Guys like Max Fried, Michael Harris II, and Marcell Ozuna weren’t even mention. However, all of those guys were included in David Schoenfield of ESPN’s top 40 impact player rankings of the playoffs, which heavily favored the Atlanta Braves.
Schoenfield’s #1 impact player for October was none other than the soon-to-be NL MVP Ronald Acuna Jr.
1. Ronald Acuna Jr., RF, Braves
Strength: Acuna had the greatest power/speed season in MLB history, becoming the founding member of the 40/70 club with 41 home runs and 73 stolen bases. The key to his likely MVP season: He became one of the toughest hitters in the majors to strike out, and not only hit over .300 for the first time in his career but hit .337. He had career-best numbers against fastballs, cutting way down on his swing-and-miss rate. You used to be able to beat him with velocity up, but not nearly as much in 2023.
The next highest Braves player ranked was Max Fried, who Will Leitch of MLB.com didn’t even mention, which is wild considering he might be the best pitcher in the entire postseason.
3. Max Fried, LHP, Braves
Strength: Fried is 43-15 with a 2.66 ERA over the past four seasons and closed out the clinching game of the 2021 World Series with six scoreless innings. He has been as consistent as any starter in the game, although he did miss three months because of a forearm strain and then had a blister issue in September. He has a five-pitch repertoire, including one of the best curveballs in the sport (he has allowed one home run off his curveball the past three seasons, and that came in 2021). He keeps the ball on the ground and doesn’t beat himself with walks. He’s a legit ace.
Schoenfield’s rankings were a little different than Leicht’s. He wasn’t just ranking the top 50 players. He was looking at it from the perspective of which guys will have the biggest impact on the postseason.
When you look at it that way, it’s a bit more understandable why so many Braves were ranked highly. They are the prohibitive favorites to win the World Series and are poised for a deep run. However, there are some concerns when talking about this pitching staff. Arms like Bryce Elder are going to have to step up. The lineup, however, is littered with players who could change the course of a series with one hot streak.
One name not mentioned is Eddie Rosario. He may be on the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to the Braves historically talented lineup, but we’ve already seen him lead the Braves to a World Series title with his bat. Don’t be surprised if he has some playoff-altering moments with the stick once again in 2023.
Photo: Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire