Well in Sunday’s Telegraph I predicted the Braves would be the wildcard winner once again. I guess I prefer pain of going through yet another winner-take-all game at the end of the season. I think the Braves will play the Giants in that game. Hopefully, Sam Holbrook will be somewhere else this time and the Braves can avoid a controversial call. I think this team will win 96 games in the regular season, two fewer than the Nationals. But the Braves will get the last laugh when they win the NL pennant in Washington in seven games.
Let’s be more specific on predictions. I’m going to predict some numbers with the players, along with a few tidbits that I think could happen this year. Of course, it’s all just for fun. Maybe some of these things will happen, maybe not. That’s about what predictions are worth. If you’d like, add your own predictions in the comments sections below the article.
Andrelton Simmons will hit .265 with 11 home runs and drive in 52. He’ll steal 18 bases and have an on base percentage of .340. But, we won’t really care about his offense. Sure, it’ll be important. But this kid will be a wizard at shortstop and be compared to Ozzie Smith. I really believe the Braves have something here with Simmons’ defense. It’s amazingly good. He’ll win a Gold Glove, but we won’t need that to know how good this kid is at shortstop.
Jason Heyward will have a very good season. He’ll hit .280 with 33 home runs and 81 runs batted in. He’ll also steal 20 bases and have an OBP of .355. The defense will be very good. It’ll be interesting to see if they’ll keep him in the two hole all season, but who else will hit there? Fredi Gonzalez will be tempted to move Heyward down in the order, to take advantage of his run-producing ability.
Justin Upton is going to win the NL MVP award. Yep, I’m drinking the Kool-Aid after seeing his laser shots at spring training. I’m saying a .302 average, 36 home runs and 110 runs batted in. I might be nuts here, but he’s better than I thought he was. The steals will be right around 20 and his OBP will be .370. He’ll also have 45 doubles. I just think this guy is a star.
Freddie Freeman is going to be even better than he was last year. I think he could hit 35 home runs. I heart Greg Ensminger on MLB Network predict Freeman will win the batting title this year. That’s interesting. I think he’ll lead the NL in home runs for part of the season. Plus, he’ll win a Gold Glove. Freeman’s RBI total could surpass Justin’s, and I’ll put it at 115.
B.J. Upton’s numbers could be twisted a bit. I think he’ll hit fewer home runs than last year, when he hit 28 with Tampa Bay. I’ll say he’ll hit .253 with 24 home runs, 80 RBI and he’ll steal 33 bases. Plus, he’ll have more doubles, say 33.
Brian McCann is a player I’m worried about. Love the kid, and love his talent, but I’m worried about the shoulder. He’ll be back in late April, but how well will he hit? I just wonder if this is going to be a lingering issue for McCann all season. So I’ll say he’ll hit .260, which is much better than last year but still below what we’re used to seeing from him, with 14 home runs and 55 RBI. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m just worried about his shoulder. I know it was fixed, but might it take being nursed along for a while? If so, his stats could suffer.
But Evan Gattis could make up the difference, as far as production from the catching spot. I think he’ll hit 14 home runs himself, along with about 45 RBI. He’ll convince the Braves he’ll be fine as McCann’s 2014 replacement.
I hate to say it, but I believe this will be McCann’s last year as the Braves catcher. He’ll be with the Rangers or Dodgers next season.
What will Dan Uggla do this season? Well, Greg Walker has been working with him diligently. Sometimes I think Uggla will turn it around, and then I’ll think he needs to be released. They can’t release him, so he needs a huge comeback. I think there will be some improvement, but it’ll still be below what he did in Florida with the Marlins, and even the numbers he put up in his first season with the Braves. Let’s say a .242 average, 24 home runs and 77 RBI. But he will, once again, hit a wall at some point in the season and we’ll wonder if he’ll ever get a base hit again. He will, but it’ll take some time, as it did last year.
What will the production be from third base? Frank Wren has been Juan Francisco’s biggest fan for the last year, and finally Francisco will get his shot to prove Wren was right with his confidence. Francisco had a great spring, and I think it will carry over. Francisco will be the primary third baseman. He’ll hit .249 with 25 home runs and drive in 74. He’ll even play better at third base than we expect.
