Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

What to watch for in 2012


I have had a blast writing the player projections and although I like to put one up for you daily (excluding Wednesdays) I figure there are some of you out there who might be getting tired of them. This is the best time of year to do projections because nothing happens in February but today we can take a break.

I’d just like to go over a couple of the main things I am looking forward to seeing in 2012. Despite not changing the team up at all this off season I am looking forward to a number of different storylines.

Jair Jurrjens

Jair Jurrjens could be one of the most confusing pitchers in baseball and within Braves Country you either love him or you hate him. Jurrjens has been a dominant pitcher at times in the bigs, and a mediocre pitcher at other times. The one thing we do know about Jurrjens is that his pitches are not anything extraordinary and he has either been lucky, or he really does have the ability to pitch to weak contact or has some other unquantifiable skill.

Ben Duronio wrote an extremely interesting piece on just this, and if you are as intrigued with Jurrjens as you should be, I would recommend a read.

Jason Heyward

This is probably the most obvious thing to watch for in 2012 as Heyward has the most influence on the team. If he can hit like he did in 2010 we could have one of the better offenses in the league. If not, we will again have a lot of pressure on the rotation and bullpen to carry us into the playoffs. Heyward’s performance won’t make or break our season but it will have a huge impact on it.

Tyler Pastornicky

For the fourth year in a row the Braves are going with a rookie in a starting spot. Right now we are batting .667 (Heyward yes, Freeman yes, Schafer no) and Pastornicky is looking to make that .750. Pastornicky has the tools to be a solid MLB shortstop but he will have to prove he can handle the 162 game season at short, and also perform at least better than Sea Bass at the plate. The latter shouldn’t be too hard but the former could potentially pose some problems. I’m hoping Pasto exceeds expectations and keeps the rookie trend rolling in Atlanta.

Fredi Gonzalez

The talk about Fredi has died off a bit lately and it is sure to heat up some time soon. Fredi Gonzalez needs to be a better in game manager this season. He needs to be much better. His bullpen usage was bad at best, his bunting strategies were horrible, and he didn’t play Jason Heyward enough. I am not sure that any manager in the game will ever escape criticism (especially not the one coming after Bobby Cox) but hopefully Fredi can manage to get a bit less of it.

The Offense

We will finally be able to see if the offensive woes of 2011 were really Larry Parrish or not. Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher have gotten off to a good start in the offseason with Jason Heyward, but once Opening Day comes no one will care how much progress was being made in the Winter. Lot’s of players are being counted on to have bounce back seasons including Brian McCann, Martin Prado, Jason Heyward, and Dan Uggla (different context).

Mike Minor

Minor will finally get a deserved spot in the rotation and he is viewed by many as the most likely to get to 200 innings. Minor should be the best fifth starter in baseball and could prove to be a solid #3. The expectations are high for Mike coming after a huge success for Brandon Beachy and it will be nice for baseball to be surprised by yet another young Braves pitcher.

Tommy Hanson’s new delivery

You can’t be a Braves fan if you are not anxious to see how Tommy Hanson’s new delivery affects him. Hanson is an ace when he is healthy and if he and Roger McDowell have indeed fixed the hitch we could finally see him put it all together for an entire season. With a smoother motion Hanson is taking stress off of his shoulder and back.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see issues with control at first but once he gets used to it his pitches should all improve, as well as his durability. Check out DOB’s column on Hanson.

 

Even though we haven’t had any new players come to the team we have a ton of things to be excited, anxious, or nervous about. Those aren’t all ‘good’ things but they are definitely all reasons to wish baseball was here already. Anything you can’t wait to see that I left out? Let me know.

Tags: Atlanta Braves

  • FredOwens

    Without wishing to pick nits or rehash last season’s arguments. . .

    Fredi won’t manage any better than he did last year. In his defense (and the only thing I defend him for) bullpen use was largely driven by pitchers not going more than 5 innings. If that doesn’t change bullpen use will be an issue for him or anyone else. Aside from that tidbit to get better Fredi would have to learn from his mistakes. He wasn’t a rookie manager last year but his mistakes were rookie mistakes proving that as a manager Fredi makes a good third base coach.

    He didn’t play Jason to little. If anything he played him too often, mostly due to not having a healthy body to replace him with of course but the off season information from Jason and the medicos indicate he was never going to get back to form until his shoulder was allowed to heal and that means long rest. Before pointing to his ‘great September numbers’ understand that those numbers were pumped up by 4 good games. Take those 4 away and his numbers were worse. The best thing that could have happened for Jason’s future would have been acknowledging the severity of his injury – You Too Chipper – and dealing with it accordingly.

    McCann doesn’t need a bounce back year, he needs a healthy year. He was having a super year until the 19 inning debacle and pulled oblique hampered his swing. McCann finished third in batting average, second in slugging and first in OBP. His OPS+ (124) was exactly that of 2010 and his highest since 2006.

    Jurrjens doesn’t intrigue me. I neither love him or hate him. He’s needs pinpoint control ala Greg Maddux to be a front line starter. I don;t think he’ll ever be more than a #3 but I really hope he starts the season well so we can trade him for a bat.

