The Atlanta Braves rebuilding process showed signs of paying off last season, but nothing materialized consistently enough to get them anywhere other than a 72-90 record. The team had been on the decline ever since first ballot Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones retired, but all of that will begin to change in the near future.
The Braves are more than okay when it comes to defensive play in the infield.
Despite spending time in the minor leagues and at third base, Freddie Freeman still has the talent to be an All-Star first baseman. His .996 Fielding Percentage is on par with Indians 1B Carlos Santana. Freeman had a fielding value of 0.9 during his injury riddled 2017 season, but the previous two years he had a fielding value of 4.4 according to fangraphs.com.
The young middle infield of Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson has the potential to be one of the better defensive 2B and SS duos in Major League Baseball in the near future.
Swanson has already proven himself to be a defensive stalwart in the majors, filling the defensive hole left by Andrelton Simmons quite well. With a range factor of 4.13, the ninth best in the MLB, Swanson will definitely be able to at least keep up his .965 fielding percentage but look for that number to improve this year. His 20 errors in his rookie season tied him for second worst in the majors, but many of those errors will become lessons learned.
As for Albies, he posted a .987 FP in 57 MLB games, which is a small sample size but also a great sign for the Braves defensively.
Lastly, he hot corner will likely be patrolled by Johan Camargo, as Austin Riley is not quite ready for the majors. Camargo is very much a utility man, and while defense may not be his strong suit, his 1.3 fielding value and 1.6 positional value will likely prove extremely helpful when the Braves’ season unfolds.
The remaining infield position is catcher. Neither Tyler Flowers nor Kurt Suzuki is a gold glove catcher, but both of them are capable of keeping balls in front of them, and Flowers has the arm to throw out runners.
The Braves currently have two of their outfield positions set for Opening Day, with the left field spot still up for grabs.
Center field belongs to back-to-back Gold Glove winner Ender Inciarte. His .993 FP and 2.76 range factor are huge, but the fact that his Defensive Wins Above Replacement (DWAR) was positive at 0.8 despite being on a team that struggled to win 44% of their games is huge.
Right field will house Nick Markakis. Markakis is no longer a name to fear defensively, but he will get the job done and that’s really all that a rebuilding team needs right now.
The big question mark for this team is LF. Last season, Lane Adams spent some time all over the outfield, but he is more of a utility guy that this team will want to use intermittently as a pinch runner or in rest games for Inciarte. They also have Preston Tucker on the roster currently, another utility outfielder who has seen limited time in the majors to this point in his career. The best thing the Braves can hope for here is to have top prospect Ronald Acuña ready by the All-Star break.
The Atlanta Braves strong suit is most definitely not pitching, but it may not be their biggest weakness either.
Eventually, this team will want either Newcomb or Sims to be their ace, but for now they will have Julio Teheran play that role. The rotation will likely start with Teheran, have Foltynewicz second, Newcomb third, Sims fourth, and either Brandon McCarthy or Scott Kazmir fifth.
The odd man out will most likely come out of the bullpen, which was bolstered by the acquisition of Peter Moylan following the loss of Jim Johnson. The one thing the Braves are missing when it comes to pitching is a true closer. Arodys Vizcaino will be able to close for them, but that has been a deficiency ever since Craig Kimbrel was dealt away.
Expect the Opening Day batting order to look something like this:
- Ender Inciarte
- Ozzie Albies
- Freddie Freeman
- Tyler Flowers
- Nick Markakis
- Johan Camargo
- Dansby Swanson
- Lane Adams/Preston Tucker
The lowest projected batting average is Dansby Swanson at .246. Swanson also has the lowest projected SLG, .358, but Albies’ .319 OBP is the lowest projected total.
The Braves would thrive the most if two things can happen. They need Swanson to hit comfortably enough to slide into the number two spot in the order, and they need Acuña to come up and hit somewhere in the 3-4-5 area. A 1-5 of Inciarte, Swanson, Freeman, Acuña, Albies followed by a combination of Flowers, Markakis, and Camargo would have the potential to carve up opposing pitchers, and it’s something that Braves fans can look forward to in the near future.
Rotochamp.com has the Braves finishing at 74-88, which has them at fourth in the division. Fangraphs.com has them repeating last year’s record and also finishing in fourth. Personally, I think this team is good for somewhere between 75 and 78 wins, and I also do not think it is likely that the Braves finish fourth in the division. They almost definitively will not make the playoffs this season, but if the Mets cannot stay healthy a sub-.500 Braves team could take second in the NL East.