Mar 25, 2014; Lakeland, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder B.J. Upton (2) and left fielder Justin Upton (8) and right fielder Jason Heyward (22) talk during a pitching change during the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves 2014 Season Preview: Outfield

Well it’s almost here: baseball season. The most wonderful time of the year.

Since Opening Day is rapidly approaching for the Atlanta Braves, the staff here at ATL All Day have planned a series of preview posts going over the team, culminating in a joint projections piece that we’ll have for you before the season begins. It should be awesome, and we’d love for you to chime in with your thoughts throughout in the comments section.

Since you’ve probably already read the headline, you know that I’m going to be discussing the Atlanta Braves outfield. I’m quietly expecting big things from the group this year and even though they might have underperformed as a whole in 2013, the group of Justin Upton, B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward could still prove to be one of the best outfield units in all of baseball.

Let’s get started with a quick recap of what these guys managed to do last year:

Justin Upton

Justin Upton continued his inconsistent habits and started the year off as the best hitter in baseball during April, took a vacation throughout May/June, came back to life in July, really heated up in August and then cooled back down in September. His 2013 season was basically a view of what his career has been. He finished the year with a respectable line of .263/.354/.464 and 3.2 WAR, but that’s still quite short of his potential and talent level. His walk and strikeout numbers were right in line with his career marks and he hit 27 home runs in addition to posting an ISO of above .200 for the third time in his career. While it still wasn’t the MVP caliber season everyone’s been waiting to see, Upton still showed he’s got the ability to do that.

Another thing the younger Upton brother did last year was prove that his defense wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Maybe it’s because he was figuring things out in left field (I doubt this very highly, there’s not a huge difference in the corner outfield positions after you adjust to the different fade from righties and lefties), but his arm was consistently below the hype and he flat-out looked lost on more than a few occasions.

B.J. Upton

The elder Upton brother… boy did he have a rough year, huh? I feel like I don’t need to go into as much detail here because you likely already know the drill:

  • .184 AVG
  • .268 OBP
  • .289 SLG
  • 9 home runs
  • 12 of 17 stealing bases (70 percent success rate)
  • He was worth -0.6 WAR

In the first year of his new contract, Upton promptly had the worst season of his career and one of the worst offensive seasons in the game of baseball. His power and speed were both essential useless and to top it all off everything was bundled with 151 strikeouts and just 44 walks.

Jason Heyward

In what was supposed to be Jason Heyward’s breakout year, the young right fielder struggled early in the season, lost time due to injuries and then came on extremely strong to end the season on a high note. Heyward finished the year with a .254/.349/.427 line and hit 14 home runs in just 104 games and 440 plate appearances.

Obviously it wasn’t the season everyone was hoping for, but when Heyward was healthy he was excellent. During the months of June, August and September/October Heyward put up OPS numbers of .865, 1.040 and .838 respectively–all excellent marks.

Also, Heyward was still excellent defensively of course.

What to expect in 2014

I’ve got high hopes for this group in 2014. None of the players performed up to their capabilities last year, but each of them should be able to improve this season (especially you, Bossman).

Justin

Whatever Justin Upton’s issues are, it would be wonderful if he could be consistent throughout the season. Since 2008, he’s been an on-again, off-again player and has never really put it all together in one season. While the Braves lineup should be pretty stout throughout the year, it could be top-of-the-league good if Upton can provide a consistent powerful presence in the middle of the order. Defensively, it would be nice to have a reason to start talking about Upton’s arm again, and see if he actually can be a top-level defender.

ZiPS projections:

.259/.349/.445, 24 home runs, 15 stolen bases, 3.0 WAR

B.J.

For B.J. there’s a wide range of possibilities for his 2014 season. Is he going to bounce back to the 2007/2008 player with a good combination of pop, speed, and on-base ability? Probably not. Is he going to turn in another terrible season like last year? Probably not. The real B.J. Upton–or at least, the version the Braves are stuck with–is likely anywhere between these two versions. The strikeouts are likely here to stay, and I don’t know if it’s possible for him to get back to a.380 OBP player, but I do think he can prove to be a solid addition to the lineup while also playing good centerfield defense.

ZiPS projections:

.231/.304/.413, 19 home runs, 23 stolen bases, 2.1 WAR

J-Hey

For all of you who think that Heyward is finally due his “break-out” season, I’m with you. Heyward thrived in the lead off role last year and looks to have that spot locked up this season as well. While healthy, he showed that he is quite capable of carrying the offense on his back, and he’s going to bring elite level defense and base running ability regardless. If he can stay healthy (which has been difficult for him so far in his young career), he should certainly be able to get back to the 6-WAR level that he reached in 2012. One thing that would just be icing on the cake is to see some more stolen bases from him. In 2012, Heyward stole 21 bases, but was caught eight times and in 2013 he stole just two bases and was caught stealing four times. Fredi Gonzalez has been hesitant to steal just about everyone, but if Jason can become a 15+ stolen base guy going forward then he’ll be one of the few true five-tool players in baseball. And who doesn’t want that?

ZiPS projections:

.257/.340/.448, 20 home runs, 10 stolen bases, 3.6 WAR

Tags: Atlanta Braves B.J. Upton Jason Heyward Justin Upton

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