The Atlanta Braves Will Be Better Than You Think in 2017
The Braves currently have one of the best farm systems in all of the bigs, with many starting pitchers on their top 10 prospect list. But that’s not it. Led by top prospect and number one overall pick in the 2015 draft Dansby Swanson, the future is looking bright for Atlanta. Based on how they finished the 2016 season — winning 20 of their last 30 games, there is nothing but optimism in the Braves front office.
The starting rotation
Atlanta acquired knuckleballer R.A. Dickey from the Toronto Blue Jays in the offseason. As we know, knuckleballers are a wild card. It’s never a guarantee on how they will do when they rely on such an obscure pitch. The air is different down in Georgia compared to Toronto, and Dickey endured a lot of success last time he was in the National league with the Mets — where he won the Cy Young award in 2012. I believe Dickey will hover around the 4.00 area with his ERA this season, and will have a lot more success in Atlanta then he did last year in Toronto. At this point, he’s projected to be in the starting rotation, and if he stays consistent with the knuckleball and shows the ability to command the pitch, he will be able to win some games for the Braves.
Jaime Garcia also came over to the Braves in the offseason from the Cardinals. Last year wasn’t his best, registering a 4.67 ERA in 171 innings pitched. 2015 was his best season to date, with a 2.43 ERA. Garcia isn’t overpowering. His fastball sits around 90 miles per hour, but the lefty gets a lot of movement on all three of his pitches. He has a very good changeup with some quality movement when he keeps it down in the zone, along with a good looking curveball and slider. Garcia should eat up some innings for Atlanta at the middle to back end of the rotation.
Julio Teheran is the ace of the staff. With a fastball that reaches the mid 90’s with a ton of movement, the Colombia native compiled a 3.21 ERA last season. His record didn’t reflect the ERA, as he was 7-10 on the season. Teheran will be the go-to guy on opening day, but the Braves are still waiting for him to reach his full potential — Cy Young potential.
Mike Foltynewicz has shown bright spots at times in his major league career. At this point, it’s expected that he’ll most likely be the fifth starter in the Braves rotation. Consistency is key for the hard throwing 25 year-old. He finished his second major league season with a 4.31 ERA and a better walk rate (2.55) than he posted at any stop in the minors. He struck out 111 batters in 123 1/3 innings, and with more consistency, those numbers could see dramatic improvement.
Then there is the name that everyone is talking about: Bartolo Colon. Many were surprised the Braves even signed the 43 year-old. But personally, I believe he will be an asset to the Braves. We all know he doesn’t throw 95 anymore. But the guy knows how to pitch. He has amazing command, and great movement on his fastball, even though it only comes in around 88 miles per hour these days. The only thing that could become a problem at times is the fact that he primarily relies on the four seam and two seam fastballs, with an occasional changeup mixed in. But he’s known for an innate ability to hit his spots, so I think he will do just fine in Atlanta.
Like I said earlier, Atlanta also has some quality arms in the farm system. Atlanta is sitting in a very comfortable place for the future on the mound.
The Braves will look to rely on Tyler Flowers behind the dish in 2017. But Flowers has struggled to stay healthy throughout his big league career, so Atlanta went out and signed veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki as a quality backup who brings lots of experience. Between the two, it should be a solid combination behind the platem that should be able to produce offensively as well, given they stay healthy.
Adonis Garcia started 123 games at third base last season, committing 18 errors. He must cut that number down in 2017 if he wants to keep his starting spot. The 31 year-old Cuban brings a solid bat. Garcia went yard 14 times in 2016, and hit .274. Expect a lot of the same in his third season in the big leagues.
Shortstop is the real strength of Atlanta: Dansby Swanson. The future of this franchise is up the middle. Swanson only registered 129 at bats in the big leagues last season, but succeeded, hitting .302 and playing flawless defense at short. But get this. When he came up in mid-August, the Braves went on a fantastic run, winning 20 of their last 30 games. Swanson can flat out play. He possesses all the tools, and as he grows and gets stronger, the 23 year-old will be one of the best players in the majors. He’s already one of the building blocks of the Braves franchise.
Newly acquired all-star second basemen Brandon Phillips will be Swanson’s anchor up the middle. We all know what Phillips is about. A wizard with the glove who brings a bright energy to the field, as well as loads of experience. And he’s finally coming back to the state he grew up in — Georgia. Phillips hit .291 last season, hitting 11 homers in the process. The Braves also have exciting second base prospect Ozzie Albies, who has been invited to big league Spring Training at the tender age of 20, but is currently hurt. He’s lit up the minor leagues, and Atlanta could have brought Phillips in to be a mentor to Albies, as he will probably get the call to the big leagues at some point in 2017.
First base will be held down by Freddie Freeman. A big power-hitting left-handed hitter, Freeman provides a solid glove and bat at first. Freeman had a gigantic season in 2016 for the Braves, hitting .302 with 34 bombs. Expect a lot of the same from the 27 year-old this season.
The outfield is quite impressive. Experience in Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis, then a lot of talent and hustle in Ender Inciarte. Both Kemp and Markakis are getting older, but they both play solid defense at the corner positions. In my opinion, Inciarte is best in center field, especially with speed to run down balls in the alleys. 2016 saw Kemp crush 35 homers, a number that brought back familiarity to Dodgers fans, when Kemp used to hit 30 plus homers for consecutive seasons in the Dodger blue. Markakis brings a solid bat with some pop. He’s more of a guy who gets on base and keeps it simple at the plate. Same with Inciarte. All you really need in a lineup is two to three guys who can hit 30 plus homers, and the Braves have that in Freeman and Kemp. Get on base, drive guys around, and produce runs.
2017 will be better than 2016
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say the Atlanta Braves are going to win the World Series. But they have a solid starting lineup with a combination of seasoned veterans and young talent. That combination usually turns out well. Along with the prospects they have in their pocket for the next few years, Braves fans should be nothing but optimistic for the future. A boatload of talented arms wait in the minors, and there’s more than enough that will succeed after time at the major league level.
If the major league arms and starting lineup live up to expectations, I wouldn’t be the least surprised if the Braves happen to snag a wild card spot in 2017.