Last year’s NL East champion brings plenty of fantasy value to the table again in 2014, as the Braves try to defend their title against a surging Nats team. They have star-level hitting sure to be scooped up in the early rounds, three like-valued starting pitchers who will be near the top of many fantasy rotations, and the top closer in the game by any ranking.

Projected Lineup

  1. RF Jason Heyward
  2. LF Justin Upton
  3. 1B Freddie Freeman
  4. C Evan Gattis
  5. 3B Chris Johnson
  6. SS Andrelton Simmons
  7. 2B Dan Uggla
  8. CF B.J. Upton
  9. Pitcher

Seven of their eight starters will be drafted in every league with Uggla the odd man out, particularly in shallow leagues or altogether if he loses his job (more on that later). Five of their players (the top four hitters and Simmons) are among the top 150 being chosen right now. There’s some frontline talent, upside potential, and even some sneaky late-round value plays.

Freeman has jumped past Heyward and Justin Upton as the top guy, but the latter two still possess massive upside. Upton carries one of the higher floors around despite the fact that his last two seasons contain a tinge of disappointment. At 26, there is still plenty of reason to be optimistic.

Johnson is the most underrated of their assets. This is probably because too many are focused on his .394 BABIP from last year and except that the regression in that metric will yield the demise in his production. Sure, he might not hit .321 again, but he has seasons of .354 and .387 BABIP, too, during which he hit .281 and .308 with double-digit home run totals (in just 136 and 94 games, mind you). His 25.2 percent line-drive rate is third in baseball among batters with at least 1,500 PA since 2010, behind only Joey Votto (26 percent) and James Loney (25.4 percent). If you miss out on the frontline hot corner options, he is a very appealing value pick later on while you stock the rest of your club.

Projected Bench

Doumit is the only one of these options with any real appeal and that only comes from his catcher eligibility; otherwise, he would be bland waiver fodder in most formats. Schafer still has impactful speed (22 SB in just 265 PA last year), but it’s very empty speed, so even if injury created an opportunity for him, it would be in an NL-only setting.

Projected Rotation

All five starters will be taken in a lot of leagues, though it is the top trio who will bring the most value despite also costing the most. Beachy (health) and Wood (platoon splits, mechanics) each bring plenty of risk despite the clear upside of Beachy’s past and the dreams of extrapolation on Wood’s 2013.

Minor picked up where his 2012 second half (2.16 ERA in 87 1/3 IP) left off with a huge 2013 breakout. In his last 292 innings dating back to All-Star break in 2012, he has a 0.9 HR/9 rate. He appears to have a handle on the issue that plagued him most in the first half of 2012 and in his 24 appearances in 2010-2011, during which he had a 1.3 HR/9 in 215 innings.

Medlen had obscene expectations after his excellent finish to 2012—and he nearly lived up to them! He was the 76th player off the board on average last year (going as high as 50th) and wound 104th on ESPN’s Player Rater. He closed with a bang yet again, posting a 2.00 ERA in 72 innings over the final two months with a 0.94 WHIP and 4.9 K:BB ratio.

As great as those two are, Teheran might actually have the most upside of the group. He was seen as a frontline starter coming up. Though projections softened from ace to no. 2-3 starter after an uninspiring 2012, we now see why the top-shelf expectations were in play after his breakout rookie campaign.

Projected Bullpen

As scary as it is to invest in closers, because they burn fast and quickly, everything is working in Kimbrel’s favor. His numbers are just beyond absurd even when you account for the 2012-to-2013 regression. It would’ve been silly to think he could keep up that level, so to regress and still post a 1.21 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 38 percent strikeout rate tells you just how stupid-good Kimbrel is at baseball.

Walden is rebuilding his stock nicely and looks like a solid $1 reliever in NL-only leagues, but I think there’s a strong case to make Carpenter the handcuff if you actually do have some concern about Kimbrel (or the speculative pick if you’re just mining the high-K/quality-ratio pool for longshot saves).

Position Battles: Second Base: Dan Uggla vs. Tommy La Stella
We know all about Uggla. We know his upside and we finally saw the downside that we knew existed for so long. The power was still there, but his continued contact issues have grown with age and exacerbated his batting average downside. La Stella is the up-and-comer with the ability to do the one thing Uggla can’t: consistently put bat to ball. At 25, the Coastal Carolina product is on the fringes of prospectdom, having peaked at Double-A in his mid-20s, but he has hit everywhere so far with a .327 average in 999 minor-league PA. He stayed hot in 2013 with a .290 average and 16 walks against just four strikeouts in the Arizona Fall League—often a springboard to the majors. Don’t get too hyped on La Stella just yet. He hasn’t won a thing or even really been tabbed as much more than a longshot candidate (Uggla is due $13 million in 2014… and 2015, for that matter), but the situation at least bears watching.

Player to Target: Julio Teheran
Teheran’s strikeout ability actually gives him an edge over his rotation mates if all things are equal, though the advantage isn’t overwhelming enough to close a 19-inning gap like the one between him and Minor last year. While he is the cheapest of the three by ADP, the difference is negligible as the trio is tightly bunched at 102 (Minor), 118 (Medlen), and 123 (Teheran) in the current ADP listings. The upside tied to Teheran might be at play when we see that he has the highest single draft position of the three, going 65th in one NFBC draft (high points for Minor and Medlen are 79 and 80, respectively).

Player to Avoid: Evan Gattis
The 21 HR-65 RBI combo at catcher has everyone excited as Gattis looks to get more playing time in 2014, but the three dead months from June through August (.188 AVG, 546 OPS, and just three HR in 129 PA) are a bit alarming. Even when he rebounded with six homers in September, he still only hit .255 with a .270 on-base percentage and a 22-to-2 K:BB ratio. Poor work behind the dish doesn’t help his case, and even though he can play elsewhere, the positions he can fill are locked down by studs (LF/1B). Catcher is too deep and he’s going way too early (112) for me to invest.

Deep Sleeper: Wes Parsons
This is purely for dynasty leaguers. At 21, with just a season in A-ball under his belt, Parsons is a long way out, but there is a lot to like from the 6-foot-5 righty. He keeps the ball down, doesn’t give up walks, and misses a decent number of bats. You deep dynasty-leaguers might want to take a roll of the dice now when nobody else is paying attention. Another big season and this guy will be on every Atlanta board without question.