Somewhat lost amidst the collapse of the Boston Red Sox was the final day elimination of the Braves. But the team still had a very good season, albeit with some bumps in the road. Martin Gandy of Talking Chop sat down to answer some questions for us about the team, and the future of the Braves.
On the Playing Time of Jason Heyward:
MLBDD: 2010 Rookie of the Year runner-up Jason Heyward seemed to struggle for most of 2011, even ending up benched at points down the stretch. Do you believe he will rebound in 2012, and do you think he will regain the confidence of management?
MG: The organization seemed to gear their search for a new hitting coach around someone who could straighten out Jason Heyward. The Braves know how good this kid can be, but at the same time I get the feeling they want to mold him a little more than he wants to be molded; that's why we saw some benchings this year. The talent is still there, and Heyward's smart enough to take the criticism he received this year and use it this off-season to correct his swing.
My Thoughts: The team's use of Heyward seemed to illustrate that they clearly did not believe in him, at least by the end of the season. Martin is right, though, about Heyward's talent still being there, and I think that he could be right back to form in 2012.
Read after the jump for Martin's thoughts on the use of the bullpen, starting pitcher conundrums, and what he'd like to see the team do for 2012...
On Bullpen Usage (or Misuage, as the Case May Be):
MLBDD: One of the strengths of the team for most of the season was the bullpen, led by Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters. However, they struggled in those last few weeks, and questions about their usage started coming up. Do you feel they were overworked by the end of the season, or were these concerns a bit overblown?
MG: Questions about their overuse came up early in the season, and indeed Fredi Gonzalez backed off using them so much in the second half. Unfortunately the damage was probably done, and their massive overuse in the first half of the season caught up to them. The Braves will likely not make that mistake again, and they'll add a couple more reliable setup men to the bullpen. Kris Medlen will be a big part of the setup crew next year, as will rookie Arodys Vizcaino.
My Thoughts: I can't speculate for sure that they were worn down, but it definitely seemed like it. The fact that the 3 main relievers in the pen (Kimbrel, Venters, and Eric O'Flaherty) all had 75+ appearances during the season leads me to believe that they were probably feeling that fatigue to at least some extent. Having Medlen and Vizcaino for a full season in that pen to go with the other 3 should really make that pen a dominant one.
On the Excess of Starting Pitching:
MLBDD: The team seems to have an excess of starting pitching again, with prospects and veterans both available en masse. Who do you think ends up in the Opening Day rotation, and do you think one or more of them get traded?
MG: I've said from the beginning of the off-season that Jair Jurrjens will likely be moved. The Braves want at least one of the kids to step in -- Julio Teheran or Mike Minor -- and Jurrjens is expected to get a hefty raise in salary through arbitration this year (as is Tommy Hanson). The team likely needs to move one of their salaries. The Braves had Jurrjens throw in the Instructional League at the end of the year to prove he was healthy, so that should be less of a concern. This is actually a great time for them to try and trade Jurrjens, even coming off an injury. There aren't that many starting pitchers of Jurrjens' caliber on the free agent market this winter, so demand through a trade for starting pitching could be high.
My Thoughts: Clearly, they probably should do something to clear out a spot, simply based on the fact that there are realistically between 6-9 potential candidates for rotation spots, and moving one to address another need could be very beneficial. I could see them matching up with a team like Kansas City or Toronto potentially, depending on what type of return they are looking for.
On the Minor Leagues:
MLBDD: A majority of the organizations top position player prospects seem to be in the lower minors. Is there one specific prospect who really jump out at you as something special?
MG: The Braves don't really have any "special" positional player prospects right now. There are several guys with good tools, like Edward Salcedo, Christian Bethancourt, and Brandon Drury, but whether those tools can turn into talent in the upper minors is yet to be realized. The two guys I would consider closest to the Majors are shortstops Tyler Pastornicky and Andrelton Simmons. Pastornicky could be Atlanta's shortstop in 2012, but it's more likely he starts in the minors. His ceiling is not as high as Simmons' ceiling, and Andrelton is not too far behind, arriving as early as 2013. The real wealth of the Braves system is in their immense depth of pitching prospects.
My Thoughts: The names Pastornicky and Simmons seem to keep coming up as I do my offseason research on prospects. Pastornicky was part of the trade that sent Yunel Escobar north to Toronto, and looks like he could very reasonably slot in as the starting shortstop at the start of 2012.
On Potential Offseason Moves:
MLBDD: Clearly, the team struggled down the stretch and fell just short of a playoff berth. Are there any specific moves you'd like to see the team make for 2012?
MG: I'd like to see the team acquire another solid bat, likely destined for left field. That would push Prado to more of a utility platoon role, but with the aging Chipper Jones at third, Prado should be manning the hot corner two or three times a week. Another top flight bullpen arm would be great, but those are hard to get commodities these days. As I said, if the Braves trade Jurrjens they should be able to get a quality player or two in return.
My Thoughts: Prado seemed to regress quite a bit, and that could be related to the position switch, or it may not. But getting a traditional power bat into that position might help the team along more than having Prado out there. Beyond that, there really isn't likely to be a particular weakness to this lineup, and another bat would make them even more dangerous.
Thanks again to Martin Gandy of Talking Chop for taking the time to answer our questions.