While the signing of Marcell Ozuna patched up the Braves outfield as a whole, it also created many more questions, like who is going to start? What will Brian Snitker do with Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall? And what happens when Drew Waters or Cristian Pache is ready? Those questions even extend to the bench when talking about who should occupy the final spot on the roster. There are several turns this could take, and the outfield options the Braves start with on Opening Day might be much different than the ones left standing come October.
Opening Day Starting Outfield
As spring training inches closer, all signs point to Ozuna starting in left field, Ender Inciarte playing center, and Ronald Acuña shifting to right full-time. How long that lasts is solely up to Inciarte’s bat. We know he’s a three-time Gold Glove award winner, and he probably would have won his fourth in a row had he not been injured for the majority of 2019, but he has to return to form with the stick or the Braves will turn to one of their other options.
Acuña played center field while Inciarte was out and can easily slide back over there at any point. The Braves have both Adam Duvall and Nick Markakis, who are both former All-Stars, on the bench that could start in right field right away if Inciarte begins to slump.
Nick Markakis, Adam Duvall, or Both?
Luckily for both of these guys, Major League Baseball is implementing a rule this year that expands the rosters from 25 to 26 players, opening up an extra bench spot for every team. Otherwise, there’s little chance both of these guys would stay on the roster the entire season. Here’s who I currently have as locks to take one of the Braves five bench spots on Opening Day:
- Tyler Flowers
- Adeiny Hechavarria
- Nick Markakis
- Adam Duvall
That fifth spot is up in the air because the Braves might want to start Austin Riley in AAA to give him regular at-bats, creating an opportunity for a player like Charlie Culberson or Yangervis Solarte. Regardless, at some point, it’s fair to assume Riley and Camargo will both be occupying a roster spot, which will fill up the bench. And then, the Braves’ top two prospects are also outfielders that could be ready for The Show in 2020. If either Duvall, Markakis, or perhaps even Ender Inciarte struggle because they aren’t starting regularly, they could find themselves elsewhere by July.
How Will the Braves Handle Their Top Prospects?
As I just mentioned, the Braves top two prospects are outfielders who can play anywhere on the grass, and it won’t be long until there ready. But the Braves also have no reason to rush them. They each only spent a month in AAA last year and neither showed enough to be considered an option early in 2020. Both need more at-bats in Gwinnett, but with the way they have progressed so quickly at each level, they could force the Braves’ hand a bit.
The reality is Nick Markakis, Adam Duvall, or Ender Inciarte aren’t part of Atlanta’s future. They are all decent MLB starters but do not move the needle enough for a championship contender. The exact opposite can be said in regards to Pache and Waters, who both project to be MLB stars. Not only do they give the Braves the best chance to win in the future, but they might give them the best chance to win now.
While I don’t think Markakis or Duvall will go anywhere — unless one of them is DFA’d — because they have no trade value, Ender Inciarte is a candidate that a team might find valuable enough to acquire. Even if the Braves do not receive much of a prospect haul, being rid of the remainder of his salary might be worth it alone.
Even after the signing of Marcell Ozuna, the Braves’ weakest link remains in the outfield. With their two top prospects on the horizon of the big leagues, Alex Anthopoulos decided to play the numbers game until Pache or Waters are ready. Hopefully, that moment is not too far in the future, and one of Inciarte, Duvall, or Markakis can offer enough production until they arrive.