WIth the regular season opener less than a week away, many fantasy baseball leagues are gearing up as well. This year, the Braves have all the pieces to make a run in the playoffs, but which Braves' players can help you make a run at your fantasy playoffs? I'll take a look at the fantasy prospects for several of the Braves' biggest name players, as well as taking a look at several potential sleepers and busts.
Unless otherwise noted, I'll be focusing primarily on 10 team, re-draft, 5x5 leagues. This means that the league is drafted anew each year (no keepers) and utilizes the standard 10 scoring categories. Those categories are: batting average, runs, RBIs, home runs, and stolen bases for batters and ERA, WHIP, wins, saves, and strikeouts for pitchers (hence 5x5: 5 batting categories and 5 pitching categories).
Braves Fantasy Prospects
The Braves aren't a team heavy on media superstars, but they have several big names in the fantasy realm. In fact, 5 Braves are currently being drafted within the top 75 picks in Yahoo! leagues. But what's in store for these 5 players? Should you reach for them on your draft day?
Justin Upton (ADP 25.2)
Upton was widely considered a late-first/early-second round pick last year, but his injury-plagued 2012 season has depressed his value somewhat, as he's now being taken around the middle of the third round in most Yahoo! drafts. Upton's 2012 campaign, where he hit .280/.355/.430 with 17 HRs and 18 SBs doesn't exactly inspire much confidence, but a finger injury early in the season (remember what a similar injury did to Jason Heyward?) and the constant specter of trade speculation probably had something to do with Upton's depressed numbers. Now that Upton's completely healthy (have you seen his spring training moonshots?) and found a new home, a return to his All-Star numbers from 2011 doesn't seem far-fetched. If Upton does manage to return to the .289/.369/.529 line he posted in 2011 when he clubbed 31 homers and swiped 21 bases, then he'll easily provide an excellent return on investment. Locked into the 3 hole in Atlanta's potent lineup, he should post near 100 runs and RBIs as well. I don't imagine Upton will run as much as he did in 2011, but even with 10-15 steals, Upton will provide you with true 5 category juice - don't sleep on the Braves' left fielder.
Recommendation: If Upton somehow falls to you in the third round, snap him up. A healthy Upton is easily worth a second round pick, and you could justify taking him as early as 10th overall depending on how well you think he'll bounce back. (Behind Trout/Cabrera/Braun/Cano/Kemp/Pujols/McCutchen/Votto/Fielder)
Jason Heyward (ADP 31.3)
Right behind Justin Upton, Jason Heyward is being drafted around 6 places later, at the beginning of the 4th round in most Yahoo! leagues. Heyward is coming off his most complete season of his three year career, one in which he set career highs in runs, RBIs, HRs, and SBs. The Braves' franchise right fielder professed a desire to run more at the start of 2012 and followed through, posting his first 20/20 season (27 HR, 21 SB). A move to the 2 hole may cut into Heyward's RBI numbers, but it will buoy his run totals and provide him with excellent protection hitting in front of Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman. Projecting a 30/30 season from Heyward may be a stretch, but I'd be surprised if he didn't post a 30/20 season this year with 100+ runs and around 70-80 RBI. Heyward's only 23 as well, so a leap in stats across the board isn't out of the question at all. There's plenty of upside here with a relatively safe floor if you remember that Heyward's only bad season was due to a brutal finger injury.
Recommendation: At first, I was skeptical of taking Heyward in the third round, (which is where you'll have to grab him if you want him) but after closer examination, he's not a bad pick there, as he too should provide you with 5 category juice and considerable upside for improvement. I'm not sure I'd take JHey at the beginning of the third round, but he's a great pick in the mid to late third. And if he falls to the 4th, he's a steal.
Craig Kimbrel (ADP 45.2)
By now, Craig Kimbrel's exploits have been well documented: In 2012, his second full season in the majors, Kimbrel turned in arguably the best campaign for a closer in baseball history, saving 42 games while posting a 1.01 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, and striking out a mind-numbing 116 batters in just 62.2 innings of work. The craziest part of Kimbrel's 2012? His FIP, (Fielding Independent Pitching) which was 0.78 in 2012, actually suggests that his ERA could have been even lower. I can't comfortably project that his ERA will be that low, but I wouldn't at all be surprised if it was below 2.00 again this year, with a WHIP right below 1.00 as well. Another 100+ strikeout campaign should be a lock assuming Kimbrel stays healthy, which gives him great value as a reliever (only 1 other reliever - Aroldis Chapman - struck out over 100 men). 40 saves again seems easily attainable.
Recommendation: In most Yahoo! leagues, Kimbrel is being drafted in the 5th round, which I think is too early for a reliever. Kimbrel isn't a bad pick at that point per se, but because of their low number of innings pitched, a reliever has a negligible impact on ERA and WHIP, at least compared to starters. While taking Kimbrel that early wouldn't hamstring you by any means - especially if he repeats his stellar 2012 - I'd rather take a starter or a hitter that early in the draft. But if you really want to own Craig Kimbrel, the 5th or 6th round is the place to take him.
