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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.

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gtgator
2/25
Overall nice summary. Thanks. My comments: 1) I think Pastornicky is more likely to make the team than Constanza. The Braves already can play Schafer, Doumit and Gattis in the OF and have rarely gone with only 1 guy capable of manning the MI. 2) I think everyone downplaying Gattis will end up being wrong. He could crash and burn so he is a high risk. But he showed better defensive numbers behind the plate than he's being given credit for (and all the framing articles support this). He also had an oblique injury in June, which everyone seems to dismiss as being a possible cause for his July/August swoon (along with irregular playing time during those two months). Perhaps he is going too high due to his risks. But to dismiss him is a mistake, IMO.
sporer24
2/25
Fair re: Pastor, but I was just going off of MLBDC - http://www.mlbdepthcharts.com/atlanta-braves-2013-14-offseason/ RE: Gattis, no one is dimissing him. In fact, they're doing the opposite, they're overpaying wildly.
gtgator
2/25
"Player to Avoid" and the overall comments therein seemed to dismiss him as 1) not being able to stay behind the plate and/or 2) not being able to repeat 2013, much less improve on it. Just my perception of that comment. That said, I do agree that he is very high risk player due to his limited track record and that should be taken into account when drafting. I don't know what being drafted 112 means, so I defer there. I don't think .250 and 25 HR from a C is an unreasonable possibility, though. Whether that merits 112 or not (with the risk that he could be much worse than that), again, I don't know.
sporer24
2/25
Not sure it's really a dismissal. I made it clear that I'm not paying the 112th pick for him. That's the 8th round of an NFBC draft.
gtgator
2/25
"That's the 8th round of an NFBC draft." Which, again, doesn't mean anything to me as I don't play that format. It may to others. That's fine. Again, I was just stating my opinion of the comments and wanting to provide some counterbalance to them. You may not have seen them as dismissive. I obviously thought otherwise. Regardless, I don't want this to detract from what, again, was an overall very nice article.
sporer24
2/25
Well you can adjust for your league. 112th pick is still just the 112th pick. It's the 10th round of a 12-teamer. At any rate, I think we've established our points and I most certainly do appreciate the kind words!
gtgator
2/25
I only do auction formats. Matter of preference. :-) But I do realize I'm in the minority.
sporer24
2/25
There are round-to-dollar value translators out there! :)
danugglasforearm
2/25
I think I've gotta agree with gtgator. What catchers are going before him in your referenced format? Gattis put up a 110 wRC+, and he was getting a lot of plate appearances against late-inning relievers for the noted three "dead months". When Gattis was in the lineup regularly, and given multiple plate appearances everyday, he was outstanding. Somehow, his defensive reputation from the outfield rolls over into his reputation behind the plate, but he seems to be able to handle the duties quite well; I don't see everyday catching being an issue for him. I'm not sure there are many/any catchers that could top his power, or his overall offensive profile. The ones that can will be gone in a second, so I think 112 is fine. He's someone I'd rather keep an eye on, not avoid.
sporer24
2/25
A 110 isn't exactly special. It was 13th among Cs with 300+ PA. He had an 846 OPS with a 17.6% K rate and 9 of his HRs against RPs so I'm not buying that excuse as a reason for his down period. He had a 732 OPS with a 23.4% K rate against SPs (and the rest of his HRs obv). His power is great, but at what cost? If he just hit .240-something again, it mitigates a lot of the power. I just don't see him being special and worth that high of a pick. He was a $7 player last year (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=22577). Even with 100 or so more PA, he's probably only $10-11. Another valuation system had him at $11 last year, but even the bump there only gets him to $15. There are MANY $20+ players available at 112 to take ahead of him and still plenty of Cs to wait on like Castro, Ramos, and Gomes. Even Montero and Avila are worthy bounce back bets at a much cheaper price. Not mention some of the longer shot youngsters like d'Arnaud, Mesoraco, Pinto, and Conger much cheaper. I'm shying away from an overpriced Gattis.
sporer24
2/25
I'll concede that his C defense was better than I believed. I was buying into the pervasive theory and scant eyewitness accounts (on TV). But even with what I believed to be bad D, I still didn't dock him much PT because Doumit is markedly worse and Laird's advantage defensively is entirely mitigated by his bat being blah.
