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    Kent

    Kent has written 115 posts for Braves Wire

    Podcast: Here’s Why Braves Were Careful This Winter. Oh … and IT’S OPENING DAY!

    The Atlanta Braves are about to play meaningful baseball just hours from the moment I click “publish” on this post. And that’s pretty cool. But what about that quiet winter? What gives?! Why did the Braves add only ONE significant piece over the offseason?

    Here is my take on the winter that was, and it’s guaranteed to make a few heads explode. You’ve been warned! (Also, see post-recording note below SoundCloud player)

    POST-RECORDING NOTE: I should clarify that the Braves DID in fact make offers for players what would have improved the team in 2019 at the expense of seasons ahead. I probably overstated the rigidness of the approach. They’re willing to dent the future some for 2019 success. But at this point they’re more conservatve regarding moves that may sting a year or two (or longer) down the road when they expect the wave to be cresting.

     

     

    Braves Fans, This Is a Big Deal, and It’s Just the Beginning.

    Over the past several years, the Braves have had little to play for at this time of year outside of playing “spoiler” to teams whose October dreams actually outlasted the Labor Day discounts on cargo shorts at Old Navy.

    This year, yet again, the Braves are about to button up the regular season with a week of relatively meaningless baseball. But this time it’s Atlanta’s NL East rivals who will play out the remainder of the schedule while mentally mapping out October fishing excursions. The Braves, in contrast, will be tuning up for the postseason.

    When the Mets and Phillies host Brian Snitker’s squad this week, it will serve only as a sad reminder that the Braves have a date for a dance to which they’re not invited.

    I could pretend to feel bad for them, but I’ve never been good at keeping a straight face.

    It might be quite a while before the Braves experience that kind of emptiness again with a week left to play. And that’s a beautiful thing.

    Admit it, you were spoiled. Before the Braves stripped and sold nearly every valuable part like a stolen Mustang in a chop shop, winning the NL East just wasn’t a big deal. Even after Atlanta’s gaudy streak of division titles ended, the Braves still broke camp each spring with a chance to compete.

    Then came a painful rebuild that saw the Braves trotting out lineups uglier than a Shaquille O’Neal free throw. Braves fans were suddenly exposed to something they were sheltered from for nearly a quarter-century: terrible baseball.

     

    Young fans don’t remember the 1980’s when the Braves were the butt of many a baseball joke. And some older fans seemingly forgot.

    It should now be clear to all that a division pennant is a big accomplishment. It should not be taken for granted. So as we gear up for the return of October baseball to Hotlanta, don’t forget to do one thing …

    Enjoy it!!

    Whatever happens in October, remember that the Braves are playing with house money. They’re not supposed to be here. Not yet. And if they suffer an early exit, the Braves will still be sitting on a you-know-what-load of chips this winter. This is a young, remarkably gifted roster, with waves of talent still toiling on the farm and plenty of cash to spend in the off-season.

    And regardless of the outcome, the postseason experience young stars like Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies gain next month will pay dividends for years to come.

    This is just the beginning.

    How far do you think the Braves will go? Chirp me up on Twitter: @FriedbasballATL

    Kent Covington is a national radio news reporter and BravesWire Editor.

    Braves Hot Start … How Much of It Is Real?

    The 4-2 Atlanta Braves enter week-2 of the season in the thick of a pennant race with the division rival New York Mets and Washington Nationals! They trail the Mets by 1 game, and enjoy a 1/2 game lead over the Nationals in the NL Wild Card race. The Braves are also putting on an offensive clinic, leading all of Major League Baseball with 8 runs per game.

    Okay, sure, as our great BravesWire scribe Bud Ellis noted the other day, it’s only been one week. (He also broke down quite nicely the reasons why the team is off to this hot start.)

    If the record were reversed; if the Braves were 2-4 right now, some fans would endlessly rant “here we go again! On our way to another 90-loss season!”  Heck, some fans said that to me when the Braves were trailing in the middle innings of Opening Day! (lol) That kind of sky-is-falling-ism this early would be absurd, just as it would be ludicrous to assume a hot start means we’re seeing the reincarnation of the ’91 “Miracle Braves.”

