2017. This is the target date that Braves fans have been hearing for months. This is the year in which Suntrust Park is set to open, and according to the Front Office, the Braves are supposed to start competing for a championship. But what will the roster look like? I already made my prediction at the beginning of the season (can be found here: http://www.sportstalkatl.com/predicting-the-2017-atlanta-braves/). However, John Hart is one of the most aggressive GM’s I’ve seen in a long time, and things have changed. Let’s take look at what I think the roster will look like in 2017:
Summary: I still think Mike Minor is as good as gone for Atlanta, and although I love Williams Perez, he is likely the odd man out from this group and could be moved. The Braves develop pitching best, and I believe our pitching prospects are our biggest investments. Come 2017, I think we will have one of the top rotations in the league. We already have so much young talent in our rotation, and they will develop even more with more experience. Alex Wood was recently traded, and many believe Julio Teheran could be next. Rumors flared up around the trade deadline that Teheran’s relationship with Roger McDowell has faltered and that he was a strong candidate to be moved due to that and his recent struggles. However, Teheran is still just 24 and I think he is simply having growing pains. He has shown flashes of greatness this season, mostly at home, and I’m sticking with the 2014 All-Star. Matt Wisler and Manny Banuelos have been very impressive since getting the call from Gwinnett, and have a bright future in our organization. Tyrell Jenkins is tearing it up in AAA, and he should be in our rotation come 2016. This rotation should be a top unit in the MLB come 2017.
Arodys Vizcaino (closer)
Mike Foltynewicz (set-up)
When I did the first piece, I looked at who we had in the system and said, “Damn, this isn’t going to be easy.” The pieces are now coming into place. Let’s take a look. First and foremost, Arodys Vizcaino is an absolute beast. Since returning from suspension, he has given up just a single earned run in 13 appearances. That’s good for a 0.77 ERA. Not to mention he’s already our closer with the injury to Jason Grilli and the trade of Jim Johnson. Get used to seeing this guy close games. It’s really hard to find a pitcher that’s more fun to watch than Arodys. Speaking of heat, Mike Foltynewicz comes in as our setup man. Yes, Folty is a starter. Yes, the team is continuing to have him start games. At the end of the day, we have a crowded group of starting pitchers, and given Folty’s arsenal I think he has the makeup of a dynamic setup man. I think these two guys can be close to a Kimbrel-Venters-esque tandem at the end of games. Moving on. Some aren’t happy with the trade the Braves made with the Dodgers, but many are overlooking the addition of Paco Rodriguez. He’s currently injured, but he is a great fixture to add to our bullpen. The lefty is everything Luis Avilan wasn’t. Just 24, Rodriguez already has 124 appearances under his belt, in which he has a 2.53 ERA. Lefty batters have hit just .174 against Paco in his young career, and he’s under team control until 2020. He will be here for a while. Shae Simmons is recovering from Tommy John Surgery, but he was very impressive in 2014 in his first MLB stint. He had a 2.91 ERA in 26 appearances and hitters hit just .197 off him. Then you account that Simmons is just 24 and is under team control until 2021. He should be a fixture in our bullpen for years to come. Chris Withrow was acquired alongside Juan Uribe in the first trade we made this season with the Dodgers, and he’s an intriguing bullpen piece as well. Withrow was a first round pick and at one point the top pitching prospect for the Dodgers, but has adapted to a bullpen role. He’s also another Tommy John patient, and is currently recovering. Withrow has a career 2.73 ERA in two seasons out of the Dodgers bullpen, but his peripheral stats are a bit alarming. In 2014, he had a walk rate of 7.6 BB/9. That won’t cut it, but Withrow is a great project for Roger McDowell. He’s under team control until 2020, and the Braves are going to work hard to turn him into a late inning option. Andrew McKirahan is a Rule 5 guy the Braves claimed from the Fish, but he unfortunately received a suspension shortly after the season began. However, when he has been on the field he has been quite effective. In 9 appearances, he has given up just 3 earned runs (2.61 ERA) and walked a single batter. It also never hurts to have another lefty in the ‘pen. Daniel Winkler is another Rule 5 guy the Braves claimed from the Rockies. He is sitting out the season due to injury, so he will be Braves property at the conclusion of the season as he’s sitting on the MLB DL. He’s been a starter in the minors, but many believe he will be utilized as a reliever due to his skill set and the injuries. He was dominant in AA in 2014, and is an intriguing option that many are sleeping on in the Braves organization. The Braves’ bullpen has been highly criticized in 2015, but when you look at the talent on paper they have the potential to be a superb unit in the coming years (if healthy and not suspended).
