This continues our series where I dive into the long-term outlook at each position for the Braves, moving on to arguably the most important position on the diamond — centerfield. If you missed any previous parts of the series, follow the links below.
Ronald Acuna Jr.
One of the biggest remaining questions of the Braves offseason is who will start in centerfield on Opening Day, and right now, there’s no clear answer. Ronald Acuna Jr. likely won’t be ready for the start of the season, and even if he was, I’m not so sure the Braves want him to play centerfield coming off a torn ACL. Still, he’s a long-term option for the Braves in center, even if I think the team would like him to stick in right field.
Pache began last season as the team’s starting centerfielder, but it didn’t take long for it to become apparent that he wasn’t ready for the show. After less than 30 games of pretty abysmal baseball, he was sent back to Gwinnett, where he struggled as well. I still believe that Pache will be the starting centerfielder in Atlanta for a long time, but he probably needs a full season of AAA ball before the Braves can turn to him again. If Pache struggles in 2022, it will be time to question his standing in the organization.
Waters is another potential centerfield option, but like Pache, he took his lumps in 2021, which was his first season of AAA baseball. Adjustments must be made if he wants to have a long major-league career, but Waters is still a young prospect that’s oozing with potential.
Pache and Waters were once viewed as elite prospects in the organization, but it won’t be long before they become an afterthought because guys like Michael Harris are on the rise. Harris could end up being the long-term centerfielder in Atlanta, and another electric season in 2022 will go a long way to making that a reality.
With the lockout severely shortening the offseason, it might be tough for the Braves to pull off, but I’m not ruling out a trade for a controllable starting centerfielder. We know they were in on Bryan Reynolds before last year’s trade deadline but ultimately balked at the Pirates’ hefty asking price. The Braves could revisit those negotiations when the lockout ends, and there are also some other targets they could be interested in.
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