    If you’re judging this team based on 6 games, let’s get this out of the way right now. Here’s my advice, courtesy of the Channel 4 Action News Team:

    The fact that it’s only been one week means we’re not allowed to look at the standings, right? Well, good news! As I recently mentioned on Twitter, we put our top legal experts on the case and were unable to find any federal statutes prohibiting early season scoreboard watching. So enjoy it, Braves fans!

    Hopefully, you surmised that my use of the term “pennant race” at this early stage was tongue in cheek, but truth to be told, we have to enjoy it now. We don’t know how long it will last. The Braves’ bats could freeze up along with their hindquarters on a brutal April road trip, which starts Friday on the frozen tundra of Coors Field, and winds through Washington before ending in Chicago. By the way, the forecast for this Colorado series is, well …

    We don’t know how long Atlanta’s parity in the standings with the Nats, and other teams with more accomplished rosters, will endure. Chances are, not long. But this can be a good season for the Bravos. It can be very good, when weighed against their last 3 dismal seasons.

    So just how much of what we’ve seen thus far is actually sustainable? To put it another way, how much of it is “fool’s gold?” We’ll answer that question … with more questions!

    TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE:

    • Can “Kakes” rake? Will Nick Markakis hit .320 with a .934 OPS all year long? No way. Probably not even all month long. I think the Braves will be happy if there’s no decline from last year’s numbers.
    • Is Freddie Human? Yes and no. Freddie Freeman’s no mere mortal. He may just turn in an MVP-caliber season. That said, he won’t hit .421 with a 1.515 OPS all year.
    • Is Flaherty emerging as the total package? Look, Ryan Flaherty’s swinging a very hot bat right now. That’s likely all there is to it. His current AVG, .435, is nearly double his career AVG of .220.

      Braves OF Preston Tucker

      Braves OF Preston Tucker

    • Can Tucker keep it up? Not like this, no. Preston Tucker can hit, but a .429 AVG with a 1.264 OPS? This won’t last long. Upon Acuna’s arrival, barring an injury in the outfield, Tucker will serve as a valuable lefty bat off the bench.
    • Is Dansby turning the corner? Maybe. Hopefully. There is reason to hope. Swanson’s handling outside pitches much better thus far than he did last year. But even if he is coming into his own, he’s not likely to maintain his .318 average (or anything close to it) all year long.
    • Lights out bullpen? I’m on the record saying I think this ‘pen as a chance to be a strength for this team. However, Atlanta’s bullpen has surrendered only 5 ER in 29 innings of work thus far (plus a couple of inherited runners). That’s not sustainable.

    TOO BAD TO BE TRUE:

    While there are some great things happening that clearly are not sustainable, the opposite is also true. There are bad things happening that won’t stay this bad for long.

    • Will the real table setters please stand up? Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies are hitting combined .200 thus far at the top of the lineup. Think that’ll last? Me neither. The Braves will likely get a combined AVG in the high 200’s and an OBP in the mid 300’s from the pair this year.
    • Where’s the offense from behind the plate? Braves catchers Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki combined last year to belt 31 HR with 99 RBI. So far this year, with both Flowers and Suzuki hurt, Atlanta catchers have hit .211 with zero extra-base hits. So … yeah, those numbers will improve.

      RHP Julio Teheran is off to a rough start after a disappointing 2017 season

      RHP Julio Teheran is off to a rough start after a disappointing 2017 season

    • Is Julio Teheran really this bad? Teheran actually pitched better on Opening Day than the numbers would suggest. His second start, however, was every bit as bad as it looked in the box score. Maybe he shakes it off and regains at least some of the form that made him a 2x all-star. Maybe not. Either way, he will NOT stick in this rotation with an ERA north of 10.00. He’s better than that, and if he isn’t, he’ll soon be replaced by one of a number of talented young arms waiting for their shot.
    • Is Sean Newcomb’s stock still high? Yes. His first outing of the year went poorly (4.1 inn, 5 ER). It happens. It was just the 20th start of his fledgling big league career. Last season, he struck out 114 batters in 104 innings. The stuff is there. The Braves will give him more time to figure out how to command it, just as they should. But Newcomb is already much better than he showed in his first start.

    SUSTAINABLE!!

    At least a couple of the things we’ve seen this past week may not be too hot or too cold, but juuuust right.

