The Braves’ lineup may take a slight step back next season without Josh Donaldson. With that being said, Ozuna is nothing to scoff at. We witnessed that first-hand as he clobbered the Braves with the Cardinals in last year’s NLDS, and you could make the argument that Atlanta has improved in every other category.
Cole Hamels should be an upgrade over Julio Teheran and Dallas Keuchel at this point in their careers, and Sean Newcomb has the talent to make the unit much more formidable next season. Combine that with a potential bounce-back campaign from Mike Foltynewicz, and the Braves’ rotation might sneak up on the rest of the league. The bullpen has also improved ten-fold. And now, the Braves have the deepest bench they have had in years.
Tyler Flowers drove a ton of us crazy when he forgot how to catch a baseball. But the reality is that his pitch framing alone makes him a fantastic backup option who could be a low-end starter somewhere if he wanted to. With the Braves bringing in fresh legs, signing Travis d’Arnaud, that unit in itself should be better than last year. But given the grind of an MLB season as a catcher, there will be days where d’Arnaud is coming off the bench as well. We all love Brian McCann, but d’Arnaud is a step up and turns Flowers a bit more into a backup than a platoon piece.
The Braves will have a choice to make between Johan Camargo and Austin Riley at third base. Good chance there is some sort of split in the workload, and Riley may start the season in AAA to ensure he is receiving everyday at-bats to start the year. Regardless, the Braves are in a position where they may have a young stud on their bench available to pinch-hit daily. Unfortunately, Camargo struggled as a reserve, but hopefully, that is in the rearview mirror or properly handled this time around by Brian Snitker. Both players have shown the versatility to play in the outfield as well.
On top of that, Snitker will have two former All-Stars at his disposal in Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall. With Ronald Acuna Jr. able to play center field, there may be no need for a backup center fielder, but it will be interesting to see if the Braves keep both, or how they will allocate the playing time. If there were to be any injury to Ozuna, Acuna, or Ender Inciarte (or he starts struggling again), the Braves have the luxury of platooning these two.
Markakis had a .816 OPS against righties last season, with Duvall having a 1.130 OPS against lefties, so they complement each other well. The Braves have a clutch hitter to their avail off the bench in Markakis and a guy who can change a game with one swing in Duvall. It will be interesting to see how Atlanta decides to manage their outfield and bench if Drew Waters or Cristian Pache receive the call before September.
The Braves also brought back an elite defender in Adeiny Hechavarria, who is reunited with his former teammate Marcell Ozuna. In a short time with Atlanta last season, Hech was elite with the bat too. His offensive numbers are unsustainable, but hopefully, he found some sort of comfort in a Braves uniform. Frankly, anything we get with the bat will be a bonus; he is here for shortstop defense.
Last but certainly not least, we have the return of Charlie Clutch. Charlie Culberson may end up being the odd man out following the Ozuna signing, but if Austin Riley starts the year in Gwinnett to get in the swing of things, Culberson will make the Opening Day roster. Either way, he’ll at least be in AAA and is a fantastic player to have in the system as depth. Two years ago, he was Atlanta’s best bench option and their starting shortstop in the NLDS.
It is such a luxury for the Braves to be in a position where they are wondering who the odd man out for the bench will be. In the 2018 playoffs, Atlanta may have had the thinnest depth in the history of the game, and it honestly was a huge factor against the Dodgers. Last year, the Braves were signing Matt Joyce days before Opening Day, and many others throughout the season. Atlanta seems to have the bench locked down, barring any moves, which should help them over the course of a 162 game grind, and hopefully lead them to their first postseason series victory in nearly two decades.