2017. This is the target date that Braves fans have been hearing for months. This is the year in which Suntrust Park is set to open, and according to the Front Office, the Braves are supposed to start competing for a championship. But what will the roster look like? Here is my best guess:
Tyrell Jenkins/Matt Wisler
Summary: This was by far the hardest position to predict. With the Braves stocking up on pitching prospects this offseason, choosing five starting pitchers was nearly impossible. I think Mike Minor is as good as gone for Atlanta, and that he will be packaged with one of the above pitchers sometime before 2017. The Braves develop pitching best, and I believe our pitching prospects are our biggest investments. Come 2017, I think we will have one of the top rotations in the league. We already have so much young talent in our rotation, and they will develop even more with more experience. Teheran, Wood and Miller are such a talented young trio, and finding two good starters out of our farm system should not be a problem.
Summary: Luis Avilan, Brandon Cunniff, Shae Simmons and Cody Martin are all cheap, young options that have been effective out of Atlanta’s bullpen. Before undergoing Tommy John Surgery, Shae Simmons really impressed last season. The other three have all been great contributors out of Atlanta’s bullpen this season. I think once Arodys Vizcaino comes off his suspension, the Braves can develop him into a nasty relief pitcher. He and Manny Banuelos both have inning limitations, so I can see Atlanta trying to develop these guys into late inning relievers. I think a lot of people are sleeping on Banuelos due to injuries, and if not for being in a farm system stockpiled with pitching I could see him in our rotation come 2017. Aaron Kurcz was acquired in the Anthony Varvaro trade, and I could see him joining our bullpen as soon as this season. I think he will be able to provide solid mid-relief for the Braves. I think there is a lot of young talent listed here, and by 2017 I’m sure one will have emerged as a favorite to become Atlanta’s future closer.
Summary: Though he has struggled, I still believe that Christian Bethancourt is our Catcher of the future. I think that if not for how hot A.J. Pierzynski has been, Bethancourt would be hitting better with more consistent playing time. I believe the Braves go out and sign a quality backup such as Francisco Cervelli to back up Bethancourt, who will be already have a reputation for being one of the best defensive Catchers in the game.
Summary: Need I say more?
Summary: The Braves’ second baseman of the future is Jose Peraza. Period. Peraza is killing AAA and is proving day by day that he is ready to become a major leaguer. With his high batting average and speed, he will be hitting high in the lineup card for the Braves for year to come, and I believe that 2017 may be his first season as an All-Star. I believe that Phil Gosselin will still be on board as well. Goose has proven with his versatility and contact bat that he is worth of a bench role on this team, and he will be a cheap option as well.
Summary: With Jose Peraza taking over at second base, Jace Peterson moves over to third. Rio Ruiz has really struggled in the minors this year, but he is a highly touted prospect who I think will figure it out. I think he is on the roster by Opening Day 2017, with a chance to beat out Peterson. Chris Johnson is still under contract in 2017, but I think the Braves try to find a way to move him. Fredi Gonzalez does not use CJ nearly enough as he should be, and there won’t be room for him in a couple years. I just don’t envision him on the roster in 2017, whether we have to eat the money or not.
Summary: Andrelton Simmons is the best defensive shortstop in the game, and the Braves aren’t letting him go anytime soon.
Summary: At the conclusion of the 2015 season, Dan Uggla will be off the books and the financial freedom for the Braves begins. The question is, who will they spend their money on? Alex Gordon has a player option in his contract that he is likely to decline that would make him a free agent this offseason. Gordon is a perfect option for the Braves, as he is a great fit for their small ball approach at the plate. With Gordon in left, the Braves would arguably have the best defensive team in baseball, backed up by a strong rotation. Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer helped Gordon revive his career by helping him with his swing, and I think he and the Braves will have strong mutual interest this offseason. I put Chris Coghlan here as well, as I believe the Braves will pursue a veteran backup with NL East experience.
Summary: I think Mallex Smith is the most underrated prospect the Braves acquired this offseason. I believe he is not only our center fielder of the future, but our leadoff man as well. Last season he hit .310 with a whopping 88 steals, good for the most in the minor leagues. He is having a great season as well in AA Mississippi, where he is hitting .333. Smith reminds me a lot of Michael Bourn, he is a contact and speed guy. In other words, he’s the leadoff hitter we have wanted in Atlanta ever since Bourn left. Todd Cunningham has really impressed in his short stint in the majors, and I see him sticking around. He’s a great contact guy and can cover all outfield positions.
Summary: Markakis is under contract until 2018, and I see him playing out his contract in Atlanta. He is a great veteran leader to set the example for the young team, as well as a perfect player for our small ball approach.
When looking at this lineup, these are all guys who provide elite defense as well as solid contact bats. Scoring runs won’t be a problem for these guys, and I believe that their defense behind a great pitching staff makes this team contenders in 2017. Two more years for young players such as Freeman, Peterson, Simmons and Bethancourt will only help them improve their game. This team is more than realistic, and the only big name acquisition is Alex Gordon, who the Braves can definitely afford to bring in. I think the Braves are truly set up for the future.