    • Is Folty an emerging ace? Could be. Tyler Flowers said year ago that Mike Foltynewicz had the best stuff of anyone he had ever caught. Few have ever disputed that Folty has the stuff to become an ace. He’s had nearly 400 big league innings now to figure out how to put it all together. Perhaps he has. There’s still room for improvement. Certainly he could operate more efficiently than he did in his first 2 starts of the year. But 15 K’s and 3 ER over 10.1 innings so far (2.61 ERA)? We’ll take it.
    • Brandon McCarthy a stabilizing force in this rotation? That’s exactly what he was brought here to be. He didn’t have his best stuff in his first start of the year on Saturday. He allowed 6 hits, 3 BB through 5 innings, but he surrendered just 2 ER, kept the ball in the ballpark and struck out 5 hitters. He’s expected to be a solid middle-of-rotation starter and a veteran leader. So far, so good.
    RHP Mike Foltynewicz after ripping a double on a Max Scherzer breaking ball Wednesday

    RHP Mike Foltynewicz after ripping a double on a Max Scherzer breaking ball Wednesday

    BOTTOM LINE …

    Some of the red hot performers will inevitably cool off. On the other hand, others will pick up the pace. And while the Braves expect more offense from the top of the lineup and from behind the plate, Johan Camargo should be back in uniform soon. Not long thereafter, they’ll be adding young Mr. Ronald Acuna Jr to the mix. So some of the inevitable dropoff will be mitigated by gains in other areas.

    I also want to reiterate that while I listed the bullpen’s run prevention as “too good to be true,” I do think this bullpen will be solid.

    Don’t get me wrong, on balance, the Braves are overachieving. This team won’t lead MLB in runs scored at the end of April, let alone at the end of the season. This offense could, however, be better than many expected. The same could hold true for the pitching. Luis Gohara will join the rotation soon, and other reinforcements wait in the wings.

    With all this young talent, I predict 2018 is going to be a long, intense roller coaster ride for Braves fans, full of both excitement and frustration. If you go into the remaining 156 games expecting exactly that, you just might enjoy what promises to be a fun season!

    Let me know what you think. Chirp me up on Twitter: @FriedbasballATL

    Kent Covington is a national radio news reporter and BravesWire Editor.

     

     

     

    2018 Braves Lineup Projections

    What kind of production can Braves fans expect from this 2018 starting lineup (or what will be the lineup when healthy, plus Acuna)?

    Here’s a peek into the BravesWire crystal ball with our official projections for the season. These projections are a mix of our own predictions and the forecasted numbers from five other projection services, including Steamer, ZiPS and Depth Charts.

    Each projection assumes more than 500 at-bats this season. Obviously, with regard to the Braves catching tandem, we have combined their projected production.

      AVG 2B 3B HR RBI SB OBP
    Inciarte .295 27 5 9 56 22 .343
    Albies .280 30 9 13 65 28 .348
    Freeman .305 37 3 38 105 6 .417
    Acuna .270 25 5 20 78 26 .347
    Markakis .264 33 1 8 68 1 .343
    Suziki/Flowers .258 28 0 21 83 1 .328
    Camargo .263 28 3 8 56 1 .322
    Swanson .253 27 3 11 58 6 .334

    Okay, let’s break it down …

    Ender Inciarte: Baseball prognosticators broadly agree that what we’re likely to see out of Ender Inciarte is more of the same. And that’s good.

    Braves 2B Ozzie Albies

    Braves 2B Ozzie Albies

    Ozzie Albies: Most projections seem fairly bullish on Albies, though, with very little big league service time to go on, the forecasts are fairly reserved. Our prediction is more optimistic than most projection models. We think this kid is going to be really, really good. We expect him to be a solid all around hitter and a tough out who puts his speed to good use and packs more punch than you might expect out of his undersized frame. Think Marcus Giles offensively, but with more speed.

    Freddie Freeman: We don’t think it will take Braves fans long to break out the “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants. And there won’t be anything remotely crazy about that. He’s one of baseball’s best hitters, heading into his age-28 season. This is primetime in the career of an elite slugger. He got off to a remakable start last season before a beanball broke his wrist and derailed his possible MVP campaign. His wrist is healthy, and he’s back on the campaign trail.

    Ronald Acuna Jr: It doesn’t matter how talented a kid may be, you can’t predict a Judge or Bellinger type of rookie season. You can never predict that from a rookie. So we won’t. But will anyone be surprised if that’s what we see from him in 2018? Some serious thinkers are comparing this kid to the best player in the game at the same point in his career. So there’s that. He’ll almost certainly join the big league club in mid-April, and he’ll be a lot of fun to watch.