Braves fans love A.J. Pierzynski, but the 38-year old will be fishing somewhere downing some rally beers in 2017. In my first roster prediction, I had Christian Bethancourt as the starter. I’m not in the group of people that are willing to completely give up on C-Beth, and the organization holds him in high regard. He is an MLB caliber player. With that being said, however, the Braves have been strongly linked to Brewers Catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who is a free agent at the conclusion of the 2017 season. The Braves will be aggressive in their pursuit of the Catcher, and they will have the money to spend. The organization is serious about 2017, and I’m going bold and saying he will be in a Braves uniform in 2017.
There has been a lot of turnover, but one thing is for sure: Freddie Freeman is going nowhere. He is the face of the franchise and that’s not changing anytime soon.
Jeff Baker/Ozhaino Albies
Jace Peterson is the man at second base…for now. He’s having a nice season in his first stint as an every day regular, and has emerged as a great clutch hitter. However, Ozhaino Albies has emerged as a top prospect in our system. The good news for Jace is that Albies is very young and is still in Rome at the moment. The Braves will likely sign a stopgap veteran to back up Jace in 2017, hence the placement of Jeff Baker on the roster. However, Albies will likely be a second half call-up for the club if he progresses the way that Jose Peraza did in our system.
The Braves cited a poor free agent market at the hot corner as a big factor in trading for Hector Olivera, and they’re totally right. The Braves now have their third baseman in Hector. He should step in immediately in late 2015 and offer the lineup another impact bat. Rio Ruiz was a highly touted prospect going into this season that has disappointed, but he’s also really young for AA. My hope is that he can repeat AA with some success and make his way up to the big league club by Opening Day at Suntrust Park.
When the Mets reportedly inquired about acquiring Simba, they claimed that the Braves brass was asking for a king’s ransom in return. Andrelton Simmons is going nowhere.
At the conclusion of the 2015 season, Dan Uggla will be off the books and the financial freedom for the Braves begins. The question is, who will they spend their money on? Alex Gordon has a player option in his contract that he is likely to decline that would make him a free agent this offseason. Gordon is a perfect option for the Braves, as he is a great fit for their small ball approach at the plate. With Gordon in left, the Braves would arguably have the best defensive team in baseball, backed up by a strong rotation. Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer helped Gordon revive his career by helping him with his swing, and I think he and the Braves will have strong mutual interest this offseason. Dustin Peterson was acquired in the Justin Upton deal, and has had a decent year in A+ ball. He has room to grow with his power and has the potential to be a pretty solid MLB bat. I think Braxton Davidson likely has a brighter future with Atlanta, but I don’t think he will be quite ready for the big leagues in 2017.
Cameron Maybin and Mallex Smith could become a really interesting battle in the coming years. The Braves hold a 2017 option on Maybin, and if Smith proves to be superior they can easily decline the option and give Mallex the reigns. While Maybin has cooled down recently, I still don’t think his 2015 surge is an outlier. I think he is a great fit for the hitting approach Kevin Seitzer preaches, and he has a team friendly contract if he can sustain this level of play. Therefore, I see him back with the club. However, Mallex Smith will most certainly be a big leaguer in 2017. He got off to a slow start after being promoted to AAA, but has gradually adjusted.
Markakis is under contract until 2018, and I see him playing out his contract in Atlanta. He is a great veteran leader to set the example for the young team, as well as a perfect player for our small ball approach. Look for him to also gradually regain his power as he fully recovers from offseason neck surgery. Time is the best cure for Nick, but I’ll take the consistent contact bat and good defense for now.
Manager: Terry Pendleton
Hitting Coach: Kevin Seitzer
Pitching Coach: Roger McDowell
The Braves will never win a championship with Fredi Gonzalez at the helm. Period.
This is a solid club from top to bottom. It’s full of team controlled talent with a couple of free agent signings that I find to be pretty realistic. The Braves plan on competing for a championship by the time they move into Suntrust Park, and if this what the roster looks like I think they will have a real shot. What do you think Braves fans?