The rebuild continues. A lot of new faces will be in a Braves uniform this upcoming season, much like last year. A pessimist will say that the team will be much worse off considering that we lost the likes of Shelby Miller and Andrelton Simmons to trades. However, if you look at our roster top to bottom, if we stay healthy, we will be a competitive ball club. Not a playoff team, but better than last year. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look:
This is the hardest position to pick and choose from because we have a lot of guys competing for five spots. Right out of the gate, these names include Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, Manny Banuelos, Jhoulys Chacin, Mike Foltynewicz, Casey Kelly, Williams Perez, Matt Wisler, Ryan Weber. Obviously, Julio Teheran will anchor this rotation and is guaranteed a spot. I expect a bounce-back year from the gifted young starting pitcher. As far as the veterans go, I think the Braves end up choosing one of Bud Norris or Jhoulys Chacin to be their veteran starter. I expect spring training to serve as a tryout for the two, similar to the Eric Stults-Wandy Rodriguez saga last year. Ultimately, if he’s healthy I think Chacin will earn a rotation spot and Norris will be dealt before the season begins. Chacin is younger, more talented and cheaper. Some team will get desperate and take Norris off our hands. You can go ahead and cross Ryan Weber off the list as well. Matt Wisler showed a lot of promise last season, and he should be all but guaranteed a rotation spot. I think he has the most room for improvement in 2016. Arm issues and innings limits have many thinking Manny Banuelos could shift to the bullpen, but I expect the team to at least try to get him to start in 2016, especially since we need a southpaw in the rotation. I love his potential as well. This leaves Mike Foltynewicz, Williams Perez and Casey Kelly competing for a fifth spot. I think the Braves probably let the minor league staff work with Kelly. The team just traded for Folty, and though Perez pitched better than him last year, it’s clear that Folty has the better “stuff”. The team will likely plug him into the rotation to see whether he can finally find some consistency in the big leagues. I expect Perez to be thrown in a trade at some point this offseason.
Ah, the dreaded bullpen. This will be by far the most improved unit on the major league team this year. Though they were bottom tier last season, they have the potential to be a top five unit. Due to seniority, the team is likely to plug Jason Grilli back into the closer role with Arodys Vizcaino serving as the setup man. Vizcaino was unbelievable last season, and these two will combine for a dynamic late-inning duo. Jim Johnson will likely play a huge role as well, and it’s clear that Roger McDowell was a huge factor in his success in Atlanta. Shae Simmons and Chris Withrow are both guys who are young, talented, and coming off of injuries. Both have had success in the big leagues and will provide a huge boost to our bullpen. Andrew McKirahan and Matt Marksberry will hopefully both be shown the door. But who will be our lefty? The team acquired Ian Krol in the Cameron Maybin deal and Evan Rutckyj in the Rule 5 Draft. Krol is nothing to write home about, and I don’t think he makes the roster. Unless the team signs a veteran southpaw like Matt Thornton, I think Evan Rutckyj gets the first crack at a bullpen spot since he would have to be returned to the Yankees if he isn’t on the roster. That leaves Danny Burawa, Jose Ramirez, and Daniel Winkler left to compete for the final spot. We will likely see all three at some point next season, but Winkler gets the nod from me.
Christian Bethancourt never panned out, and the Braves still have question marks long-term at the catcher position. However, we are set for 2016. A.J. Pierzynski played a huge role on the 2015 rebuilding Braves, but the fact of the matter is that he is 38 years old. The team brought in Tyler Flowers, who is a former Braves farmhand. He is an elite pitch framer, and has held his own the past couple seasons with the stick after a slow start offensively. My expectation is that AJ catches 2 out of 3 games per series.
No, I do not expect our star first baseman to be traded. With a healthy wrist, expect Freeman to regain his form.
Jace Peterson gets the starting nod, and the team will hope he can build on his first full season at a pro. I still think he has the potential to be a solid second baseman in this league. Emilio Bonifacio will likely play some second as well, and Gordon Beckham could enter the mix.
The team will likely platoon Beckham and Garcia or go with the hot hand in the early going. I think we probably end up seeing Hector Olivera shifted back to third when Malelx Smith is ready to go. Probably the weakest position on the team to start the season.
A lot of fans are upset about Simmons being trade, but guess what Braves Country? He can’t hit a damn baseball. Aybar provides an offensive boost at shortstop and he’s no defensive slouch either, as he has a Gold Glove in his trophy case. Daniel Castro goes back to the minors for now, but he’ll be back. Bonifacio can play a little short.
Olivera starts in left, at least to start the year. Give the guy a break Braves fans, you haven’t even given him a shot yet! I expect 20+ homers from Hector. Unless we end up trading Markakis or Inciarte at some point, I think he goes back to third when Mallex Smith is MLB ready at some point this year. I don’t think the Braves can fool anyone into taking on Nick Swisher’s deal.
Ender Inciarte will undoubtedly be plugged in as the starting centerfielder given his elite defense, barring a trade. Michael Bourn will likely serve as the primary backup for all three outfield positions.
Markakis remains the starter in right, and I expect a better campaign from him after he has ahd a full season to recover from neck surgery. Expect Markakis to be much more productive, and likely emerge as the top trade candidate for the Braves near the deadline.