Going into the 2017 campaign, the infield was one of the most intriguing stories when it came to the Atlanta Braves. There were no questions about first base and shortstop, since Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson were two players who were absolutely going to be around for the long haul. Second base and third base were the big question marks — especially after Sean Rodriguez ended up losing a huge chunk of his season due to a car accident.
However, the Braves managed to convince Brandon Phillips to waive his no-trade clause to come to Atlanta. Just like that, Atlanta had a second baseman who could give Ozzie Albies more time to get ready for the bigs while not being a complete black hole at second base. Third base was still manned by Adonis Garcia, which meant that the Braves still had issues at third base. Still, this was not a bad infield when it came to the starters. Then the season started, and things got wacky.
Freddie Freeman was playing at an MVP level until mid-May, which is when he took a fastball to the wrist and ended up missing nearly two months. While he was gone, the Braves brought in Matt Adams and he made things extremely interesting by raking as soon as he arrived in Cobb County. Granted, he still wasn’t hitting on Freddie Freeman’s level but the fact that he came somewhat close meant that the Braves had a decision to make once Freddie returned.
We’ll talk more about Freddie’s adventure to the opposite side of the diamond, later, but the point is that the Braves went into 2017 with absolutely no worries at first base and they’ll be entering 2018 in the same spot. Freddie Freeman is going to do Freddie Freeman things and we’re all going to enjoy watching him play.
As it turned out, Brandon Phillips was still perfectly capable of manning second base. He wasn’t doing anything spectacular out there, but he wasn’t out there booting balls all over the place either. That was nice to see since his production at the plate was the same as it’s been for going on four seasons now. Seriously, if you look at his stats on FanGraphs from the 2014 season onward, it’s remarkably consistent. He also proved for a month that he’s a capable third baseman. We’ll talk about that later as well.
While we knew exactly what we were going to get from Brandon Phillips, the Braves gave us all a glimpse of a potentially glorious future when they brought up Ozzie Albies and immediately made him the everyday starter at second base. Sure enough, this was the right decision to make. BP played 144 games this season and finished with 1.6 fWAR. Ozzie Albies played 57 games and very nearly had a 2-win season according to FanGraphs.
Albies clearly hit the ground running — he hit for a decent amount of power, he was a menace on the basepaths, and he proved that he was a more-than-capable defender at second base. Unless this turns out to be some serious fool’s gold, it appears that the Braves will not have to worry about second base for a long time.
The Braves figured that this would be the same story with Dansby Swanson at shortstop in 2017, but things definitely went off the rails a bit for Swanson. He started the season miserably and never really got going at the plate in the first part of the campaign. Combine the meager offense with some concerning defense, plus the shocking emergence of Johan Camargo as a productive major leaguer, and you have the recipe for a mid-season demotion to Triple-A.
So for a while, it seemed like Johan Camargo had played his way from lightly-considered minor leaguer to major league starter out of nowhere. Camargo was solid at the plate and reliable on defense — this wasn’t a case of the manager going with “a hot bat,” (like when Fredi Gonzalez was starting Jose Constanza over Jason Heyward way back when) instead this was truly a case of a player earning his spot by merit.
Then Camargo managed to injure himself tripping over the foul line while running onto the field for a game, and Swanson was brought back into the big league fold. However, it appeared that Swanson “got it” during his time in Gwinnett and came back looking more like the player who inspired so much hope during his brief stint with the team back in 2016. There’s still hope for Swanson to live up to his lofty expectations, but he’ll definitely look back on 2017 as a rough season.
This is where things got really wacky for the Braves. Here is a list of players who got playing time at the hot corner for Atlanta this season:
- Johan Camargo
- Chase d’Arnaud
- Freddie Freeman
- Adonis Garcia
- Jace Peterson
- Brandon Phillips
- Rio Ruiz
- Danny Santana
- Sean Rodriguez
Nine. Nine players played third base for the Braves this year, as this was truly the revolving door of the Braves infield for 2017. Garcia went into the season as the starter, but injuries and a general lack of production plagued him for the entire year, and that’s how the door at third base started to revolve.
Meanwhile, Freddie Freeman was so inspired by Matt Adams’ production at the plate while he was injured that he actually suggested to Braves management that once he returned from injury, he should move to third base to make room for Adams in the lineup instead of trading Adams. Management actually listened to Freddie on this one, so we got to see Freddie play the hot corner for a bit. This actually happened!
This actually worked for a while in the sense that Freeman proved that he can indeed play third base if it ever comes to that again in the future. Hopefully it shouldn't, but it’s at least a possibility now! “Freddie Freeman: Third Baseman” was an actual thing until the Braves called up Albies and kicked Phillips off of second base. In order to appease Phillips, they moved him over to third base and this was also an actual thing until they traded him. Around that time, Sean Rodriguez miraculously made it back to the Braves roster — only to be traded back to Pittsburgh after a dozen or so games as a Brave. Amazing!
Finally, this led to the Braves going with Johan Camargo, Rio Ruiz, and Adonis Garcia as a platoon of sorts, with Garcia inexplicably getting most of the playing time. In fact, despite all of this craziness, Garcia ended up getting the most time at third base overall during 2017. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if this repeats itself in 2018, then the Braves will once again be in trouble.
So yes, the Atlanta Braves had a weird season in the infield. With that being said, there’s still hope that this can turn into a strength for the team. Freddie Freeman is still playing excellent baseball and should have every chance of returning to MVP-caliber production after he has a full offseason to heal from his wrist injury. If all continues to go well, Ozzie Albies will be the unquestioned second baseman in Atlanta for a long time. Dansby Swanson may finally start to come into his own at shortstop, and if the Braves can figure out what in the world they want to do at third base, then things will definitely be looking up for the infield.
Let’s just hope that the story of 2018’s infield is nowhere near as wacky as this season was for the crew manning the bases.