In an effort to bring our readers more comprehensive sports coverage local and otherwise, we will be providing some spots of Atlanta Braves coverage for the 2019 season, both from our sports staff and from collaborations with others.
Our introductory piece to this coverage comes from Michael Pope. Pope is a UGA grad, a Covington News contributor, a Major League Baseball enthusiast and an Atlanta Braves fan.
The Atlanta Braves surprised many experts with their play as they took the NL East crown last season with a shocking mix of strong pitching and clutch hitting from a very young team.
With us being just a couple of weeks removed from pitchers and catchers reporting, and the Braves' preseason schedule in full spring, it’s time to take a look at what this Braves team could do in 2019.
A young core group that had key veterans mixed throughout led the Braves in both facets of the game, and their roster will resemble something very similar to that notion this year.
On the mound, Mike Foltynewicz, who finished 13-10 with a 2.85 ERA and his first all-star appearance, should take over as the team’s opening day starter and ace; a spot that has slowly slipped away from Julio Teheran, who should be in the rotation, but may have to battle other up-and-coming prospects for his spot.
One thing to watch throughout the duration of the preseason is how Foltynewicz’s sore elbow progresses. Foltynewicz was scratched from Friday’s start against Toronto because of it, but as of now it doesn’t seem like anything serious.
Kevin Gausman, who the Braves acquired before the trade deadline last season, had a stellar year as a Brave, finishing with a 2.87 ERA during his time in Atlanta. He should have a secure spot in the rotation. Also Sean Newcomb, who had an up-and-down season in his first full year in the majors, should be safe in the rotation as well.
Although the Braves have a lot of potential players that could fill that fifth spot of the rotation, Mike Soroka and Touki Toussaint are the names that I like to compete for the final spot. It’s hard to choose just one, but I’ll give the slight edge to Toussaint for the time being.
Due to the Braves’ deep farm system, they are filled with young, talented arms that could break into the rotation. A few other names to watch for are Ian Anderson, Kolby Allard, Max Fried and Bryse Wilson.
Coming out of the pen
The Braves bullpen will be a mishmash of talented players, but it will be interesting to see who makes the cut out of spring training. As of right now, the Braves bullpen is very young, but the seven names I like to be in there are Dan Winkler, Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter, Jonny Venters, Shane Carle, Jesse Biddle, and Max Fried.
The battle between Vizcaino and Minter should be a fun one to watch for the closing spot as both have shown promise in the role. However, having a power throwing righty and lefty that can shutdown games will definitely pay off throughout the season.
Also, because of the versatility on the Braves’ bench, I would not be surprised to see an eighth reliever make the roster. I would have to go with Chad Sobotka, if that ended up being the case, as he put up solid work in his short time last season.
The Braves Bombers?
The Braves starting lineup is a little more concrete than the starting rotation with pretty much every starter set in stone. The two big additions of the offseason are definitely third baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Brian McCann.
Josh Donaldson struggled with injuries last season and only managed to play in 52 games, in which he batted .246 with only eight home runs. However, previous to that he had hit 30 home runs in each of the last three seasons and batted .270 or better.
I believe the move to sign Donaldson was an excellent one by the Braves as he gives them a huge power boost if he can bounce back to his 2014-2017 form. The one-year deal that the Braves signed him to also provides them with the perfect stopgap until third base prospect Austin Riley is ready to take over at the hot corner.
As for the rest of the team, it should look very similar to last season’s bunch that was led by the likes of second baseman Ozzie Albies, left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and first baseman Freddie Freeman. All three of these guys have MVP potential, and if shortstop Dansby Swanson can take a step forward, he too could put on the same-type of caliber of play.
As the reigning NL rookie of the year, Acuna Jr. will be the one that everyone has their eyes on. He batted .293 in his introductory year to the Majors, led the Braves with 26 home runs and finished fourth on the team in runs scored, despite only starting 107 out of 162 games.
If Acuna Jr. builds on last year’s success, he will quickly move on from his Rookie of the Year honors to battling for the NL MVP in just his sophomore season.
The young core of this Braves lineup has a few veteran pieces that help add some seasoned leadership to the group. The rotation of catchers Tyler Flowers and the return of Brian McCann, who was an original member of the “Baby Braves,” bring some leadership behind the plate. They will try to match the output that Flowers and new Washington National Kurt Suzuki displayed last season for the Braves.
Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis round out the starting group and give the Braves two Gold Glovers in center and right field. After winning the silver slugger and batting .297 last season, Markakis returned to the Braves on a one-year, six million dollar deal that is a huge bargain for the team.
The defensive prowess of Inciarte is among the top fielding outfielders in baseball and he was not too shabby with the bat last season as he closed out his year batting .265 with 10 homers and 28 stolen bases.
This Braves team is very well rounded with their starting lineup and should put up even better offensive numbers if Donaldson can have a resurgent season.
Solid Extra Support
The Braves also have a solid bench as they should have Adam Duvall, Charlie Culberson, Johan Camargo, and either Flowers or McCann. Culberson and Camargo are both excellent bench options since they can play almost every position.
Although Duvall failed to register a home run during his time with Atlanta last season, he was a 30-home run guy in his first two full seasons in the majors. Year three of his career may not have went as planned, but Duvall is definitely a power threat coming off the bench.
The Braves should compete for the NL East crown yet again as their talented roster only got more experience and powerful in the offseason. The sky is the limit for this team in what is one of baseball’s tougher divisions. They will contend with the Phillies, Nationals and Mets, and I believe they should be strong enough to break into the postseason yet again, either as division champs or as a wild card team.
Projected Starting Lineup
- 2B Ozzie Albies
- LF Ronald Acuna Jr.
- 1B Freddie Freeman
- 3B Josh Donaldson
- RF Nick Markakis
- C Tyler Flowers
- CF Ender Inciarte
- SS Dansby Swnason
- OF/1B Adam Duvall
- U Johan Camargo
- U Charlie Culberson
- C Brian McCann
Projected Starting Rotation
- RHP Mike Foltynewicz
- RHP Kevin Gausman
- RHP Julio Teheran
- LHP Sean Newcomb
- RHP Touki Toussaint
- RHP Arodys Vizcaino (CL)
- LHP A.J. Minter
- LHP Jonny Venters
- RHP Shane Carle
- LHP Jesse Biddle
- LHP Max Fried
- RHP Dan Winkler
- RHP Chad Sobotka