    Nick Markakis: Opening night walkoff homer notwithstanding, we’re projecting some age-related decline for Nick Markakis this year. If he can repeat his production from 2017 for however long he remains in this lineup, the Braves will take it. Nick could be dealt at some point during the season if 1) the Braves can hang in the Wild Card hunt and decide to upgrade their offense at an outfield corner or 2) if Dustin Peterson carries his resurrgent spring performance into the triple-A season and convinces the Braves front office he’s ready to be tested against big league pitching.

    Kurt Suzuki/Tyler Flowers: If Atlanta’s 2-headed catching monster had been one person last year, he would have won a Silver Slugger award. Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzki were as good next to the plate as they were at framing pitches behind it. The duo quietely combined to hit 31 HR with 99 RBI. No other National League team got that kind of power production from behind the plate. And they did it with a combined OBP north of .360. The tandem was so good last season their numbers could take a significant step down and still represent very solid production from behind the plate. That that’s what we expect.

    Braves SS Dansby Swanson

    Braves SS Dansby Swanson

    Johan Camargo: Camargo is a 5th infielder or a super-utility player, right? That’s what many say … and Johan Camargo is determined to prove them wrong, just as former Brave Martin Prado shook off similar labels years ago in Atlanta. In 241 at-bats last year, Camargo hit .299 with 27 extra-base hits. Can he do it over the course of 500 at-bats? We’ll see. We’re not predicting it, but Camargo will be given a chance to prove everyone wrong.

    Dansby Swanson: The hometown phenom is a year older and wiser. He’s had a full winter to hit the mental reset button and shake off a disappointing 2017 campaign. Some fans were FAR too quick to call him a bust. Remember, last year was his first full season above double-A. The Braves haven’t given up on him, nor should they have. As with Johan, it will be up to Dansby to go out there and show the front office he belongs here. We’ve projected better numbers this year, but he may have to exceed our projection to keep his starting job through the end of the year. He certainly has the talent to do just that.

    The Braves finished 11th in the NL in runs scored last year. We believe it will be better this year, at least slightly. Acuna will likely be an offensive uprade over the oft-injured Matt Kemp. A full season of Ozzie Albies will also help. They’ll also get more production out of SS than they did last year, one way or the other. This lineup has a chance to be decent. If enough things roll their way, perhaps better than decent.

    What do you expect this season? Chirp me up on Twitter: @FriedbasballATL

    Kent Covington is a national radio news reporter and BravesWire Editor.

     

     

    PODCAST: 2018 Braves season preview

    SFBB logo (thumb)Kent Covington and Bud Ellis talk about the possibilities for a young and extremely talented, but unproven, Braves roster in 2018.

    (NOTE: Please notice “play in popup” link under flash player. This is often a more convenient way to listen.)

     

    9 Reasons the Braves Should Be Very Fun to Watch

    SunTrust outfield rendering (600px)After two dreadful years in Atlanta, there is cause for optimism in Braves nation. There are a number of reasons that the Braves could, and in fact should, be an exciting team to watch this season. Here are 9 reasons that come to mind:

    1. NEW BALLPARK: Turner Field was not a bad stadium, but it was an utterly forgettable one. It was the Ben Affleck of modern ballparks … completely devoid of charisma or character. And the setting? Taco Bell couldn’t even stay in business outside of Turner Field. Seriously. A Taco Bell franchise was opened across the street and bulldozed a few years later. SunTrust Park will change all of that. Unlike Turner Field, this stadium was built entirely for baseball, with a design that samples some of the raddest characteristics of top ballparks throughout the country–nay, the world! (For you millennials, “raddest” means really, really “lit.”)

    2. WINNING: As I have expressed here recently and many times on Twitter, despite numerous publications predicting that the Braves will lose around 90 games, I am willing to bet this team will be over .500 this year. In fact I have made a couple of friendly wagers to that effect. And at the very least, I would practically bet my life that this team will be substantially better than it was over the past two seasons. (No, that doesn’t mean you get to kill me if I’m wrong.)

