Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Wednesday for the Atlanta Braves, who have enjoyed an eventful offseason. Alex Anthopoulos acted quickly in trying to fortify a bullpen that was shaky at times in 2019, added catcher Travis d’Arnaud to replace the retiring Brian McCann, and pivoted to outfielder Marcell Ozuna after Josh Donaldson left for Minnesota.
It was a busy offseason for sure but several questions remain as the Braves look toward the 2020 season. Let’s explore a few of those questions with the start of Spring Training on the horizon.
Who will round out the rotation?
The Braves saw two members of their 2019 rotation move on this offseason. Atlanta declined the $12 million option on Julio Teheran’s contract making him a free agent. He ended up signing a one-year deal with the Angels. Dallas Keuchel also found a multi-year deal with the White Sox in free agency, leaving the Braves two holes to fill. They plugged one with the addition of veteran left-hander Cole Hamels but will go to Spring Training in search of a fifth starter.
Atlanta will allow Sean Newcomb, who spent most of the 2019 season working out of the bullpen, to compete for a rotation spot. The team also signed veteran right-hander Felix Hernandez, who is looking to revive his career after a poor final season in Seattle. While those two have garnered most of the discussion in the leadup to the start of the spring, the Braves have a couple of young right-handers in Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson who will also warrant a look. There could be others in the mix as well and help could still come from outside the organization, so this will be an interesting storyline to keep an eye on throughout camp.
Who will be the Opening Day third baseman?
The Braves were in the mix to keep Josh Donaldson at third base but probably never had a real chance once the bidding got to four years. They quickly pivoted to signing Ozuna to try and plug the hole in their lineup and will now look at a pair of internal candidates in Johan Camargo and Austin Riley to fill the hole at third base. Camargo broke out with a huge 2018 season but was relegated to a utility role after the arrival of Donaldson last season. Things didn’t go well as he struggled and eventually found himself back at Gwinnett for a stretch. He seemed to recover somewhat after his return but suffered a fractured shin after fouling a pitch off his leg, ending his season. Camargo was statistically the worst offensive player the Braves had in 2019 (aside from Rafael Ortega’s 96 PAs). The early indications have been that he has spent the offseason working hard to get in shape so it will be interesting to see what he looks like in camp.
Riley comes to camp with a number of question marks himself. He tore up Triple-A pitching at Gwinnett early on in 2019 and forced his way to the major league roster as an outfielder, replacing the injured Ender Inciarte. His offensive success carried over with a historic start but slumped badly over the second half of the season. With a good spring, Riley can win the third base job from the outset. If he struggles, however, it seems like a safe bet that he would open the season back at Gwinnett, where he could play third everyday while seeing consistent at-bats.
The best case scenario for the Braves would be Riley grabbing hold of the third base job and emerging as a legit middle of the order hitter with Camargo slotted into a utility role. However, we will have to wait to see how it all works out.
How will the outfield situation play out?
The pivot to Ozuna made for a crowded situation in Atlanta’s outfield. Ozuna will slot into left field with Ronald Acuña Jr in either center or right. That leaves Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall all competing for playing time. Inciarte is looking to put an injury-plagued 2019 season behind him. If healthy, the Braves could use his defensive ability in center, provided he can also be productive at the plate. Markakis figures to get his fair share of at-bats as well along with Duvall, who should see a ton of opportunities against left-handed pitching. While the situation is crowded, the Braves have flexibility and will have the ability to make matchup-based decisions, if that’s something they’re interested in.
Will we see Cristian Pache, Drew Waters or Ian Anderson in 2020?
While the Braves’ minor league system has weakened somewhat at the lower levels over the last couple of seasons, there remains a strong crop of prospects that are knocking on the door at the major league level. Outfielders Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, along with top pitching prospect Ian Anderson, all reached Triple-A in 2019. All three should begin this year back at Gwinnett but could see their debuts at some point in 2020. Atlanta has no incentive to rush any of its top prospects and all three have things to work on at the Triple-A level. Still it wouldn’t be surprising to see them in the majors this season, especially if the Braves end up with roster holes that they could fill.
Will the Braves swing a trade for a big name?
This has seemingly been the big question on many Braves fan’s minds since Alex Anthopoulos took over as the team’s GM. Anthopoulos brokered big trades during his time in Toronto but has shown more of a measured approach since coming to Atlanta. While he has been active in filling holes at the Trade Deadline in both of his seasons at the helm, he hasn’t completed a trade for a big name. Atlanta still has a ton of prospect capital and would be in position to complete such a trade. We have heard Kris Bryant’s and Nolan Arenado’s names pop up in trade discussions during the offseason and that likely won’t change when the season begins. It seems like every team is always in the market for pitching and the Braves have the means to acquire a big arm. It still feels like Atlanta is one big move away from being a true World Series contender and you have to wonder if this is the season that they will push their chips into the middle of the table.