By Brian Cranston
The Atlanta Braves have been in rebuild mode since 2015, and have not made the playoffs since 2013. More of the same is expected in 2018 for the Braves, as they have an extremely young team. Last season, the Braves finished 3rd place in the NL East with a record of 72-90. The Braves were anchored by a group veterans who were basically stop-gaps until many of their prospects are ready. The middle of the Braves order consisted of Brandon Phillips, Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp. Besides Freeman, who is still in the prime of his career, many of their key players last year had seen better days earlier in their careers. The Braves ended up trading Phillips at the deadline to the Angels, and traded Kemp to the Dodgers this offseason to free up space for some of their prospects, such as Ronald Acuna. The Braves rebuild seems to have at least turned the corner, as many of their top prospects seem to be ready to break into the big leagues.
The 2018 Braves lineup will have a few familiar faces, such as Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson and Tyler Flowers. Although not an immensely strong lineup, Freeman is one of the best 1st baseman in the majors and is criminally underrated. No one ever seems to talk about Freddie Freeman, but he consistently puts up big numbers year in and year out. Ender Inciarte is another guy that is terribly underrated. Inciarte hit .304 last year, and is one of the best defensive CF in the game (I’ll never forget that potential walk off home run he robbed against Cespedes in 2016).
Dansby Swanson is crucial to the Braves success in 2018, and they need a whole lot more than they got from him in 2017. Swanson hit .232 last year, and was even demoted to Triple A at one point of the season. Swanson’s defense even took a dive last year, as he committed 20 errors, which is a ton, especially for a guy as talented as Swanson is. At second, the Braves will start 21-year-old Ozzie Albies, who impressed in his time at the majors last year. Albies hit .286 with 6 home runs and 26 RBIs in 217 plate appearances, which is a solid sample size. The Braves are hoping that Swanson and Albies can show this year that they will be playing up the middle in Atlanta for a long time coming.
Pitching wise, the Braves will tentatively feature a rotation that includes Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Brandon McCarthy, Sean Newcomb, and Scott Kazmir. Kazmir and McCarthy were picked up in the trade that sent Kemp to Los Angeles.
All in all, I expect the Braves to finish in the middle of the pack in the NL East, using 2018 as a stepping stone for 2019 and beyond. The Braves own the best farm system in the MLB, and are simply waiting for their guys to develop. The Braves’ lack of pitching is concerning, but 7 of their top 10 prospects are pitchers, so help will be on the way soon. The Braves have some solid players, but I don’t think they have the lineup depth or pitching this year to compete with the Nationals or Mets in the NL East.
All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com
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