That was Then...
Last season the Atlanta Braves became one of the first two teams to fall victim to the one-game Wild Card play-in.
Despite finishing with a superior record, they had to watch the St. Louis Cardinals advance while they went home to once again prepare for next season.
The Braves said goodbye to veteran third baseman Chipper Jones, who announced his retirement after 19 seasons in the league, all spent in Atlanta.
The strength of the Braves in 2012 was depth in their lineup, pitching rotation and bullpen which allowed them to overcome both injuries and slumps to maintain a consistent level of performance throughout the entire year.
Though they didn't have any players hit over 30 home runs, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCain all crossed the 20-threshold. Freeman also led the team in production, driving in 94 runs.
In the same vein, they didn't have a 20-game winner in their rotation but boasted four double digit win totals with veteran Tim Hudson leading the way with 16 victories and a 3.62 ERA.
The real testament to the team is the way they handled the innings limit of young starter Kris Medlen. While a division rival was eventually forced to shut down their ace, the Braves kept Medlen in the bullpen before eventually granting him a spot in the rotation and watched as he posted a dominant second half of the season.
...This is Now
We Are Family
The Atlanta Braves have united B.J. and Justin Upton to patrol their outfield with speed, power and skill.
Philadelphia might be the City of Brotherly Love, but Atlanta is going to challenge that standing this season as they signed free-agent outfielder B.J. Upton away from the Tampa Bay Rays and acquired his brother Justin, also an outfielder, from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
In both cases the price tag was not cheap, be it dollars or players, but if the Uptons can perform to their abilities, they will make a huge impact for the Braves.
Last season's opening day starter, Tommy Hanson, suffered a mid-season injury and was traded in the off-season to the Los Angeles Angels for reliever Jordan Walden, who will add more security at the back-end of a strong bullpen.
Medlen will move into a full-time starting position and if he can carry over the dominance he showed last season when they finally released the shackles, he will be one of the players to watch - not just on this team but across the entire league.
The Braves did a good job in the off-season replacing any parts they lost through free agency or as cover for injuries they will carry into the early part of the season.
It will come as no surprise when the Braves are once again in the conversation for the NL East crown and/or one of the two Wild Card positions. Staying competitive is what the Braves do best.
Every year, we look for players 26-years-old or younger that could make an impact on their team in the upcoming season. The player might have already established himself with a regular role with the team, or he could make their mark later on in the season.
Past Picks: 2012 - Brandon Beachy, 2011 - Craig Kimbrel, 2010 - Tommy Hanson, 2009 - Yunel Escobar, 2008 - Jair Jurrgens, 2007 - Chuck James, 2006 - Brian McCann, 2005 - Jeff Francoeur, 2004 -Adam LaRoche, 2003 - Marcus Giles
Lots of upside for the Atlanta Uptons.
A power source at a scarce position, Brian McCann is the top Brave, 49th overall.
Closer Craig Kimbrel is the best at his position, though it's a position that shouldn't warrant an early selection for fantasy purposes. Nevertheless, Kimbrel is head-and-shoulders above other relievers, not only for saves, ERA and WHIP, but triple-digit strikeouts can really help the cause.
The Braves' outfield could be outstanding, if Justin Upton and Jason Heyward play to their considerable potential. While they are still young, that they haven't been able to do so consistently, is part of the reason that they aren't ranked higher. Starter Kris Medlen was nothing short of spectacular in a dozen starts last season. Can he carry that forward for a full year? That promise makes him enticing once the elite starters are off the board.
Veteran starter Tim Hudson and first baseman Freddie Freeman are a pair that could provide some draft-day value. Hudson because he's beyond his peak years and doesn't strike out anyone, but he has 49 wins over the last three seasons.
Freeman has power and, with a better lineup around him, could add some counting stats to his ledger. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons is another that is worth considering; he was good in 49 games last season and is at a position lacking difference-makers.