Just weeks away from Spring Training, it’s time to delve into the projections. While FanGraphs crawls toward the ZiPs finish line and Baseball Prospectus’ initial PECOTA projections were fun but shallow (the real fun of PECOTA is in deeper projections, which come out later; besides, PECOTA is behind a paywall, which I’ll respect), the comparably accurate Steamer projections are already fully and freely available.
Using Roster Resource’s Braves depth chart, here’s a look at what Steamer thinks of the team. Stats here are your typical BA/OBP/SLG slash stats, wRC+ (a pretty good measure of all-around offense, with higher than 100 being better than average), and WAR (you should know WAR by now).
- RF Nick Markakis – .266/.333/.379, 101 wRC+, 1.1 WAR
CF B.J. Upton – .215/.292/.360, 83 wRC+, 0.6 WAR
1B Freddie Freeman – .284/.375/.480, 141 wRC+, 4.1 WAR
LF Jonny Gomes – .224/.319/.365, 95 wRC+, -0.1 WAR
3B Chris Johnson – .265/.304/.390, 93 wRC+, 0.2 WAR
2B Alberto Callaspo – .250/.324/.350, 92 wRC+, 0.7 WAR
SS Andrelton Simmons – .254/.302/.373, 89 wRC+, 4.3 WAR
C Christhian Bethancourt – .238/.266/.346, 70 wRC+, 0.7 WAR
Yes, the starting lineup looks bleak. Freddie Freeman is a star at the plate, and Nick Markakis should be around league average. Also, Steamer assumes full season playing time for everyone, so as long as Fredi Gonzalez knows what Jonny Gomes is there for, his quantity of PAs will go down and the quality will drastically go up. Steamer expects Gomes to rebound from what were pretty terrible numbers last year, but his numbers against southpaws remain strong. Here are his last 5 seasons against lefties, by wRC+:
2014 – 112
2013 – 115
2012 – 171
2011 – 141
2010 – 129
There’s been perhaps a bit of a dip, but Gomes is still a well above average hitter against LHP. If Gonzalez will make a point of giving Gomes the platoon advantage on a consistent basis, he could be a very helpful contributor for the Braves.
Other than Freeman, Markakis, defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons, and Gomes against lefties, other jobs should be reasonably open. Christian Bethancourt is the likely full time starter behind the plate, but that’s likely the case because the Braves aren’t expecting to contend this year. Bethancourt’s present defense isn’t quite up to the potential scouts have been drooling over for years, and there’s never been a lot of confidence around the bat. If a better option presents itself at 2B, 3B, or CF, it won’t be hard to go with it. That’s the silver lining about having weak starters on a roster with depth – Fredi will be less encumbered by playing time expectations. If a bench player is outplaying the starter, the switch is obvious and, more importantly, easy.
C A.J. Pierzynski – .244/.281/.360, 78 wRC+
IF/OF Phil Gosselin – .247/.286/.335, 74 wRC+
IF/OF Kelly Johnson – .225/.303/.369, 90 wRC+
OF Zoilo Almonte – .240/.288/.387, 88 wRC+
OF Eury Perez – .251/.286/.335, 72 wRC+
Pierzynski seems to be here just to provide veteran leadership for both Bethancourt and the pitching staff. He was a productive hitter two years ago, but dropped off badly last season. At 38, I don’t see a strong rebound in his future. However, if the Braves get run-starved, Steamer thinks Pierzynski will be a better offensive option than Bethancourt, even without the rebound.
Gosselin offers utility, which is nice, and he’s had some MiLB offensive success as well. He’s not a bad guy to keep around on the bench, with a focus on middle infield work. Similar is Johnson, whose primary calling card is utility as well. Not the same kind of utility – Gosselin can play SS without embarrassing himself, and I’m not sure the same goes for Johnson – but utility nonetheless. Johnson has logged nearly 500 innings at 3B over the last two years, and according to UZR, did a pretty nice job there. He can play 2B, 1B, or a corner OF spot.