Now for the pitchers, and we’ll start with Tim Hudson. Some are worried about Hudson? Why, because he’s getting a bit older? What has he done the last few years to show he’s on the down turn? I’m not saying his age is not an issue, but he’s got to give you a reason other than just what his age is to get too worked up about it. Hudson will do what he does – win close to 15 games and lead this rotation.
Paul Maholm will start game two on Wednesday. He’s in his contract year. This is the first time he’s been on a winning team. I see him going 13-10 with a decent ERA in the high 3.00 range.
Kris Medlen will be tested with a full season of being a starter. He’s never had a full season as a starting pitcher, but even a subpar spring training is not going to deter me in my belief that Medlen can handle the responsibility. Medlen will win 17 games and have an ERA right at 3.00.
Will Mike Minor pitch consistently well all season, as he did last year in the second half? Yes, I think he will. I could see Minor winning 15 games this season.
Julio Teheran is the fifth starter. He’ll be a candidate for the Rookie of the Year award with his 10-13 victories. He’s going to be solid – so good that the Braves will not automatically move him out of the rotation once Brandon Beachy returns from Tommy John surgery. As long as everyone is healthy, the Braves will be cautious with Beachy and let him come back as a member of the bullpen.
The bullpen will see both Eric O’Flaherty and Jordan Walden be on the disabled list at some point this season. I find it hard to believe both will avoid trips to the DL, considering what they dealt with in spring training. But they will still have solid seasons. O’Flaherty will not be as dominant as he has in the past few seasons, but he’ll still be one of the best setup men in baseball.
The Braves will have to find relief help on the trade front before July 31, and there’s a chance they might have to get two pitchers. Remember, they added Chad Durbin and Livan Hernandez right before the season last year. If the news on Jonny Venters is bad this week, they may go get someone sooner rather than later.
Craig Kimbrel will be outstanding as the closer. No worries there. He’s just as solid as they come in the game right now. Cory Gearrin will be very good as a setup man. I’m skeptical that Luis Avilan can be as good as he was last year, especially if he’s pushed into a more late-inning role with the injury to Venters. If Beachy does get some bullpen innings late in the year, that will help out tremendously.
Here are a few other predictions:
The rumors will start about the Braves being a potential destination for David Price, the outstanding pitcher for the Rays who will undoubtedly be on the trade block in the near future. Now that Adam Wainwright has re-signed with St. Louis, Price becomes the obvious pitcher the Braves might want to invest in for the future, even though it’s going to cost a fortune. Price grew up a Braves fan, and that will matter.
The Braves will focus on position players in this year’s draft, and they need a solid draft. The quality of position players is down in Atlanta’s farm system. In fact, in the 13 years I’ve been covering the farm system closely, it’s at its lowest point. Part of that is due to the trade with Arizona for Justin Upton, but the system also simply needs some of the position players from the past few drafts to take positive steps this season. So they’ll have to go after position players in June’s draft.
J.R. Graham will continue to put up great stats that will make more scouts drool over his talent. The Braves will find it difficult to keep Graham’s name out of trade discussions, and if there are any discussions with the Rays about Price, Graham will be front and center in any trade talk. But Graham will make his big league debut at some point this season and do very well, increasing his stock even more.
Alex Wood will be solid in Double-A, and he’ll be the top candidate to replace Eric O’Flaherty next season after O’Flaherty leaves this winter as a free agent.
Pitchers in the farm system that will do well this season: David Peterson, Ryne Harper, John Cornely and Lucas Sims. Also, Gus Schlosser will show that he may be a future option in the Atlanta bullpen.
Christian Bethancourt will do well in Double-A, but with Evan Gattis becoming the heir apparent to McCann in Atlanta, Bethancourt will also be at the center of trade talks.
Joe Leonard will have another solid season in Triple-A, and regardless of how Johnson and Francisco do in Atlanta, he’ll become a candidate for future playing time at third base in Atlanta. He’s a solid prospect, and despite the low power numbers, the hope is still there that he’ll add more home runs this season.
Edward Salcedo will do well at the plate in Double-A, but it will become even more obvious that he needs to move to the outfield. The kid can hit, but the reports on his defense are simply not good.
It’s time for baseball, and that’s always a good thing and a good date on the calendar. Happy New Year everyone!
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