The story of the 2018 Atlanta Braves: 2017 Season and Offseason Review
The rebuilding Braves went 72–90 in 2017 finishing third in the dreadful NL East. This was the third consecutive season in which the Braves lost 90 games and it felt as if some of the promising rebuild did not progress as planned. Rookie shortstop and overall number one pick in the 2015 draft Dansby Swanson didn’t live up to the hype and ended up being sent down to Triple A with the Gwinnett Braves. Julio Teheran didn’t grow into a true ace and instead took a step back posting a back of the rotation type ERA of 4.49. Exciting and promising flamethrower Mike Foltynewicz didn’t turn into a top of the rotation starter as he had a roller coaster of a season with a disappointing 4.79 ERA. The slew of young arms on Braves’ farm made steady progress with Max Fried, Luiz Gohara, Sean Newcomb, AJ Minter and Lucas Sims all making their MLB debuts. However none of them really lived up to the hype just yet.
There were a few highlights namely the rapid rise of Luiz Gohara who went all the way from High-A ball to the Majors in 2017. Highly touted prospect second baseman Ozzie Albies finally made it to the majors and he did not disappoint batting .286/.354/.456 in 244 plate appearances. He also showed off his speed stealing eight bags and surprised with some pop hitting six homers. Ender Inciarte was an All Star and produced a 200 hit season. Solid as a rock. Lastly, third baseman Johan Camargo emerged out of nowhere to have a very good season with a .299/.331/.452 batting line.
Russell Carleton summed the Braves up best in the Annual 2018 Baseball Prospectus when he wrote “A young team is like a bag of popcorn. You set the timer for two minutes and spend most of the first minute just watching the bag spin in a circle, not doing anything. But you know at some point, one of those kernels is going to pop, and that pop is the harbinger of a popping bonanza. But sometimes you get a dud bag. As the clock ticks past the 45-second mark without a pop, you start to worry.” This was the 2017 Atlanta Braves and I’m starting to worry.
The Braves offseason started with a bombshell as GM John Coppollela resigned after rumors that he broke some rules signing International Free Agents. Subsequent punishment included 13 of the Braves’ prospects signed from the International Free Agent Market being declared free agents. John Coppollela got a lifetime ban from MLB.
In mid-November the Braves appointed Alex Anthopoulus, formerly with the Blue Jays and the Dodgers, to be the new GM and Executive VP.
Anthopoulus got straight to work and the Braves made the following additions to their roster:
• Claimed LHP Grant Dayton off of waivers from the LA Dodgers
• Traded for RHP Josh Ravin from the LA Dodgers for cash
• Veteran RHP Jim Johnson was traded to the LA Angels for a minor league lefty Justin Kelly
• First baseman Matt Adams and second baseman Jace Peterson were non-tendered
• RHP Chase Whitley was claimed off of waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays
• RHP Anyelo Gomez was selected from the New York Yankees in the Rule Five draft
• Matt Kemp was traded to the LA Dodgers for 1B Adrian Gonzalez, LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Brandon McCarthy and SS/INF Charlie Culberson. Gonzalez was then designated for assignment and released. The Mets snapped him up
• RF Preston Tucker was traded from the Houston Astros for a player to be named later
• 3B Adonis Garcia was released as he left to go play ball in Korea
• 40 year old and fan favorite RHP Peter Moylan was signed to a one year deal
The Braves didn’t have a electrifying offseason by any means. However they added some depth in the bullpen and two veteran starters in McCarthy and Kazmir to protect over exposing any of their talented young arms. One area I thought the Braves would strengthen is at 3B, particularly as Mike Moustakas who hit 38 home runs last season was available on the free agent market. However they seem content with Johan Camargo at 3B as they wait for prospect Austin Riley to develop in the minors over the next couple of years.
Entering Spring Training
Despite the 90 loss season, the 2018 Braves have come into Spring Training with a lot of excitement as their packed farm system has matured another year and some are putting up their hands for spots on the Opening Day roster. However, there are also a lot of question marks, most notably around the pitching. How many innings can the Braves expect from the new veterans and injury prone McCarthy and Kazmir? Can Teheran and Foltynewicz bounce back? Which of the prospects will finally live up to their potential?
Entering Spring Training there are a couple of rotation spots up for grabs, including two to three spots in the bullpen. Teheran, Folty and McCarthy are starting rotation locks with Sean Newcomb and Luiz Gohara favorites for the remaining two spots. However, they will have plenty of competition from the youngsters Max Fried and Lucas Sims, veteran Scott Kazmir, and Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler.
The bullpen locks are closer Arodys Vizcaino, AJ Minter, Sam Freeman, Jose Ramirez and Dan Winkler. The competition for the last two to three spots will include Chase Whitley, Jacob Lindgren, Rex Brothers, Josh Ravin and some of the starters who don’t make the rotation.
The position players appear more settled. The main question here is whether the top prospect in baseball, 20 year old outfielder Ronald Acuna will make the Opening Day roster or not. There’s no doubt he will play in the majors this season. It’s just a question of when not if. My guess is that the Braves will start him in the minors for a few weeks purely to get another year of control out of him. Quite frankly its worth it. The same thing happened to Kris Bryant with the Cubs a few years ago. Either way, big things are expected of Acuna when he does arrive in the majors. As every season there will also be a few guys competing for bench spots.
The Braves are ready to start Spring Training games today. Let’s see if any of the unanswered questions around the 2018 Braves can be answered during Spring Training.