The depth of the Braves roster may leave much to be desired, but there’s a reason why most projective models have them finishing with the best record in the National League. As far as top-end talent, very few teams are even in the same stratosphere.
This continues my series of bold predictions for the Braves 2023 season. If you missed any of the previous editions of this series, follow the links below.
Braves finish 2023 with four players in the MVP race
By my count, the Braves have four players that could win the NL MVP in 2023 — Austin Riley, Matt Olson, Ronald Acuña Jr, and Michael Harris II. Ozzie Albies could also be considered a dark horse candidate. He could easily find himself in the top 10 of the MVP race at season’s end; although, it would be shocking if he ended up winning the award. I’m predicting four Braves end up finishing within the top 10 of the NL MVP race, even if none of them end up #1.
Austin Riley has established himself as a perennial MVP candidate, finishing inside the top seven of the NL MVP race in each of the last two seasons. When he’s hot, I’m not sure there’s a better third baseman in all of baseball. He had the most home runs of any player at the position last year and owns a combined .887 OPS over the last two seasons. Because of his below average defense, he’ll have to do a little more at the plate in 2023 to win the NL MVP, but he’ll be in the conversation as long as he stays healthy.
Matt Olson could also be considered a dark horse candidate. He didn’t have his best season in his first year as a Brave, but he finished 8th in the AL MVP race in 2021, and there are plenty of reasons to believe he could have a much better year in 2023, beginning with the shift ban. There might not be a player that was affected more by the shift over the last few seasons. That alone should result in his offensive numbers skyrocketing. I’m expecting a monster bounce back campaign from the Braves’ first baseman.
The next guys on the list are two of my favorites to take home the award in the entire league. Everyone is expecting Ronald Acuña to look much more like the 2021 version of himself than the guy we saw last year. The ACL injury clearly took a toll on his body, but it is something that should only improve as time goes on. Injuries are a legitimate concern for Acuña. He’s constantly dealing with one issue or another, but if he’s healthy, I’m not sure there’s a better all-around player in the National League. The only thing that can hold him back is his body.
I talked about it earlier in the offseason, but people aren’t giving Michael Harris II enough credit for what he was able to accomplish as a rookie. This is a player that skipped AAA entirely and didn’t miss a beat. In fact, he was even better in the majors than he was in the minors, nearly hitting .300 with 19 homers and 20 steals, all while playing elite defense in centerfield. Harris has entered camp looking noticeably bigger, and experience will only further his development. Because of his ability to contribute in all facets of the game, his value is off the charts. There’s a good chance we look up at the end of the season and Harris has accrued 7+ WAR. There’s not many players in baseball that can do that. I couldn’t be more excited for what Harris has in store for us in 2023.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire