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Atlanta Braves 2015 season preview

SB Nation 2015 MLB Preview Here's everything you could possibly need to know about the 2015 Braves!

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

There are plenty of words that could be used to describe the offseason that the Atlanta Braves just had, but the best one is probably this one: Tumultuous. After ending their 2014 campaign on an absolutely abject note (in which they started the month of September at 72-66 and 7 games behind the Nationals. They finished it 79-83 and 17 games behind Washington), the Braves front office decided that this was the last straw for General Manager Frank Wren.

Replacing him was the architect of those great Cleveland teams from the ‘90s: John Hart. Hart’s arrival marked a swift change in direction for the franchise. After a series of trades aimed at fixing the team’s barren minor league system were made (which included sending OFs Jason Heyward and Justin Upton to the Cardinals and Padres, respectively, and C Evan Gattis to the Astros) and a string of short-term deals were inked (with the glaring exception being a 4-year, $44 million contract being given to OF Nick Markakis), the team appears to be in rebuilding mode for the first time since the late ‘80s; Opting to punt on this season and maybe the next as well in order to be competitive for the grand opening of the team’s new stadium in 2017.

It’s a sensible strategy for the future, but for a franchise and fanbase that has expected to -- at the very least -- be competitive for the better part of the past two decades, the waters of rebuilding may turn out to be a bit rocky for the next couple of seasons.

-- Demetrius Bell

Roster changes

Key additions: SP Shelby Miller, OF Nick Markakis, RP Jason Grilli, RP Jim Johnson, C A.J. Pierzynski, IF Alberto Callaspo, IF Jace Peterson, OF Jonny Gomes, OF Eric Young Jr., OF Dion Toscano, OF Zoilo Almonte, SP/RP Manny Banuelos

Key subtractions: OF Jason Heyward, OF Justin Upton, C/OF Evan Gattis, IF/OF Emilio Bonifacio, IF Tommy La Stella, SP Ervin Santana, SP Aaron Harang, RP Jordan Walden, RP David Carpenter, SP/RP David Hale

Just look at that list.

The Atlanta Braves were busy this off-season, and the above names do not even take into account the numerous additions to the farm system. In fact, the biggest focus of the off-season was the restocking of a depleted Minor League system by GM John Hart, and that must be included in the first paragraph of any discussion about what took place over the winter.

Whether it is considered rebuilding or "re-tooling", the Atlanta Braves blew it up in the span of just a few weeks. Hart and his front office posse elected to trade three of the top hitters from the 2014 team, sending Jason Heyward to St. Louis, Justin Upton to San Diego and Evan Gattis to Houston with a return of youth-based packages. Only the Heyward trade netted the team a full-blown MLB player (Shelby Miller), but a handful of prospects (Jace Peterson, Mike Foltynewicz) have a chance to make the club out of the Spring.

It didn’t stop there, as even secondary contributors like Tommy La Stella, David Carpenter and Jordan Walden (in the Heyward trade) were jettisoned in favor of other options. Those moves brought in some quality players, including Manny Banuelos and old friend Arodys Vizcaino, but again, the focus was on the future, even at the cost of the present.

The talent level is mixed, the players are somewhat interchangeable for the most part, but if you squint hard enough, maybe you can find a scenario where everything falls into place.

From a Major League perspective, there are numerous faces to become familiar with, headlined by the aforementioned Shelby Miller in the rotation and Nick Markakis in the starting lineup on a daily basis. Miller and Markakis are both blessed with above-average talent, but it is fair to characterize neither as an "impact" player for 2015, and the remainder of the team’s moves were centered in simply filling in glaring roster gaps. The outfield and bullpen are perhaps the clearest example of that, as some combination of Jonny Gomes, Zoilo Almonte, Dion Toscano and Eric Young Jr. will see extended time in both left and center field this season, with Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson theoretically penciled in for high-leverage roles in the bullpen.

Regardless of your opinion on the new direction of a franchise that is unquestionably focused on 2016 and 2017 above the upcoming season, this is the group that John Hart provides for the 2015 campaign. The talent level is mixed, the players are somewhat interchangeable for the most part, but if you squint hard enough, maybe you can find a scenario where everything falls into place.


