Last season, the Braves had a marvelous breakout campaign from Austin Riley when they needed it the most. With Ronald Acuña going down with a torn ACL just before the All-Star break, the Braves needed everybody to pick up a little bit of the slack, but Riley did much more than that, recording a 6.1 WAR season at the hot corner. Most people expected Riley to eventually take substantial strides with the stick, but nobody could have predicted that he would end up with a .303 batting average and an OPS that sniffed .900 all while playing much-improved defense at third base. Riley finished seventh in the NL MVP race, and an argument could be made that he should have finished much higher. It will be nearly impossible for anybody to replicate the kind of jump he experienced from 2020 to 2021, but here are some Braves that could come close.
The jump for Anderson won’t be quite as wide as it was for Riley, because Anderson has already proven to be a highly effective pitcher. However, there’s a chance he could enter himself into Cy Young conversations soon. Over his two seasons in the bigs, Anderson has posted a 3.25 ERA, but his first season was only six starts and last year he battled some injuries. If Anderson can stay healthy and continue to develop his curveball as his third offering, he might become the best pitcher in the Braves organization. His fastball/changeup combination is already one of the best in the majors, and he’s shown us that essentially nothing phases him. When the lights are the brightest, Anderson is at his best. I wouldn’t be surprised if he recorded a 5+ WAR season in 2022.
Swanson is another player that’s already an established big-leaguer. He led all shortstops during the shortened season in bWAR and followed it up by hitting 27 homers in 2021. Still, I’m waiting for the season in which he puts it altogether over a 162-game campaign. Throughout his entire career, Swanson has been very hot and cold, and there’s a chance that’s just who he is and it never changes, but I believe the best baseball remains ahead of him. He’s a player that I could see posting a 5+ WAR season at some point, and perhaps he does just that in 2022.