of McCann’s shoulder surgery, which will sideline him at least through the majority of spring training.

It may be the perfect time to look into long-term contracts for Martin Prado and outfielder Jason Heyward

Prado was arguably the most valuable player for the Braves in 2012 with a .301 average. He also led the league in two-strike base hits (93). He can play a number of positions if needed. He is signed through 2013, and the organization can’t risk losing a high-caliber player like Prado after next season.


Heyward, 23, had a bounce-back 2012 campaign after a sophomore year in which he was plagued by injuries and constant struggles. The 2007 first-round pick set career highs in runs, homers, RBI, stolen bases and slugging percentage. He was spectacular in right field, as he made some big catches for Atlanta in key moments throughout the season. It will be cheaper to get a long-term deal done rather than going through the eventual arbitration process.

The starting rotation is likely to be set with Kris Medlen, Tommy Hanson, Mike Minor, Hudson and Maholm. Brandon Beachy is on track to re-join the rotation from “Tommy John” elbow surgery around the All-Star break. 

The two biggest decisions facing the Braves in the off-season are at third and the outfield. The likelihood is Prado finds a home at third. The Braves have played the 28-year-old at multiple positions, primarily left field since the acquisition of Dan Uggla before the 2011 season.

The outfield could go a number of different ways: re-sign Michael Bourn and bring back Jose Constanza to play left or let Bourn go and find two cheaper options to play left and center.

Bourn is expected to net around $15 million a year from a club in the free-agent market. The Braves can afford it, but it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible. There are cheaper targets out there via free-agency or the trade market. 

B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino, Angel Pagan and Cody Ross are all potential free-agent targets for Atlanta. None will command the level of money that Bourn will this winter. 

Upton, 28, is looking for a fresh start after spending his entire career to this point with the Tampa Bay Rays. The center fielder hit 28 homers in 2012. The level of consistency may be a concern for him. Other than 2007 when he hit .300, the former first-round selection has a career average of .248.

Victorino, whom the Braves know well from his days in Philadelphia, could be an option, as the Dodgers may not see him as a fit with Carl Crawford’s eventual return from Tommy John surgery. The 31-year-old has a career .333 average in 60 games at Turner Field, which is tops among national league ballparks.

Pagan is familiar with the N.L. East from his days with the New York Mets. The outfielder hit .288 with eight homers and 56 RBI in 154 games with the Giants. He would be a cheaper option for Atlanta, as he would command in the area of $5 million after making $4.85 million in 2012. Pagan hit .290 in 80 games as the San Francisco lead-off hitter this season.

Braves fans remember how Ross tormented them during the 2010 postseason. A big game-tying home run and a go-ahead single lifted the Giants to a 3-2 game four victory in Bobby Cox’s last game as Atlanta’s manager. The 31-year-old Ross played well in his second stint in the A.L, as he batted .267 with 22 home runs and 81 RBI in 130 games with the Boston Red Sox. Ross has a career .300 average at Turner Field in 31 games and would see regular time as the left fielder. 

Josh Willingham is a perfect fit for the Braves via the trade market if they wish to pursue it. The 33-year-old, who is owed $14 million through 2014, hit 35 home runs and 110 RBI for the Minnesota Twins in 2012. The $7 million a year price tag combined with the level of production annually should garner the Braves’ interest. 

The bullpen should be a strength for the Braves again in 2013 with the return of closer Craig Kimbrel, who has saved 88 games in his two full seasons in the majors. Top left-handed setup man Eric O’Flaherty will be entering into his final arbitration year and could make upwards of $4 million.

Christian Martinez, Luis Avilan, Jonny Venters, Cory Gearrin, Chad Durbin and Peter Moylan are all expected to be in the mix for spots again in 2013. 

Important decisions will be made this winter, but the Braves should be at or near the top of the division standings again next season. 


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Braves Should Let Michael Bourn Test the Free-Agent Market

Emptiness describes how the Braves feel after their 2012 season concluded in the wild-card playoff game October 5.

The best way for the organization and their fans to rid themselves of the heart-break is to look forward into the off-season. Important contractual decisions need to be made on some key players. 