-- Brad Rowland

Lineup preview

Photo credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

After a tumultuous offseason, the only 2014 lineup regulars who are expected to retain their spots in the lineup (at least with some frequency) this season are Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson, and possibly Melvin Upton, depending on how quickly he recovers from his foot injury and how the interim centerfielders perform in his absence. It’s amazing and almost how unprecedented to consider how many new faces Braves fans will have to get acquainted with this year, as only three starters from last season are expected to return from last year on Opening Day 2015. So, let’s take a look at how the lineup should shake out.

C — Christian Bethancourt, a 23-year-old native of Panama, has been hailed by many for quite some time as the Atlanta Braves’ "catcher of the future." He’s finally poised to take over the reigns as Atlanta’s full-time backstop in 2015. Bethancourt had a couple of brief audition last season during Evan Gattis’ back injury and kidney stone issues, but this season, he’ll be expected to take charge on a full-time basis. Bethancourt has loud defensive tools, including one of the best arms behind the plate in professional baseball, a true 80-grade howitzer. He also has surprising athleticism for a catcher, and has strong mobility behind the dish. Unfortunately, those defensive tools haven’t quite made him into a defensive asset at this point in his career due to his inconsistent and sometimes sloppy receiving, and occasional lapses in effort and concentration. He’ll have to improve in this facet of his game if those tools turn into actual defensive value outside of his ability to cut down baserunners. Offensively, Bethancourt isn’t likely to provide any positive value. While he displays above-average raw power in batting practice, his free-swinging ways and propensity to make bad contact on pitches outside of the strike zone turn him into a deeply flawed offensive player. Bethancourt doesn’t take walks, and while he’ll occasionally put a good swing onto a fat pitch, his propensity for striking out and making bad contact limit him greatly. Simply put, don’t expect much out of Bethancourt offensively at this point in time. If Bethancourt’s struggles are untenable for Atlanta, we could see veteran backup A.J. Pierzynski, who wouldn’t be much better, if at all, assume the starting position. John Buck could also become an option if injuries ravage the depth chart or if both Bethancourt and Pierzynski can’t hack it.

A beacon of light in the offensive darkness that will be the 2015 Atlanta Braves is Freddie Freeman.

1B — A beacon of light in the offensive darkness that will be the 2015 Atlanta Braves is Freddie Freeman. Freeman, who played all 162 games at first in 2014 and compiled a strong 140 wRC+, figures to be a nearly everyday player and easily the best offensive player on the roster. Freeman, who is still 25 years old, mind you, is a good bet to take a bunch of walks, especially when you consider the players who will be hitting around him, whack about 20 home runs, and post a batting average a bit south of .300 considering his gaudy line drive totals. While Freeman doesn’t post elite power numbers for a first sacker (he’s only ISO’d .181 and .173 in his past two seasons, believe it or not), he’s such a good offensive player because of the free passes that he draws and the unbelievable amount of quality, hard contact that he makes, making him an elite offensive player despite leaving a bit to be desired in the power category. Freeman’s defense is the source of much debate, with his naysayers pointing to a lack of range around the bag, while his supporters point to his good hands and his ability to dig bad throws out of the dirt. In reality, the truth probably lies somewhere between these two extremes. UZR/150 thinks that he’s about average, while DRS paints a more negative picture of his defensive abilities. I tend to hold the opinion that Freeman’s a slightly below-average defensive first baseman, but considering his offensive contributions, does that really even matter? In the case that Freeman misses extended time due to, god forbid, an injury, Chris Johnson could slide over to first from third, or perhaps someone such as Joey Terdoslavich could take over in his stead.

2B — Returning for his fifth and final season as the Braves’ second baseman will be Dan Ugg...ok, not really, but the Braves will be paying him $13 million this year to be a part of the Nationals organization, so have fun thinking about that. In the meantime, however, it still isn’t entirely clear who will play second for the Braves in 2015. Tommy La Stella is off to the north side of Chicago, and indications from camp seem to suggest that Phil Gosselin isn’t viewed as a serious candidate for the starting job. At this point, I’d consider the second base favorite to be Jace Peterson, one of the four prospects acquired from the San Diego Padres in the Justin Upton trade. Peterson, who turns 25 in May, didn’t perform well in a brief stint with the Padres last season, but posted strong numbers in AAA last season, as he has in all of his minor league stops. Peterson is a patient left-handed hitter with good on-base skills and above-average speed. He does have limitations, however, including non-stellar contact skills and a lack of power. He came up initially as a shortstop, and should have the defensive chops to be at least a competent defender at second. Peterson may have more of a Major League future as a bench utility man than as a starting second baseman, but considering Atlanta’s other options at the position, he may have the chance to start and attempt to prove that he’s more than that. Other options at the position include the aforementioned Gosselin and Alberto Callaspo, who was signed to a one-year, $3 million deal after a disappointing 2014 with the Oakland Athletics, but will likely serve as more of a utility option for the Braves in 2015, provided that he isn’t released. You may have mentioned that I haven’t yet mentioned Jose Peraza here; this is because he won’t be making the Opening Day roster, and unless he tears up triple-A and the Braves find a reason to call him up, I expect 2015 to mostly be another year of seasoning for Peraza in the minors.

