The Braves have long been one of baseballs premier organizations. However, over the past two seasons and what looks to be this season, the Braves will miss the playoffs. The lineup is abysmal outside of the ever-steady Freddie Freeman, and possibly thirty year old Hector Olivera, and the starting pitching rotation may be even worse over the course of the 2016 major league season.
So, the question must be asked, when exactly will the Atlanta Braves be competitive again? Let’s first set some ground rules for what we will define as “fielding a competitive team.” I feel that simply contending for the division is not enough, the team will need to be a perennial playoff and World Series contender to appropriately fulfill the requirements set forth in this article.
The 2016 Braves team will not likely be very good. This is obvious to most who follow the game, as the Braves have been pegged to finish near the bottom of the table once again, only up ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds, according to Karl Buscheck, contributor to Bleacher Report.
The current roster only consists of a few regulars which, I feel, can stick with the team in a few seasons time. Those players are: Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Hector Olivera, Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Foltynewicz, and possibly Ender Inciarte. These players will hopefully be able to remain useful and productive big league starters when the influx of youth begins to reach the major leagues. That is not a lot of major league regulars on the current team, and does not create a positive outlook for the coming season.
However, that does not mean this season comes without intrigue, on the contrary, this season marks one of the more important seasons in recent Braves history. During 2016, Braves fans will likely see the highly anticipated premiers of top prospects Mallex Smith, Aaron Blair, and Tyrell Jenkins.
Also, the organization will see the addition of multiple new top prospects to replace those who have graduated to the big league club. The Braves own the third overall pick in the upcoming draft and will be aiming to add a “college bat” according to General Manager John Coppollela. On the International Market, the Braves look to make it’s biggest splash of the calendar year, it has been well noted that the Braves plan to spend big and spend well through their limit in the upcoming July 2nd International Period. The main target, of course, being the young Venezuelan phenom, Kevin Maitan.
At the start of the 2017 Braves season, the team will be unveiling the new stadium, and a new buzz will be surrounding the team. The starting lineup will look to have more spark with the addition of Mallex Smith (who possesses 80 grade speed, on the 20-80 scale), and the rotation will likely have a couple new arms as well in Aaron Blair and the organization’s 2015 minor league pitcher of the year, Tyrell Jenkins.
I am going to do a little prediction here and say that by this time, right fielder Nick Markakis will no longer be a Brave (I will not speculate on the return), allowing for the opening day outfield to go Olivera, Inciarte, and Smith.
The holes in the opening day lineup will continue to be third base, catcher, shortstop, and second base. However, throughout the season, the Braves may see the middle infield quickly fixed, and fixed for the long haul.
Midway through the 2017, the fans can likely expect to see the arrival of top prospects Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies. The two will man the middle infield positions and form quite the formidable double play team. Both provide above average defense and it is yet to be decided which player will slide over to second base. They will also provide a tremendous boost to the offense, and the team will finally begin to reap the benefits of the deep farm system.
On the mound in 2017, fan’s can potentially expect the emergence of top arm, southpaw Sean Newcomb. So his addition could prove to be a big factor in the team reaching the level of play we are looking for, in terms of World Series contender potential. In addition to Newcomb, Braves fans could finally get their first sightings of 2012 first rounder, Lucas Sims.
I would expect the first season in the new ballpark to also be an underwhelming season for the Braves, but one that I’d look for the team to finish closer to .500 than the team will had seen throughout the last three years at this point. The offense will be improved with the addition of Swanson and Albies, and the pitching staff could finally have the ace it’s been needing in Newcomb. However, they will need time to develop and adapt to the big league level.
The 2018 Braves may be the first team to make the playoffs since the 2014 Braves. This could be when going out to the ballpark becomes fun again for the casual Atlanta fan.
The offense will see the full season debut for stars Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, and the rotation will be aided by an entire season with Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims in the fold.
The opening day lineup holes could still be catcher and third base, depending on what the front office has determined to do when it comes to free agency and trades with the depth of prospects to fill lineup holes. I would expect the 2018 starter at third base to be prospect Rio Ruiz, who could prove to be an average regular at the position, however the current outlook for Ruiz is more of the utility/bench role.
I am going to predict the 2018 Braves shock the baseball world, much like the 2015 Astros, and sneak into the playoffs and give the team they play in the first round a scare with their mixture of youth and hunger.
Finally, the Braves will be ready to take off. This is the year I expect the Braves to be fully embraced by the baseball community as a World Series contender. Led by Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, and Sean Newcomb, the 2019 Atlanta Braves will contend for the NL East division and then, during the playoffs, the World Series.
The teams will be aided by the rapid influx of high upside talent at this point in time (most of which is currently playing in Rome, go watch the future of the Braves!). Third baseman Austin Riley and outfielder Braxton Davidson will provide the power boost the lineup will need. The rotation and bullpen will receive major upgrades in pitchers Touki Toussaint, Kolby Allard, and Mike Soroka. Along with the potential debuts of young hitters Ronald Acuna, Juan Yepez, and Isranel Wilson.
The 2019 season is looking like the season Braves fans are all waiting for, this is the season the team could potentially make the final step in becoming a contender. Properly utilizing free agency and potential future trades by John Coppollela will help fill holes and add necessary depth to the 25 man roster, and the talent he and his crew have already infused within the system will either be big league regulars by this time or will be ready to make their mark.