2006 Finish: 79-83, 3rd place in the NL East
Manager: Bobby Cox, 17 seasons with the Braves
Comings: LHP Mike Gonzalez, RHP Rafeal Soriano, LHP Mark Redman, RHP Tanyon Sturtze, 1B/OF Craig Wilson,
Goings: LHP Horacio Ramirez, 1B Adam LaRoche, RHP Danys Baez, 2B Marcus Giles, RHP John Thomson
Offense: CF Andruw Jones is in the walk year of his contract. Expect big numbers from him. Last year he hit 41 HRs and drove in 129. Jones is still one of the elite centerfielders in the game. 3B Chipper Jones appeared in only 110 games last year, but hit .324 with 26 HRs and 86 RBIs. RF Jeff Francoeur did not experience a sophomore slump hitting 29 HRs with 103 RBIs. He has a cannon in right with 13 assists last year. C Brian McCann has established himself as one of the elite young catchers in the game. McCann hit .333 last year with 24 HRS and 93 RBIs. SS Edgar Renteria enjoyed his return to the National League after a terrible year in Boston. Edgar hit .293 and drove in 70. Left field will be a platoon of some sort. Left handed hitting Ryan Langerhans seems to be the logical fit vs. righties, even though he hit lefties better. Right-handed hitting Matt Diaz was a good find off the waiver wire as he hit .327 in 297 at bats. Craig Wilson will also get a look in left. First base seems like it could be a platoon situation, also. The Braves are going to have to find a combination to make up for LaRoche’s 32 HRs and 90 RBIs. Left-handed hitting Scott Thorman figures to get most of the at bats. He struggled last year in limited action in the bigs, hitting .234 in 128 at bats. He did hit almost .300 at Triple A in 2006. Craig Wilson will probably get most of the bats vs. lefties. He hit 17 HRs in limited at bats last year. Second base looks to be rookie Kelly Johnson’s.
Rotation: This looked to be a huge strenth until LHP Mike Hampton strained an oblique and will miss about the first month of the season. RHP John Smoltz was 16-9 with a mid 3 ERA. Some analysts wonder how his recent separation/divorce will effect him. I say Smoltz is the ultimate professional and it will not be a distraction. RHP Tim Hudson is looking to bounce back from a 13-12 season with an ERA near 5. It is safe to say he has been a disappointment since joining the Braves. LHP Mark Redman was recently signed to fill in for the injured Hampton. He will eat up innings and be effecient but not anything special. LHP Chuck James lived up to the hype and went 11-4 with a 3.78 ERA in his rookie season. The final spot will come down to RHPs Kyle Davies and Lance Cormier.
Bullpen: This was one of the league’s worst last year, but this year it could be one of the best. Bob Wickman came over from Cleveland during the year and had 18 saves and posted and ERA of just over 1 for the Braves in 28 games. The Braves brought in LHP Mike Gonzalez and RHP Rafael Soriano in trades during the offseason. Both of these guys have fantastic stuff and are capable of closing. RHP Tanyon Sturtze was brought in for depth. He has been solid yet unspectacular for the Yankees the past couple of years. RHP Oscar Villareal will get to slide into the middle innings where he seems to be more comfortable. He blew 4 saves last year but ended the season 9-1 with a 3.61 ERA. LHP Mackay McBride is very tough on lefties holding them to a .181 BA last year. RHP Chad Paronto posted a 3.18 ERA in 65 games. RHP Tyler Yates was good when not having to try and close. For the year he finished with and ERA of 3.96.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia-C-The switch hitter is one of the top catching prospects in baseball. Had a down year in 06 hitting only .230/.353/.380 quite a drop from 05 when he hit .314/.394/.519. The upside of the year was he hit .338 with 5 HRs in his final 23 games after missing time with a wrist injury. Raked in the Arizona Fall League, going 13 for 23 with 3 HRs before going home with a hamstring injury. Should start the year at Double A, but a quick promotion to Triple A would not be a surprise. Brian McCann is one of the top young catchers in the majors so Salty will need a position switch or will be trade bait.
Cory Rasmus-RHP-Supplemental first round pick in the 2006 First Year Player Draft (38th overall). Younger brother of Cardinals’ number 1 prospect, Colby. Was on the team with Colby that won the 2005 High School National Championship. Throws 92-94 and can touch 97 at times. Has a knee-buckling curveball that is already a plus pitch. His mechanics are poor, but he will pitch this complete season as a 19 year old so there is no need to rush him. He will open the year at low Class A.
Analysis: The bullpen is deep and shouldn’t give up many leads. The Braves front office definitely went out and made the Braves’ games shorter with the depth they brought in. If Kelly Johnson gets on base in the leadoff spot and the veterans stay healthy, this team could put up lots of runs. The starting pitching is solid, but if Hampton can get healthy and Hudson can put it together, the Braves could find themselves back on top of the NL East.