2016 Fantasy Baseball: Atlanta Braves Team Preview
As a rebuilding team, the Atlanta Braves do not offer much fantasy appeal. Even considering that their best player, Freddie Freeman, plays first base which is the most crowded position in the fake game, you do not have a true fantasy stud at any position or on the mound. Even so, let’s delve into the team and see if there are any diamonds in the rough.
Catcher: A.J. Pierzynski
First base: Freddie Freeman
Second base: Jace Peterson
Third base: Adonis Garcia
Shortstop: Erick Aybar
Left field: Hector Olivera
Center field: Ender Inciarte
Right field: Nick Markakis
Freddie Freeman and Ender Inciarte are the only players that will be targeted in standard leagues on draft day. Freeman has crushed the ball since the start of 2013, but was hampered last year by a wrist injury that had him on the disabled list for a month and caused him to struggle in the second half. Freeman was able to avoid surgery and is reportedly pain free entering spring training. Even so, Freeman is still a back end first base option for standard formats since the position is so deep and power is not his specialty with just 18 home runs in each of the past two seasons. He will be an attractive target if you plan to wait on first base or for your DH spot, but be cautious of updates on his wrist all the way up until draft day.
Inciarte was a league average batter last year but his power was mostly propped up due to playing in a hitter friendly park in Arizona. Now he moves to a neutral ballpark but will likely be assured more playing time. I would not expect too much of an increase in the home run department. The Braves have been in the bottom third in steals over the past two years, and while Inciarte stole 21 bases last year he was also caught 10 times, which may cause manager Fredi Gonzalez to put the red light on him more often than not this year.
An interesting player to target in deeper leagues or to be monitoring while he is in the minors is Mallex Smith. The speedster will have immediate mixed league value as soon as he is called up as his speed is just under Hamilton-esque. Two years ago Smith stole 92 bases across three minor league levels and last year he stole 57 across double-A and triple-A in his first season in the Braves system. He does not have a clear path to plate appearances currently, but in long term leagues he is certainly someone to target as a Michael Bourn of old type player.
There will be somewhat of a competition for a few of the rotation spots in camp, but these five along with Williams Perez have the best shots at securing starts for Atlanta, with really only Teheran locked in with no doubts. Speaking of Teheran, he is the only early season fantasy option to target. By really any metric, Teheran took a step back in his age 24 season. After posting a 2.89 ERA and a 3.2 Fangraphs WAR, he threw 22 fewer innings in as many starts last season with a 4.04 ERA and 1.1 Fangraphs wins. I still like him as a later round gamble this year given how young he is, the fact that his velocity has remained steady, and for the fact that he has performed well in the past. Keep in mind, having no Andrelton Simmons behind him will be a detriment to all Atlanta starters’ statistics this season.
The closing situation is not set in stone yet, either. Jason Grilli will likely get the first crack at the job if he proves to be healthy out of spring training. He is recovering from a torn achilles tendon and may or may not be fully ready to go out of the gate. If he is not ready, Arodys Vizcaino will begin the year as the closer and may be the closer of the future in Atlanta. Vizcaino closed nine games in 10 opportunities last year, while posting a 1.60 ERA for the year over 33.2 innings pitched. Another potential arm the Braves may look at in the ninth inning could be Chris Withrow. Withrow came over in the Alex Wood for Hector Olivera trade last year, but was out with an injury the entire season. If he is healthy, he packs a powerful arm that has a serious ability to miss bats.
As mentioned, Smith is probably the most attractive fantasy option in the upper minors. The Braves also feature a number of starters that should get a shot over the course of next season. The most highly touted of them in terms of top-100 rankings will be Sean Newcomb and Aaron Blair, both of whom should start the season in triple-A. Third baseman Rio Ruiz struggled in double-A last year after coming over from Houston in the Evan Gattis deal, but if he performs well in the upper minors this year he could certainly push for a spot at third base.