This offseason is flying by. Pitchers and catchers will be reporting for spring training before we know it. We've already taken a look at the Braves' projected infield for 2016 and how playing time may be split up. Today we take a look at the three outfield spots.
If the Braves really intend to move Hector Olivera to left field on a permanent basis, he will be given every chance to succeed there. It still seems wise to give him a shot at third base, but if the Braves' evaluators (and other scouts across the league) really feel he is best suited for a corner outfield spot, so be it.
It's tough to project Olivera. He hasn't played consistently in multiple years, and he did not play well in winter ball. Steamer projects him to hit a very pedestrian .260/.308/.396 with 0.6 WAR over 105 games. That would be rather disappointing, and it would likely force the club to look at other options in 2017.
Kelly Johnson could also see some time in left field, as could Ender Inciarte or Mallex Smith. More on that below.
Ender Inciarte is a stud who will just need to hit a little in order to provide value. It's just about guaranteed he opens the season as the starting center fielder – assuming he doesn't get traded before then – but he isn't necessarily a lock to stay there.
Mallex Smith will likely start the year in Gwinnett and could see a mid-summer promotion with a strong start. There is no reason to rush him. That said, Fredi Gonzalez will need to get creative with his outfield once Mallex arrives.
Does Smith stay in center field, where he is most comfortable, and Inciarte moves to left field?
Does Mallex start in left field?
If Nick Markakis doesn't regain his arm strength, does Inciarte move to right and Markakis shift to left? Inciarte's arm would easily play at a corner position.
Lots of options, and that should be beneficial to a team lacking proven talent.
Nick Markakis figures to be the starter once again. He wasn't bad in 2015, but age isn't on his side and he needs to regain some of the strength he lost last year while recovering from neck surgery.
Steamer has Markakis projected to hit an ugly .269/.340/.369 with a 96 wRC+ and 0.6 WAR over 142 games. That seems low to me, and I think you can bump each of those numbers up by 15-20 points. Regardless, no one should expect anything spectacular from the 32-year-old outfielder. He is who he is.
Or maybe the Braves sign Yoenis Cespedes and blow this whole plan up.
Now that our team preview has accounted for all positions other than catcher, this is my guess as to how the Braves line up to begin the year:
Inciarte (L) - CF
Aybar (S) - SS
Freeman (L) - 1B
Olivera (R) - LF
Markakis (L) - RF
Garcia (R) - 3B
Pierzynski/Flowers (L/R) - C
Peterson/Beckham (L/R) - 2B