SS — Let’s start out with the obvious: Andrelton Simmons is probably the best defensive baseball player at any position on the planet. The ease with which he mans shortstop, the most difficult position in baseball, is awe-inspiring, and he was rewarded with his second Gold Glove in as many seasons last year for his prowess. Consider this: Simmons’ defense was so good last season that he managed to put up 2.3 fWAR in 146 games despite being 30% worse than league average at the plate. Simmons has an unbelievable arm, outstanding range, and an almost super-human first step, and is an absolute treat to watch on the defensive side of the ball. The drawback , however, is that he is not quite as easy to watch at the plate, to put it mildly. Simmons was putrid at the plate for the Braves in 2014, and regressed terribly in the power department. Various projection systems expect him to rebound in 2015 and produce numbers closer to those that he put up in 2013, which would be a welcome sight, despite still being bad. Simmons, like Bethancourt, makes too much contact with bad pitches. This leads to lots of weak pop-ups and soft ground balls, which kill his BABIP and hold him back at the dish. Simmons avoids strikeouts, sure, but making contact isn’t productive if you aren’t putting good wood on the ball. It’ll be interesting to see how Simmons’ offensive game rebounds in 2015. If he can manage to produce a bit more power, he should improve. Even better would be a bit more discernment at the plate, but I wouldn’t count on it if I were you. If Simmons needs a day off or has to miss time due to injury, members of the Braves’ infield bench mashup including Jace Peterson, Alberto Callaspo, and Phil Gosselin could have to man the position in his absence, which would be, frankly, a horrifying thought.

Photo credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

3B — Chris Johnson, who nosedived in 2015 and put up one of the worst seasons of any regular in baseball, is likely to get the lion’s share of the team’s plate appearances at third base this season. Johnson will look to rebound from a well below-average season at the plate, which happened due to experiencing significant power and BABIP losses from his surprisingly good 2013. That, combined with tons of strikeouts and an apparent allergy to walks, created lots of misery for Johnson and the Braves in 2014.  Oh, and this is without even mentioning Johnson’s defensive incompetence at the hot corner. Yeesh. Johnson is actually a strong hitter against lefties (and I expect that he should see some improvements in 2015 due to the fact that he was quite unlucky last season), but struggles mightily against righties, which could lead left-handed bench infielders, such as Alberto Callaspo, Kelly Johnson, or possibly Jace Peterson, to get some days at third against right-handed starters. Of these options, I’d give Callapso the highest chance to see some platoon time against righties, as he is a roughly average defender at the position and for the simple fact that he’s signed to a Major League deal. Just try to push the fact that he actually owns a 90 career wRC+ against northpaws out of your mind, okay? Okay, good. Actually, I can’t do it. Third baseman is going to be a major trouble spot for the Braves in 2015, but at least we don’t have any false pretenses about it like we may have had after 2013.

LF — I’m feeling a little bit ill as I type this, which isn’t completely unexpected when you consider that the names that Atlanta will be throwing into this position’s ring include Jonny Gomes, Zoilo Almonte, Eric Young Jr., Todd Cunningham, Kelly Johnson, Eury Perez, and Dian Toscano (assuming that he ever makes it into the country). In this case, quantity does not equate to quality. Gomes is likely to see the lion’s share of time in left against left-handed starters, owing to his status as a right-handed batter with a 133 career wRC+ against lefties. Unfortunately, his power numbers dropped precipitously last season, and he’s also a poor defender. Against righties, it isn’t quite as clear who’ll see significant time in left. If Fredi Gonzalez continues to not understand platoon situations in splits, Gomes could play quite a bit against righties as well. However, I’ll attempt to assume the best here, and postulate that we could see someone such as Zoilo Almonte, a left-handed hitting former Yankees farmhand with decent pop, Kelly Johnson, a former Braves second-baseman who isn’t good any more, or Eric Young Jr., who I’ll talk about more in the center field preview, spend quite a bit of time against righties in the lineup. I expect Dian Toscano, a Cuban signee with a fourth outfielder profile, and Todd Cunningham, a switch-hitting quad-A guy, to serve mostly as Minor Leaguers this season, but they could get some at-bats here as well. I now need to take a shower.

