Sunday, January 27, 2013
Braves' bright future
By Jason Catania
The Atlanta Braves won 94 games in 2012 and qualified for one of the wild card spots. They ranked No. 4 in the National League in team ERA and No. 7 in runs scored with exactly 700. It's a solid club that relied on pitching, both from the rotation and the bullpen, solid defense at some key spots -- shortstop, centerfield and right field, particularly -- and timely hitting. The results may only get better, too.
Keith Law's Top 25 players under the age of 25 included four Braves: right fielder Jason Heyward (No. 3), first baseman Freddie Freeman (No. 19), shortstop Andrelton Simmons (No. 21) and closer Craig Kimbrel (No. 23); and new left fielder Justin Upton (No. 2) ranked as one of the Top 10 25-year-olds in the game, while left-hander Mike Minor earned an Honorable Mention in that category.
Upton, Heyward, Freeman and Simmons are a strong core for the lineup over the next several years, and the club's organizational strength is pitching, including top prospect Julio Teheran.
Furthermore, right-hander Kris Medlen, who broke through in a big way in 2012, is just 27 years of age -- and still inexpensive -- and new centerfielder B.J. Upton is only 28 and signed for five seasons.
The farm system after Teheran isn't necessarily loaded with elite talents, but right-hander J.R. Graham, catcher Christian Bethancourt and right-hander Lucas Sims are expected to be significant contributors in due time. Lefty Sean Gilmartin has a shot to see the big leagues in 2013 and could eventually be a mid-rotation arm.
The Braves, who spent around $95 million on payroll last season, are in good shape, especially with their 25-and-under crowd remaining under club control and relatively cheap through 2013 and 2014, suggesting their run of contention has just begun.
Still, ESPN Insider Jim Bowden suggests the Braves should get ahead of the curve by locking up Heyward to a long-term extension:
Jim BowdenTime to sign Heyward
"Heyward burst into the major leagues in 2010, earning an All-Star nod and finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting with 18 home runs and a .393 OBP. After a tough, injury-plagued 2011 campaign during which opposing pitchers had clearly made adjustments to get him out, he rebounded in 2012 with 27 homers and a Gold Glove in right field. The Braves should try to sign him to an extension before he has a monster year like Matt Kemp, Carlos Gonzalez or Andrew McCutchen. With Chipper Jones retired, it’s only a matter of time before Heyward becomes the Braves’ marquee position player."