Posted on February 26, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Atlanta Braves have endured four straight losing seasons as they’ve gone through an extended rebuilding process. However, the club did manage to build one of the best farm systems in baseball during that time. A lot of that young talent is finally ready to contribute at the major league level. With new GM Alex Anthopoulos at the helm, will 2018 finally be Atlanta’s breakout season?
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Atlanta’s young rotation struggled last season, and pitching in the team’s new hitter-friendly ballpark didn’t help matters. Braves ace Julio Teheran had the worst season of his career, and he will need to have a bounce-back season if Atlanta is going to show tangible improvement. They’ll also be looking toward Mike Foltynewicz to provide some stability at the top of the rotation.
Of course, how good Atlanta’s rotation is in 2018 will likely be determined by the development of some of their top young arms. Lefties Sean Newcomb, Luiz Gohara, and Max Fried, as well as righty Lucas Sims will compete for rotation spots during spring training. Of that group, only Newcomb has more than 10 big league starts, so experience is limited. Nevertheless, at least a couple of them will have to hold rotation spots and pitch well if the Braves are going to be able to string wins together.
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Atlanta also has a couple intriguing wild cards in Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir, who came over in a trade with the Dodgers over the offseason. Both are questionable from a health perspective, but both are obviously proven big league starters when they’re healthy and could give the Braves a much-needed boost.
The Braves also have plenty of intriguing young arms in their bullpen. Closer Arodys Vizcaino should anchor the bullpen with Jose Ramirez and Sam Freeman in line to be Atlanta’s primary setup men after each was impressive last season. But that’s where the certainty ends.
The likes of Dan Winkler, A.J. Minter, Mauricio Cabrera, and Akeel Morris all flashed potential at times last season. But they still need to prove they can be consistent over the course of a full season. Obviously, that gives the Braves some hope that they can put together a competent bullpen. But there are too many unknowns to have any guarantee that will end up happening.
The Braves didn’t make any major additions over the winter. Instead, they will wait until their young players are ready to step into prominent roles. That could mean a minimal amount of protection for Freddie Freeman in the middle of the order. Nick Markakis is a proven big league hitter, but he doesn’t provide much power. The Braves may also have to live with journeymen Preston Tucker and Lane Adams in left field unless they’re comfortable going with top prospect Ronald Acuna.
The good news is that the Braves appear to have some good table setters at the top. Ender Inciarte came into his own as a leadoff hitter last year. Atlanta is also hopeful Dansby Swanson can have a breakout season after an up and down campaign in 2017. Young second baseman Ozzie Albies should also provide a spark after playing well last August and September.
However, it could be tough for the Braves to overcome a lack of power. Atlanta hit the third-fewest home runs in the National League last year. They also lost three of the seven players who hit more than 10 long balls in 2017, which doesn’t bode well for them this season.
While the Braves have a lot of young talent, it’s tough to see them improving much on last year’s 72-90 record. More of their top prospects will be ready the 2nd half of this season and into 2019, but that likely means that the Braves are still another year away from making a serious push in the NL East. Look for the Braves to take a small step back, going 70-92 in 2018 before a considerable jump in wins in 2019.