    3. OFFENSE: The Braves, by the numbers, had arguably the NL’s best offense after the All-Star break last year. The lineup began clicking when Freddie Freeman’s bat woke up and a healthy Ender Inciarte rounded into form. It then hit another gear when Matt Kemp joined the lineup, followed by the arrival of rookie phenom Dansby Swanson. Manager Brian Snitker will carry the same lineup card into 2017 with one alteration: a significant upgrade at second base in the person of 3x All-Star Brandon Phillips. Barring major injuries, this lineup will score runs. And scoring is always fun to watch. (As long as it’s your team doing the scoring.) I showed you this lineup comparison in my last post, but it deserves another look. (Again, yes, Inciarte was in some of those early ’16 lineups but was not entirely healthy and sharp as he was later in the year.) This year’s likely Opening Day lineup looks like more fun than many of those early ’16 lineups, doesn’t it?!Web

    4.KNUCKLE-BALLS: The knuckle-ball is returning to Atlanta! I started following the Braves in the mid-latter 80’s so I don’t have much in the way of Phil Niekro memories. But many others with a few grey whiskers remember fondly the days when knuckle-balls danced like a squirrel in traffic across home plate at Alanta-Fulton County Stadium. When a knuckle-baller is on his game, it’s a devastating pitch. When he’s not, it’s also devastating … in a different way. But it is always interesting, and that will make former CY Young winner R.A. Dickey fun to watch. And Niekro, who mentored Dickey in the ways of the knuckle-ball force, will no doubt relish watching his pupil bring the “knuckler” back to Atlanta.

    Colon exercises5. BIG SEXY! How could watching Bartolo “Big Sexy” Colon take the hill every 5th day not be fun to watch?! Colon is the Julio Franco of big league pitchers. He doesn’t seem to age. Bartolo doesn’t get older,  he just gets sexier! Of course, there will come a day when age catches up to him. The Braves just hope it’s not this year. So far this spring, he is feeling great and appears to have the same sexy stuff that enabled him to post a more-than-respectable 3.43 ERA over 191 innings last year at the age of 43.

    6. DANSBY: The Braves now feature one of baseball’s top and most exciting young talents. Dansby Swanson had an immediate impact on this team upon his call up late last year and was no small part of this team’s impressive 20-10 finish over the final 30 games of last season. It’s gotta be the hair! Braves fans will now get to see Swanson with a tomahawk across his chest for a full season in 2017, and it should be mighty fun to watch.

    7. WEB GEMS: In a recent interview, 4x Gold Glove winner Brandon Phillips told Braves fans to get ready: “Lot of Web Gems coming to the theatres near you in Atlanta.” Indeed. The double-play combo of Phillips and Swanson is certain to make quite a few highlight reels this year. And they don’t just play their positions well … they play ’em with style! As does reigning Gold Glove winner Ender Inciarte in Center Field. The defense up the middle will be very, very good, and very fun to watch.

    8. BIG YOUNG ARMS: With Mike Foltynewicz likely to lock down the 5th starter job, the Braves rotation will (probably) feature one of the game’s most gifted young power arms. Whether he can find the consistency needed to establish himself as a top-end big league starter remains to be seen, but the talent is there. And other young power arms are knocking on the door, including top prospects Sean Newcomb and Patrick Wiegel. Also, fireballin’ lefty A.J. Minter, widely billed as the Braves’ best relief prospect since Craig Kimbrell, is likely to arrive in Atlanta at some point this year.

    1B Freddie Freeman will benefit from Matt Kemp's pres

    1B Freddie Freeman could be poised for a big year

    9. MVP FREDDIE? Freddie Freeman should have been awarded the Silver Slugger award at 1B last year. There’s no way any reasonable person can look at the numbers and conclude anything other than “he was robbed.” Freddie is now entering the prime years of his career and will benefit from having a legitimate cleanup hitter providing protection for him in the Opening Day lineup for the first time in a few years. With that in mind, some prognosticators have made him their early pick for NL MVP.

    Don’t let the skeptics get you down, Braves fans. I’m not predicting a 2017 reincarnation of the 1991 “Miracle Braves,” but this team really should be a lot of fun to watch.

    What has you excited about this season? Chirp me up on Twitter: @FriedbasballATL

    Kent Covington is a national radio news reporter and BravesWire Editor.

