Starting a new series today. We will be taking a look at the Off-Season Outlook for our NL East opponents. I will be interviewing members of fansided NL East and hopefully getting some input from the writers of the team sites here at Fansided.
To start things off I will be talking with Carlos Collazo, staff writer of Tomahawk Take, a site for dedicated Atlanta Braves bloggers. Thank you to Carlos for doing this with us. Lets get started with this.
This question is inevitable, what happened in September? What can explain that collapse?
Ah September…. Well before I get into ‘why’ I would like to thank the Boston Red Sox for keeping the main stream media of our backs. But how did it happen? That is a great question. A couple of things:
- Our pitching depth started to get thin with injuries to Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens
- Hitting slumps from Brian McCann, Martin Prado, Jason Heyward, and Alex Gonzalez really crippled the offense
- The heavy workload on the bullpen (especially Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel) finally caught up to themOne of the worst collapses in history couldn’t possibly be due to one person or one player and it definitely wasn’t. Almost everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong and the Braves blew a 10 and a half game lead over the Cardinals because of it.If I had to put the burden of the collapse on one specific area it would have to be the pitching finally struggling. The offense had struggled the entire season and the rotation and bullpen basically carried the team the entire year. When JJ and Tommy went down it was too much to handle and the offense never really picked up the slack.
Dan Uggla and Jayson Heyward had horrible seasons by their standards. How much do you expect them to improve this coming season?
I’ll address Uggla first. He had the worst half of his career with Atlanta before the All Star break last season, putting up a triple slash of .178/.247/.340. He hit less line drives and more ground balls during the first three months but he also had some horrible luck with a BABIP of .189. That all changed later though as Uggla managed a career best second half. He hit .290/.374/.570 with 24 home runs to give him a career best 36 on the season.I expect Uggla to have a normal season next year. You should expect 30+ homers from him.Jason Heyward’s situation is a bit more troubling. He had an extremely disappointing season and only hit .227/.319/.389 with 14 home runs after a rookie campaign of .277/.393/.456. Personally, I think Heyward was struggling with shoulder issues and trying to be more aggressive. Larry Parrish had a significant impact on the entire Braves team but Heyward was the biggest impact. His BB% dropped more than three points which ruined his on base percentage. This aggressive approach led to bad contact on pitches. He hit line drives at a rate of 13.1% (17.8% in 2010) and also had a dreadful in-field fly ball percentage of 21.8%.Firing Larry Parrish was a step in the right direction and hopefully his shoulder will be fine come opening day. Either way, Jason needs to stop hitting ground balls at such a high rate (55.1% in 2010 and 53.9% in 2011) if he wants to hit more than 20 home runs.
Who are the Braves targeting this off-season? Are they willing to move their top pitching prospects for offense?
The Braves needs this off season are a power hitting corner outfielder, a shortstop, and a utility infielder.Frank Wren may have already picked up his utility man in Drew Sutton, a minor league signing. As for the other two needs, Wren is expected to try and fill them through trades. For shortstop, a one year veteran deal is the only thing Wren is going to try for and if he can’t get that then he will let Tyler Pastornicky have the job to start the season. There have been many rumors for outfielders including Seth Smith, and Lorenzo Cain but they have been shot down by the front office. The Rockies are interested in Martin Prado and they have some outfield prospects the Braves are interested in but Frank Wren isn’t going to trade Prado (or Jurrjens) unless he gets a significant return.It is extremely doubtful that any of the 4 starting pitching prospects (Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Minor) are traded this off season but first round draft pick Sean Gilmartin definitely makes it possible. If a pitcher is traded it is going to be Jair Jurrjens. Frank Wren values his young pitchers extremely highly and if they are moved it will only be for a king’s ransom.
Alex Gonzalez is definitely gone. He provided great defense but his bat was just awful and he is probably going to get a two year deal, something the Braves will not give him. The top candidates outside of the organization are probably Jack Wilson and Brendan Ryan. Both guys who could be a stop gap solution for Tyler Pastornicky.If neither of those happen than the front office will likely choose to let TP start the season at shortstop. He was successful at the double A level and was on fire in Gwinnett last year until he had an ankle injury. Andrelton Simmons is ready now, defensively. He has a lot of work to do offensively and if he can improve in that aspect of his game he could be the Braves shortstop for a long time.
Tim Hudson is having back surgery this off season but it sounds pretty minor and it looks like he should be ready to go by Spring Training. He has had issues with his back the past couple years and he said he would be ready to go even with the surgery.Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson’s injuries will likely be more troubling with Hanson’s being more so. His is in the shoulder which is more serious with pitchers and Jurrjens’ is a knee injury. Jair has already thrown in rehab games and looked more like the first half pitcher than the second half. We don’t know a whole lot right now, especially with Tommy Hanson but should have a better idea by Spring Training.
Obviously you guys are going to think my answer is biased but I legitimately believe that McCann is the best catcher in baseball. He has been the best offensive catcher in the majors since he came up (excluding Mauer’s 09 year) and has never missed an All-Star game. He isn’t the best defensively but when you put both sides of his game together there isn’t another backstop that comes close… yet. There are a few young catchers that have a lot of potential but they still have to prove they can hit at a high level consistently, like McCann has already done.