2009 MLB Preview: #11 Atlanta Braves

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Offseason Movement: The Braves brought in former Dodgers’ starter Derek Lowe, as well as a quality (albeit aging) bat in Garret Anderson, formerly of the Angels. The club also traded for pitcher Boone Logan and signed Japanese pitcher Kenshin Kawakami.

Top Prospect: Tommy Hanson, RHP
Some consider outfielder Jason Heyward the Braves’ top prospect – and for good reason. But he’s only 19 and has a couple years to go before reaching the big leagues and therefore Hanson gets the nod here. Hanson has the opportunity to crack the Opening Day roster this season, although Tom Glavine would probably have to start the year on the DL for that to happen. Hanson dominated Class-A, Double-A and Arizona Fall League hitters and so far has looked decent in spring training. He probably isn’t a future ace, but Hanson appears to be a solid No. 2 in the making.

The Big Question: Can this club succeed without a true ace?
The acquisition of Derek Lowe this offseason went a long way to stabilize a rotation that has some question marks. But neither Lowe nor No. 2 Javier Vazquez have been the ace in a rotation and the Braves’ best starter last year, Jair Jurrjens, is entering just his second full season. The rotation is more than adequate and can certainly keep Atlanta in contention, but the top 3 can’t underachieve because the Phillies and Mets are going to be tough to beat all season long. (Not to mention the young Marlins, who could give opponents trouble again this year.)

Outlook: The Braves are far better than the 72-90 record they produced last year and chances are they’ll prove it in ‘09. Are they a significantly better? Like 90-win better? Probably not, but 80-85 wins is very realistic considering the of the top of their lineup is pretty good and their starting pitching should be consistently solid all season. On paper, the Braves aren’t going to terrify many opponents. But again, a lineup comprised of Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and Garret Anderson will win some games and it’s probably a safe bet that this club will sneak up on people this year. Do the Braves have enough to overtake the Mets and Phillies in the division? Probably not at this point, but nobody should be surprised if Atlanta is still sniffing the NL Wild Card in the final month of the season.

Projection: 3rd NL East

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