Guerry Clegg commentary: With this much potential for 2013 Braves, don't worry about the possible downside… yet

sports@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 17, 2013 

Upside potential is one of many business phrases that have made their way into sports jargon.

The Farlex Financial Dictionary defines it as "the opinion of an analyst on how far a security may rise in price. It is usually expressed in terms of the price to which it might possibly rise."

Then there's this postscript. "Obviously, there is no guarantee that the security will actually rise to the predicted level. See also: Downside Risk."

Or, "See also: 2013 Atlanta Braves."

Braves' management has remodeled a lineup that won 94 games and made the playoffs. This was partially out of necessity with Chipper Jones retiring and Michael Bourn seemingly pricing himself out of town. General manager Frank Wren's busy offseason has gained attention throughout major league baseball, most of which centers on signing free agent B.J. Upton and trading for his brother, Justin.

The upside potential? The Braves could have one of the best outfields in baseball and could lead the majors in home runs.

The downside risk. The lineup could lead the major leagues in strikeouts. Also, with the Uptons and second baseman Dan Uggla being locked up for three or more years, and right fielder Jason Heyward, first baseman Freddie Freeman and shortstop Andrelton Simmons being future cornerstones, Wren has little flexibility in case he needs to make a midseason shakeup.

But spring training is not the time to dwell on the downside. Spring training is about hope.

So just imagine, for a moment, how good this lineup could be. Heyward, Freeman and the Uptons combined to hit 95 home runs last season, and that's with Justin having a little bit of an off year. Their season-best totals collectively add up to 109 home runs.

All four are capable of hitting 30-plus home runs. In fact, Justin already has (31 in 2011). None of those four have reached their prime seasons. B.J. is the oldest at 28. Justin is 25, Heyward 23 and Freeman still a babe of 21. It's realistic to think they could all put up career-best numbers this season.

It's also realistic to think that veterans Brian McCann and Uggla will improve on last year's down seasons. McCann played most of the season in immense pain. Uggla, always a streaky hitter, fell into a midseason slump, hitting only 19 home runs. That's the first time he failed to hit 30 or more in six seasons.

That's five players -- Heyward, B.J., Freeman, Justin and Uggla -- with realistic potential to hit 30 home runs. No team has ever had five players hit 30 or more home runs. Twelve teams -- including the '98 Braves -- had four players.

The Braves' team record is 235 home runs, set in 2003. That record also is within reach.

That '03 team won 101 games with a starting rotation that had a 4.16 earned run average. The bullpen, other than John Smoltz as the closer, was shaky.

Put this explosive -- OK, potentially explosive -- offense with this solid starting rotation and a bullpen that's arguably the best and deepest in baseball and just imagine.

Last year's team won 94 games despite losing Brandon Beachy to an elbow injury, despite Jonny Venters' bewildering struggles, despite McCann's shoulder injury, despite Freeman playing with throbbing pain in his finger, despite second-half collapses by pitcher Tommy Hanson and center fielder Michael Bourn, despite Uggla's slump.

What if this team stays healthy? What if each player in the lineup produce like they are capable? What if Beachy comes back in the second half and gives the pitching staff a boost? What if Kris Medlen and Mike Minor pitch a full season the way they did the second half of last year? What if Julio Teheran, a promising prospect just a year ago, is ready to become win in the big leagues?

The upside potential is enormous.

The downside risk? We'll worry about that later.

Or maybe we won't have to.

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