Major League Baseball’s 60-game season will be a sprint, not a marathon, which means it won’t take much time before games begin to feel like the playoffs. And what happens in the playoffs? Unlikely heroes…
Whether it be a one-game performance that propels a team out of a three-way tie into the postseason or a month-long hot streak from an up and coming prospect, magical things await from players we may have never heard of from before.
The Braves bullpen is loaded, so it will be challenging even to make the Braves 26-man roster, let alone become one of the team’s most relied on arms. But I think Patrick Weigel has the talent to do just that. He was terrific during Spring Training, and eventually, I expect him to make his major league debut this year. Once he’s there, I don’t expect him to turn back.
There’s no telling if Cristian Pache will make his debut in a shortened season. He barely received any at-bats in AAA last year, so it wasn’t even a guarantee if there was a full season. However, if Pache has a terrific Spring Training 2.0 and continues to impress with the taxi squad, he’s only a phone call away. His debut just became a whole lot more likely now that Nick Markakis has opted out of the 2020 season.
Before Nick Markakis opted out of the season, I would have said it was a long shot Drew Waters makes his major-league debut. I still think it is, considering he was only in AAA for a month last year and struggled a bit with strikeouts while he was there. However, with Markakis and Hernandez choosing to opt-out, who knows how many players a team might need this season, which could force the Braves to call up Waters earlier than expected.
The Braves have quite the middle infield duo of Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson, but they don’t have much depth after those two. Charlie Culberson and Johan Camargo have tried but struggled at shortstop, plus they have also been inconsistent with the bat. Hechavarria is a gold-glove caliber infielder, and last year, he appeared to figure something out with the stick in Atlanta, hitting .328 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 24 games. It is a minuscule sample size, but if Albies or Swanson goes down, Hechavarria is the likely starter, and he could also take over at third base if Riley and Camargo both slump at the plate.
This one is pretty obvious because Duvall was the Braves’ unlikely hero in the NLDS last year. He came up with a pinch-hit homer off Cardinals Ace Jack Flaherty that gave the Braves a three-run cushion in a must-win Game 2, then delivered the game-winning hit in Game 3. But this is more about what Duvall is capable over an entire 60-game season. He is one of the streakiest hitters in the majors but has the power to put a team on his back for stretches, which can be shown by the 42 homers he hit last year between Gwinnett and Atlanta. This year, a DH, along with Nick Markakis’ absence, will provide Duvall with everyday at-bats if he avoids a slump, and he could potentially be the MVP of the Braves season.
Most of what I said about Adam Duvall rings true for Austin Riley except for the whole part about the playoffs, which Riley didn’t participate in. However, he showed last year what he can provide the team when he gets hot, and it was his arrival to Atlanta that propelled the Braves into first place. If he can put last year’s second-half slump in the rearview, he could also be the most valuable player in Atlanta.
Jackson is one of this group’s longshots, but his path to the majors is pretty simple. If Tyler Flowers or Travis d’Arnaud goes down, he will be the next man platooning at catcher. After that, anything is possible with Jackson’s elite power.
Kyle Wright/Sean Newcomb/Touki Toussaint
These are three arms that have yet to prove themselves as starters in the majors but can be top of the rotation options. That rings especially true in a 60-game season. With Felix Hernandez opting out, if one or a couple of these pitchers get hot, they might not only propel the Braves to another NL East title, but a World Series as well.