The Braves will continue to tweak their roster leading up to the season, but Alex Anthopoulos has stated not to “anticipate anything big,” and for once, I believe him. There aren’t many marquee free agents available, and with the Braves farm system being so weak, they won’t be able to make another considerable splash. That means the Opening Day roster is pretty much set in stone, which I took a look at earlier today. Now, here are the five guys on that roster that will determine just how much the Braves will achieve in 2023.
Ronald Acuña Jr.
Acuña put together the worst season of his career in 2022, which was still pretty good, hitting .266 with 15 homers over 119 games. He also stole 29 bases, even though he was caught stealing a league-leading 11 times. For a normal starter, those would be more than acceptable numbers, but Acuña was far and away the most talented player in the National League before he tore his ACL in 2021. The knee hampered him severely last season, which he said on multiple occasions. That should only get better as he gets further away from the injury. If he’s playing without pain in his surgically repaired knee next season, he should be the favorite to win NL MVP. That uptick in production alone could already make the Braves a better team than they were last year, even without Dansby Swanson.
This one is the most critical. The Braves are placing a ton of faith in Vaughn Grissom, who struggled to end 2022 at the plate and was nothing to write home about defensively at second base. I know everyone remembers the success Jeremy Peña had replacing Carlos Correa last season for the Astros, but this could also go terribly wrong (see: 2021 Cristian Pache). I have faith Grissom will be able to handle himself at the plate, and if Ron Washington believes he can play shortstop, who is anybody to say that he can’t. Still, it’s understandable for Braves fans to be uneasy entering the season.
Eddie Rosario/Marcell Ozuna
Shortstop and left field are the two uncertainties on the roster, so they both make the list. I cheated here and lumped Rosario and Ozuna together because I don’t think the Braves need both of them to have stellar seasons, but at least one of them has to produce in 2023. I think the Braves made a huge lapse in judgment by not addressing this situation further this offseason. Left field is likely to be a black hole again next season, even if one of these guys produces better. The gap between where the Braves are at in left field and where other playoff teams are at in left field is as wide as any, and I’m confident it will stay that way in 2023.
One of the reasons the Braves were a better team in 2022 than they were in 2021 is because of their starting pitching. Kyle Wright came into his own, and once Spencer Strider was thrust into the rotation, there might not have been a better pitcher in baseball. I’m expecting Wright’s success to continue, but Strider has a chance to win a Cy Young in 2023. If he’s healthy, I see no reason why he will finish outside of the top-five. He was that dominant as a rookie and should only get better as he continues to develop his secondary offerings. Had Strider and Fried been 100% against the Phillies, the Braves likely would have come out on top. That’s not taking anything away from the Phillies, but it shows how vulnerable this team is without Strider at 100%.
Photographer: Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire
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