Zoilo Almonte, for now, is penciled in as Jonny Gomes’ platoon partner. While Gomes certainly needs a platoon partner, Almonte, a switch-hitter with power but lacking contact skills, leaves something to be desired. Almonte would be an excellent 5th OF to have. A switch-hitter who hits fly balls and has power (and a propensity for K’s) is perfect for late-game pinch-hitting duty. Eury Perez can handle any OF spot, but he’ll likely be limited to a bench role. In nearly 300 professional stolen base attempts, Perez has been successful over 78% of the time, well beyond the break-even point. His speed is a real asset. Whether that’s an asset off the bench or one potentially in the starting lineup really depends on his hit tool translating to the majors the way it did in the minors – .333, .300, and .311 batting averages over his 3 years in AAA. He’ll need to improve his contact if he’s going to be a… well, a contact hitter at the next level. The Braves can give him some playing time and see; again, this is the silver lining to having bad starters.
- Julio Teheran – 20.3 K%, 6.3 BB%, 1.22 HR/9, 4.10 FIP
- Mike Minor – 19.5 K%, 6.7 BB%, 1.16 HR/9, 4.09 FIP
- Shelby Miller – 20.4 K%, 8.6 BB%, 1.13 HR/9, 4.21 FIP
- Alex Wood – 22.5 K%, 7.6 BB%, 0.83 HR/9, 3.50 FIP
- Mike Foltynewicz – 20.3 K%, 11.6 BB%, 1.06 HR/9, 4.55 FIP
Some will be surprised that Steamer doesn’t expect Teheran to be the obvious ace, but few pitchers consistently are. It’s likely looking at his drop in K rate a year ago while it simultaneously doesn’t expect him to get the weak contact (in terms of BABIP) again. I do think the FIP is a tad high. Even with some regression to the mean, I think 3.75 is more realistic.
Equally surprising to some Braves fans might be Mike Minor’s useful line, but it shouldn’t be. After an uncomfortable start to the season, he never quite got back on track, but the peripherals all suggest he can and will. Minor may not be the pitcher we saw in 2013, but he’s probably not the one we saw in 2014, either.
Miller is a tough pitcher to project, mostly because he made some significant changes to his plan of attack last season. In the first half of 2014, Miller had a 4.54 FIP. In the second, it was down to 3.98. If the same Miller that dominated last September arrives in camp, he’ll beat Steamer’s projection by a significant margin.
Alex Wood is one of the NL’s best young pitchers, and Steamer is obviously really excited about his future. And with a career FIP of 3.07, could we really expect otherwise?
After a recent trade of
Pete Smith David Hale to the Rockies, the 5th spot in the rotation is now pretty wide open. Folty might not be the very best option, but he’s a top prospect who could use the MLB experience, as there’s not much left for him to do in AAA. There are other viable candidates, which I’ll look at later, but Foltynewicz seems to be the front-runner.
CL Craig Kimbrel – 36.6 K%, 7.9 BB%, 0.51 HR/9, 2.01 FIP
SU Jason Grilli – 27.7 K%, 7.3 BB%, 0.89 HR/9, 3.15 FIP
SU Jim Johnson – 19.7 K%, 8.0 BB%, o.55 HR/9, 3.43 FIP
MR James Russell – 18.7 K%, 7.5 BB%, 1.08 HR/9, 4.14 FIP
MR Arodys Vizcaino – 22.9 K%, 9.1 BB%, 0.85 HR/9, 3.68 FIP
MR Luis Avilan – 17.7 K%, 9.6 BB%, 0.68 HR/9, 3.95 FIP
LR Josh Outman – 19.3 K%, 9.1 BB%, 0.95 HR/9, 4.12 FIP
Glancing through those FIP’s (and it’s a good time to point out that FIP is a better predictor of ERA than anything, including ERA), one has to be optimistic about this bullpen. I suppose the Braves could use more K pitchers, but for the most part this is a groundball oriented crew that should generally keep runs off the board. That will be important, because with the offense presently constructed the way it is, Atlanta’s leads this year will be thin ones. Realistically, the best part about the ‘pen will be Grilli and Johnson’s likely trade value late in July if the team is out of the playoff hunt.
One possible upgrade could be that of a lefty. Russell and Outman aren’t particularly useful in a broad sense, and the ‘pen could benefit from a southpaw who is.
The Rest of the 40 Man Roster
For the duration of the article, I’ll bold any players projected to be as good or better than any current projected member of the 25-man roster.
