Atlanta Braves 2018 Season Preview
The laws of gravity state that “what goes up must come down.” But the Atlanta Braves, in particular, are hoping for the mirror opposite of such a law.
Since fully committing to the “tanking” route, and bottoming out as one of the least successful and least watchable teams in baseball over the last few years (they’ve won less than 73 games in each of the past three seasons). they’ve constructed what could arguably be considered one of the best pipelines of prospects in all of Major League Baseball.
Headliners to the core
That group is headlined by a core that includes first baseman Freddie Freeman, second baseman Ozzie Albies, shortstop Dansby Swanson, and outfield Ronald Acuna. Much of the focus of the 2018 season will be on the development of those guys, as the future of this organization is directly in their hands.
Freeman the chance
Freeman, in particular, has a chance to be brilliant. He put up great numbers in 2016, and was off to a white-hot start in 2017. However, a broken wrist put him on the shelf for a long period of time last season, and he was never quite the same guy. Still, over the course of last year, Freeman put up 28 home runs and 71 RBI, hit 35 doubles, and had 84 runs scored; he also matched his career-high OPS+ of 157 from 2016. The biggest question facing Freeman doesn’t actually relate to him directly. Rather, it’s whether the Braves will be able to put together enough offense around him, so that opposing teams can’t singularly focus on shutting him down.
Acuna to shine
That’s where Acuna would theoretically come in. He had a monster season himself last year, and is primed to make an enormous splash in his official MLB debut. Over the course of last year, Acuna put up a slash line of .325/.374/.522, along with 21 home runs, 82 RBI, 88 runs scored, 31 doubles, and even 44 steals. Those are silly numbers. The question is whether Acuna will start on the team’s opening day roster, or if Atlanta will start him out in the minors to accumulate his service time. However, it’s just a matter of time before Atlanta calls him back up to the bigs, which will be a much-anticipated summoning.
Albies has the chance to be one of the better offensive second basemen in the big leagues, in terms of his ability to make contact with the ball (as opposed to hitting it long distances). He could flirt with a .280+ batting average this year, while driving in upwards of 65 RBI and 90 runs. Keep an eye out for his speed, in particular; he could flirt with 40 stolen bases as well this year. Swanson was considered by many to be a potential Rookie of the Year award candidate last year, but perhaps that pressure got to him, as he finished with a tepid .232/.312/.324 slash line last year.
He’ll show flashes of potential at times, though there are hiccups along the way. Some people wonder whether he maxed out his potential in college,and has reached his development ceiling already (although he’s only 24 years old). However, there’s still the upside for him to have a 20/20 season.
New kids on the block
In general, while the Braves might feel something like “the kids table” of the National League East, these kids are clearly alright.