The Atlanta Braves enter 2009 with ideas of contention and a rebuilt rotation. Gone are John Smoltz and Mike Hampton, in are Derek Lowe, Javier Vasquez, and Kenshin Kawakimi. Garret Anderson was also signed as a free-agent from the Angels.
In the outfield, Garret Anderson will start in LF, and top prospect Jordan Schafer will start in CF. Jeff Francoeur will seek to put last season’s struggles behind him and have a productive season in RF. Francoeur remains one of the better outfield arms in the NL.
The infield remains the same as the one that finished last year. Chipper “Larreee!” Jones, fresh off of his 3-year extension, will man 3B. Yunel Escobar will play SS, Kelly Johnson at 2B, and Casey Kotchman at 1B. The Braves top power hitter, Brian McCann, will set up shop behind the plate.
Clearly, the most drastic changes are the ones throwing to McCann. After depending on 3 older and injured pitchers, the Braves went out to overhaul their rotation. They paid $60 mil for Lowe, signed Kawakimi from Japan, and traded for Javier Vasquez from the White Sox. Jair Jurrjens will be the 4th starter, and the 5th is an interesting question. Tom Glavine would have filled that spot, but he will start the season on the DL. Tommy Hanson is the top pitching prospect, and trendy ROY pick, but if he takes Glavine’s spot, the rotation will be all right-handed. So that’s why Jo-Jo Reyes is going to be in the conversation all year if anyone struggles or gets injured, Reyes is the only left-hander close to starting, but he went winless in his last 13 starts last year. Rafael Soriano will set-up for closer, Mike Gonzalez.
Notes: Derek Lowe will be making his third consecutive start against the Phillies tonight, he faced them twice in the NLCS…The Braves went 21-12 in the Grapefruit League… Prospects Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward had good springs, but will start the year in the minors… The Braves will retire Greg Maddux’s number 31 this July… In February, the Braves become the first MLB team to open a baseball academy in Spain.
The Braves could be the Toronto Blue Jays of the NL East, 84+ wins, not enough to catch the top two teams in the division.
Now for a game, Movie Star to Met 6 Degrees of Separation.
Can you find the 6 Degrees of Separation between Ashton Kutcher and Johan Santana.
Answer to follow in the Philadelphia Phillies preview.