     

     

     

    It’s Time To Put Money On The Braves

    Are the Braves still a terrible team? Some observers certainly seem to think so. USA Today predicts that the Braves will remain among the worst teams in baseball, losing 92 games in 2017. While, according to wagertalk.com, Vegas has Atlanta faring only slightly better at 72-90. Those predictions were made before the Brandon Phillips trade, but I doubt that deal changes their calculations much, if at all.

    I can’t tell you how many games the Braves will win this season, but I can tell you this: This 2017 Braves squad will NOT lose 92 games. Or 90 games. In fact, I rather doubt they’ll lose 81 games … which is to say, I believe they’ll be over .500 for the first time in 4 years.

    Braves manager Brian Snitker is looking to reward the Braves' front office for removing the 'interim' from his title.

    Braves manager Brian Snitker looks to reward the Braves’ front office for removing the ‘interim’ from his title.

    Here’s the thinking of those predicting 90+ losses from the Braves this year:

    Many skeptics start with the Braves’ 2016 record: an unsightly 68-93. Then they ask “What did Atlanta add over the winter?”  And aside from Phillips, Atlanta made no changes to its likely Opening Day lineup. Nor did the Braves make any significant additions to the bullpen. The most notable change was the overhaul of the starting rotation, but many observers are unimpressed with the addition of two 40-something hurlers (Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey) and a capable but oft-injured lefty (Jaime Garcia).

    But here’s the problem with their reasoning:

    Atlanta’s terrible 2016 record is a flawed starting point for projecting their 2017 performance. It’s important to recognize that 2016 was a tale of two seasons for the Braves:

    Before the All-Star break, the Braves were an MLB-worst 31-58.

    After the All-Star break: 37-35.

    Freddie Freeman will benefit from Matt Kemp's presence in the lineup for a full season.

    Freddie Freeman will benefit from Matt Kemp’s presence in the lineup for a full season.

    Few national baseball writers seemed to notice that the Braves, by the numbers, featured what was arguably the National League’s best offense from the All-Star break onward. And after GM John Coppolella added slugger Matt Kemp and top prospect Dansby Swanson to the lineup in August, the team really took off. Despite having little to play for late in the season, they were the NL’s best team down the stretch, going 20-10 over their last 30 games.

    Yeah, I can hear the objections now. “Come on man, you can’t possibly think a 30-game sample at the end of the season tells us what kind of team this is!” No, of course I don’t think that. If they replicated their performance over their last 30 games last year over a full season, they would win 108 games. Clearly, I don’t expect that to happen. I merely contend that this roster is good enough to play +.500 baseball over 162 games.

    Those skeptical of the Braves this year clearly expect them to more closely resemble the pre-All-Star 2016 Braves than the post-All-Star version. But consider how remarkably different the early 2016 lineup looked vs the final 6 weeks of the season. Not only were Kemp and Swanson not yet featured in Atlanta’s lineup, but Ender Inciarte also went down with a hamstring injury just a few games into the season. He missed a month of action, and upon his return, it took him a good while to regain his timing at the plate and quickness on the basepaths.

    Are the Braves closer to the awful 2016 pre-All-Star squad … or the second-half edition that played .+500 baseball for 72 games?

    Compare Atlanta’s likely 2017 Opening Day lineup to the kind of lineup the Braves trotted out for much of the first half of last year.

    Web

    Granted, Inciarte was in some of those early 2016 lineups, but again, it clearly was not the entirely healthy/sharp version of the center fielder that we saw later in the season.

    Now consider this year’s rotation:

    Julio Teheran
    Jamie Garcia
    Bartolo Colon
    R.A. Dickey
    Mike Foltynewicz (most likely)

    Bartolo Colon is one of several new faces who will provide veteran leadership in the ATL clubhouse.

    Bartolo Colon is one of several new faces who will provide veteran leadership in the ATL clubhouse.

    Compared to 2016 Opening Day rotation:

    Julio Teheran
    Bud Norris
    Matt Wisler
    Williams Perez
    Jhoulys Chacin

    Atlanta’s 2017 starting rotation won’t set the world on fire, but it’s a far cry from where this rotation stood a year ago. The trio of Garcia/Colon/Dickey replaces Norris/Perez/Chacin. Big upgrade.

