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I painted a grim picture last season when reviewing the Atlanta Braves, but they were even worse than anticipated. Atlanta finished last in home runs and runs scored, and were the second worst team in ground outs.

A.J. Pierzynski led the team in batting average (.300), Nick Markakis was the team’s top scorer (73), and Freddie Freeman was the top RBI man (66) as well as the only player to hit more than 10 home runs (18). Yup, those were your stars.

There’s only one thing a team can do after a season like that; tear it down and start over — again. Craig Kimbrel, Shelby Miller, Alex Wood, Andrelton Simmons, Cameron Maybin and Christian Betancourt were all traded, and Mike Minor was non-tendered (thankfully).

Replacing those players are Ender Inciarte and Erick Aybar (both acquired in trade) along with free agents Jhoulys Chacin (minor league contract), Tyler Flowers, Emilio Bonifacio, Gordon Beckham, Bud Norris, and a number of prospects for the future.

While things look bad, there is some reason for optimism. A number of players could potentially step up offensively and contribute to this anemic offense. Mind you it won’t be much, but enough to keep them out of last place — maybe even challenge the Marlins for third if the pitching can produce (a big if).

2016 Atlanta Braves Team Preview

We took the projected lineup, rotation and bullpen from

Projected “Go-To” Lineup

  1. CF Ender Inciarte
  2. SS Erick Aybar
  3. RF Nick Markakis
  4. 1B Freddie Freeman
  5. 3B Adonis Garcia
  6. C A.J. Pierzynski
  7. 2B Jace Peterson<
  8. LF Michael Bourn

If Peterson gets off to a hot start I expect him to replace Aybar in the top half of the lineup. Hector Olivera isn’t listed in the projected lineup, and the only thing standing in his way is Michael Bourn. Olivera’s skills have been compared to Justin Turner, and if he lives up to that potential his bat could find its way into the middle of the lineup.

Come June, I can see an order of Peterson, Inciarte, Markakis, Freeman, Olivera, Aybar, Garcia, Pierzynski. Things could look even brighter if Nick Swisher remembers how to hit.

Projected Pitchers: Braves Starting Rotation

  • Julio Teheran
  • Matt Wisler
  • Manny Banuelos
  • Bud Norris
  • William Perez

Wisler and Banuelos are listed as the projected starters, but judging by their minor league numbers and unimpressive debut in 2015 I don’t see it. I expect Jhoulys Chacin to slide into one of those spots. There are still a number of free agent starting pitchers available, any one of which would make a decent one year stop-gap (maybe Tim Lincecum?). Bud Norris’ spot is tenuous, and the best case scenario here is the coaching staff can help him return to the player we saw in 2014 with Baltimore.

2016 Atlanta Braves Bullpen

  • Jason Grilli (closer)
  • Arodys Vizcaino (setup)
  • Ian Krol (setup)

Chris Withrow< Evan Rutchyj >While Vizcaino did an admirable job as the teams closer late last season, he still has some maturing to do. I still believe Mike Foltynewicz is best suited to be the team’s future closer. As for the rest of the arms, I expect a lot of turnover throughout the season as Atlanta experiments to see what works.

2016 Atlanta Braves Fantasy Studs: Freddie Freeman

Freddie Freeman is the only stud here, and I use that term loosely. He is still a top 10 option according to most rankings (Anderson ranked him 8th among Fantasy First Basemen in our early rankings), but is being selected just outside the top 10 in NFBC Drafts. At this point Freeman is a slightly better option than Eric Hosmer. You’re looking at a hitter who will give you 20 home runs with 160 combined runs and RBIs. There is the potential for more, but given his surrounding cast I would not count on it.

Breakout Candidate: Ender Inciarte

Inciarte should be leading off for Atlanta so his number one asset (speed) will be his ticket to success. He stole 21 bases last year and has 40 over the past two years in the majors. If given 600 at bats I can see a 25+ steal season. Inciarte should also be able to maintain a high average. He has a 22.6% line drive percentage over the past two seasons (36th in the majors) along with an 89.1% contact rate over that time (8th in the majors). A good average and plus speed should lead to a fair amount of runs. I’m not a fan of Nick Markakis, but he did have the second best average on the team last year. Between him and Freeman batting third and fourth Inciarte could score at least 75 runs.

Inciarte is a three category player who will also chip in the occasional home run. Currently he is only being viewed as a fourth outfielder or bench player, but come the end of the season Fantasy owners could see him in the same light we saw Denard Span at the conclusion of the 2014 season.

Sleeper Candidate: Jace Peterson

Peterson has the type of speed and potential to rank right up there with players like Jose Altuve and Dee Gordon. He went 51 for 64 in stolen base attempts in 2012 and 42 for 52 in 2013. While the speed and success rate did not carry over to AAA and the majors, the skills are still there. His 9.4% walk rate last year was close to what he averaged in the minors. The batting average wasn’t there, but he did hit above .300 in 2013 and 2014 while in the minors. I expect the batting average to improve considering his above average contact skills and 22% line drive percentage in 2015. I also expect the strikeout percentage to drop into the mid to low teens where it was during his minor league playing days.

Between the lower strikeouts, high walks and potentially high average, Peterson should have plenty of stolen base and run scoring opportunities. Considering Atlanta has nothing to lose given its current lineup, I expect the Braves will allow Peterson to run and run often. He may start the season batting at the bottom of the lineup, but it would not surprise me to see him leading off by mid-season – forming a dynamic speed duo with Inciarte that will give Braves fans hope for the future.

Bust Candidate: Jason Grilli, A.J. Pierzynski

Finding a bust candidate is a challenge considering the team is a bust on a whole. At this point everyone on this team should be selected in a round that will justify their ADP and overall production. Jason Grilli could probably be considered a bust since he will not last the year as the teams closer, and the same could be said for A.J. Pierzynski in a two-catcher league due to the presence of Tyler Flowers. Other than that, you’re getting what you pay for with whoever you draft on this team.

Top Rookies: Aaron Blair, Sean Newcomb

While the Braves have a number of quality prospects in the minors, Aaron Blair is the closest to being major league ready. He is armed with a mid 90’s fastball that can reach up to 98 MPH. His changeup is also a plus pitch and there has been improvement in his curveball. Blair held his own last season in AAA, putting up respectable numbers in the PCL. He should make a decent back-end starter for fantasy teams when he arrives, and I would not be surprised to see him go on a nice run his first time through the league.

Sean Newcomb has better stuff than Blair, but he is slightly behind in development. He posted good numbers in his first taste of DoubleA so a promotion to Triple-A in 2016 is a possibility. His fastball and strikeout capabilities are his ticket to the majors, but he will have to lower his BB/9 (4.89 minor league average) if he is to have any success.

The rest of the Braves prospects are another year or two away, but I would have Dansby Swanson and Ozhaino Albies on your radar now. Both players have plus speed; Swanson has more thump in his bat while Albies is a glove first Andrelton Simmons type player. Baring a trade, either Swanson or Albies will have to change positions; the most likely (and speculative) scenario would be Swanson moving to third base or the outfield.

What Should We Know About the 2016 Atlanta Braves?

It will be another down year for the Braves, but things aren’t as hopeless as they seem – at least from a real life perspective. Fantasy wise, most players are more suited for larger and deeper leagues. Those in 12 team leagues should look to draft Freeman and Inciarte, maybe take a late flyer on Peterson if he looks good this spring, and Aybar as an endgame selection if you use a MI slot. As for pitching: you could gamble on a Teheran bounce back and make a speculative saves grab of Vizcaino. The rest of the team should be left on waivers until they prove to be worthy of a roster spot.

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