The time is finally arriving. Three days from now, pitchers and catchers will report for the beginning of spring training with a month and a half to go before opening day. For fans, it’s felt like an eternity – especially after this excruciatingly quiet offseason – not only for the Braves but the entire league in general.
Atlanta made one significant addition in the form of former AL MVP Josh Donaldson. They also added Brian McCann to complete their catcher’s platoon that includes Tyler Flowers. His veteran experience and leadership should be a welcomed addition to the clubhouse.
Aside from those transactions – as things currently stand – the team should not look a whole lot different than it did a year ago. Which means there are still several areas for concern. Here are the biggest question marks as the Braves begin to embark on what we hope to be another magical season.
How will the Braves incorporate Johan Camargo?
By adding Josh Donaldson to the mix, the Braves plan on using Johan Camargo as a super-utility player that can play anywhere on the infield and even some outfield at times. But outside of Dansby Swanson, there aren’t many players the Braves are going to want to sit very often.
In the second half of last season, Camargo slashed .295/.353/.491 with a .844 OPS. For the year, he put up a WAR of 3.7. His newfound power that allowed him to hit 19 homers and 27 doubles in 134 games was a pleasant surprise. It’s as simple as this: if Camargo continues to progress – there is no way the Braves can keep him off the field.
Maybe Nick Markakis or Ender Inciarte can use a few extra nights off. That would be contingent on Camargo being able to make the transition to the outfield. However, I’m not sold on Dansby Swanson as the full-time starter. Swanson is an elite defender at the shortstop position, but Camargo is no slouch with his glove either. In fact, that’s what Camargo was known for before he got to the majors. And Swanson’s offensive productivity is a cause for concern.
It will be entertaining to see how it plays out, particularly if Swanson rebounds and has a better year at the plate.
Which Josh Donaldson are the Braves getting?
People acting like the Josh Donaldson signing isn’t a fantastic deal must have been born in 2017 or later because Donaldson has been one of the best players in baseball since 2013. The 33-year old is coming off an injury-marred campaign that saw him play in just 52 games. But he did return at the end of the season for the Indians and looked like the same player, slashing .280/.400/.520 in 16 games.
I understand the complaints about the lack of money the Braves have spent this offseason. They are legitimate. That said, Josh Donaldson is going to have a gigantic impact on this Atlanta lineup that was already really productive a year ago. Stick him in between Freeman and Acuña, and you might have the scariest three-man stretch of any team in baseball.
What will the lineup look like?
That brings us to our next question. When Donaldson was signed, rumors were that the Braves planned on having Acuña, Donaldson and Freeman 1,2, and 3 in the order, respectively. That may still be the case, but things have probably changed due to the Braves inability to acquire another power bat they can put behind Freeman.
No offense to Markakis, but he is nowhere near a cleanup hitter. Atlanta needs to find some protection for Freeman in the order, which has been a rarity for him over his career. If no additional moves are made before the beginning of the season, expect to see either Acuña or Donaldson hitting behind Freeman in the cleanup spot.
Who will occupy the fifth rotation spot?
The Braves have a clear-cut top three at the moment in the form of Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb and Kevin Gausman. Julio Teheran should fit in at the fourth spot provided he is not traded. But who will occupy the fifth spot? That will be a competition worth keeping a close eye on throughout spring training.
Mike Soroka is the most obvious candidate, but rumors are that the Braves want to take it slow with him after his shoulder issues a year ago. Touki Toussaint, Max Fried and Luiz Gohara are the three other names to watch, and players like Bryse Wilson, Kolby Allard, and Kyle Wright have an outside shot.
Can Austin Riley play outfield?
The Braves will test Austin Riley in the outfield during spring training along with Johan Camargo. Riley may need some more at-bats in AAA before he is major league ready, so having Donaldson around on a one-year contract is ideal. But if Riley is prepared at some point in 2019, which there is a good chance he is, putting him in the outfield would give the Braves lineup that much more pop. It would also allow the Braves to consider re-signing Donaldson at season’s end if things go as planned.
How will the Braves bullpen look?
It’s a bit shocking the Braves have opted not to add any arms to the bullpen thus far in free agency. That could change, and probably will. But either way, there will be some new faces that will help improve this group in 2019.
The Braves will get Grant Dayton and Darren O’Day back from injury. Both could wind up being late-inning options if they can stay healthy. They also will be infused with youth by the young guns who do not make it in the starting rotation immediately. Touki Toussaint, Max Fried and Mike Soroka could all make fantastic relief options on Opening Day.
However, this was an ultra-shaky bullpen last year and will be the subject of discussion often as we approach the regular season