CF — Melvin Upton Jr. figures to be the Braves’ starting center fielder once he returns from sesamoiditis, or inflammation in his left foot. We all know what Melvin’s story is: he was signed to the largest free agent contract in the history of the franchise, and has been spectacularly bad during the first two years of his five-year deal. Upton’s contact skills and power have escaped him, which has led to comically high strikeout numbers and a general inability to produce offensively. Oh, and he’s also slowly declining defensively. Yikes. He was markedly better in 2014 than he was in 2013, actually, which says more about just how horrendous his first season as a Brave was. Upton should return from his injury at some point in May. In the interim, Eric Young Jr. seems to be the favorite to serve as the team’s center fielder, despite having served primarily as a left fielder during his time in the Majors. Young, a former New York Met, has been above-average defensively in left field, but will probably not grade out as well in center. He’s rather punchless at the plate, with no power to speak of and fewer walks and more strikeouts than you’d like to see from a top-of-the-order hitter. He does, however, bring speed to the table, and could swipe quite a few bags if he actually gets on base. Another possible player who could see time here is Eury Perez, who was brought in as a waiver claim from the Yankees. Perez is a speedy player with strong defensive skills, but again, can’t really hit. Cunningham and Toscano could also be options here if times get dire.

RF — Some guy who isn’t named Jason Heyward will man right field in 2015 for the Braves, which is sad to think about, but also reality. That guy is Nick Markakis, is a 31-year-old who spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Baltimore Orioles. He was signed to a four-year, $44 million contract in the offseason that many deemed to be, well, curious. Markakis underwent fusion surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck back in December, and is targeting to return for the last week of Grapefruit League games before the season starts in April. Assuming that he recovers from surgery as expected, he should be a nearly everyday player for the Braves in right. Markakis possesses quality on-base skills, with an approach and skillset that avails him to being a top-of-the-order hitter. He draws a fair amount of walks and doesn’t strike out often, but also has just modest power and prefers to spray the ball around the field. Marakakis’ defense is a topic of contention: despite winning a Gold Glove last season and also in 2011, advanced statistics have largely shown him to be a below-average defender since 2009. He actually graded out slightly above average last season, however. The main reason that advanced statistics don’t like Markakis is because of his relative lack of range and mobility. Markakis does have a strong arm and avoids making errors, but simply doesn’t have the range to reach many out-of-zone balls. A fair expectation is probably that while Markakis won’t kill the team on defense, he won’t be much of an asset either. If Markakis isn’t quite ready for Opening Day or if he has to miss any time throughout the year, Almonte, Johnson, Cunningham, and Toscano all seem to be candidates to spend time in right.

-- Ian Morris

Starting rotation

Photo credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Teheran — After a somewhat tumultuous ride through the Minor Leagues, Julio Teheran has now firmly overcome any doubters on the way to becoming the presumptive Opening Day starter for Atlanta. Teheran was the team’s workhorse in 2014, throwing a team-high 221 innings over 33 starts, and the production followed. The 2013 season served as Teheran’s "breakout" effort with a 3.20 ERA in 185.2 innings, but he upstaged that effort in his follow-up performance, accumulating a lights-out 2.89 ERA last season. It has been somewhat surprising to see Teheran’s development into a control-first pitcher who allows only approximately two walks per nine innings, but his "stuff" is still top-flight, and Teheran is now seen as easily the safest option among the quintet of pitchers deployed by Fredi Gonzalez this season.

Alex Wood — If Teheran is the "safe" pitcher, Alex Wood is the upside guy. Long before he arrived as a second round pick in 2012, there were skeptics of Wood based on his unusual delivery to the plate, but the 24-year-old left-hander has encountered little problem in his meteoric rise. The Braves approached him with an unusual deployment strategy last season, as Wood’s innings were kept down thanks to a somewhat bizarre stint in the bullpen midseason. However, no such plans are in the works for this season, and Wood is in line for a jump into the 200-inning range if all goes according to plan. Wood is easily the best strikeout pitcher in the rotation, which he proved with an 8.91 K/9 rate last season, and he profiles as a pitcher who could easily operate with a sub-3.00 ERA on a yearly basis. There will always be the slightest worry for a pitcher who throws the way that Wood does, but his ability is unquestioned.

Shelby Miller — Miller arrives as the centerpiece of a controversial trade that sent Jason Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals. As a former elite prospect, Miller does bring a great deal of pedigree to the table, but in the same breath, the right-hander struggled a bit in 2014. In fairness, Miller did eat through 183 innings in his age-23 season, but the production (3.74 ERA, 4.47 xFIP, 6.25 K/9, 3.59 BB/9) left a great deal to be desired after a much better season in 2013. Evaluators are all over the board concerning the type of pitcher that Miller would be, but the more positive reports on his upside rely on the potential of Roger McDowell to work his magic on a pitcher who is still young and talented. It is important for Braves fans to be realistic with Miller and what he can bring to the table, but there is no reason to think that Shelby Miller can’t be an above-average starter for Atlanta over the next several seasons, beginning in 2015.

Mike Minor's ceiling is defined by a 2013 performance that netted more than 200 innings with a 3.21 ERA and 3.5 fWAR.

Mike Minor — We have no idea what to expect from Mike Minor. A shoulder ailment cast a long shadow over Minor in the early stages of the spring, to the point where many assumed the worst. However, the 27-year-old escaped major damage from a structural perspective, and that provides a touch of optimism. Either way, the left-hander will miss the beginning of the season for the second straight year, and things didn’t go particularly well in 2014. Minor accumulated an ugly 4.77 ERA in the 25 starts that he did make, and his peripherals took a step in the wrong direction across the board. It is easy to blame the season-long shoulder woes for that dip in performance, but skeptics would surmise that Minor may just be "damaged goods" at this point. His ceiling is defined by a 2013 performance that netted more than 200 innings with a 3.21 ERA and 3.5 fWAR. That, of course, would be an extremely valuable commodity for a 2nd/3rd starter in the Majors, and if the Braves can sniff a fraction of that production from Mike Minor in 2015, the organization will likely be pleased.

The Battle for 5th — After the top four (and really, the top three with Minor’s injury woes), things are wide open. As such, there are four legitimate contenders for at least one rotation spot.

  • Wandy Rodriguez - At 36 years old, Rodriguez is the elder statesman of the group, and he is also the pitcher with the longest track record of success. For reference, Rodriguez has earned 16.4 fWAR over his 10-year MLB career, and he was seen as an upper-tier NL option for a period of time with the Astros. Wandy has fallen on hard times, however, and he produced a 6.75 ERA in six starts during the 2014 season with the Pirates. However, Rodriguez has been the best pitcher of the four in Spring Training, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Fredi Gonzalez place his trust in the veteran.

  • Eric Stults - Stults is probably the "safest" option among this quartet. The 35-year-old has been a below-average starter for the majority of his career, but he also hasn’t cratered to the point of disaster and there is something to be said for that. Stults has sustained his best seasons with the San Diego Padres, with the benefit of Petco Park, but placing fringe-level starters with Roger McDowell has paid dividends in the recent past, especially if the player simply knows how to pitch.

  • Mike Foltynewicz - Foltynewicz is the big-time prospect with the big-time fastball. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, the 23-year-old just looks like a dominant starter, and his fastball sits in the high-90’s with regularity. However, that is the extent of the scouting report that anyone feels entirely comfortable with, and Foltynewicz doesn’t seem to have a full grasp of any of his secondary offerings. Spring Training stats are vastly overrated, but Foltynewicz hasn’t blown anyone away thus far, and he is probably slipping further from a nod in the rotation out of the gate.

  • Manny Banuelos - Banuelos seems like a distant fourth based on early word in Spring Training that the team could deploy him out of the bullpen in April. The 24-year-old has never appeared in a Major League game despite lofty prospect status with the Yankees, and his profile has been littered with durability concerns. When he is able to pitch, the "stuff" is pretty darn impressive, but at this point, Banuelos appears to be headed to the bullpen in a somewhat flexible role.

