The Atlanta Braves will need players to step up and have breakout seasons if they want to win the National League Eastern Division. Who do you think will be those players?
First of all, I’m going to eliminate those players who won’t have breakout seasons in 2014. Number one on the list is Chris Johnson, who had his breakout season last year. Looking at other starting position players, I don’t think Freddie Freeman has much ceiling above his outstanding 2013.
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On the other hand, B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla will have to emerge from the basement, up to ground level, before they will be able to gain a sight line on the ceiling. Their seasons were so awful in 2013, that a huge improvement over last year will only take them up to the mediocre at best range. That is a long, long way from breakout.
Heyward and Justin Upton are good candidates to breakout in 2014, but they have both been good candidates the past few seasons and it didn’t happen. I think they will both have solid seasons in 2014, but their production will not be a significant enough jump to term their seasons breakout.
Evan Gattis is my darkhorse to breakout in 2014, but like Heyward and Justin Upton, I think he is poised to have a good, but not great season. Catching full-time will sap some of Gattis’ focus and bounce away from hitting and you know there’s always going to be little nagging injuries at the catcher position to rob bat speed.
The two players I think have the best chance to break out in 2014 are Andrelton Simmons and Alex Wood.
Simmons had his breakout defensive season last year when he won the Gold Glove. This season I expect him to do the same with his bat. Last season Simmons hit .248 with a .298 on-base-percentage and .396 slugging percentage. He hit 17 homers and knocked in 59. My projection for Simmons this season is .285 avg, 23 homers, .335 on-base-percentage, .445 slugging percentage and 82 runs batted in.
Wood has been very successful in his short professional baseball career, both in the minors and at the major league level. The former UGA lefty appeared in 31 games for the Braves last season, starting 11 and finishing 9. He compiled a 3.13 ERA in 77.2 innings. Wood showed excellent control for a young pitcher, walking only 27, while striking out 77. He has been impressive in spring training, pitching 14 innings and not giving up a run.
My original thoughts on Wood were that he needed to start in the bullpen this season, with the thought that he would be great insurance in case of injury. If injuries didn’t occur, I saw him being eased into the starting rotation around the All-Star break. With the injuries to Medlen and Beachy, the future is now for Alex Wood. I expect Wood to be up to the challenge and register 15 wins this season in 185 innings, walking 62, while striking out 167 and logging a 3.17 ERA.
Who are your Braves breakout players in 2014?