2015 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide: Atlanta Braves Team Preview
Entering last year, the Braves roster was full of impact fantasy players. With two corner outfielders that had 20-20 potential, one of the best power hitting catchers in the game, a solid and reliable first baseman, the best closer in the game, and a shortstop coming off of a 17 home run season, the Braves had many attractive fantasy assets. Fast forward a year from now, and the tune is almost entirely different.
The team does not project to have many fantasy studs, but that does not mean they should be completely ignored on draft day or in the waiver wire. There may be less star power entering this season, but there is still value out there in Atlanta and you have an opportunity to get some potentially valuable players on the cheap before your opponents do.
Top Draft Picks
Freddie Freeman (1B): Freeman has entrenched himself as one of the game’s better first basemen at the ripe age of 25. While he saw his home runs, RBI, and batting average dip in 2014, his overall production (140 wRC+) was only slightly lower than his production from his breakout 2013 campaign. His walk rate has increased every year of his career and he has been very healthy in his four year career. Expect his home runs to jump back up above 20 this year, but the RBI situation looks bleak as the hitters ahead of him are far from the league’s best table setters.
Craig Kimbrel (RP): There are debates about whether Kimbrel is the game’s top closer, but with three straight seasons with an ERA below 2.00 and with more than 40 saves, you can count on him more than any reliever we have seen over the past decade aside from Mariano Rivera. Drafting Kimbrel means you are taking the first closer off the board, and in my opinion that is a very wise decision. His rate stats and strikeout potential give him excess value aside from just saves.
High Upside (Sleepers)
Shelby Miller (SP): With an average draft position across all fantasy websites of just under 250, Miller is being as overlooked on draft day as he was overvalued last season. After an awesome rookie season, Miller’s struggles last year were somewhat predictable given the difference between his ERA and FIP in 2013. Even so, he actually received worse than expected results due to his strikeout rate declining and his walk rate increasing. Despite some red flags, Miller is in a good situation with a great pitching coach in Roger McDowell, is still just 24-years-old, and had a 2.92 ERA in 74 second half innings. He is a steal that late in the draft, and if he ends up struggling you can drop him freely as you did not have to invest much in him to begin with.
Jace Peterson (2B, 3B): Peterson does not have a tremendous amount of upside, but he could be a late round steal, especially in NL only leagues. There is a decent chance he ends up hitting atop the Braves lineup for a majority of the season, as it currently looks like he will be the team’s opening day second baseman. Across three levels of the minors last year and 27 major league games, Peterson stole 26 bases. The Braves have very little power this year and will be trying to do all they can to score runs, including let guys like Peterson run more freely. Add in that he has multi-position eligibility and may also function as the team’s backup shortstop (which means he may get eligibility there as well), and you get a guy who could end up helping at little to no cost.
High Downside (Busts)
Julio Teheran (SP): Teheran matched his 14 wins from his rookie season and lowered his ERA from 3.20 to 2.89 while throwing a very impressive 221 innings. Teheran will pitch this year at age-24, and even though I love him in the real life game a ton, it feels as though Teheran is going a bit ahead of where I would be comfortable taking him in fantasy drafts this year. He has two solid seasons under his belt, but his strikeout rate is not very impressive and he still has a bit of a home run issue. Couple that with the fact that getting to 14 wins on a very poor team is no easy task, and I would only be taking Teheran in drafts if he falls.
As previously mentioned, there is not a more certain closer situation in all of baseball. However, players do get hurt and if something were to happen to Kimbrel, Jason Grilli would likely be the next man up. Before spring started I would have said stashing Shae Simmons would be a good idea in case of a Kimbrel injury or even trade, but with Simmons going down with Tommy John surgery he is no longer an option even in long term leagues.
Impact Minor Leaguers
Mike Foltynewicz (SP, RP): Acquired in the Evan Gattis trade, Foltynewicz appears on many top 100 lists and is competing for a spot in the rotation out of the gate. While he certainly has the stuff to be an impact pitcher, he can use some refinement, specifically with his secondary offerings. Even if he does win a spot out of the gate, we will want to see some good performances out of him before owning him in standard leagues. In long term leagues, however, his move to the Braves is a great one. He will be on a team that values quality defense and is now in the National League, which makes him a nice youngster to own. Oh, and he throws around 100 miles per hour too.
Jose Peraza (2B): Peraza is known as the Braves top prospect pretty much across the board. He as stolen 60 bases in back-to-back seasons and will begin the year at triple-A Gwinnett. He looked overmatched during spring training, but he has only played 44 games above A ball, so that is not too surprising. With the Braves currently having Peterson at second base and not urgently trying to push Peraza through, the team can be patient with him and let him get a handle on triple-A pitching before bringing him up. However, when he does get the call, he has immediate standard league value due to his speed. He is also currently shortstop eligible in Yahoo! leagues, so he will likely be dual-eligible at both middle infield spots if he does get the call sometime this year.
As mentioned on the outset, there is not a ton of attractive options this season as there were last year, but there are some interesting players still on the Braves roster or just on the outskirts. Kimbrel is a great guy to target even if you have to draft him in the fourth round, Freeman is a very consistent first base option, Miller is very cheap, and Peterson can help with steals right out of the gate. Eric Young is another cheap steals option to play while Melvin Upton Jr. gets healthy, and you know what you are getting out of Nick Markakis if you need some consistency in your outfield. The Braves may be a joke on the field this season, but do not let some of the valuable players slip by solely because the team will not be a top performer.