Braves Check: Is Anybody Still Watching? Edition

Floundering in fourth place isn’t much fun as a fan, but I suppose I could look on the bright side of the Braves’ season and think of it as an opportunity for new and different in-season analysis.  This is the first time in 18 years that the Braves have actually had the chance to evaluate talent and build for long-term scenarios before the end of a season.

So, the battle I face when I turn on the TV at night is…do I watch a team with no hope for 2008, or do I try to accomplish something else.  Lately all I’ve been “accomplishing” is fantasy football preparation and advancement of my NCAA Football 09 dynasty.  That, combined with a fairly entertaining Summer Olympics helped me to pretty much check out on baseball.

Fortunately for me, the Braves have also checked out.  Even Mark Kotsay is gone, leaving the (major league) outfield talent level pretty close to absolute zero.  Jair Jurrjens and most of the bullpen (at least the guys who have been around all year) are visibly tiring.  Glavine, Smoltz, and Hudson have all been shut down, and even though Mike Hampton has amazingly not spontaneously combusted, he hasn’t exactly been a good pitcher.  The Braves just haven’t given fans much to root for.

I don’t have a stat update ready today, but instead I’ll list five things to watch or remember if you, like me, are looking for ways to be a Braves optimist over the next month or so:

  1. Look to the future in the minor leagues.  Their seasons are almost over, but the farm system looks solid in quite a few different areas.  The Braves have a fast-rising top prospect in Jason Heyward and lots of other guys with potential.  The outfield alone has Heyward, Cody Johnson, Gorkys Hernandez, Brandon Jones, and Jordan Schafer.  Hopefully some of them will push Jeff Francoeur and company in ’09 and beyond.  The infield has Brandon Hicks, Kala Ka’aihue, and Brent Lillibridge among others.  Pitchers to watch include Tommy Hanson, Cole Rohrbough, and a host of others.
  2. Watch Chipper while he’s healthy.  It’s been pretty amazing to watch Chipper Jones improve as a veteran player.  He should be mentioned in the same breath as Albert Pujols among the NL’s top hitters, and he’s 36 years old.
  3. Remember that the current starting rotation is pretty young, even though they’re also pretty bad right now.  Not all of the Braves’ aces of the 1990s started their careers on top of the league, so there’s plenty of growing room for Jurrjens, Reyes, and Morton.  Campillo is a bit more of a wild card (and he’s also not young), but it’s possible that the Braves have tapped into a good player with him as well.
  4. The Yankees finally appear to be headed to their first early offseason since the strike in 1994, which means they’ll fall short of the Braves’ postseason mark of consistency.  Few non-Braves-related baseball stories give me more pleasure than a report of a Yankee loss, which is almost certainly a mental disorder I have that stems from the 1996 postseason.  I loved the 2001 World Series almost as much as I would have if the Braves had won, if that says anything about me.
  5. Watch football.  That should keep your mind off things until Spring Training 2009.

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