By Jim Pratt
Editor’s note: Last week in part-1 of his look at the 2014 Braves, Jim Pratt gave us a look at the Braves infield of the future. See part-1 here
Continuing our look at the Braves roster of the future, today we forecast the 2014 Atlanta outfield.
Outside of who will replace Chipper Jones at third base once he decides to start the clock on his Hall of Fame candidacy, the rest of the Atlanta Braves infield can already be penciled in for the next two seasons. The same can’t be said for the future of the outfield, which at this point, has more questions moving forward than any of the other part of the roster.
Right Field: Jason Heyward (Depth: Todd Cunningham, Joe Terdoslavich and Jose Constanza)
Braves RF Jason Heyward
Let’s all step back for a moment and realize the lofty expectations that have been loaded upon the shoulders of this 22 year old kid. The simple fact that Hank Aaron’s name was mention alongside of Heyward’s upon his arrival in Atlanta was unfair and Turner Field itself couldn’t hold the expectations placed on him once he hit a homerun in his first big league at-bat.
After an injury to his shoulder just rubbed salt in the wound of a sophomore slump, Heyward has been working hard this offseason not only on his swing, but the mental part of his game as well.
Positive signs from Heyward this season could mean he is on a path similar to the one taken by fellow prodigy Justin Upton, an Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder who struggled to live up to expectations in his first couple seasons. Last year was Upton’s fifth in the major leagues, during which he hit .289/.369/.529 with 31 HR and finished top five in MVP balloting.
If Heyward’s career mimics that of Upton, his 2014 season might look something like .285 AVG, 25 HR and 90 RBI and set up what could be his first run at an MVP the following year.
Centerfield: Michael Bourn (Depth: Jose Constanza, Todd Cunningham)
There are two things that, when added together, can make any general manager in baseball cringe: Scott Boras and free agency. Michael Bourn is eligible for free agency following this season, and guess who is agent is.
Braves CF Michael Bourn
We’re going to take the road less traveled with this prediction and say Bourn re-signs with Atlanta. Using Cot’s Baseball Contracts as a reference, the money to sign Bourn should be available if a five-year deal worth $50 million is an acceptable number by both sides.
A quick look at a few of the major salary changes for 2013 suggests Chipper Jones’ option , a decrease from $13 million into the range of $7-9 million, will be offset by Brian McCann’s club option increase of $8.5 to $12 million.
Unless the Braves decide to buy out Tim Hudson’s 2013 season for $1 million, he’s salary will remain the same at $9 million. Also remaining the same will be Dan Uggla at $13 million.
Taking into consideration the normal arbitration increases, along with Derek Lowe’s $10 million coming off the books and the possible trade of JairJurrjens ($5.5 million without incentives); the resigning of Bourn is possible.
With Bourn atop the lineup, the Braves will be one of the few teams in Major League Baseball to have a true leadoff hitter with Gold Glove capabilities.
Braves minor league OF Todd Cunningham
Left Field: Todd Cunningham (Depth: Joe Terdoslavich and Jose Constanza)
The left field position falls under the assumption that Joe Terdoslavich will be at third base awaiting the arrival of Edward Salcedo. That will eventually push our 2014 incumbent, Todd Cunningham, into a fourth outfield role being replaced by Terdoslavich.
Cunningham slugged a lowly .353 for Class-A Lynchburg last season and does not profile as a corner outfielder. In the majors he projects as a top of the lineup guy that can hit for average and provide double-digit stolen bases.
He gets the nod in these projections because of his defensive skill set. He is considered by Baseball America as the Braves’ best outfield defender in the minor leagues.
The best case scenario would be for Salcedo to progress a year quicker than expected or for Atlanta to sign a cheap one-year placeholder so that Terdoslavich can become the answer in left field.
The pitching staff is next. Will Arodys Vizcaino be a member of the bullpen or the rotation? Who will be listed as the Opening Day starter for the 2014 season?
Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.
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