-- Brad Rowland


Photo credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

One of the trademarks of Frank Wren's tenure as GM of the Braves was his seemingly picked-out-of-the-trash-hump-and-fixed-by-Roger-McDowell bullpens. Some of the most recent of those guys in Jordan Walden and David Carpenter were shipped off this winter, leaving a questionable bullpen in their absence.

Craig Kimbrel is naturally the rock of the pen, as the All-Star closer returns for his fifth season in Atlanta. In the first season of a four-year, $42 million deal, Kimbrel had another stellar year of ninth-inning appearances. He set the all-time Braves record of saves at 155 on June 6, ousting John Smoltz from the lead spot. He finished with 47 saves, his fourth straight season of at least 42. With a career ERA of 1.43, WAR of 11.4, FIP of 1.52, Kimbrel seems in line to continue his great success in Atlanta.

Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson are the big additions to the bullpen, both former All-Star closers looking to bounce back under the guidance of McDowell. Grilli pitched with the Pirates, where he lost his closing job, and the Angels in 2014, finishing the year with a 4.00 ERA, up significantly from 2.70 the year before. The righty also had 12 saves in 17 opportunities, a far cry from 33 in 35 chances in his All-Star 2013. "Grilled Cheese," as he is known, had his sights set on joining the Braves, and his "grind and respect the game" attitude is one the team has certainly been trying to cultivate in the clubhouse.

Johnson came to the Braves after spending much of his career with Baltimore, where he was an All-Star in 2012 with 51 saves and a 2.49 ERA. Following an also successful 2013, the right-hander was traded to the A's before he hit arbitration, where he quickly got off to a rough start. He, too, lost his closing role in early April, and by August, had been released and signed a minor league deal with the Tigers. He finished the season with a 7.09 ERA and -.7 WAR, but so far this spring, has been showing signs of bouncing back to form. He and Grilli could prove to be veteran setup guys for Kimbrel, perhaps an older version of O'Ventbrel.

Josh Outman should be breaking camp as the LOOGY in the pen, although how Fredi Gonzalez chooses to use such people is often questionable. Outman, who signed a one-year deal this offseason and cannot be denied a place thanks to his perfect pitching name of Out Man, comes to Atlanta after spending last season with the Indians and Yankees, where he had a combined ERA of 2.86 in 28.1 innings of work. Even better: in his career he has a .183/.254/.283 slash against left-handed batters, and those numbers were still solid in 2014 (.167/.269/.339). James Russell should be joining him as another lefty; he's been dealing with some turf toe this spring but is expected to be ready Opening Day. The inclusion of those two should mean the exclusion of Luis Avilan.

Arodys Vizcaino, highlighted below after he returned to the organization, should make it to the pen out of spring training after dealing with injury problems over the years. Righties Michael Kohn and Jose Veras are contenders after signing minor league deals this offseason. Either righty could flesh out the bullpen — Kohn sported a 3.04 ERA in 23.1 innings with the Angels in 2014, and Veras a 4.50 in 46.0 split between the Cubs and Astros.

-- Jane Hammond

Prospects to know

Photo credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve already released our rankings of the top 25 prospects in Atlanta’s system, so this section won’t focus on who I believe the top prospects to watch will be. Rather, let’s take a look at four notable prospects who could make an impact on the 2015 iteration of the Major League team.

Jose Peraza — I presented my stance on Jose Peraza, who turns 21 at the end of April, with respect to his 2015 standing earlier in the lineup preview, which is that he isn’t quite ready for the Majors and would benefit from another year of seasoning in the Minors. However, that isn’t to say that Peraza couldn’t ascend to the big club at some point in 2015, especially if he continues to hit like he did last season at the triple-A level. Peraza tore up the Carolina League and the Southern League last season to the tune of a 125 wRC+ and 60 stolen bases in 110 games last year. Peraza hasn’t impressed so far in Spring Training this season, and I’m just not sure that he has the skills at the plate to succeed in the Majors right now. Peraza’s defense at second base and baserunning are certainly good enough to contribute now, but he should work on shoring up his plate discipline, being more patient, and making better quality contact before he hits the senior circuit. He has holes as a hitter right now that Major League pitchers would exploit, but if he is able to make progress in those areas in the Minors this year, he may force the Braves’ hand and force them to promote him. It seems more likely to me, however, that he spends the duration of 2015 in Gwinnett with an eye on improving in order to make the big club next season.

