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Braves News and Links: MLB.com releases first 2017 mock draft

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The Braves improved considerably in the second half of the 2016 season, but despite their efforts the team still finished with baseball’s fifth-worst record. That level of incompetence was rewarded with the fifth selection in next year’s draft, in which they will have an opportunity to add yet another high-impact talent to an already deep farm system.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

BRAVES NEWS

Lineup evolution bolstered Braves’ second-half surge

The marked improvement of the Atlanta offense in the second-half of 2016 has been well-covered by seemingly every Braves news outlet this offseason, but Mark Bowman of MLB.com wrote yesterday about the evolution of the lineup and the hope that it gives the team heading into next season. The addition of Matt Kemp and call-up of Dansby Swanson were major turning points for the lineup, providing the team with a more well-rounded attack that should bode well once Swanson moves into the two hole.

Kemp produced an .855 OPS and 120 WRC+ in his 241 plate appearances after the Braves acquired him from the Padres on July 30. His presence has been widely credited as the reason for Atlanta's late-season surge. But Swanson also deserves a nod, hitting .302 with a .803 OPS after he made his big league debut on Aug. 17.

Swanson's success and mature demeanor gives the Braves confidence that he is ready to bat second in the lineup. Consequently, Adonis Garcia, who began this past season as Atlanta's cleanup hitter, would bat seventh or eighth in a lineup that obviously has become much deeper within this past year.

As Bowman notes, to have last season’s cleanup hitter now batting seventh or eighth is an encouraging development, even if the replacement (Kemp) is not necessarily a world beater in his own right. It will be interesting to see Brian Snitker’s lineup construction beyond the top four, which will presumably be Inciarte, Swanson, Freeman, and Kemp. Prospect promotions could play a major role in how this team finishes the year, just as Swanson’s did last season.

Talking Chop Roundtable: What will the Braves rotation look like in 2017

The Talking Chop writers did yet another roundtable discussion on Wednesday, this time offering their opinions on the 2017 rotation and who could fit into the team’s plans both early on and later in the season.

TC prospect rankings: 20-16

The next installment of the TC prospect rankings was unveiled yesterday, with Derian Cruz coming in at number 20 on this year’s rankings. Each time these rankings are posted I’m reminded of just how deep and fruitful this Braves system has a chance to be. Take a look at these five players and stay tuned for the rest of our rankings.

MLB NEWS

Mayo, Callis release 2017 Mock Draft 1.0

Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis of MLB.com released their first mock draft on Wednesday, with Vanderbilt right-hander Kyle Wright and prep shortstop Royce Lewis being projected as the Braves’ selection by Mayo and Callis, respectively. Callis notes that the Braves could be in play for a position player in the upcoming draft because of their pitching-heavy class of 2016. That logic doesn’t exactly follow how the Braves have operated to this point, but it is possible. Mayo mentions that adding a front-line starter like Wright to their recent high school selections could make for an interesting sight.

Orioles sign catcher Wellington Castillo to one-year, $6 million deal

The Braves have made it public knowledge that they will attempt to upgrade the catcher position this offseason, with one target reportedly being former Diamondback Wellington Castillo. That possibility was eliminated on Wednesday as Castillo agreed to a one year deal with the Orioles, which includes a player option for the 2018 season. The signing of Castillo presumably means Baltimore is out of the Matt Wieters market, which could bring down the former Georgia Tech star’s price tag even further. No indication has been given that the Braves have interest in Wieters to this point, but as potential suitors continue to fill their needs elsewhere, it is fair to wonder if a match could be found.