When the Braves acquired Adam Duvall in July of last season for Matt Wisler, Lucas Sims, and Preston Tucker, I don’t think there were too many fans shedding tears. Atlanta needed more pop in the middle of their lineup and from their outfield. Duvall brought just that and plus-defense which is somewhat necessary for the Braves analytically based front office. What they gave up also didn’t even put a scratch in the Braves loaded farm system.
Matt Wisler and Lucas Sims had run their course in Atlanta after bouncing between AAA and the majors for a couple of years with little success. Preston Tucker was nothing more than a throw-in that was no longer needed with Duvall on the roster. Duvall only had to do a sliver of damage in his new home to make this deal worth it for a rebuilding team that found themselves amid a playoff race.
Unfortunately, as has been well-documented, he failed to do that in 2018. Duvall slashed an ungodly .132/.193/.151 while in Atlanta. He had over double the number of strikeouts (17) than he did hits (7), recording one measly extra-base hit and zero home runs. This, from a player who was two years removed from being an All-Star and had hit 79 home runs over the last two and a half seasons before being traded to the Braves.
It didn’t take long for Duvall to become an afterthought in the lineup, and there were legitimate questions on whether the front office would even be interested bring him back, as Duvall became arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career. Atlanta opted to keep him at his low price-tag (just under $3 million for 2019 and only becomes fully guaranteed if he makes the major league roster).
They did so for one reason – power.
The Braves saw first hand in the NLDS what a power-driven lineup can do to a pitching staff throughout a series. You’re not going to dink and dunk your way to a World Series trophy, but you can launch nothing but home runs on the way to one. That was the Dodgers gameplan, and it worked until they ran into a team that had a mix of both.
That is what the Braves are gunning for – to become a mix of both. Last year, the team was full of players who hit for high averages and got on base often but lacked the type of hitters that can strike fear into an opposing pitching staff – especially the pitching staffs that are left standing come October. That’s why the first, and really only significant move of the offseason, was acquiring former AL MVP, Josh Donaldson.
Donaldson is sure to aid the Braves in that area, but he can’t be the only one to do so. Since the front office was hesitant in offering multi-year deals to players, they failed to add any help or power in the outfield, leaving Duvall with another opportunity to prove what he does best – mash homers.
Duvall is well aware of his drought. After smacking two home runs in a spring training game last week, Duvall had this to say, “It feels like about five years, to be honest. When you’re used to driving the ball and hitting home runs, when you go that long without hitting a homer, you know it.”
The former Cincinnati Red has never been a high-average guy, only hitting .230 for his career with an on-base percentage under .300, but his slugging percentages over the 2016-17 seasons sniffed .500, recording 68 doubles and 64 home runs in that span.
Brian Snitker plans to continue to evaluate Duvall throughout spring training.
“I’m going to continue giving him a lot of at-bats because he’s the kind of guy that can be a definite asset on your team if we can get him right,” Snitker said.
By moving Johan Camargo to a super-utility role that can play the outfield at times, and with the budding Austin Riley ready to move into the fold “however he can get up” – which includes playing the outfield – Duvall has even more stout competition to earn playing time.
The Braves hope that two home run game can be a sign of things to come because a power-hitting outfield bat that can come off the bench and platoon at times is precisely what their lineup needs to reach the next level. Duvall doesn’t need to hit much higher than the Mendoza line; he can strike out often. As long as he launches one into the bleachers every 15-20 at-bats, the front office, and the fans will be pleased.