Since the season started, I paused this series for a couple of weeks, but we still have two more position groups to look at. Today, we will examine the future of the Braves outfield, and next week I will wrap up this series with the bullpen. If you’ve missed any of the previous pieces of this series, click the links below.
Major League Level
The Braves have many talented players in the outfield right now, but when looking at the future, only one of them looks like they will be around for several years. That man is Ronald Acuña, the 22-year-old phenom from Venezuela. He signed a bargain of an extension early last season, locking him in with the Braves through the 2028 season for $100 million. That’s a fantastic price tag for a player that narrowly missed out on becoming the fifth player ever to join the 40/40 club, finishing his first full big-league season with 41 homers and 37 stolen bases. There’s no doubt that Atlanta will attempt to make Acuña a Brave for life, but when his contract is finally up, he could be in line for a mega-deal worth over half-a-billion dollars. Thankfully, the Braves have nine years before they have to worry about that.
Marcell Ozuna signed a one-year contract with Atlanta this offseason to ease the pain of losing Josh Donaldson. However, he’s not in the Braves long-term plans, considering his age and who the team has waiting in the wings.
Adam Duvall has one more year of arbitration left on his contract, but like Ozuna, he is not much of a long-term piece unless it is as a bench bat or DH.
Ender Inciarte has been Atlanta’s center fielder for the last half-decade. However, his time with the Braves is coming to a close. His struggles offensively are well-documented, and he’s already become more of a spot start guy rather than an everyday player. The Braves can buy him out for just over $1 million following the 2021 season. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if they cut ties with him before then.
The Gwinnett Stripers feature the Braves top two prospects, and they are both versatile outfielders. Cristian Pache very well might get the call this year if there is an injury, positive test, or slump by one of the major leaguers. He’s one of the best defensive players in all of baseball, and his increase in size and power has become overwhelmingly apparent. However, the Braves could take things slowly with him this season.
Drew Waters would have also had a fantastic chance of making his MLB debut in 2020 had the season not been cut by over 100 games. The Braves second-ranked prospect won the MVP of the Southern League last season as a 20-year-old and didn’t slow down much when he was promoted to AAA for the last month of the season. Waters even had the game-tying double in the first exhibition game of Spring Training 2.0. However, unless the Braves get desperate, he will have to wait until 2021 to debut.
The Braves depth in the outfield doesn’t stop at the AAA level. They have two high-quality prospects that ended last year in Mississippi.
Trey Harris is coming off the year of his life, which earned him the Braves Minor League Player of the Year award. Over three levels (A-AA), he slashed .323/.389/.498 with 14 homers, 7 triples, and 26 doubles. As a 24-year-old college bat, he may work his way to the majors as early as 2021. However, having no season this year could halt some of that momentum.
Joining the 2018 32nd-round pick, Trey Harris, in the Mississippi outfield, is 2018 second-round selection, Greyson Jenista. However, even though Jenista was drafted significantly higher out of Wichita State, it hasn’t clicked yet in the minors. His power-tool is apparent, as he smacked nine homers in Florida and Mississipi last year, but he’s failed to make enough contact to this point. Jenista struck out 145 times in just 130 games last season.
All Other Levels
There are a few guys at the lower levels that could pop at some point like Justin Dean, Jefry Ramos, and Stephen Paolini, but the one worth taking a real close look at is the local product, Michael Harris, out of Stockbridge High School.
Harris was drafted in the third round last year and was electric in rookie ball, hitting .349 with 2 homers, 3 triples, and 6 doubles in just 31 games. He also stole five bases. Those numbers earned him an early promotion to Rome at just 18-years-old. Harris struggled a bit in A-ball, but it was only a 22-game sample size, and the Braves are so intrigued by him that they included him on their 60-man taxi squad. We’ve likely seen the last of him in Atlanta this season unless something catastrophic happens, but this is a youngster with a unique blend of speed and power at such a young age. A few years from now, Harris could be a fixture in the Braves outfield.