Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter has been doing a series ranking the individual players of each position, and the Braves have received some good marks so far.
Catcher: #4 Sean Murphy
Murphy gets the nod over d’Arnaud, and interestingly enough, Shea Langeliers clocked in at 16 and William Contreras landed at 11th on the list.
Sean Murphy was one of the few bright spots on the Oakland Athletics roster last season, hitting .250/.332/.426 for a 120 OPS+ with 37 doubles, 18 home runs, 66 RBI and 3.5-WAR in 148 games.
The perpetually rebuilding Athletics took that opportunity to sell high this offseason, flipping him to the Atlanta Braves in a three-team deal that saw 2022 All-Star William Contreras and top pitching prospect Kyle Muller among the players sent the other way by Atlanta.
Aside from his stellar offensive production, Murphy also has a cannon arm and won AL Gold Glove honors in 2021, making him one of the most well-rounded catchers on this list. The Braves inked him to a six-year, $73 million extension shortly after he was acquired.
Sean Murphy could really give an already very talented Braves pitching staff a boost, especially with the new rules. The limited number of pickoff attempts and bigger bases will encourage base-stealers to take off. Having a guy like Murphy behind the plate will force them to think twice.
First Base: #5 Matt Olson
I think this is a fair ranking for Olson right now, but I think he’s going to climb much higher before the season ends.
The Atlanta Braves moved quickly once it became clear they were not going to come to terms with Freddie Freeman last offseason, swinging a blockbuster deal to acquire Matt Olson from the Oakland Athletics and then quickly signing him to an eight-year, $168 million extension.
The 28-year-old wasted no time getting acclimated to life with his new team, posting a 122 OPS+ with 44 doubles, 34 home runs and 103 RBI in a 3.4 WAR season while playing in all 162 games.
Given Olson’s durability, the Braves do not have a clear replacement if he were to miss significant time. They could shift Austin Riley to first base and use Orlando Arcia at third base, or they could give catcher Travis d’Arnaud a look at first base as a way to get his bat into the lineup.
With the shift banned, I think Olson is going to put up an MVP-caliber season — I’m really excited to watch him in 2023. Old friend Freddie Freeman was ranked first on this list ahead of Paul Goldschmidt, Vladdy, and Pete Alonso to round out the top five.
Second Base: #5 Ozzie Albies
It’s nice to see Ozzie get some respect. Injuries cost him most of last season, but he’s still one of the top second baseman in the game when healthy.
Between surgery to repair a fractured foot and a fractured pinky finger, Ozzie Albies played just 64 games in 2022, and his return to the lineup could have a bigger impact than any outside additions the Atlanta Braves made this offseason.
The 26-year-old is a two-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger winner, and he had a huge offensive season in 2021 when he posted a 108 OPS+ with 40 doubles, 30 home runs, 106 RBI and 20 steals to finish 13th in NL MVP voting.
He could easily be the best second baseman in the National League once again this year, and the Braves have him under contract for the team-friendly sum of just $35 million for the next five years.
Albies ranks behind Marcus Semien, Jose Altuve, Jeff McNeil, and Andres Giminez.
Shortstop: #21 Vaughn Grissom
Well, this is awkward.
The Atlanta Braves turned to Vaughn Grissom in the midst of a breakout season in the minors last year to fill a void at second base after Ozzie Albies went down with an injury, and the young middle infielder made an immediate impact.
The 22-year-old hit .420/.463/.660 with three doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI in his first 14 games in the majors, and while his production eventually leveled off, he still finished with a 121 OPS+ and 0.9 WAR in 41 games.
The Braves let longtime shortstop Dansby Swanson walk in free agency, which clears a path for Grissom to take over at his natural position. If he ends up needing more time to develop defensively, Orlando Arcia is an experienced backup option.
I don’t think Grissom will be in AAA for long, and when he’s back up, I think he’ll climb these rankings pretty quickly. But for right now, Orlando Arcia is the Braves starting shortstop, and he leaves a lot to be desired.
Third Base: #5 Austin Riley
Riley is with some good company in these rankings:
Austin Riley was one of the biggest breakout stars of the 2021 season, hitting .303/.367/.531 with 33 doubles, 33 home runs, 107 RBI and 6.1 WAR to finish seventh in NL MVP voting and win Silver Slugger honors.
The 25-year-old proved that production was the real deal last year when he followed up his breakout performance with a 142 OPS+, 38 home runs and 6.5 WAR in 159 games, and the Braves rewarded him with a 10-year, $212 million extension.
He has also developed into a solid defensive third baseman after struggling in the field during the 2020 season, and he has 19 DRS at the hot corner over the last two years, albeit with limited range.
Riley is behind Arenado, Machado, Ramirez, and Devers — which I think is more than fair. Hopefully, he can make another MVP push in 2023.
Photographer: Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire
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