OF Todd Cunningham – .245/.294/.333, 77 wRC+
2B Jose Peraza – .251/.281/.330, 70 wRC+
UT Jace Peterson – .230/.297/.314, 74 wRC+
MI Elmer Reyes – .224/.254/.315, 58 wRC+
DH Joey Terdoslavich – .243/.300/.386, 92 wRC+
OF Dian Toscano – ??????
SP Manny Banuelos – 14.2 K%, 9.9 BB%, 1.29 HR/9, 5.18 FIP
SP Mauricio Cabrera – 14.9 K%, 12.3 BB%, 1.06 HR/9, 5.14 FIP
RP Brandon Cunniff – 18.0 K%, 10.1 BB%, 0.95 HR/9, 4.34 FIP
SP Yean Carlos Gil – 13.4 K%, 8.1 BB%, 1.08 HR/9, 4.68 FIP
RP Juan Jaime – 27.7 K%, 13.4 BB%, 0.69 HR/9, 3.60 FIP
SP Tyrell Jenkins – 11.1 K%, 10.2 BB%, 1.17 HR/9, 5.30 FIP
SP Williams Perez – 14.0 K%, 8.4 BB%, 1.14 HR/9, 4.81 FIP
RP Shae Simmons – 26.4 K%, 9.8 BB%, 0.66 HR/9, 3.20 FIP
RP Ian Thomas – 24.6 K%, 8.5 BB%, 0.79 HR/9, 3.36 FIP
P Daniel Winkler – 17.1 K%, 8.7 BB%, 1.23 HR/9, 4.73 FIP
Those offensive projections will no doubt be disappointing to many. Terdoslavich is the only one that looks like he could hit enough at the major league level this year to really be of service to the 2015 Braves. Todd Cunningham may be a better overall hitter than Eury Perez, but I’m not sure his skill set is more useful to the bench than that of Perez. Jace Peterson looks like something of a wash with Phil Gosselin offensively, but Gosselin has more defensive utility. I know the Braves are saying top prospect Peraza will be given every chance to make the team out of spring training, but with just 195 plate appearances at the AA level in his career and no realistic playoff push to play for in 2015, it would be incredibly irresponsible to let him start his season in Atlanta. Also, it looks like we’re in for another year of wondering why Elmer Reyes is on the 40-man roster.
The real wild card offensively is Toscano. He’s a Cuban player, which in terms of how hot they are right now, makes him Hansel. He excelled in Serie Nacional, which is probably the equivalent of a high minor league. Plus, the skills seem pretty impressive. However, some scouts see him as nothing more than a 4th OF. Either way, at 4 years, $6M, even that floor is attractive to the Braves. If Toscano wound up starting in LF and hit at the MLB level, would we be all that surprised? No. If he turned out to be about as good as Cunningham or Perez or Almonte, would we be all that surprised? No. Toscano might be the most interesting thing about Atlanta’s spring training this year, simply due to that possible variance.
Two things jump out at me about the pitching projections here. Steamer doesn’t think the acquired prospects are ready to challenge for a spot in the rotation. That’s understandable, given that some are recovering from injury, still progressing through the minors, and developing secondary offerings. The other is that the bullpen has some real serious depth. Guys like Simmons, Jaime, and Thomas may be a little more volatile than some of the projected MLB-ers, but they have talent and could infuse some strikeouts into the big league bullpen. Simmons is recovering from injury, so I think the team will take it slowly with him (perhaps making his return in late July thanks to a Grilli or Johnson trade), but the other two could step in seamlessly when called up if a reliever lands on the DL, or possibly make the team out of spring training.
Yenier Bello, 29 – n/a
Jose Briceno, 22 – .201/.231/.288, 26 wRC+
John Buck, 34 – .219/.289/.341, 83 wRC+
Alejandro Flores, 19 – .161/.197/.224, 15 wRC+
Matt Kennelly, 25 – .225/.277/.307, 65 wRC+
Tanner Murphy, 19 – .154/.199/.212, 14 wRC+
Chris O’Dowd, 24 – .237/.284/.333, 57 wRC+
Joseph Odom, 23 – .179/.237/.267, 42 wRC+
Steven Rodriguez, 25 – .213/.275/.308, 60 wRC+
Braeden Schlehuber, 27 – .210/.257/.313, 59 wRC+
Tyler Tewell, 23 – .192/.223/.289, 40 wRC+
Eli Whiteside, 35 – .196/.251/.297, 51 wRC+
Well, that was depressing. John Buck is projected to be the best offensive catcher in the Atlanta organization, which I remind you does include the actual Atlanta Braves.
