There has been plenty of buzz this spring about the new faces the Braves have added by way of trade and free agency. And rightly so. Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, Javier Vazquez, and Garrett Anderson, among others, signify a major upgrade to last year’s injury depleted squad. But if you think these four players represent the only substantial improvements to the Atlanta roster… think again.
Unable to help the Braves much, if at all, in 2007 (because of injury, underperformance, or having not yet arrived in the big leagues), there are several bats and arms in the Braves’ camp that could have a substantial impact on the ’09 season.
EACH OF THE FOLLOWING PLAYERS COULD PROVE TO BE THE EQUIVALENT OF A SIGNIFICANT FREE AGENT SIGNING:
Rafael Soriano: Having spent the majority of last season on the disabled list with discomfort in his pitching elbow, Soriano now appears healthy and ready to help anchor the back end of the bullpen. Since moving to the ‘pen in his sophomore season with the Mariners, Soriano has a career ERA of about 2.50. When healthy, the hard-throwing righty is one of the top setup men in the game.
Peter Moylan: The submarine-tossing ‘Ausie’ posted the third best ERA (1.80) in baseball in 2007, over 90 innings pitched. After missing most of last season recovering from “Tommy John” surgery, Moylan’s rehabilitation is ahead of schedule, and he is expected to be ready on opening day. The return of Peter Moylan could give the Braves another dominant late-inning reliever to go with Soriano and closer, Mike Gonzalez.
Tom Glavine: The legendary lefty’s rehabilitation from off-season surgery (to repair his pitching arm) is on track, and Glavine is expected to make his first start, on schedule, in late April. In 2007, Glavine was fifth in the NL in quality starts with 23, and not coincidentally, he finished the season with 13 wins. If healthy enough to regain his ’07 form, baseball’s only active 300-game winner could once again notch double-digit wins for the Braves.
Tommy Hanson: Considered by many to be the top overall pitching prospect in baseball, Hanson this spring has given the Braves all the more reason to believe he’s ready to record outs in the big leagues. With an already fully staffed starting rotation, it appears that an injury to a Braves starter would be the only immediate path to the Atlanta’s 25-man roster. However, while not particularly likely, it is conceivable that the Braves might consider trading one of their starting pitchers at some point during the season, creating a Major League job opening for Hanson in ’09.
Tim Hudson: The Braves ace is currently ‘rehabbing’ from “Tommy John” surgery, and is believe to be on track for a late August or early September return. While the Braves certainly are not counting on Hudson in any way for the upcoming season, he could give this Braves team one more considerable weapon down the stretch.
Jeff Francoeur: After experiencing a season-long slump in ‘08 that saw him hit just .239 with only 11 homeruns, “Frenchy” is on a mission to (at least) regain his pre-2008 form. So far, so good. As of this writing, he is hitting .350 for the spring. He has just 1 strikeout in 40 at-bats, to go with 6 walks and 9 RBI. He is driving the ball to all fields and has shown nothing of his prior tendency (even in his better seasons) to swing at pitches well out of the strikezone. Replacing the ’08 model of Jeff Francoeur with the ’07 version – or better- would be tantamount to having inked a big free agent slugger over the winter.
Matt Diaz: Diaz lost much of his ‘08 season to a knee injury after getting off to a slow start as the Braves everyday left-fielder. But it should not be forgotten that he hit .333 in 655 combined at-bats in ’06 and ’07. While the addition of Garrett Anderson undoubtedly represents an upgrade to the Atlanta outfield, the return of a healthy and sharp Matt Diaz may prove every bit as valuable. Diaz is currently batting around .400 with 5 extra-base hits and 11 RBI in just over 40 at-bats this spring.
Jordan Schafer: One of the most heralded prospects in the Braves organization, Schafer appears ready to contribute at the Major League level. Despite frequent strikeouts, Schafer has hit nearly .400 so far this spring, and has demonstrated why he is considered a “5-tool” top-quality prospect. For a variety of reasons (NOT related to his spring performance), he may start the season at AAA, but don’t be surprised if Schafer makes a big league splash in 2009.
If the afore mentioned players are healthy and performing well (and so far this spring, all systems are “go”) the Braves will have essentially added the following for the 2009 season:
4 quality starting pitchers, including a #1 starter… 2 dominant late-inning relievers… 1 big middle-of-the-order bat, and at least 2 other quality hitters.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Braves expect better things from Mike Gonzalez (who is now entirely healthy/rested and back at “100%”), and Blaine Boyer, who won’t be overworked or prematurely thrust into late-inning duties, as he was last year. What’s more, Braves officials feel we haven’t seen the best of Yunnel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, or Casey Kotchman.
When you put it all together, we are looking at a Braves team that could surprise a great many people in 2009. How do you feel about this team? What do you think about the pieces the Braves have added, both from without and within the organization?
Tags: Jeff Francoeur, Jordan Schafer, Matt Diaz, Peter Moylan, Rafael Soriano, Tim Hudson, Tom Glavine, Tommy Hanson
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