The Atlanta Braves have been stuck in a rebuild since a disappointing finish to the 2014 season, and the disappointing results are not likely to end in 2018. Atlanta finished 2017 with a 72-90 record, somehow managing to finish third in a woeful NL East.
While this record was a step in the right direction following two sub-70 win seasons, fans are increasingly hopeful that Atlanta’s stacked farm system will begin developing into MLB wins in the near future. Results may improve as prospects begin trickling through in 2018. However, a number of questions still remain heading into Spring Training.
Atlanta Braves 2018 Season Preview
Will anyone help Freddie Freeman produce offense?
Any conversation surrounding the best first basemen in baseball must include Freeman. He produced an impressive season in 2016 and was off to an incredibly mind-blowing start to 2017. Unfortunately, a broken wrist sidelined him for an extended time, and he was never quite the same after pushing to return to action quickly. Despite playing in just 117 games last season, Freeman still managed 28 home runs, 84 runs scored, 35 doubles, and 71 RBI, all while matching his career-best OPS+ of 157 from 2016.
The problem for Atlanta’s offense was the pieces surrounding Freeman. Of the seven Braves players to appear in 100 or more games last season, only one (besides Freeman) had an OPS+ above 105. That was Matt Adams with an OPS+ of 121 in 100 games with Atlanta. The top three Braves players in terms of games played – Nick Markakis, Ender Inciarte, and Dansby Swanson – posted OPS+ marks of 96, 100, and 69 respectively.
It should be noted that Atlanta did have some nice pieces last season. Inciarte, despite his league average OPS+ number, presents a nice speed option to the offense, all while providing elite defense in the OF. Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki, Atlanta’s two-headed backstop combination, put up solid numbers while splitting time. However, there’s no denying Atlanta needs more production from the rest of the returners in 2018.
Which Julio Teheran will show up?
Teheran is coming off his fifth straight season of 30 or more starts and is the leader of Atlanta’s rotation. Unfortunately, he also set career-high numbers in all the wrong categories in 2017. Teheran surrendered 94 earned runs and 31 home runs while struggling to an 11-13 record and 4.49 ERA. Compounding the issue is that only two other Braves starters, Mike Foltynewicz and R.A. Dickey, made more than 20 starts.
Teheran has been a very solid performer since he stuck with the rotation as a 22-year old in 2013. However, criticism over his performance over the past three seasons is not unwarranted. He struggled with walks and home runs in 2015, posted a much better line in 2016, and fell back into his struggle with walks and home runs in 2017. Sandwiching his 2016 season between the worst two years of his young career may be a cause for concern. Either way, fans will be watching Teheran closely to see if he can return to the form he displayed in 2014 while posting a 2.89 ERA with four complete games.
When will top prospect Ronald Acuna make his debut?
This is the question on all Braves fans’ minds heading into 2018. The young OF is coming off the kind of season most prospects can only dream of, and he now finds himself on the brink of his MLB debut. Acuna appeared across three MiLB levels in 2017 and somehow got better as he progressed higher in the ranks. For the season, Acuna slashed .325/.374/.522 with 21 home runs, 31 doubles, 44 steals, 88 runs scored, and 82 RBI.
Acuna has arrived at Spring Training with a shot to make the Opening Day roster, but it remains to be seen if the front office will indeed make that move. Atlanta will more than likely try to play the service time game and keep Acuna in the minors for the start of the season. The Braves also have RF and CF occupied by Markakis and Inciarte. While LF is certainly an option for the youngster, one cannot help but wonder if Atlanta would get more out of Acuna’s defense by playing him in RF. Regardless of where he plays, Acuna will certainly create more buzz as he continues to push for his MLB debut.
The Braves will likely give fans enough reasons to tune in this season. Between Freeman’s offensive brilliance, the anticipated debut of Acuna, and a list of pitching prospects looking to contribute to the team, Atlanta will be a fun team to watch in 2018. However, serious contention and positive results are likely still a few years down the road.
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