The Braves won the National League East with a 96-66 record, winning the division by 10 games over the disappointing Washington Nationals. They were terrific in the regular season, but didn't have enough pitching to get by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series. Changes are coming in Atlanta, as they are said to be pursuing a top of the rotation starter this offseason. That may not come to fruition though, as the team is limited in their offseason spending due to arbitration cases for several of their young players including Jason Heyward and others.
The Braves lost Tim Hudson and Brian McCann to free agency over the last few weeks, but still have some of the top fantasy players at several positions, including Freddie Freeman at first base, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton in the outfield, Andrelton Simmons at shortstop, Mike Minor and the best closer in the game, Craig Kimbrel.
Let's take a look at the Top 5 Atlanta Braves for 2014:
1. Freddie Freeman, 1B
Freeman had the best year of his career last season, hitting .319-.396-.501 with 23 home runs, 89 runs and 109 RBI for the Braves. Freeman led all fantasy first baseman in batting average, which comes as a bit of a surprise with Joey Votto at the position. His 23 home runs tied for 10th at the position, tied with Mike Napoli. HIs 89 runs ranked 5th and his 109 RBI ranked third, so it is safe to say he will be one of the top first baseman off the board in 2014.
2. Jason Heyward, OF
Heyward dealt with injuries last season, limiting him to just 104 games, where he hit .254-.349-.427 with 14 home runs, 67 runs, 38 RBI and 2 stolen bases. The stat that jumps out at me is the 38 RBI, which is pretty low, but there is an explanation for it. Heyward was placed in the leadoff spot by manager Freddie Gonzalez for 30 games in the last two months of the season, and he thrived in the spot, hitting .322-.403-.551 with 6 home runs, 31 runs and 16 RBI, with an excellent 22-14 strikeout to walk rate. It is a small sample size, but Heyward was very productive in the role and I imagine he could be their leadoff hitter again in 2014. I could see 90+ runs scored and 20 home runs from him next season.
3. Justin Upton, OF
I am down on Upton as I think he may never reach the 30-35 HR potential that he possesses, but that doesn't mean he isn't a valuable fantasy asset. Upton was the National League MVP in April after hitting 12 home runs, but pitchers caught up to him and he struggled over the next few months, before catching fire over the last two months of the season. He finished the season hitting .263-.354-.464 with 27 HRs, 94 runs, 70 RBI and 8 stolen bases. He is still just 26 years old, and one of these seasons he will put up a monster season.
4. Mike Minor, SP
Minor was the Braves best starter in 2013, going 13-9 with a 3.21 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 3.64 xFIP and a 1.09 WHIP in 32 starts. Minor is inching his way into the fantasy ace conversation, as he bumped up his strikeouts per nine to just under 8 K/9 and lowered his walk rate to just over 2 BB/9. He also lowered his HR/9 to 0.97 HR/9, down from 1.30 HR/9 in 2012. I ranked Minor as my 18th ranked starting pitcher in my early Top 25 starting pitchers for 2014, and think he can take that next step to being a fantasy ace next season.
5. Craig Kimbrel, CL
There's not a better closer in the game than Kimbrel. Kimbrel is the most dominating closer in the game, ad he set a career high with 50 saves last season. He has now saved 138 games over the last three seasons. His strikeout rate dropped from 16.66 K/9 to 13.16 K/9 in 2013, but he kept his ERA under 1.25 for the second consecutive season. Barring injury, he should be one of the first closers, if not the first closer, off draft boards next season.
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