Atlanta Braves are comfortably the best team in the NL East

2019 record – 97-65 (National League East Champions) – Lost NLDS 3-2 to St Louis Cardinals.

Major additions – Cole Hamels (one-year, $18 million), Marcell Ozuna (one-year $18 million), Will Smith (three years $40 million), Chris Martin (two years $14 million), Travis d’Arnaud (two years $16 million).

Major departures – Josh Donaldson (Twins, free agent), Julio Teheran (Angels, free agent), Dallas Keuchel (White Sox, free agent).

After successive division titles, the Atlanta Braves return for 2020 with most of their core still in place. Despite losing Josh Donaldson, they still have two of the National League’s finest hitters in Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña.

They have mostly used free agency to bolster their pitching depth which is strong already thanks to several pitching prospects who are ready to contribute at Major League level, following in the footsteps of Mike Soroka.

There should not be any concern about windows closing, however. They secured both Acuña and Ozzie Albies to extremely team-friendly extensions before 2019 and still have five of the top 70 prospects on MLB pipeline, including the 13th overall Cristian Pache.

Key players

Ronald Acuña Jr.

The 22-year-old superstar was just three stolen bases away from becoming the fourth player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season.

He is behind only Mookie Betts in Vegas odds for NL MVP and looks like he is one step away from gate-crashing the ‘best player in baseball’ conversation.


Freddie Freeman

One of the most consistent and underrated players in the National League, he is a four-time All-Star and has been included on MVP ballots in five of his nine full seasons.

He has even more importance with the loss of Josh Donaldson and the protection he gave Freeman in the line-up. Despite this he has proven in the past on far inferior teams to this that he can play at a borderline MVP level.

Mike Soroka

The runner up to Pete Alonso in the Rookie of the Year ballots, the Canadian had a 2.68 ERA in 2019. He has long been a top prospect in the system and had his breakout in 2019. He was particularly effective at limiting home runs, which is a valuable skill in the era of juiced balls.

Strengths

They have impressive pitching depth in both the rotation and bullpen.

Top 100 prospects Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson are projected to help in 2020, and in Triple-A they have Bryse Wilson and Touki Toussaint. Felix Hernandez is also in camp as a fifth starter candidate along with Sean Newcomb hoping to return to the rotation after having success in the bullpen last season (3.16 ERA). Cole Hamels brings a veteran stability to the relatively youthful rotation but will not break camp due to a shoulder issue.

They signed the most coveted free agent reliever in Will Smith, which should solve their issues at closer and allow Luke Jackson and Shane Greene to take a lesser role in the ‘pen.

They also re-signed deadline acquisition Chris Martin and Darren O’Day to add depth to their middle relief. Some of the starting depth with options will likely be cycled between AAA and the majors to keep the bullpen fresh.

Weaknesses

Losing Josh Donaldson is a major blow. He turned his 6.1 WAR 2019 into a four-year $92 million contract in Minnesota. They replaced his bat with Marcell Ozuna on a one-year deal. He is an above average hitter and solid defender in left but accumulated four fewer wins above replacement than Donaldson in 2019.

The Braves will give much of the playing time at third base to Johan Camargo and Austin Riley.

Camargo had just 67 wRC+ (100 = league average) in 2018, whilst Riley showed promising power but struck out in 36% of his plate appearances and walked in just 5%. Camargo was much better in 2018 (116 wRC+) and Riley was previously a top prospect, so there is hope for this combination to at least hit at a league average rate.

Outlook

The Braves should be the favourites to retain their division title. Their failure to either resign or replace Josh Donaldson, particularly with Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado on the block, may haunt them in 2020, but with a deep pool of pitching and at least two MVP candidates on the roster they will likely have enough firepower to handle it and attempt a deep postseason run.

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About Craig Singleton 19 Articles
20 year old, History+ Politics student at University of Liverpool, Mets, Colts and Capitals fan.

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