This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Braves, a team that appears much different since new general manager John Hart took control and started chipping away at the roster. Fans are up in arms about the rebuilding, but come on guys. It’s not like you were on the verge of winning the World Series.
Projected Lineup: RF Nick Markakis*, CF Melvin Upton, 1B Freddie Freeman, LF Jonny Gomes*, 3B Chris Johnson, SS Andrelton Simmons, 2B Jace Peterson*, C Christian Bethancourt
Projected Rotation: RHP Julio Teheran, LHP Mike Minor, RHP Shelby Miller*, LHP Alex Wood, RHP Mike Foltynewicz*
* new additions
It’s obvious the Braves have done some dismantling.
Let’s just quickly list all the players the Braves lost from last year’s team, so we can establish the quite sizable hole into which they’ve dug themselves: Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Aaron Harang, Ervin Santana, Jordan Walden, Anthony Varvaro, Gavin Floyd, David Hale, Chasen Shreve, Cory Gearrin, David Carpenter, Tommy La Stella, Emilio Bonifacio, Gerald Laird, Ryan Doumit and Gus Schlosser. And that’s not to mention Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, who didn’t play last year, but are both also now very much gone.
Now let’s turn our attention to the batch of players the Braves added this winter, which can best be described as “pretty much just Shelby Miller”.
Are you starting to see the problem?
OK, truth be told, the Braves added a few decent players. It’s just that a lot of them are under-the-radar, most are rookies, and a few of them are probably made up (I still refuse to believe there’s actually a pitcher named Josh Outman).
In right field, they replaced one Gold Glove winner for another, bringing in Nick Markakis to cover the area Jason Heyward once roamed. Markakis doesn’t have Hayward’s range, but has the arm to make up for it. He’ll be good for 10-15 homers and a solid on-base presence atop the batting order.
Zoilo Almonte will start the season as the centerfielder with Melvin Upton hurt, but I expect Almonte to see regular playing time at all three outfield spots throughout the season. He’s got some power, and spent the winter playing in the Dominican League, where he really seemed to find his stroke.
By the way, he’s only the second-greatest Zoilo to ever step on a baseball field, behind the best MVP winner you’ve never heard of.
Manny Bañuelos is another name to keep an eye on. A once-top prospect with the Yankees who returned from Tommy John surgery last year, he suffered from a slow start upon his return. The Braves bought low on him, and are hoping for the 23-year-old to reclaim his old glory. His good strikeout numbers indicate that his potential is still there, and he should be able to contribute out of the bullpen for the big league club.
And if we’re talking about new additions, we have to mention new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. While his efforts only happen behind the scenes, the acclaimed hitting coach has successfully helped to jump-start offenses like those of the Blue Jays and Royals. The Braves, ranked 29th in MLB in runs scored last season, are badly in need of a boost, and Seitzer could be the answer.
Julio Teheran anchors the pitching staff, who at age 24 has become one of the premier pitchers in the National League. Shelby Miller, also just 24 years old, is viewed by some as a prospect who didn’t quite pan out as people had hoped. I believe his breakout year is still ahead of him. Maybe it’ll happen this season, maybe not. But at the very least, Miller should consider it a success if he reaches the 200 inning benchmark, something he has yet to achieve in the majors.
The bullpen is an interesting bunch of over-the-hill ex-closers. In fact, current members of the Braves bullpen combined for 154 saves just two years ago. The problem: it is no longer two years ago.
Jim Johnson has since completely imploded, and he’ll serve as the big reclamation project for Atlanta this year. Jose Veras isn’t much better. Jason Grilli, now 38, is slated for a set-up role, but it remains to be seen whether he can hold up for another year. Grilli does have ties to the Braves, however—his agent is Gary Sheffield.
People are writing off the Braves this year, and rightfully so, since they very much resemble a disaster waiting to happen. But if you look a little deeper, there’s actually reason for hope in a lot of different areas. The playoffs might be a long shot, but a .500 season is within reach, and coupled with a few optimistic stints from some of their young prospects, the Braves will take that any day.
Projected Finish: 83-79, Second place in NL East