SLEEPER Kelly Johnson isn't worth drafting as an outfielder, but as the Braves' starting second baseman, he's a difference-maker.
BUST Chipper Jones is still terrific when he plays, but you can only count on him for 100 games a season, and that's not good enough.
HITTER TO WATCH: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C Saltalamacchia is a 6-foot-5 catcher who really struggled at the plate last year, but he's also a primary trade target for teams that call the Braves.
PITCHER TO WATCH: Joey Devine, RHP
Devine is still a rookie, but now has to put both a back injury and his traumatic big-league debut behind him; when he's right, he's death to right-handed hitters with his low slot and solid fastball-slider combo.
MLB Preview 2007
FIXED How bad was the bullpen last year? "We knew we were done 20 games into the season," one Brave says. Now the pen boasts closer Bob Wickman and setup men Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano, all acquired since July. "Last spring, we had no idea who was going to fill seven bullpen spots," says Bobby Cox. "Now some good pitchers won't make our team." Adds starter Tim Hudson, "It's such a good feeling to know those guys are in your back pocket." Gonzalez, who was 24-for-24 in save opportunities for the '06 Pirates, will gladly set up for a chance at "a taste of October." When was the last time he pitched in a game that mattered? "Never," Gonzalez says.
Cox threw every name short of Mark Lemke's into the 2B competition. The winner is OF Kelly Johnson. He hits lefty, gets on base and can run, which also makes him the choice to fill another key hole: leadoff man. As for the hole at first created by the Adam LaRoche trade, the Braves are putting a lot of faith in rookie Scott Thorman. "He swings it hard," says Chipper Jones. "He's the closest we've had to Ryan Klesko. I have to tone him down a little."
So much for the streak. Atlanta failed to win the division title for the first time in 15 seasons, but fans aren't blaming Bobby Cox. They are missing the good old days of Ted Turner, dropping the current suits 40 spots this year. In an attempt to make nice, ownership cut ticket prices (fourth lowest in MLB).
"The Braves are awsome ... we've filled all of our gaps ... and freed up some salary money to re-sign Andruw Jones next year. World series here we come."