Someone asked me the other day about the Braves' lineup and what it may look like. It was a tough question, and I'm still not really sure how to answer it.
Here's what we do know: No one on the roster other than a handful of players should be expected to start more than 130 games. Those players would be Freddie Freeman, Erick Aybar, Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis. That leaves big question marks at four other positions, and it's not like Aybar, Inciarte or Markakis are guaranteed producers, either.
With all that said, let's take a look at how the Braves' lineup. This wouldn't necessarily be my lineup – or the lineup Fredi Gonzalez should use – but, you know, Fredi's gonna Fredi.
Leading off will be Ender Inciarte. Or at least that's what Fredi has said. Inciarte stole 40 bases the last two seasons and possesses decent on-base skills, though dramatic career splits should be worrisome. The 25-year-old outfielder is a career .266/.301 hitter away from hitter-friendly Chase Field and he's putrid against left-handed pitching (career 59 wRC+).
Erick Aybar seems likely for the No. 2 spot. He puts the ball in play, and I can already hear Fredi talking about 'ol Aybar grindin' through at-bats and workin' the count. Aybar hit .273/.308/.366 last season and is a switch hitter, which will help prevent the top-half of the order being too left-handed.
Freddie Freeman should and will hit third.
After Freeman, it's really anyone's guess. My guess is that Fredi plays the matchups based on who's hot and whether or not it's a righty or lefty starter that night.
I'd like to get Nick Markakis in one of the top-three spots, but I'm thinking Fredi hits him fourth behind Inciarte, Aybar and Freeman. It's certainly not a bad idea; Markakis was the Braves' most consistent hitter in 2015. Still, I expect Fredi to get Inciarte's speed into the leadoff spot and Aybar's put-the-ball-in-play skills (?) to do some fancy hit-and-runs and whatnot.
Adonis Garcia presents a huge question mark for 2016, as does the third base position in general. Garcia will be given every chance to succeed, though he will probably split starts with Gordon Beckham and Kelly Johnson. Let's say he hits 5th, though I'm really skeptical of his ability to last at the hot corner.
Hector Olivera slots in the 6th spot as the starting left fielder. Best-case he's a .280 hitter with 20 homers, worst-case is he's splitting starts in left field when Mallex Smith gets promoted. While Olivera wasn't very impressive in a brief stint last year, it's important to note just how much he moved around last year. Here's what John Sickels of Minor League Ball recently wrote about him:
Cuban defector traded from the Dodgers, age 30, expected to take regular spot in Braves lineup. Tough call, performance wasn't great but he was working off two years of rust, while adapting to a new culture, while fighting injuries, while playing at seven different stops in the space of four months. I think you have to give him some slack for that. I'm not sure how well he will age, but my guess is that in the short run he will (if health allows) be an above-average hitter, say .280 with 18 homers and a reasonable OBP in a full season.
A.J. Pierznyski was amazing last year. Now 39 years old with an absurd 15,000+ innings on his knees behind the plate, expecting AJP to duplicate his .300/.339/.430 season seems foolish. The Braves signed Tyler Flowers this offseason in a move I liked, though it's more for Flowers's defensive ability than his bat. A 50/50 split of starts seems likely. Let's slot them into the 7th spot.
Batting 8th will be whoever starts at second base. Jace Peterson will be given every chance to be successful, though he will need to keep his production up through the summer months. Beckham will see a few starts here, as could Kelly Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and Daniel Castro. If Peterson can slightly improve his numbers from the first half of 2015 (.252/.328/.348) and maintain it, the Braves would happily take it.
To recap: lots of options, and there's sure to be plenty of mixing and matching.
If I had to bet on the opening day lineup, it would be this.
Ender Inciarte (L) - CF
Erick Aybar (S) - SS
Freddie Freeman (L) - 1B
Nick Markakis (L) - RF
Adonis Garcia (R) - 3B
Hector Olivera (R) - LF
A.J. Pierzynski (L) - C
Jace Peterson - 2B
Julio Teheran - P
It won't be quite as bad as last year, but expecting the Braves to finish outside of the bottom-five in runs scored seems optimistic.