Christian Bethancourt — Yes, he’s still technically a prospect even though he’s made his big league debut and has seemingly been on prospect lists for twenty years, since he hasn’t lost his rookie eligibility. Bethancourt, who is still only 23 years old, somehow, could be described as an enigma wrapped in a layer of contradictions; he has all-world defensive tools but struggles behind the plate, he has plus raw power but struggles to make hard contact, and he’s an athletic player with an occasional tendency to get sloppy. His 2014 big league audition put these issues and bright spots on display, as he threw an frozen rope to nail an unexpecting baserunner, allowed an unacceptable amount of passed balls, and went 1-4 with two strikeouts, a weak groundout, and a line drive single all in one typical night. Bethancourt is going to be handed the keys to the starting catching position in 2015, but he still needs to refine some parts of his game. He’s prone to making weak contact and would, ideally, showcase more patience and improve his focus defensively. Nonetheless, Bethancourt’s offense should play better than it did in the bigs last year, and he has the defensive skill set to become a Gold Glove-caliber defender. It’s important that he showcases improvement in the Majors this season if he is to solidify himself as the team’s backstop of the future.

Jace Peterson — Peterson, a 24-year-old former McNeese State Cowboy who starred on both the football and baseball fields, was overshadowed as part of Atlanta’s return for Justin Upton from the Padres behind guys like Max Fried and Mallex Smith, but he should be able to impact the Braves’ big club this season. Peterson has no standout tools, but he might do everything well enough to carve out a future as a solid infielder if you squint. At this point, Peterson looks to be the favorite to win the Braves’ second base job, and has impressed in camp with his baseball instinct and showing at the plate. Peterson is a good bet to take his fair share of walks at the dish, and his game is oriented towards showing off an ability to pepper all fields with line drive and hard-hit grounders. This limits his ceiling, but Peterson runs the bases well and is also a good bet to play solid defense at both second and third base, which expands his versatility and gives him more of a shot to stick on a Major League roster. Peterson won’t be a standout player, but there’s at least a chance that he could prove to be a capable starter at the big league level. His performance in Atlanta this season should give serious clues as to his future role in the show.

Arodys Vizcaino — Re-acquired from the Cubs as part of a package that also included international bonus pool money in exchange for Tommy La Stella, Vizcaino has fought a long road back from elbow injuries, but seems to finally be healthy. The injury questions will always remain, as Tommy John to go with another arthroscopic elbow procedure is no small matter, but Vizcaino has recently displayed the stuff that made him a highly-regarded relief prospect in the past. The 24-year-old Dominican seems likely to break camp as a reliever with the big club this season, and will look to utilize his mid-to-upper 90s fastball and a nasty curveball in order to get outs in the back of the bullpen. The trouble with Vizcaino, however, is that he has a tendency to have trouble repeating his mechanics, which leads to diminished control and command of his pitches and troubles with free passes. It will be interesting to see if Vizcaino is able to find more mechanical consistency and start locating his pitches with more frequency. This will likely determine whether or not he his future will be more back of the bullpen-ish, or more Juan Jaime-ish.

-- Ian Morris

The bottom line

When you trade away 3 of your team’s best offensive players for prospects and your options for replacing those weapons are either prospects, short-term stopgap options, or on-the-wrong-side-of-30 Nick Markakis, then your chances of making a run at the Postseason are pretty slim. None of the moves that the Braves made this offseason had the look of a move that was made with the intention of being competitive in 2015. However, this is baseball, and baseball can be stupid/crazy/weird at times, so there’s always a possibility of this team going on a freak run and actually contending. It could happen if Melvin Upton Jr. suddenly returns to his Tampa Bay form, if Chris Johnson’s bat reaches the levels it did in 2013, if the rest of the offense outperforms all projections and expectations, if the top of the rotation becomes a 3-Headed Dragon earlier than expected. If all of that happens and then some, then maybe, just maybe, we could see this team make a run.

So yes, it will take a lot of factors going the Braves way for them to even finish over .500, much less make a run at the Postseason. Again, this is baseball, and stranger things have happened: Like a certain team from a certain city going from 65 wins in 1990 to 94 wins and a NL Pennant in 1991. Anything can happen, but it’ll take a lot of "anything" for the Braves to make this "happen" in 2015.

-- Demetrius Bell

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