Spring Training 2021 is officially underway with pitchers and catchers reporting earlier this week. Before you know it, we will have actual live baseball to watch on television. The Braves were quiet for most of the offseason, but they were able to re-sign their cleanup hitter Marcell Ozuna in order to keep Freddie Freeman protected in the lineup. Also, their rotation should be miles better than it was in 2020. There’s plenty of reason for Braves’ fans to be hopeful that this will finally be the year Atlanta adds to their trophy case, but what are the biggest question marks this team faces as we embark on a new season? Let’s discuss.
How will the back-end of the bullpen shake up?
Unlike most people, I’m perfectly confident in the Braves bullpen. I still think there’s a chance they bring back Shane Greene, but losing him and Melancon shouldn’t move the needle too much. They were both pretty good but not great relievers, and the Braves have a boatload of other options. Simply playing the numbers game; Atlanta should be just fine. However, I am interested to see how Brian Snitker will handle the end of games.
Is Will Smith now the closer? If so, he needs to be a lot better than last yeaWill Snitker turn back to a guy like A.J Minter? Perhaps, Tyler Matzek even gets an opportunity. Chris Martin will also be involved, but expect a lot of experimenting to begin the season.
Will the Braves utilize a six-man rotation?
With how weird the last year-plus has been, I wouldn’t be surprised if some teams opted to use six-man rotations to ensure that their starting arms stay healthy. Nobody is in better shape to do that than the Braves. With Charlie Morton, Drew Smyly, and eventually Mike Soroka in the fold, Atlanta has seven legit starters. They could easily role with a six-man rotation until the best five guys solidify themselves.
Which prospects will play a significant role?
We know Ian Anderson and Cristian Pache will be contributing from Opening Day. What other prospects could make a substantial impact? Pitchers like Tucker Davidson, Patrick Weigel, and Kyle Muller are close to major-league ready. Of course, the Braves also have Drew Waters and William Contreras. The latter could be competing for the role of backup catcher behind Travis d’Arnaud. I also wouldn’t totally count out Braden Shewmake making an appearance. I know he’s only logged a few games in AA, but have you seen the Braves bench?
What the hell is the Braves bench going to look like?
Speaking of the bench, what is the Braves’ going to look like to begin the season? Right now, all of their options are nothing but AAAA players. I would be alright with never seeing Ender Inciarte in a Braves uniform again. Johan Camargo has been awful over the last two seasons. Perhaps, Jason Kipnis can rekindle some of the magic from his Cleveland days. After that, where do the Braves turn? Alex Jackson? Pablo Sandoval? Travis Demeritte? That’s a rough bunch. Hopefully, Alex Anthopoulos has a trick or two up his sleeve before the start of the season.
Can Marcell Ozuna replicate his offensive production?
I singled out Ozuna, but this goes for several other players that thrived during the shortened 2020 season such as Dansby Swanson, Max Fried, and Anderson. Can they sustain that sort of success over a full 162 games?
Now, I don’t expect Ozuna to hit .338 and lead the National League in home runs and RBIs, but will he revert back to the player who recorded just a .777 OPS over his two seasons in St Louis? Will Swanson go back to struggling offensively again? Will opponents begin to catch up to Anderson after seeing him a couple of times? Can Fried become a perennial Cy Young candidate? These are all legitimate concerns and reasons why the Braves could regress.