Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 Pre-Season Profile: Atlanta Braves


The Atlanta Braves continue to design the blueprint for how to rebuild a franchise.  Will their youth movement open up their new ballpark with a successful 2017 season?

My 2016 Predictions
4th in NL East
The Atlanta Braves will lead the league this year in big league debuts.

2016 Results
68-93, 5th in NL East
The 2016 was an interesting one for the Atlanta Braves.  Their youth movement started off horribly as they were easily the worst team in the league the first half of the season, leading to the firing of manager Fredi Gonzalez 37 games in.  However, the end of the year started to see a turnaround as they were one of the hottest teams in the league in September.  They may have had one more win too, but they were the opponent in the cancelled game following the death of Marlins' star Jose Fernandez.

Additions / Subtractions
The Braves were one of the most active teams this offseason.  Their approach seemed to be to surround their youngsters with solid veterans that will help make them successful.  This led to acquiring guys like Bartolo Colon, RA Dickey, Kurt Suzuki, and Brandon Phillips.  Add to that Matt Kemp, who was acquired mid-season last year, and you have a really good balance between rising stars and proven veterans moving forward.  Possibly the two most significant additions this offseason have nothing to do with the lineup.  Brian Snitker, a lifetime Brave, had the interim tag removed as th team's manager in 2017.  However, the biggest change for the team is the opening of their brand new ballpark, replacing the Olympic-Stadium-turned-baseball-park Turner Field.  The opening of a new stadium always brings some heightened excitement to any season.

Most Important Hitter
Adonis Garcia
The Braves are a roster filled with either kids trying to prove themselves or veterans helping fill in the holes.  Then there is Adonis Garcia, who doesn't really fit either category.  At 32 years old, this Cuban defector is only entering his third season in the big leagues.  He is still figuring out how to hit in the league, but he is too old to be considered one of the young guys.  This season could be a make-or-break year for Garcia.  If he has a successful season, then he will be considered part of the new young core moving forward.  If he struggles, he could easily be considered one of the expendable veterans that could be dropped or traded at any point for the next phenom to take over.

Most Important Pitcher
Jaime Garcia
Amidst all the old guys picked up over the offseason, the move to get Jaime Garcia (no relation to Adonis) could easily slide under the radar.  However, this is the kind of "low-risk-high-reward" moves that could really pay off for the Braves.  It wasn't long ago that Jaime Garcia was considered one of the better young pitchers in the game.  However, a few injuries in recent years have derailed a once promising career.  Now the 30 year old lefty is looking to resurrect his career in Atlanta.  If he can recapture some of his glory from St. Louis, he could really solidify a fascinating starting rotation.

Player to Watch
Ozzie Albies
Everyone knows about Rookie of the Year favorite Dansby Swanson.  However, one of the guys to watch for this season is Ozzie Albies.  Overshadowed by Swanson, Albies is still a top 10 prospect in all of baseball.  Because of Swanson, this 20 year old has been transitioning from shortstop to second base.  With Brandon Phillips now starting at second, it allows the Braves to have some patience with Albies, but it also gives him a mentor.  In his prime, nobody did it better than Phillips.  Watch for Albies to be brought along slowly, but once he hits Atlanta, enjoy what will become one of the best young double play combos in the league.

2017 Prediction
3rd in NL East
It sounds like a bit of a stretch, but this team has so much going for it moving into 2017.  They have a young core that ended 2016 with a lot of positive momentum.  They brought in a lot of veteran talent that can stabilize the roster and bring some consistency.  They also have the buzz surrounding the opening of SunTrust Park, which often inspires teams to overachieve.  The Braves are still several years away from truly competing, but they are going to make some great strides in the right direction this season and really surprise a lot of people.

Fearless Prediction
The Atlanta Braves will be over .500 at the All Star Break.
What will lead to a strong season for the Braves is a fast start.  Look for them to be one of the hottest teams in baseball at the start of the season.  Eventually they will cool off as the veterans slow down or get traded and the team hands some spots over to kids like Ozzie Albies.  However, the fast start will have them as the talk of the league for a good portion of the early summer.

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