A rival scout sizes up the BRAVES
People expect a dogfight between the Braves and the Nationals for the division, but I'm not so sure. The Braves didn't have the pitching Washington has to begin with, and now with injuries to starters KRIS MEDLEN, BRANDON BEACHY and MIKE MINOR, they really don't have the pitching.... EVAN GATTIS can throw, but he's proving he can't catch—he's struggling behind the plate, balls are getting by him. He hits the ball as hard as anybody, but he's a DH who has to catch because he's in the NL.... CHRISTIAN BETHANCOURT is their top catching prospect, but he's a very slow developer—maybe a never developer. He can't hit.... B.J. UPTON is very easy to pitch to. His lower body takes him out of position. He lunges, he guesses. He can't possibly be as bad as last year, so he might hit .200.... FREDDIE FREEMAN is easily the best player on the team. An MVP candidate, no question.... Everybody knows that ANDRELTON SIMMONS is a special defender, but he swings at everything. Once he understands what he can and can't hit, he'll be better, and he's got some power.... The ball JASON HEYWARD hits well is the one out away from him. Power guys can get him out all day inside.... ALEX WOOD is good, a Chris Sale type: lanky with a funky delivery. With all their injuries he could become their No. 3 starter.... The bullpen is their backbone. CRAIG KIMBREL is the best closer in the business, and DAVID CARPENTER, ANTHONY VARVARO and JORDAN WALDEN throw in the mid-90s. The thing to watch is if they're getting overused early on, and FREDI GONZALEZ's history is that they will be.
2014 Projected Statistics and Run Totals by ROTOWIRE.COM
PROJECTED RUNS SCORED
NL AVERAGE 667
PROJECTED RUNS ALLOWED
NL AVERAGE 677
CRAIG KIMBREL is the most efficient strikeout pitcher in baseball history, having whiffed 43.1% of the batters he's faced in his career. Strikeouts are most valuable when there's a runner on third and less than two outs—yet the Braves' closer is never used in those situations. Kimbrel inherited just three runners in 2013, and only one of those was in scoring position. Now, Kimbrel has a four-year, $42 million contract that divorces his compensation from his save totals for the next three seasons. Manager FREDI GONZALEZ should take advantage of Kimbrel's financial security and leverage his awesome ability to miss bats by trading off some easy saves—say, starting the ninth against the bottom of the order with a three-run lead—for pre-ninth-inning spots that maximize his 96-mph fastball. Keeping the greatest strikeout pitcher ever away from spots where strikeouts are essential is like using Kate Upton as a hand model.
SCOTT CUNNINGHAM/GETTY IMAGES (KIMBREL)
KEVIN C. COX/GETTY IMAGES (FREEMAN)