B.J. Upton (ADP 53.0)
Entering his age 28 season, B.J. Upton is pretty much set in his production. There may still be some room for growth, especially given the fact that he's in a new park with a new team and a new hitting coach, but for the most part we can expect him to be the same player he's been the last few years (barring injury, of course). This means that the elder Upton should swat in the neighborhood of 20 home runs with about 30 steals to boot. B.J. has an excellent combination of power and speed, but he really kills a fantasy team in terms of batting average. A lifetime .255 hitter who hit .243 and .246 in his last two seasons, Upton will strike out a good amount. Expect him to post a batting average right around .250. That said, his 5 spot in the order should be extremely productive, as he'll hit behind Heyward, his brother, and Freddie Freeman. With such a spot, I'd expect him to push 90 RBIs.
Recommendation: Upton will provide you with good production in HRs, SBs, and RBIs, along with decent run production as well. If your team can stand the hit in batting average, Upton's a great value in the 6th round, which is where he's currently being drafted in most Yahoo! leagues. I'd have no problem drafting him in the 5th either, with the excellent power/speed combination he brings.
Kris Medlen (ADP 74.7)
Of the Braves' Top 5 fantasy players, Medlen is certainly the one who will spawn the most debate. Medlen's move to starter late last year saw the Braves' righty make one of the most dominant string of starts recent memory, as he went 10-1 on his way to posting a ridiculously low 1.87 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. A 2.42 FIP suggests that while Medlen may (and should) regress some, there's no reason to believe he can't still be an above-average starting pitcher for the Braves. An ERA around 3.00 seems plausible for Medlen, with about 170 strikeouts or so. I hesitate to predict win totals as they're so random, but I could easily see him finishing the year with about 15 or so.
Recommendation: As of now, Medlen is being drafted in the 8th round, on average, behind pitchers like Roy Halladay or Mat Latos. While I'm not fully comfortable suggesting he be drafted that high, given that he only has a half-season of starting under his belt in the last 2.5 years, he certainly has the upside to justify such a high pick. I'd target Medlen in the 9th-10th round of my draft, but if you're fully confident that his success from last year carries over, the 8th is a great place to grab him.
Braves Fantasy Sleepers And Busts
Don't sleep on...Brandon Beachy (ADP 240.3)
Beachy was lighting the world on fire at the beginning of last year and was one of fantasy's top 10 pitchers before succumbing to Tommy John surgery mid-season. Beachy is expected to be ready to go sometime around the All-Star break, and should immediately slot back into the Braves rotation. I wouldn't expect a full return to last season's form, but there's no reason to think he can't be effective. Monitor his situation closely and stash him a few weeks before he returns in shallow leagues. In deep leagues or leagues with several DL spots, he may be worth a late round flier in your draft.
Don't sleep on...Andrelton Simmons (ADP 240.7)
As most fantasy baseball players know, the middle infield spots are almost always the hardest to fill. After the elite middle infielders are off the board, why not consider taking a flier on Simmons? Simmons is going around the 24th round of most drafts, which is an excellent value right now. Plugged in as the Braves' leadoff hitter, 100 runs should be almost a lock, assuming he can stay healthy keep hitting anywhere close to his current clip. A 10/10 season seems highly plausible, and I wouldn't be too surprised if Simmons went 15/15. Why pay a middle round price for that production from someone like J.J. Hardy or Derek Jeter, when you can get it in the late rounds from Simmons?
Stay away from...Dan Uggla (ADP 150.7)
Dan Uggla is still going around the 15th round right now in most Yahoo! leagues, which is absolutely insane given that he's basically a 1 category contributor at this point. He'll be absolute murder on your team's batting average, and don't expect many runs or RBIs hitting that low in the order. We all know he won't steal any bases, so you're basically spending a mid-round pick on a guy who can do 1 thing: hit homers. This wouldn't be so bad, especially from a middle infielder, except for one small problem: he can't really hit that many anymore. Uggla hit 19 home runs last year, by far the worst total in his career. More disturbingly, he's shown little to make us believe he can turn it around. 20 homers, give or take, is not worth the drain on all your other categories. If you're looking for second base talent in the middle rounds, I'd much rather take a flier on Neil Walker, Josh Rutledge, or Kyle Seager.
Stay away from...Tim Hudson (ADP 186.4)
Tim Hudson is a favorite for most Braves' fans, but fantasy baseball is a game that rewards those who think with their heads, not their hearts. In 2012, Hudson posted his lowest K/9 in 7 years, striking out 5.13 batters per 9 innings. Similarly, Hudson also posted his highest ERA in 6 years. Hudson will turn 38 in the middle of the season, so there are plenty of reasons to be cautious here. Hudson will be a solid contributor in wins and WHIP, but his low strikeout totals keep him from being anything more than a spot-starter in fantasy. I'm not suggesting he'll crash and burn this year, but he won't contribute much to your fantasy squad. If you want to grab a Braves' starter late in your draft, Julio Teheran is going 30 picks after Hudson in most Yahoo! drafts. Reach for the Braves rookie - who has much more upside - instead.
If you have any questions about fantasy prospects for the Braves that weren't covered here, feel free to leave them in the comments or ask me on Twitter!
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