The 2021 MLB season will be here before we know it. Pitchers and catchers reported on time, Spring Training is underway and we might have a full 162 game season with fans — hopefully. Between now and the start of Opening Day, we plan to BRKDWN each team’s offseason reviews and what to look forward to this upcoming season. Next, the Atlanta Braves.
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RHP Charlie Morton (Free Agent)
LHP Drew Smyly (Free Agent)
3B Jake Lamb (Free Agent)
UTILITY Ehire Adrianza (Free Agent – Minor Lg Contract)
2B/UTILITY Jason Kipnis (Free Agent – Minor Lg Contract)
RHP Mark Melancon (Free Agent)
RHP Mike Foltynewicz (Free Agent)
RHP Shane Green (Current Free Agent)
LHP Cole Hamels (Current Free Agent)
LHP Tommy Milone (Free Agent)
RHP Darren O’Day (Free Agent)
RF Nick Markakis (Free Agent)
LF Adam Duvall (Free Agent)
2020 Look Back
35-25 .583 W% Finished 1st in NL East, Lost in NL Championship Series to Los Angeles Dodgers
Runs: Freddie Freeman (51)
Home Runs: Marcell Ozuna (18)
Avg: Freddie Freeman (.341)
Slg: Freddie Freeman (.640)
ERA: A.J. Minter (0.83)
K’s: Max Fried (50)
WHIP: Ian Anderson (1.082)
Opp. Avg: Ian Anderson (.172)
*Min 20 IP
Projected 2021 Season
Coming into 2021, it is hard to be anything besides optimistic about the Atlanta Braves. This is a team with an extremely young core, that tore the cover off the ball last year. A batting rotation that features Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, and Marcell Ozuna sounds more like an All-Star lineup than a team competing in the NL East. Their ace, Mike Soroka is due to return to the team about 30 days after opening day, and will lead their talented pitching staff. An off-season signing of Charlie Morton was their most notable acquisition, and it’s wild to think he is not even one of their two best pitchers. Veteran presence will be provided by the likes of Morton, Travis d’Arnaud and Freddie Freeman as they look to make another playoff push in front of their Tomahawk chopping fanbase. They are +1000 to win the World Series, +500 to win the N.L. Pennant, and +120 to win the NL East.
*odds via DraftKings
RF – Ronald Acuna Jr.
SS – Dansby Swanson
1B – Freddie Freeman
LF – Marcell Ozuna
C – Travis d’Arnaud
2B – Ozzie Albies
3B – Austin Riley
CF – Cristian Pache
- Mike Soroka (expected back April/May)
- Max Fried
- Ian Anderson
- Charlie Morton
- Drew Smyly
- Kyle Wright
Offense: 349 Runs (2nd), 103 Home Runs (2nd), .268 Team Avg. (2nd), .483 SLG (2nd)
To say this offense is stacked is an understatement. Aside from the statistics listed above, the Braves led the league in wOBA, OBP, and BABIP. A lineup that features Acuna Jr, Freeman, Albies, mixed in with the likes of Travis d’Arnaud and 3-4 other above average bats is a scary sight. The NL East pitchers likely wake up with a cold sweat thinking about an offense so potent that Ozzie Albies is likely batting 6th or lower. The sole question marks in this lineup is what will we see from Cristian Pache in his first MLB season, and which version of Austin Riley do we get. A veteran signing of Jake Lamb helps to give them more veteran bench presence on a very young roster, albeit four years removed from his last full MLB season. The fact that this offense is so packed, that I haven’t wrote more than a sentence on Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr. or Marcell Ozuna should really hammer home that this offense is a force to be reckoned with.
Pitching: 4.41 Team ERA (15th), 506 K’s (21st), 1.36 Team WHIP (17th), .247 Opp. Avg (20th)
If there was a weakness of this team in 2020, it was pitching. Mike Soroka going down with an achilles injury proved to be a bit much for a pitching staff with more questions than answers. Soroka is expected back on the hill by late April/early May and they will certainly appreciate his return. Max Fried is certainly a front-end arm, but in the shortened season of 2020 — there was only so much one arm can do. Mike Foltynewicz is gone, and his replacement is the ageless Charlie Morton, which is undoubtedly an upgrade. Drew Smyly will be called on as the 5th starter, though he will need to work hard to hold that spot over the likes of Kyle Wright. Ian Anderson will play his first full season in the bigs after a solid 6 game showing in 2020.
The bullpen is in good shape, with guys like Will Smith and Chris Martin holding down the high-leverage late innings. The ‘pen has a nice mix of left handed hurlers and righties, and has a plethora of depth. The Braves are fortunate to have a number of prospects on the cusp of breaking through, so if injuries or performance in the bullpen become an issue, that is a nice “backup plan”.
Top 10 Prospects(via MLB)
- Cristian Pache OF ETA 2021
- Ian Anderson RHP ETA 2021
- Drew Waters OF ETA 2021
- Shea Langeliers C ETA 2022
- Braden Shewmake SS ETA 2022
- Kyle Muller LHP ETA 2021
- William Contreras C ETA 2021
- Jared Shushter LHP ETA 2023
- Tucker Davidson LHP ETA 2021
- Jasseel De La Cruz RHP ETA 2021
What do we notice about the Braves top 10 prospects? Perhaps that 7 of the 10 are expected to play at various points this year. This is a phenomenal situation for the Braves to be in, especially with a lot of that prospects being pitchers. This roster can afford to “hold back” their top positional prospects, because aside from injuries guys like Shewmake, Waters and Langeliers will likely not be called up until late in the season when rosters expand.
The Braves should continue to find and develop talent in the same way that they did with Soroka, Fried, Acuna Jr, and Albies… While this team seems set for the next few years, you never know when you’ll need the “next” guy.
Moves That Need To Happen During The Year:
1) Fire Drew Smyly into the Sun
Look, I get it – they needed a lefty starter. But if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig. While I think Drew Smyly presents value as an MLB starter capable of grinding out 5 innings week in and week out, trading him and one or two prospects for a different left-handed starter should be priority number one.
2) Fix Sean Newcomb
Remember when I said that the Braves should fire Drew Smyly into the Sun? Well, if they can somehow fix the broken man that is Sean Newcomb – they can have Smyly fill the role of emergency starter/long reliever and Newcomb can return to the rotation where he belongs. We are three years removed from Sean Newcomb being an above average pitcher, on an average Atlanta Braves team. 2019 saw him moved to the bullpen, 2020 saw him implode and produce an ERA north of 11 and this Spring Training has been… rough. If Newcomb can return to his 2018/2019 form – he is a great #5 starter and will fill the role of “Southpaw Inning Eater” currently being held by Smyly.
Honestly, the only thing that can prevent this team from making another deep playoff run is injuries. The offense is dangerously potent, the pitching rotation is upgraded over 2020 and their bullpen is deep. Boasting the reigning NL MVP in Freddie Freeman, plus a talented young core on the mound and in the field this team should be a frontrunner for the NL Pennant. A few moves could drastically increase their chances to finally edge out the Dodgers, and see the Braves appear in their first World Series since 1999.