30 in 30: Atlanta Braves

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ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 07: Ronald Acuna Jr. #13 of the Atlanta Braves hits a grand slam home run in the second inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during Game Three of the National League Division Series at SunTrust Park on October 7, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

 

The Atlanta Braves ended their season with a 90-72 record and a division title. Their reward, an early exit handed to them by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were on their way to their second constructive National League title. The youth on their team, Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Mike Foltynewicz, definitely outperformed their expectations. The Braves also have youth in the farm system ready to call up.

The National League Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuña Jr. led this team and will continue to lead this team. Last season, Acuña Jr. hit .293/.366/.552 with 26 home runs. While he struck out 25.3 percent of his plate appearances, he had good plate discipline having a 9.2 walk percentage. The 20-year old had a 143 wRC+, which is insane considering the average is 100, and this is his first season in the majors. He will be, if he already isn’t, a force to be reckoned with in the league.

Acuña Jr.’s partner second baseman Ozzie Albies crushed his second year in the league. He played in 158 games, and he hit .261/.305/.452 with 24 home runs. He struck out less than Acuña Jr., 17 percent, but he also walked considerably less, at 5.3 percent. Albies also had a good fielding percentage of 98.5 percent. If the 21-year old can keep his play up, he will lead, alongside Acuña Jr., this Braves lineup.

Mike Foltynewicz, while not being as young, also had his breakout year last season. The ace had a 2.85 ERA and a left on base percentage of 76.9. His 9.93 strikeout per nine innings led to a career high in strikeouts, with 202. His downfalls, which are expected, are his innings pitched, only 183 innings, and his walks per nine innings, with 3.34. The walks can be tolerated as long as they don’t end up crossing the plate, but the lack of innings could hurt the bullpen and the team in the long run, and possibly the playoffs. I am not expecting to him to have 50 more innings pitched, but 20 innings or so will help his bullpen immensely.

Another leader of this team is Freddie Freeman. The three-time All-Star has led this team for multiple years, and he now has help on the roster. He hit .309/.388/.505 with 23 home runs. He played all 162 games last season, and he had a 10.7 walk percentage. His strikeout percentage was only 18.7 percent, which is about average. He is also a top player defensively. He won a Rawling’s Gold Glove at first base last season. Freeman has been the leader of this team since legendary, and future member of the Hall-of-Fame, third baseman Chipper Jones retired.

Nick Markakis also overperformed, or finally performed to his potential. The 35-year old finally made the All-Star team last season. In all 162 games, he hit .297/.366/.440 with a walk percentage of 10.2. He almost had a single-digit strikeout percentage, having 11.3 percent. He also is a stud on defense winning three Rawling’s Gold Gloves in his career, two in 2011 and 2014 with the Baltimore Orioles and the third in 2018 with the Atlanta Braves. Markakis provides the young Braves team tremendous leadership on and off the field and skill on the field.

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The farm system is loaded with prospects too. They have six prospects in the MLB’s top 50 list. The leader of that bunch is right-handed pitcher Mike Soroka, listed at 24. His time with the AAA affiliate Gwinnett Stripers was relatively short. In 27 innings, he had a 2.00 ERA with 10.33 strikeouts per nine. He also had a left on base percentage of 76.9. In his shorter tenure with the MLB team, he pitched 25.2 innings and had 3.51 ERA and a 7.69 strikeouts per nine innings. He had a 64.4 left on base percentage, which is worse, but it can be worked on.

Another pitching prospect is right-handed Kyle Wright. His time with the Gwinnett Stripers was brief but effective. His 2.51 ERA and 8.79 strikeouts per nine innings in 28.2 innings are impressive. The AA affiliate Mississippi Braves also reaped the rewards he brought. In his 109.1 innings, he had a 3.70 ERA and a left on base percentage of 69. The statistics are worse, but the sample size was significantly larger. Hopefully, he can keep dominating in the AAA and he could get a call as soon as this upcoming season.

Ian Anderson probably won’t be MLB ready this year, but he will be there is a season or so. He played with the High-A Florida Fire Frogs for a majority of the season, 100 innings pitched. He had a 2.52 ERA and a 74.9 left on base percentage. Anderson pitched 19.1 innings for the Mississippi Braves, the AA affiliate, and had a 2.33 ERA and a left on base percentage of 79.2. The main problem that he has to get over is his walks. His walks per nine innings could be better with 3.60 in A+ and 4.19 in AA. He is only 20-years old, so he has plenty of time to work on it.

For the most part, the Atlanta Braves kept the core together. The only key loss they had was pitcher Anibal Sanchez, who went to the division rival Washington Nationals. He had a resurgent year, which fits the common theme of last season’s Braves, and had a 2.83 ERA and 8.89 strikeouts per nine innings. His walks per nine innings was a little high, 2.77, but as long as they didn’t cross the plate, it didn’t matter too much. The Nationals want him to be the player he was last season, but the Braves want him to be bad because that helps them get wins and makes the division easier to win.

The Braves chances of winning the division crown again are pretty good. The Nationals, while they lost Bryce Harper, are still really good because of their dominant rotation led by Max Scherzer. The Philadelphia Phillies added Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto which helps their chances to win the division. Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta also bolster their rotation. The New York Mets are going all in with their additions of Robinson Cano and Wilson Ramos. The only team that isn’t in contention this year is the Miami Marlins, which shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Team Prediction: 88-74

Team MVP: Ronald Acuña Jr.

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