Michael Bourn will become a free-agent during the winter, and will command a lot of money on the open market. San Francisco, Washington, and Cincinnati could be possible destinations for the Scott Boras client.

The Braves have some financial relief as Chipper Jones’ retirement allows them to shave off at least $7 million from the 2013 vesting option. The Braves will shed themselves of the remaining $10 million owed to Derek Lowe (traded to Cleveland 2011, DFA in 2012, eventually picked up by the Yankees). Eric Hinske, David Ross, Miguel Bautista, and Ben Sheets will also be coming off the books. 

It’s likely Bourn‘s next contract will net him at least $15 million a year, and the Braves aren’t willing to spend all their assets on one player. Atlanta is likely to pick up Brian McCann’s $12 million team option for next year, and are expected to pick up Tim Hudson’s $9 million option as well. 

Atlanta will be looking to lock up Martin Prado as he will be entering his second year of arbitration. It could be cheaper to sign a long-term deal as the 28-year-old will be campaigning for a higher pay raise than the $4.75 million he received in 2012. 

It’s easy to make a case that Prado was the organization’s M.V.P in 2012. A .301 average with 10 HR, and 70 RBI doesn’t even tell the entire story. He played multiple positions including left-field, third, second, shortstop, and even first base. The versatility that he showed on a daily basis is what every team covets. Prado is by far the Atlanta Braves‘ most important player and should be taken care of this off-season.

The Braves can move Prado to third to replace Chipper, and look for a cheaper solution in the outfield. Names who come to mind are Angel Pagan, Cody Ross, Jonny Gomes Shane Victorino, and B.J. Upton.

The likelihood of Upton walking is high as the Rays are not planning on bringing him back at an unreasonable price. The center fielder hit .246 with 28 homers and 78 RBI in 2012 with Tampa Bay. He won’t command the money Bourn will, so this option could make sense.

A trade option could be to match-up with the Minnesota Twins and acquire Josh Willingham. The 33-year-old outfielder hit 35 home runs and drove in 110 runs in 2012. He is owed $7 million each year through 2014.

The greatest need for the Twins is pitching and the Braves could center a deal around left-handed pitching prospect Sean Gilmartin.

The 2011 first round draft pick spent the majority of 2012 with Double-A as he made 20 starts and posted an ERA of 3.54. He finished the season with Triple-A Gwinnett and compiled a 4.78 ERA in seven starts (1-2).

Mike Minor has solidified himself as a starting pitcher in the big leagues with a 2.16 ERA in 14 starts in the second half. The Braves have the luxury of trading Gilmartin with top young arms Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado in the system.

General Manager Frank Wren, who was recently extended through 2014, has a lot of decisions to make in the off-season on how to strengthen the 94-win club. The best solution is to allocate the money to a number of different players, rather than give one player a mega contract. 

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Baltimore Orioles Acquire Jim Thome from Philadelphia Philles for Prospects

The Baltimore Orioles are officially buyers this summer as they acquire 1B/DH Jim Thome from the Philadelphia Phillies.  

The story initially broke when Jim Salisbury of CSN tweeted that a source told him about the possible deal. The deal was officially confirmed in a tweet by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. (h/t

Thome, 41, played in 30 games for the struggling Phillies and hit .242/.338/.516 with five home runs and 15 RBI. He will serve as the Orioles’ designated hitter for the rest of the season.The Phillies have been decimated by injuries throughout the season, which equates to their last-place record in the NL East. They were looking for bullpen help but decided to go in another direction.  

Right-handed pitcher Kyle Simon and catcher Gabriel Lino are the two prospects heading to Philadelphia in the trade.

Simon, who was a fourth-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 2011, is 3-10 with a 3.63 ERA in 14 starts and 14 appearances. He has spent time in Class-A Aberdeen, Delmarva and Frederick. The California native struggled early to start the season, but has dropped his ERA substantially.  

Lino, 19, has spent all of 2012 with Class-A Delmarva hitting .218/.282/.340 with four homers and 18 RBI in 56 games. The Venezuelan catcher should be a player to watch moving forward in the Phillies system. He has a big frame with power potential.

The Orioles are in second place battling the New York Yankees for first in the AL East. Baltimore has struggled offensively the last couple weeks and hope that Thome can bring depth to their lineup.  

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