These six Braves are must-haves in fantasy this season

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In year’s past, the Braves weren’t usually represented very well in fantasy baseball. Even in their winning years (before the rebuild), the stat-heavy world of fantasy just didn’t do a good job at illustrating the talent of those division-winning (though more defensive) Braves’ rosters. However, that trend appears to be changing, and the Braves’ young core — both pitching and hitting — are set up to be mainstays among the top-player fantasy leaderboards for years to come. 

On Sunday, MLB.com released its top-800 MLB fantasy players for the 2020 season… and six Braves made the list’s first 120. 

Ronald Acuna Jr., OF

  • Overall rank: #2
  • Position rank: #2

After coming so close to a 40/40 season in 2019, it’s apparent that Acuna is one of the best when it comes to his fantasy impact. His teammate, Freddie Freeman, offers a little more upside in several of the hitting categories (such as AVG, OPS, wRC+), but Acuna’s ability to rack up stolen bases makes him a better fantasy option than the Braves’ first baseman, especially considering the former top-prospect outhomered Freeman 41-38 in 2019. Acuna wields too many tools, and that’s why only the Brewers’ Christian Yelich is ranked higher than him on this list. In fact, Acuna is one spot above fellow outfielder Mike Trout, who ranks third overall.

Freddie Freeman, 1B

  • Overall: #14
  • Position: #1

Freeman enters 2020 as the top first baseman in MLB, thanks to a power surge last season in which he finished with a career-high in home runs (38), RBI (121), ISO (.255) and hard-hit rate (46.8%). The Braves’ first baseman has been so relevant in fantasy because he offers consistent production in so many areas, including a high batting average, a solid RBI total, and of course, 25-35 homers each season. With a career .293 AVG in his ten years thus far with the Braves, you can draft Freeman and know that he’ll finish the year as one of, if not your best, hitter… that’s valuable in the world of fantasy baseball.

Ozzie Albies, 2B

  • Overall: #39
  • Position: #4

Much like Acuna, though not quite to the same extent, Albies is a fantasy darling due to his wide range of skills. Home runs, runs, AVG, stolen bases, and even RBI are all stat categories the Braves second baseman can provide solid totals in, and even more so now that he seems to possess a bit more patience at the plate. Albies probably doesn’t run as much he really could, but it wouldn’t be out of the question to see a 20/20 year from him in 2020; and in fantasy, that’s a top-tier player at the keystone, especially if it comes with a .280-.300 AVG.

Marcell Ozuna, OF

  • Overall: #105
  • Position: #26

I’m picking Ozuna as the Braves’ darkhorse fantasy player this season, as there’s a chance he could provide more value than all but Acuna when the season’s all said and done. It was only three years ago that Ozuna slugged 37 home runs and 124 RBI while slashing .312/.376/.548 with the Marlins. What’s interesting is that despite a career-year in Miami in 2017, the 29-year-old has been hitting the ball much harder since then, increasing his hard-hit rate by a whopping 10% combined over the last three seasons. As one of MLB’s hardest-hitting sluggers, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if he provides top-10 production in HR, RBI, and AVG in 2020. I have him as one of my three starting outfielders. 

Max Fried, LHP

  • Overall: #113
  • Position: #33

Anywhere you look in the realm of fantasy, Fried is considered a better fantasy pitcher than Mike Soroka. And it is simple: Fried has more strikeout in his game, and many feel like his power-pitching is just getting started. It may surprise some, but among all NL starting pitchers with at least 160 innings pitched in 2019, Fried was 13th with 9.43 K/9 (right behind Clayton Kershaw and ahead of Noah Syndergaard). With his above-average stuff, if Fried can do a little better in the ERA department this season (4.15 ERA in ’19), he could finish the year as a top-10 starting pitcher in the National League (he finished 13th in the NL in fWAR last season).

Mike Soroka, RHP

  • Overall: #118
  • Position: #35

As you can see, Fried isn’t very far ahead of Soroka in fantasy, and when it comes down to it, the two are a toss-up after taking into account Soroka’s other strengths. Soroka will probably never be a guy that’ll rack up a ton of punchouts, but his ability to limit home runs and runs altogether is valuable in fantasy baseball. Soroka is a stabilizer for the Braves and can be just that in a fantasy rotation, as more often than not he’s going to keep his ERA down and limit his walks. Even with a little expected regression this season, Soroka is still a solid No. 3 in a fantasy starting rotation. 

A few worth stashing

Here are a few Braves’ players that lack top-of-the-draft production but who could still potentially provide value in fantasy. I wouldn’t necessarily look for these guys, but if they’re still available later on… perhaps they’re worth picking up.

Mike Foltynewicz, RHP

  • Overall: #172
  • Position: #52

A 2.65 ERA in 57.2 second-half innings in 2019 makes it difficult to completely overlook Folty in fantasy, especially considering how good he was in 2018. But that 6+ ERA during the first half of 2019 does make for a risky pick, even with the strikeout upside. All-in-all, it probably wouldn’t be wise to draft Folty as one of your regular starters, but picking him up and seeing how he does in the first few starts could wind up worth it.

Travis d’Arnaud, C

  • Overall: #213
  • Position: #13

It’s true, you should never take a catcher early in a fantasy draft, as it’s usually wiser to concede the position and use your top picks for other more impactful needs. But I took d’Arnaud in the 12th round this year (183rd overall), as I’m high on the offensive catcher. He should be much better than Flowers with the bat, and I’m predicting some solid catcher production from him in 2020 — .265 AVG, 15 HR, 75 RBI.

Will Smith, LHP

  • Overall: #229
  • Position: #25

The only reason Smith is this low on MLB.com’s list is because he’s not the Braves’ primary closer (right now). Otherwise, he would be in the top-5 for his position. Regardless, I think Mark Melancon will pitch well this season, but I still believe Smith will be the Braves closer before the All-Star break. And if that happens, expect at least a 30-save season in 2020, with an elite amount of strikeouts and a sub-3.00 ERA. I’d go ahead and draft him like he’s your backup closer or best-non-closer option if your league keeps up with holds as a stat. 

 

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