Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 4/3/12
The 2012 version of the Atlanta Braves isnt much different than the team that finished last season. Other than a new starting shortstop and a couple of new faces on the bench and in the bullpen, Braves fans should be familiar with this years team. Heres a position-by-position look at the Braves heading into their season-opener against the New York Mets on Thursday. Infield Catcher: Brian McCann is not only one of the top offensive catchers in the majors, hes become one of the teams leaders, a role that will grow when Chipper Jones retires at the end of the season. He was the starting catcher in the 2011 All-Star game and earned his fifth Silver Slugger award. McCann also leads all catchers with 131 home runs since the start of the 2006 season. First base: Determined not to have a sophomore slump, Freddie Freeman had a strong spring. He tied for the MLB lead with seven homers in addition to hitting .295 with 15 RBIs. Freeman has a shorter swing and isnt prone to slumps, so combined with his size (6-foot-5, 225 pounds), theres no reason to think he wont improve on his numbers from 2011, when he hit .282 with 21 homers and 76 RBIs. Second base: Dan Uggla was more aggressive at the plate in March and finished spring training with a .277 average, six homers and 15 RBIs. He wants to avoid the slow start that plagued his first season with the Braves and improve on the .233 average and 82 RBIs from 2011. He will continue to provide the Braves with power from the right side, but likely wont improve on the career-high 36 homers he hit last year. Third base: If hes healthy, Jones figures to receive most of the playing time at third in his final season with the Braves. How many games hell play is the big question. He hasnt played in 150 games since 2003, so expect around 100-120 games with a .270 average, 15-18 home runs and 70 RBIs for Jones, who will be 40 years old on April 24. The Braves will start with Juan Francisco and Martin Prado at third until Jones is activated from the DL. Shortstop: Tyler Pastornicky was anointed the starting job in the offseason and nearly played his way off the team before rallying late in spring training to win the job as a rookie. Pastornicky received a challenge from fellow rookie Andrelton Simmons and raised his average from .125 on March 19 to .221 by the end of camp. The job is his to lose. Outfield Left field: Prado, who will also see time at third base and could even spell Uggla at second, is healthy and led the Braves regulars with a .356 average to go with nine RBIs in the spring. He and the Braves expect a return to 2010 form, when he hit .307 and scored 100 runs in his first full season as a starter. Injuries curtailed his production last year. Center field: Itll be interesting to see how much Michael Bourn runs in his first full season with the Braves. He led Atlanta with 22 steals in just 53 games, and combined with his total with Houston, led the majors with 61 steals. Bourn has 174 steals the past three years, 49 more than any other player. Right field: Jason Heyward made strides throughout spring training, and showed glimpses of his great ability in the final full week, homering in consecutive games and playing stellar defense in both right and center. The Braves will continue to be patient with Heyward and hope that he can regain, and perhaps even improve on, his rookie form and numbers. Bench The newly acquired Francisco likely will stick with the Braves even after Jones comes off the DL. He has left-handed power and a strong arm at third. Matt Diaz and Eric Hinske are the main outfield depth, with Hinske adding versatility by backing up Freeman at first. Veteran Jack Wilson provides insurance at short and speedy Jose Constanza won the final outfield spot to back up Bourn and pinch run. David Ross gives the Braves one of the best backup catchers in the majors. Starters Tommy Hanson: Hes been solid this spring after coming back a shoulder injury and a concussion on the first day of camp. His new delivery and sinker looked good this spring and could help Hanson make great strides in his career. Jair Jurrjens: After struggling in his first four spring starts, Jurrjens went 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in his final two starts. Hes also healthy, recovering from a knee injury that caused him to miss the final month of 2011. Mike Minor: The Braves most dominant pitcher early this spring, he earned the third spot in the rotation to help neutralize the Mets left-handed hitters in the opening series. He started the spring with 14 scoreless innings. Brandon Beachy: Coming off a strong rookie season, Beachy is working on his ability to go deeper in games. He didnt dominate hitters this spring like he did when he won a spot in the rotation as a rookie, but has proven he can strike out hitters. Randall Delgado: The battle for the fifth spot went to Delgado, a rookie, who beat out fellow rookie Julio Teheran, despite going 1-4 with a 7.69 ERA this spring. He was impressive last year, with a 2.83 ERA in seven starts with the Braves, and likely will make at least three starts before Tim Hudson comes back from the DL. Bullpen Craig Kimbrel: The NL Rookie of the Year didnt allow a run in eight innings this spring and appears ready to equal or improve on last years team record 46 saves. Jonny Venters: Left shoulder soreness this spring sent a scare into the Braves, but Venters is ready for the season. He gives them one of the majors top setup men. Eric OFlaherty: He struggled this spring with a 5.00 ERA, but the seventh inning belongs to OFlaherty, who had a 0.98 ERA in 78 games last year. Kris Medlen: Medlen is the fans favorite to start the season at the fifth starter, but the Braves are determined to bring him out of the bullpen. He had an outstanding spring (0.82 ERA in 11 innings) after missing practically all of 2011 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Livan Hernandez: Signing Hernandez gives the Braves a long reliever who has plenty of starting experience. Cristhian Martinez: The long reliever last year now moves into a middle relieving role. He had strong spring with a 1.38 ERA in 13 innings. Yohan Flande: The rookie lefty won a spot on the team by beating out Cory Gearrin. He allowed just one earned run in 12 13 innings this spring. On the DL: Jones (knee), Hudson (back), Anthony Varvaro (pectoral strain), Arodys Vizcaino (elbow) and Robert Fish (elbow). Peter Moylan is rehabbing his shoulder in Florida.
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