There are a lot of intriguing storylines surrounding the Atlanta Braves heading into the 2017 season with plenty of candidates for a breakout season. Today’s roundtable topic is which Braves player will be this season’s biggest surprise?
Who will be this year’s biggest surprise?
(Scott Coleman): I already said Mike Foltynewicz would be the MVP of the pitching staff, so I’ll avoid picking him here. I’ll say Dansby Swanson wins NL Rookie of the Year and finishes as a top-four shortstop in the league, behind only Seager, Crawford and Russell. I’m so excited to see Dansby play a full year.
(Kris Willis): I’m going to go off the grid and go with Matt Wisler who will start the season at Triple-A Gwinnett but will likely be the next man up when the Braves need a starter. Wisler struggled down the stretch of 2016 and his performance in spring training wasn’t awe inspiring. However, I still think there is something to like about Wisler and perhaps some time in Triple-A will allow him the opportunity to put it all together.
(Brad Rowland): Rio Ruiz will start 100 games at third base and perform reasonably well. In truth, it is tough to take a firm stand on anything being overly surprising with this team given its makeup, but the clock could easily run out on Adonis Garcia being a capable starter at 3B and Ruiz is waiting in the wings. My initial answer was going to be a similar one with Ozzie Albies, but that almost feels more obvious. Let’s take a stab at the hot corner, where the superior option looks to be starting the season in Gwinnett.
(Ivan): Not sure how surprising this would be for anyone at this point, so perhaps I’m cheating, but I’d go with Ozzie Albies getting called up after figuring out AAA pitching around May, and finishing his rookie season as an above-average second baseman.
(Garrett Spain): A youth movement is going to dominate the late season headlines as some guys get traded away or replaced, and over the month of September Sean Newcomb will settle into a starting role. Not only that, he will out pitch every other starter in the final month of the season, and go into 2018 as the #3 starter.
(Matt Powers): The trade to Atlanta helps Brandon Phillips look like a younger version of himself. Phillips’ numbers in Cincy the last few years were down, but it's not hard to see why considering the team around him was headed in the opposite direction and he settled in. But now he’s got a new team, his hometown team, and a team that is on the way up. I love Ozzie Albies potential and think he will be ready this year, but BP may hold him off for a year. Phillips won't have a 30/30 year like he did in 2007, but he hasn't hit more than 12 HR in the last three years or stolen more than 15 bases in the last six years with the exception of 23 back in 2015. This trade could be what re-energizes a guy who can still be an exciting player if this spring gives any indication.
(Demetrius Bell): If Matt Kemp can put together a full season of positive consistency at the plate, that’ll be a decent shock. He has a history of struggling for one half and mashing for the other, so if he can string together consistent production for the entire year then that’ll be great. Granted, it probably won’t do much for his WAR since he’ll probably still be kind of bad in defense, but that offensive production would make his place in the lineup totally worth it.
(Dillon Cloud): Nick Markakis will hit 20 home runs this season. He has shown a more consistent power stroke as his neck surgery becomes a more distant memory, and the shorter dimensions in right center field at SunTrust Park should only aid Neck in padding his home run total in 2017. Markakis has always been a solid hitter with an excellent approach, but his power numbers have declined severely in recent years. It’s hard to see him becoming something totally different in his age-33 season, but if Freddie Galvis can hit 20 bombs I think Markakis is capable.
(Jeff Jones): Jaime Garcia returns to his 2015 form and gets us a huge haul at the trade deadline. I was going to go with Ozzie Albies debuting and hitting everything but that wouldn’t surprise me at this point.
(Eric Cole): I think it is possible if not probable that by the end of the season, only Teheran and Folty will remain in the starting rotation for the Braves. With Newcomb, Fried, Sims, Wisler, Blair, and other all waiting in the wings and the Braves not committed to the other guys for significant money or time, the Braves could start giving these guys looks (or more looks in some cases). If these players have strong AAA seasons, I expect Coppy to make even more calls at the trade deadline than usual.
(Kyle Parmley): Mike Foltynewicz seems poised to have his first big-time year in the majors. Hearing him speak throughout Spring Training seems to lend credence to the thought that he is learning how to pitch through adversity (something that Matt Wisler has been working on as well). Folty has the stuff and ability to put together a great season, and I feel like it’s time that he will.
(Gaurav Vedak): Mike Foltynewicz puts together a 12-15 win campaign, finishes with a sub 1.3xx WHIP, and a mid 3’s ERA. I can’t echo how impressed I was by his changeup this spring and if he can have that, and some of that armside run I thought I saw on his fastball - anything is possible for him. I think this is the year he lives up to his billing as a top of the rotation candidate and creates a formidable duo with Teheran for years to come.