    I look forward to Tommy Hanson killing forever my vision of his as Rick Sutcliffe by eliminating that horrible hitch/pause/stutter in his delivery. I hope the improvement in delivery will solidify his stuff. He can be an Ace and this is his year to show that by going 7+ innings 75% of the time.

    I think TP will be fine. He need to be given a chance to hit fastballs though and that means hitting second. I predict Fredi will hit him 8th and that will most certainly hurt his chances of doing well.

    The question no one has answered is how we’ll deal with the lack of depth in our depth chart. But that’s another subject. . .

    F

  • http://www.sabbump.org/ clearwall

    Here are a few comments I had reading this:

    “Jurrjens… has either been lucky, or he really does have the ability to pitch to weak contact or has some other unquantifiable skill.”

    I guess I’m one of the guys that just really likes him because I kind of got offended reading that he’s just “lucky” to have the success he does. From my skybox seat(in sweltering South Texas) I see that when he’s healthy, he’s been completely dominant for three years now. The times that he shows that he’s “not anything extraordinary” are when he’s either a)injured and playing through the pain or b)coming back from a rehab start and still in pain from an injury.

    It seems like we have some terrible curse for one or two players on our roster that have injuries seemingly every single year that last at least a whole month. Unfortunately for us, we have two currently. Before this, it was only Mike Hampton so the damage was a bit limited. Still, if he doesnt blow out his knee AGAIN, he’s a cinch for 15 wins and 20 isn’t an unbelievable expectation.

    Pastornicky — I think he’ll go the way of Schafer and Frenchy eventually. I dont think he’ll have an offensive explosion like Frenchy, but I would really love it if he has a really good year like Schafer did initially(at least for a half a season). Just give us some time to get Simmons in here to be the future of Atlanta SS. I dont understand why we can’t have any decent SS play around here, though. I miss the days of both Jeff Blauser and Furcy. How is it that the Mets, the Marlins, the Phillies and numerous other clubs can develop superstar shortstops and we cant get ONE since Furcy left? Drives me batty. Im really hoping Andrelton becomes that guy.

    Hanson — Im with you and really looking forward to his new delivery. However, I think the biggest aspect of it is being overlooked by most sites and writers. The idea that eliminating the hitch will make him less prone to arm problems is accurate, but from an on-the-field standpoint, what I am praying the new delivery fixes is that he FINALLY CAN HOLD SOME FREAKING RUNNERS ON FIRST!!!! For two years, it seems like as soon as he gives up a hit or walks someone, it’s automatically a double. For C**** sake, I think BMAC could steal on him before this year. He really needs to cut down on the runners and im praying for a drop off in that aspect.

  • http://www.sabbump.org/ clearwall

    @FredOwens What depth are you worried about? I think that’s one of our STRENGTHS. We have one starter that kind of acts like a bench player because he can play anywhere on the field and back up everyone (Prado), we have a guy who can play 1B and both corner OF spots(Hinske), we have the BEST backup C in baseball without even a close debate, and we have a backup CF that showed last year that he possibly could be a firecracker to an offense(Constanza). The only real worry I have off the bench is Jack Wilson.

  • http://www.sabbump.org/ clearwall

    @FredOwens I cant believe I didnt mention him, but we have Diaz(!!!) who i have a huge man-crush on

  • FredOwens

    @clearwall Who provides right sided power? Don’t even think about Diaz and Fredi won’t use Ross that way. Besides Ross’ bunt attempts against quality pitching tell you what he thinks he can do against them and it isn’t hit home runs. Prado is expected to back up 3rd, play left and probably back up second if Uggla goes down (yes I know, he doesn’t get hurt. That’s subject to change too. Ask chipper or Prado or Heyward or. . .) for more than a game or two. An Injury to Prado leaves us with two bad to mediocre outfielders in Diaz and Hinske and a good fielder with no pop in Constanza. Of the three only Hinske is a real power threat and his numbers have been going down every year. All get exposed in extended play situations. I love captain Cave Man (Diaz) as a guy but he’s no better than a 4A player now, no homers last year at all and PNC is hitter friendly. Constanza is a 4A guy too. I loved his hot streak and advocated his play while hot. To spell Bourn now and then in center he’s fine but in prolonged play he won’t last. Jack Wilson used to know how to hit now he’s mostly just a glove. The minor league roster has Brandon Hicks as the next depth in the infield, if he were the guy he’d be a short instead of TP. No one who can hit is near major league ready. If Chipper and Uggla go down we are in serious run production trouble from the right side. if it’s Prado plus either one goes down it gets worse.

    The starting lineup is a B+ or A-. The bench is shallow particularly on power and is probably a C-. If you know Murphy and his laws you’ll know that the weakest link will be exposed under fire. That’s my concern.

  • FredOwens

    @clearwall Man crushes are fine, he’s a great guy but a declining ballplayer.

  • http://tomahawktake.com/ CarlosCollazo

    @FredOwens @clearwall I’m really hoping Drew Sutton is able to make the team. It would be hard because I think Constanza will fill out the bench simply because he can play center. I would much rather release Diaz and have Sutton in the lineup. At least he has some potential and can play more positions. We will see how he does in the Spring however.