The 2013 version of the Atlanta Braves is shaping up to completely different than the team from 2012.
Due to retirement, the Braves’ lineup will be without Chipper Jones for the first time since their 1995 World Series season. Trades have made Atlanta fans move on without Martin Prado and Tommy Hanson, free agency forced Michael Bourn to move on as well, but with stars like the Upton brothers (B.J. and Justin) and Jordan Walden being added to the roster, the Braves are looking like one of the top teams in baseball.
What are my five bold predictions for the 2013 Braves?
Jason Heyward will become legitimate MVP candidate
At the end of the 2011 season, Heyward often found himself on the bench in favor of Jose Constanza. As crazy as that sounds, it was the right call and ultimately helped Heyward. He raised his average more than 40 points last season after earning his everyday starting spot again and nearly doubled his home run and RBI totals. I would expect Heyward to improve all those numbers again this year and could be a real threat to win the MVP if he can get his average closer to .300 with 30 home runs and 110 RBIs.
Kris Medlen and Mike Minor will both win 15 games
Last year, Medlen was the savior for the Braves in the second half of the season. He was 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA, recording 120 strikeouts with just 23 walks. The former utility starter and reliever has turned his career around and should continue to improve and push his win total closer to 20.
For Minor, his improvement from the first half of 2012 to the second was easy to see. He dropped his ERA from as high as 7.09 last May to 4.12 by the end of September. He won his last five decisions and will easily surpass 15 wins for the Braves in 2013.
Justin Upton will prove to be leader, on and off the field
One of the biggest knocks on Upton during his time with the Arizona Diamondbacks was his leadership skills. While those close to Arizona would know likely know best about that, Upton has a chance to become a huge star in Atlanta. The outfield of Upton, his brother B.J. and Heyward will be one of the best in baseball and the Braves’ success this season could rest on his shoulders.
Christian Bethancourt will be Full-Time Catcher by End of Season
As much as I have been a fan of Brian McCann in Atlanta, the 21-year-old Bethancourt will make it difficult for the Braves to keep him in the minors all season. With McCann starting the year on the disabled list and Gerard Laird starting in his absence, Bethancourt could get a chance to shine early and force the Braves to trade McCann before the trade deadline.
Dan Uggla will hit at least .250 with 30 home runs
It seems like a lot to ask from a player who has hit .233 and .220 in his first two seasons in Atlanta, but Uggla can break out of his slide at any time. In 2010, he hit .287, prompting the Braves to give him big money. Many would say his 2012 season was the worst of his career, but with the team relying on him for his leadership more than ever, he will step up and raise his average past .250 and pick up 30 home runs.
Source: Yahoo! Sports
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Chipper Jones’ Favorite MLB Ballparks
Top Moments in the Career of Chipper Jones
Troubled World Series History for Atlanta Braves
Hobson Lopes has been a fan of the Atlanta Braves since he was five-years old and can be followed on Twitter @HobsonLopes.