2009 Atlanta Braves Preview
A long and tedious off-season for the Atlanta Braves has almost come to an end. Atlanta fans saw the Braves improve their starting rotation with the acquisitions of Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Kenshin Kawakami. The Braves also added depth to their bench by resigning Greg Norton, Omar Infante and David Ross.
Derek Lowe (14-11, 3.24 ERA, 34 starts) will begin the season as Atlanta’s ace while Javier Vazquez (12-16, 4.67, 33 starts) will hold the second spot in the rotation. Tom Glavine (2-4, 5.54 ERA, 13 starts) will likely fill the third spot if he is resigned in the coming days. The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation will be held by Kenshin Kawakami (9-5, 2.30 ERA, 20 games) and Jair Jurrjens (13-10, 3.68 ERA, 31 starts).
If Tom Glavine does not resign then the final spot will be up for grabs between Jorge Campillo (8-7, 3.91 ERA, 25 starts), Charlie Morton (4-8, 6.15 ERA, 15 starts), Jo-Jo Reyes (3-11, 5.81 ERA, 22 starts) and Tommy Hanson (8-4, 3.03 ERA, 18 starts at AA). Atlanta has a strong rotation despite having the potential to be entirely right-handed. If Glavine resigns it is almost certain he would be placed in the third spot to break up the right-handed pitchers.
Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez will eat the majority of the innings while Kenshin Kawakami is more like a shot in the dark. Kawakami was signed out of Japan but could eat a decent amount of innings. Jair Jurrjens will try and avoid a down year after having a very successful rookie season while Jorge Campillo and Tommy Hanson look to be the favorites to win the final spot. Campillo pitched very well for Atlanta last year while Hanson was named MVP of the Arizona Fall League, the first pitcher to ever do so. Hanson dominated nearly ever team last season and appears to be major league ready.
Atlanta’s bullpen could arguably be their biggest strength. Peter Moylan and Rafael Soriano should be healthy by the beginning of the year, which would be a big boost for a run down bullpen. Blaine Boyer had a long year as he had to eat more innings than first expected with the losses of Moylan and Soriano to injury. Mike Gonzalez came back strong from Tommy John surgery to claim the closers role from Soriano. Gonzalez will likely start the season as the team’s closer. Will Ohman was arguably the best reliever for Atlanta last year but has yet to sign with a team. Atlanta’s shortage of money could force him to sign elsewhere.
Atlanta’s infield could also be another strong point of the team. Third baseman Chipper Jones is coming off his first career batting title while catcher Brian McCann is coming off of his third All-Star appearance. Newly acquired first baseman Casey Kotchman should be settled in and produce the way Atlanta first envisioned him to. Kotchman has the potential to hit over .300 and drive in over 100 runs.
Shortstop Yunel Escobar has survived trade rumors and hopefully has learned to control his emotions a little better. Escobar is a potential All-Star but sometimes lets his emotions get the best of him. Second baseman Kelly Johnson was also mentioned in trade talks but should be the starter after spring training. Johnson needed to improve on his defense over the off-season as well as cut down on his strikeouts.
The outfield was the biggest disappointment last year for the Braves. Jeff Francoeur had a mediocre season at best while only hitting 11 home runs. Josh Anderson and Gregor Blanco split time in centerfield for part of the year but provided little power. Matt Diaz spent most of the season on the disabled list, which let Brandon Jones have time to shine. Jones didn’t impress much but did show glimpses of power. The centerfielder job is up for grabs between Blanco, Anderson and Jordan Schafer. Schafer could be the early favorite as he plays very good defense but provides more offense than Blanco and Anderson.
Atlanta made themselves a contender with free agent signings but are not the favorite to win the division. The New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies are the early favorites but Atlanta can make some noise in the division. New York has made considerable moves to strengthen a weak bullpen while Philadelphia lost J.C. Romero to a 50 game suspension. Expect Atlanta to win between 75 and 85 games.
By Ben Burrows
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