Barrett Kleinknecht, 26 – .222/.264/.350, 71 wRC+
Tanner Krietemeier, 22 – n/a
Travis Mattair, 26 – .205/.255/.324, 60 wRC+
Joey Meneses, 22 – .185/.224/.261, 34 wRC+
Jake Schrader, 23 – .182/.217/.278, 36 wRC+
Luke Dykstra, 19 – n/a
John “JJ” Franco, 22 – n/a
Omar Obregon, 20 – .175/.213/.215, 18 wRC+
Tyler Pastornicky, 25 – .248/.296/.340, 78 wRC+
Pastornicky is still around, and he’s still an option to at least stall Peraza’s arrival if the Braves wish to (they should).
Jordan Edgerton, 21 – .174/.210/.234, 22 wRC+
Carlos Franco, 23 – .173/.218/.234, 25 wRC+
Dustin Peterson, 20 – .164/.193/.225, 18 wRC+
Rio Ruiz, 20 – .200/.264/.286, 56 wRC+
Ruiz and, to a lesser extent, Peterson, give the Braves some talent at the position, but that talent is obviously not close to helping in Atlanta. Ruiz’s projection, however, is very encouraging given his age and level.
Ozhaino Albies, 18 – .189/.224/.237, 27 wRC+
Johan Camargo, 21 – .200/.234/.252, 35 wRC+
Pedro Ciriaco, 29 – .251/.277/.337, 70 wRC+
Ciriaco, like Pastornicky, gives the Braves a potential injury replacement with MLB experience. The other two are prospects, Albies a very serious one.
Keith Curcio, 22 – n/a
Sean Godfrey, 23 – .204/.235/.289, 44 wRC+
Mallex Smith, 21 – .205/.265/.272, 57 wRC+
Smith is the prospect here, acquired from the Padres in the Justin Upton trade. Like Ruiz, a player projected for over 50 wRC+ without a single at-bat in the high minors is very encouraging.
Jose Constanza, 31 – .259/.303/.310, 73 wRC+
Braxton Davidson, 18 – n/a
Connor Lien, 20 – .172/.210/.240, 24 wRC+
Victor Reyes, 20 – .186/.223/.235, 27 wRC+
Edward Salcedo, 23 – .204/.257/.332, 64 wRC+
Fernelys Sanchez, 20 – .146/.185/.200, 5 wRC+
Will Skinner, 25 – .180/.220/.292, 41 wRC+
Constanza is still around, and still good enough (I guess) to at least keep around in case of emergency. It’s nice that he’s off the 40-man. Also, how in the hell is Edward Salcedo only 23 years old? It seems like I started following his career in 1997.
Jake Brigham, 26 – 15.1 K%, 8.9 BB%, 0.99 HR/9, 4.57 FIP
Oriel Caicedo, 21 – 12.2 K%, 8.5 BB%, 1.11 HR/9, 4.91 FIP
Max Fried, 21 – 18.4 K%, 11.2 BB%, 0.93 HR/9, 4.46 FIP
Garrett Fulenchek, 18 – n/a
Alec Grosser, 20 – 13.1 K%, 9.7 BB%, 1.16 HR/9, 5.10 FIP
Jason Hursh, 23 – 11.7 K%, 8.4 BB%, 1.22 HR/9, 5.10 FIP
Sugar Ray Marimon, 26 – 13.8 K%, 8.4 BB%, 1.19 HR/9, 4.89 FIP
Cody Martin, 25 – 17.7 K%, 9.7 BB%, 1.02 HR/9, 4.44 FIP
Luis Merejo, 20 – n/a
Jarrett Miller, 25 – 13.8 K%, 10.3 BB%, 1.14 HR/9, 5.07 FIP
Wes Parsons, 22 – 14.6 K%, 8.2 BB%, 1.12 HR/9, 4.73 FIP
Max Povse, 21 – n/a
Wandy Rodriguez, 36 – 17.7 K%, 6.8 BB%, 0.97 HR/9, 3.98 FIP
Greg Ross, 25 – 12.9 K%, 8.0 BB%, 1.18 HR/9, 4.86 FIP
Ricardo Sanchez, 17 – n/a
Lucas Sims, 20 – 16.1 K%, 10.6 BB%, 1.07 HR/9, 4.87 FIP
Greg Smith, 31 – 11.1 K%, 6.7 BB%, 1.36 HR/9, 5.10 FIP
Eric Stults, 35 – 15.1 K%, 6.0 BB%, 1.10 HR/9, 4.27 FIP
Andrew Thurman, 23 – 12.5 K%, 9.8 BB%, 1.39 HR/9, 5.43 FIP
Andry Ubiera, 21 – 12.7 K%, 11.7 BB%, 1.17 HR/9, 5.40 FIP
Blair Walters, 25 – 17.0 K%, 9.5 BB%, 0.99 HR/9, 4.46 FIP
Chien-Ming Wang, 34 – 9.0 K%, 7.9 BB%, 1.30 HR/9, 5.38 FIP
Jacob Webb, 21 – n/a
Max Fried isn’t healthy at the moment, but Steamer thinks that if he were, he’d be good enough to challenge Foltynewicz for the 5th spot (absent of other challengers). For a guy who isn’t particularly far along in his development, that’s a pretty encouraging projection. If he recovers from the TJ surgery, he’ll be a top prospect.
Speaking of ‘if he’s healthy’ guys, Steamer really likes Wandy Rodriguez’s potential. His last fully healthy season, 2012, saw him put up a 3.93 FIP, so the projection is reasonable assuming he meets that one qualification.
If Rodriguez isn’t recovered from his issues, Stults becomes the veteran to contend for the #5 spot. Stults was pretty useful in 2012-13, and wasn’t exactly miserable last season either. With Stults, you know you aren’t getting star performances, but if he can match the peripherals listed above, he’d be a real asset to a non-contending team.
Martin seems like he’s been the 7th or 8th best starter in the organization for half a decade now. He’s never had the prospect pedigree to demand a promotion, but he has strung together some productive MiLB seasons. He’s made 37 useful starts at AAA, and his time, if ever, seems to be now. I would imagine he’s on the shortlist of contenders for the 5th spot in the rotation.
If you’re like me, one projection stands out among the bolded – Blair Walters. It’s likely Steamer not exactly knowing what to do with a guy who looked like a solid prospect with the White Sox, then fell apart completely with Houston, and then in 7 starts in the Atlanta system started to look solid again, but a very different kind of solid. Pitchers like that are fun to follow, but the projections can be volatile.
The most important player listed wasn’t even bolded, however: Sugar Ray Marimon. Why is he important? His name is Sugar Ray Marimon.
John Cornely, 25 – 19.1 K%, 11.7 BB%, 0.91 HR/9, 4.39 FIP
Ryne Harper, 25 – 19.8 K%, 8.3 BB%, 0.91 HR/9, 3.93 FIP
Jairo Heredia, 25 – 15.4 K%, 8.6 BB%, 1.33 HR/9, 4.96 FIP
Ryan Kelly, 27 – 18.1 K%, 8.4 BB%, 0.95 HR/9, 4.14 FIP
Michael Kohn, 28 – 21.8 K%, 11.6 BB%, 1.11 HR/9, 4.48 FIP
Aaron Kurcz, 24 – 22.1 K%, 10.6 BB%, 0.88 HR/9, 3.99 FIP
Andrew Robinson, 26 – 15.2 K%, 7.6 BB%, 1.22 HR/9, 4.71 FIP
Donnie Veal, 30 – 19.7 K%, 11.5 BB%, 1.02 HR/9, 4.55 FIP
Alex Wilson, 28 – 16.9 K%, 8.8 BB%, 1.13 HR/9, 4.55 FIP
There’s a little bit of depth here, but not strikingly more than I would expect any organization to have.
Steamer seems to agree with the prevalent thinking that the MLB team isn’t built to contend in 2015. There’s considerable minor league talent, but the best of it is at lower levels and still developing. Aside from likely All-Star caliber seasons from Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons, and some stellar pitching, it could be a long year at Turner Field.