    Some questions remain in the bullpen, but there are also more potential answers here to those questions than there were a year ago. If healthy, the trio of Jim Johnson, Arodys Vizcaino and Mauricio Cabrera could form a formidable back-end trio, with other potentially capable middle relief arms in the mix. I also expect lefty AJ Minter to debut in Atlanta this season. Minter is likely the most gifted and celebrated relief prospect the Braves have featured since the arrival of Craig Kimbrel, and that’s not hyperbole.

    This is not a perfect roster. Far from it. This may or may not be a good Braves team in 2017, but I’m confident it won’t be a bad one.

    So I say it’s time to put money on the Braves. I’m not betting that they’ll win the NL East, of course. I’m not even willing to wager that they’ll slide into one of the NL Wild Card slots. But if Vegas has Atlanta’s over/under set at 71.5 wins (and it does) … then yeah, cut me in on that action.

    Let me know what you think about the Braves outlook for 2017. Chirp me up on Twitter: @FriedbasballATL

    Kent Covington is a national radio news reporter and BravesWire Editor.

    How Different Will The 2017 Braves Look?

    (Updated 8/2/16)

    Many Braves fans are understandably despondent these days, with their team on track to top 100 losses this year. But as poorly as the 2016 season has gone, it’s worth remembering that the Braves roster will soon be overhauled once more.

    The Joker put it best …

    What changes will we see before the Braves move into their new Cobb County digs in 2017?

    ROTATION:

    • Don’t give up on RHP’s Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler. Despite their struggles, both have the stuff to be top-half-of rotation starters, and if/when things click for them, they could still earn long-term roles in the Braves rotation next season.
    • The Braves’ #1 pitching prospect Sean Newcomb is still ironing out command issues at double-A Mississippi, but the hard-throwing lefty has ace potential. There is a very good chance that we’ll see Newcomb in the big leagues at some point next season.
    • Tyrell Jenkins will have the rest of this season and next spring to make his case for am Opening Day rotation spot.

      RHP Aaron Blair

      RHP Aaron Blair

    • Some combination of the Braves’ other high end starting pitching prospects currently at the double-A or triple-A level could impact the rotation. That’s a lengthy list, which includes: Lucas Sims, Rob Whalen, Chris Ellis,  Manny Banuelos and Max Povse.

    BULLPEN:

    • Several relievers could return from injuries, which have sidelined them through most or all of this season: Paco Rodriguez, Shae Simmons and Dan Winkler. John Gant, who had a long stay on the DL this season, could also be in the ‘pen at the start of 2017.
    • Mauricio Cabrera, who has been a mid-season revelation for the Braves, will almost certainly be in the Atlanta bullpen from day-one next year.
    • A.J. Minter has put up eye-popping numbers at the single-A and double-A levels this year. Through 25.2 innings, Minter has fanned 36 batters, while posting a 0.55 WHIP and a .093 opp avg. Look for him in the shiny new bullpen at Sun Trust Park next season.
    • The Braves also have a list of other talented young relievers ready to battle for bullpen job. That list includes: Jason Hursh, Stephen Janas and Andrew Thurman (all righty relievers).
    • And there’s a good chance that the Braves will add a proven veteran reliever or two via trade and/or free agency.

    LINEUP:

    • Atlanta’s #1 prospect and top overall pick in 2015 MLB draft, SS Dansby Swanson, will likely be a part of a new and improved Braves lineup at some point in 2017, if not on Opening Day.
    • So will Braves’ #3 prospect 2B Ozzie Albies.
    • Atlanta will almost certainly sign or trade for a new starting catcher this winter. Matt Wieters and Wilson Ramos will top Atlanta’s list of free agent targets at that position. The Braves’ front office has also discussed the possibility of bringing Brian McCann back to Atlanta, if the Yankees’ price is right.
    • Matt Kemp is obviously now penciled in the 2017 lineup.
    • But the Braves aren’t done shopping for power. They could still add another big stick at 3B or in the outfield.
    • Mallex Smith will likely be patrolling CF for the Braves full-time as of next April. However, if the Braves have an opportunity to add another middle-of-the order bat somewhere in the outfield, they may have a difficult decision to make.
    SS Dansby Swanson

    SS Dansby Swanson

    How different will the 2017 Braves look?

    Vastly.

