It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here.
The Atlanta Braves made quite the splash this offseason, but it wasn’t the type of splash that resulted in fans walking down Georgia streets chanting and waving tomahawks, it was more of the eyebrow raising, head scratching, guess we’re retooling a bit splash. And this is not me saying one way or another that I like or dislike the moves that were made, just noting that the roster looks completely different than a year ago.
It seems as if this is the year that the Braves will give youngster Christian Bethancourt the keys to the team’s full-time catchers role. For years, Bethancourt was the “future” backstop that analysts spoke about thanks to his defensive prowess, but now that both Brian McCann (last offseason) and Evan Gattis (this offseason) have moved on to other organizations, Bethancourt should be behind the plate on a full-time basis beginning on Opening Day. Fantasy owners should remember that Bethancourt is more of a glove-first catcher, so his counting stats may disappoint, unless you’re in a two-catcher format simply looking for at-bats. Steamer suggests he’ll slash .238/.266/.344 with nine homers, 34 runs scored, 41 runs batted in and six stolen bases.
Pierzynski will be in tow to ensure “security” and a veteran presence at the catching position, but we shouldn’t expect all too much from the 38-year-old.
Freddie Freeman appears to be the glue that should hold this infield together. The left-hander appeared in at least 147 games in each of his first four full seasons in Atlanta, while hitting under .280 and smacking less than 20 home runs each just once over that span of time. Freeman’s eye and patience at the plate have improved steadily since his arrival. Last season he reached career bests in walk rate (12.7% BB%), pitches chased outside of the zone (31.1% O-Swing%) and saw the second-best strikeout rate of his short career (20.4% K%).
Despite increasing his average home run and fly ball distance to 297.15 feet in ‘14 — up from 293.57 in ‘13 — fewer balls fell over the fence for Freeman. According to ESPN’s version of the home run tracker, just two of his 18 homers were “no doubters”, eight were “just enoughs” and another two were considered “lucky.” In terms of “average true home run distance”, Freeman saw a dip from 407.9 feet in ‘13 to 398.7 feet last season. All of this considered, it seems that Freeman was just a bit unlucky last season with respect to home run per fly ball rates. The 24-year-old posted an 11.9% HR/FB% in ‘14 compared to the 14% HR/FB% he owns for his career, which could be the difference in the two or more homers Freeman needed to keep that string of 20 homer seasons alive.
If you don’t plan on investing a first or early second round selection into one of the top six-ish first baseman on draft day, I think Freeman would be a fantastic play at the end of the third or beginning of the fourth round of your twelve teamers. He currently carries an ADP of ~42 in NFBC drafts, a fair price for the consistency that you’ll have in your first base slot for the ‘15 season.
Joey Terdoslavich has a couple of fine minor league seasons under his belt, but is blocked by Freddie Freeman at his natural position of first base. Terdoslavich now finds himself in a Spring Training scramble to make the team as a bench guy, but may be on the outside looking in despite playing well through nine Grapefruit League games.
The Braves’ brass brought in veteran infielder Alberto Callaspo on a one-year, $3 million pact this winter. Callaspo could see time at both second and third base throughout the season, depending on the progress of Jace Peterson and/or Jose Peraza and the play of Chris Johnson at the hot corner. His bat is rather unimpressive these days, barely making him relevant in NL-Only formats..
Jace Peterson, however, seems to be working his way onto the Braves’ Opening Day roster with his play during the early goings of the Grapefruit League. Manager Fredi Gonzalez notes Peterson’s “versatility and athleticism” could give him an opportunity to minimally be a backup infielder. Peterson failed to put on a power display during his stay in the minors, but he was able to get on base, steal bases and score runs — which also happen to be important. Peterson is an interesting $1-$2 guy late in your auction or draft with the hopes that his walk and strikeout rates fall in-line with those he displayed during his time on the Padres’ farm.
Both Callaspo and Peterson could just be buying the Braves a little time until top prospect Jose Peraza is considered ready for the everyday gig at the keystone. With the lumber in his hands, Peraza is a contact guy that relies on his speed to get on base. Once on base though, Peraza’s legs are a nightmare to opposing pitchers and catchers. He could become relevant in deeper mixed leagues should he get an early call from Triple-A for regular playing time.
There is a whole mess of meh going on at the hot corner for Atlanta. While getting double digit home runs and a handful of stolen bases out of Chris Johnson may not be a stretch, getting reasonably close to his total 2013 level of production is likely out of the question. If you’re looking for a bench bat that can play multiple positions for your fake team, Johnson could be a solution in leagues with 15 or more teams.
We spoke about Callaspo and Peterson above, so that leaves us with Kelly Johnson. And that’s all I have to say about Kelly Johnson.
There is no question that Andrelton Simmons is one of the most exciting shortstops in the game. He does some magical things with the leather, but unfortunately, that fails to produce fantasy points for most of us, making him a better real life player than a fake asset. While I’m not sure he’ll ever get to 17 home runs again, I do think Simmons might be able to notch double digit homers and steals. Steamer projects 11 homers and seven swipes with a .253 average, not terrible if you’re selecting a shortstop late. Phil Gosselin could make the team as a utility infielder, but it appears to be an uphill battle at the moment.