danugglasforearm
2/25
Obviously, we should shy away from anyone who is overpriced. I've got Gattis, Pinto, and d'Arnaud for a combined $24. And even if there are other $20 players left on the board, it may make more sense to get a catcher before you get into the flock of terrible fantasy catchers. Gattis does strike out a lot, and he will continue to strike out a lot, but even if he hits .240, he should be over 20 homers. Every projection system has him hitting more than 20 homers, and some into the 30's. PECOTA projects he'll hit 17, but that's with 324 PA, fewer than last season. Hopefully his K rate comes down a bit, and his BB rate goes up a bit, which is not out of the question for a guy in his second big-league season. And although I wouldn't expect him to carry an average BABIP, he could very conceivably do better than his .255 mark last season. Look at the splits. The months that he was in the lineup regularly (APR, MAY, AUG), he averaged a 146 wRC+. I just see so many opinions that must be formed from when he was hurt, coming off the bench, or playing LF. All I read is that he won't be a very good everyday player, when just about everything in his numbers say he'll be BETTER as an everyday player.
sporer24
2/25
20-something homers with a .240ish AVG isn't that good. You're cherry-picking the best stats and extrapolating which is always dangerous. He's overrated, thus he's someone to avoid. He isn't AWFUL, but he's not worth the 112th pick.
danugglasforearm
2/25
I'd hoped to do a better job pointing out that I realize his flaws, I certainly understand he brings a risky profile to the table. I was among the biggest Gattis skeptics throughout the year, and most of this stuff, I'm just finding as we go along in response to other things. The more and more I find, the more he looks like he'll be a pretty good fantasy option. I'm in an ottoneu points league, so the BA isn't really a killer, as long as he makes up for it with power. I expect he'll do that just fine, but build on some of the counting stats as he accrues more PA. There were only 6 catchers with 20 or more homers last season, and the high was 22. 20 homers is unquestionably good at the position. Also, he'll have OF eligibility in most formats, so that also helps his fantasy value. The difference between getting a good and average catcher is much bigger than getting a good or average player at nearly any other position. Obviously you'd like to never overpay, but if I had to, I'd rather do it at a position like catcher.
sporer24
2/25
The homers are mitigated by the drags elsewhere (doesn't a lagging OBP matter in ottoneu?). Meanwhile I put ZERO value in the OF eligibility because he's never more valuable than at catcher. I think it's stupid to ever use a catcher-eligible player someone else (Posey, Santana, or Mauer at 1B, for example). I'd never consider it and so it doesn't enhance his value at all, IMO. I also disagree on the notion that overpaying at catcher is the way to go. That's the last place I'd overpay because the separation top to bottom just isn't that steep and they offer the least in counting categories because of their built-in PA restrictions. I'm sorry, we just don't see eye-to-eye here at all.
danugglasforearm
2/25
If it's, say, Tuesday and there aren't many games going on, but you have two catchers playing that you'd like to get into the lineup, you can put Gattis in an OF spot and play another catcher without eligibility at another position. It's not all that significant, but it's certainly not zero. The OBP does hurt, that's why he isn't in the that top tier of catchers. As I mentioned, he'll need to cut down on K's and walk more if he wants to have a good OBP, because his batted ball profile is basically power or nothing. If he can become a TTO player and take walks, he's pretty close to a top fantasy catcher, and I think improving your approach is something completely plausible to improve. It's not like I'm expecting him to be a .300 hitter. But walking more and striking out less is a usual progression for players in their first couple years in MLB.
sporer24
2/25
Well you're free to project that growth (it's not entirely unreasonable), but with due respect, I haven't seen a case mapped out to go against putting him on the Avoid list. It doesn't mean he sucks or that I *hate* him, but he's overpriced as-is in my estimation. I think he needs a lot more improvement than you think to really be an upper tier catcher. Power alone won't do it. Cheap power is a trait of catchers. Good talk.
danugglasforearm
2/26
Fair enough. I will say, his story probably has a bit to do with people overvaluing him. I closely follow the Braves and have time to look into what he does and doesn't do well, while plenty others around the country just know his story, and that he hit 21 homers, and is replacing McCann.
boatman44
2/25
Paul, nice article. Just a thought, this could be the lowest A.D.P we ever see for Justin, would you aim to take him in any re-draft leagues you are in this year, or are you taking a watching brief after to relatively disappointing campaigns ?
sporer24
2/25
I love J-Up. I love that the last two years are classified as "down" years. Sign me up for anyone with that high of a floor because even a repeated 2013 in the late-2nd, early-3rd isn't ever going to kill a fantasy team.
CJNC1963
2/25
I would agree with the above poster that Constanza has very little chance at making the Braves team this year. He and Schafer are basically duplicates of one another offensively but Schafer is a lot better defensively. My guess is that the final bench spot will be a battle between Pastornicky, La Stella and Joe Terdoslavich (unlikely due to his limited defensive versatility).