So, yeah. I get it. You loved you some Craig Kimbrel and Jason Heyward. You’re super sad, not to mention a little angry, to see them in another uniform. I get that. I really do. I remember when they traded Dale Murphy to the Phillies. I remember when Claudell Washington went to New York. So yeah, I get that. It sucks. As a fan, I empathize a little. But as an analyst…
Actually, you know what. Let’s not even do that one again, either. Most of you already know my arguments for why they’re doing the right thing (the Markakis deal notwithstanding.) No need to rehash that again here. That’s why we have comment threads. Here, let’s just say a lot of fan favorites are gone, and not everyone is into following prospect progress over the course of multiple seasons, and some of us might be asking “why even bother?” Which is not what Opening Day is supposed to be about. So, assuming you’re not just going to punt team loyalty entirely and order your spiffy new Natinals hat online, let me suggest that there’s still some things worth watching at Turner Field this year. Here are my top five reasons to watch the Atlanta Braves in 2015, at least.
5. Freddie Freeman. Remember “Free Hugs Freddie?” He’s still there. He’s still goofy and lovable and one of the better young first basemen in the game. He won’t have his old roomie Jason to joke around with this year, but he’ll have some semblance of an order around him up top, even if Nick Markakis and Jonny Gomes are no one’s idea of stars. Braves fans should tune in at least semi-regularly to see how Freddie develops (he’s still only 24.) He’s still the face of the franchise (which has been the case since he agreed to the extension and Jason did not…)
4. Jace Peterson, Jose Peraza, and Rio Ruiz. I know, you’re not really a “prospect hound” and stuff. I get that. But these three aren’t lottery ticket fliers parked off in the Rookie Leagues or High-A Rome. Peterson is your starting 2B, Peraza is the only reason he isn’t likely to stick there full time, and Ruiz is the guy that makes Chris Johnson expendable. Peterson is my personal favorite “sleeper” for 2015. Speed to burn and a projectable hit tool make him offensively useful. As a natural shortstop, his defense at 2B should be worlds better than anything we’ve seen in years. He’s not the best prospect in baseball or anything, but I like Jace Peterson a lot. Of course, he’s made slightly redundant by Jose Peraza, who has the same general skill set but is a half year (and arb clock considerations) removed from the starting lineup in Atlanta. Ruiz is a little further out, but he too should lock down 3B before we move up to Cobb County, and I fully expect the odd man out of Peterson/Peraza to compete strongly for the “who replaces Cameron Maybin in CF” spot. All told, I expect to see much improved defense up the middle (Maybin is way better than anyone we’ve had out in CF since Michael Bourn too.)
3. Julio Teheran and Alex Wood. Ignore the offense. Tune in every couple of days to watch two of the most underrated starters in the game work. I am tempted to add Shelby Miller to this list too, but until he bounces back a little that would be too much. Julio Teheran has been my favorite Brave since he plunked Bryce Harper on the ass, and he’s also a true #1 starter in the bigs these days. If Mike Minor can return to any form of usefulness post shoulder problem, the entire rotation is locked down solid, top to bottom. But the two gems are Julio and Alex Wood. You’re a Braves fan. You should appreciate great starting pitching.
2. It’s baseball. No. Seriously. I mean, yeah, the Hawks are doing really well, and hopefully Paul Millsap’s shoulder is just bruised and will be good come playoffs, but honestly, people. The sun is out. Spring has sprung. Alabama is assaulting us all with pollen again. Go. Watch. Baseball.
1. Andrelton Simmons. I feel like ‘Rissa has already covered this one off for everyone. But just in case you forgot, Andrelton Simmons is your starting shortstop, and a baseball fan would pay to watch his team lose by double digits if he got to watch Andrelton field short every day. Simmons and Peterson/Peraza up the middle should be *amazing* for years to come. And hell, they might even learn to hit a little one day….