    We could see greater than 50% turnover in the pitching staff and in the lineup before Opening Day, 2017. There will be a lot of young, inexperienced players, and kids will sometimes take their lumps. So this team may not be ready to compete for a postseason berth next season. And it will likely be at least 2018 before the Braves can once again be considered legitimate World Series contenders. But come April of next year, this roster will be loaded with talent and barely recognizable when compared to the current cast of characters.

    Let me know what you think about the Braves outlook for 2017. Chirp me up on Twitter: @FriedbasballATL

    Kent Covington is a national radio news reporter and BravesWire Editor.

    Braves CAN Still Be Successful In 2016

    One of the definitions of the word success is “the accomplishment of one’s goals.” (Dictionary.com)

    With that in mind, the Braves may yet enjoy a successful 2016 season. Their 0-7 start merely makes what was already likely that much more likely … that the Braves will miss the playoffs this year. But a playoff berth was never really the goal. It was understood from the time this team broke camp that the only Braves players likely to sniff the playoffs would be the veteran journeymen dealt away to contenders in late July.

    So what is the primary goal in 2016?

    Atlanta’s 2016 season is essentially the 2017 pre-season. Over the past 18 months their farm system has been transformed from a landfill to a treasure trove. And with that, the foundation for the Braves’ next World Series contender has been laid. They now plan to begin laying bricks on that foundation, installing the first wave of talent from their now top-rated pipeline.

    OF Mallex Smith made his MLB debut this week

    OF Mallex Smith made his MLB debut this week

    Speedy outfielder Mallex Smith has already debuted, and other top prospects including Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Aaron Blair and Tyrell Jenkins could arrive in Atlanta later this season.

    Braves fans old enough to remember M.C. Hammer’s last hit will also remember the beginning of Atlanta’s remarkable 14-year division pennant streak. In 1990, the Braves were the laughing stock of the National League. But the foundation had been laid for something far greater. Prior to the 1991 season, accomplished veterans like Terry Pendleton and Sid Bream were added to an inexperienced but talent-rich roster, and … well, we know what happened next.

    I am certainly not predicting that the Braves will play game-7 of the World Series next year, as they did in 1991. It is bloody unlikely that the big league transformation will happen that quickly. After all, prior to ’91, no team had ever gone from worst to first. And in 1991, burgeoning stars like Ron Gant, David Justice, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz already had at least a couple of Major League seasons under their belt. They weren’t as green as the new baby Braves will be come next April.

    But look for the Braves front office to begin adding proven talent to the mix this winter. Braves GM John Copolella will be active in both the free agent and trade markets as the team looks to field a winner at their new Cobb County digs in 2017. While the ’17 Braves are unlikely to match the success of the ’91 team, there will be similarities. Come next year, this Atlanta roster will be brimming with young talent and will likely feature a feature a few more proven big league standouts than the 2016 squad. It’s a smart bet that the Braves will be much better next season and will be good for years to come.

    Braves GM John Coppolella

    Braves GM John Coppolella

    If you’re a Braves fan determined to agonize over every loss this year you may want to ask your family physician to prescribe a good antidepressant. But if you’d rather enjoy this season, try to take the long view.

    With so many talented kids likely to arrive in Atlanta this year, you will be witnessing the birth of something good — maybe even something great. It may not look like much at first. Rookies often take their lumps. If you need proof, check out the early stats of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Steve Avery and former Braves sluggers like Gary Sheffield and Andres Galarraga. But talent will eventually translate to wins.

    And the first pitch or at-bat of a big league rookie’s career is a special moment. You’ll see more than a few of those moments this year. Enjoy them!

    The Braves’ 2016 season will likely expire with the end of the regular season schedule, but as more and more young talent arrives, this team might just be playing an exciting brand of respectable baseball by the end of this season. And in any event, there’s plenty of cause for excitement if you’re able to ignore the standings this year.

    Take a deep breath, Braves fans. Come down off the ledge. Better days are ahead and they’re not all that far off.

    Excited about the future … or just disgusted with the present? Let me know what you think. Chirp me up on Twitter: @FriedbasballATL

    Kent Covington is a national radio news reporter and BravesWire Editor.

     

     

    Southern Fried Baseball podcast: How the Braves can win in 2016

    SFBB logo (thumb)Kent Covington takes a look ahead at the odds of a retooled 2016 Braves roster getting back on the winning track.

    (NOTE: Please notice “play in popup” link under flash player. This is often a more convenient way to listen.)