Late Monday night, the Atlanta Braves announced Eddie Rosario was going to be lost for an undisclosed amount of time due to eye surgery to correct blurred vision and swelling. Justin Toscano of the AJC later added a “loose estimate” of 8 weeks to 12 weeks for Rosario to return to action.
This is obviously a blow to the team who signed Rosario in the off-season after his NLCS and World Series heroics last season, and with the hope his powerful left-handed bat would help offset all the right-handed bats in the everyday lineup. It hasn’t worked out quite that way yet for Rosario or the team, as the veteran outfielder got off to horrendous start to the 2022 season, probably somewhat related to the fact that he apparently hasn’t been able to see.
And while injuries are always bad news for a team trying to win a World Series, if there is a silver lining to it, the team might be able to use the time Rosario is out to fix what is arguably their biggest weakness: outfield defense. With Ronald Acuña Jr sidelined while recovering from last season’s torn ACL and top prospect Cristian Pache traded away to Oakland, to start the season the Braves have been running different combinations of corner outfielders and DHs in their outfield and, unsurprisingly, the results have been terrible.
Seventeen games into the season, the Braves outfield unit is tied for last place in Major League Baseball in Statcast’s Outs Above Average at -6, and that’s despite a strong early showing from Adam Duvall in CF, who has graded out quite well out there. But the corner outfield spots have been a disaster. The trio of Rosario, Marcell Ozuna, and Orlando Arcia have covered most of the innings in the corner spots, and collectively those three have produced a -8 Outs Above Average, and one misplay after another.
Even if Outs Above Average isn’t your defensive metric of choice, and you prefer Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) or Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), the end result is still the same. The Braves outfield unit ranks dead last, or tied for dead last in all three defensive metrics. And anyone who’s watched them play this season isn’t going to argue. It’s been rough.
But the Rosario injury provides an opportunity to fix that problem. With Acuña returning soon, the Braves can now push Ozuna to full-time DH, and play the trio of Duvall, Acuña and Guillermo Heredia in the outfield, giving them three guys who have all played centerfield in the majors in their outfield at once. I would personally put Heredia back in CF, Duvall in LF and Acuña in RF, just to see if moving out of CF wakes up Duvall’s cold bat, but when all three guys can reasonably play center, the arrangement is a matter of preference. The prevailing thought has been, with Acuña coming back from a major knee injury, he’ll most likely stay in RF for most of the season, but that still leaves two centerfield-capable players roaming the other two spots. A vast improvement from what they’ve run out there the first three weeks of the season.
Heredia’s bat isn’t great and it’s certainly not a perfect solution. But with Rosario, Arcia and Ozuna, the Braves essentially always had a DH-level outfielder somewhere in the alignment and now that’s not the case. And it’s not like they were getting much from Rosario’s bat anyway, so trading it out for Heredia’s bat shouldn’t matter much. And even if it does, it could still be worth it to get three guys playing in the outfield who can all routinely catch the ball.
It does need to at least be mentioned that the Braves’ top prospect, Michael Harris Jr, is a centerfielder and currently crushing it in AA Mississippi with a 140 wRC+. And that scenario would allow Duvall to move back his more familiar position in left field while keeping Acuña in his preferred spot in right. Those factors alone mean it’s not a zero percent chance they call him up, but it’s probably pretty close to zero. Harris just got to AA and as well as he’s playing, they’re not going to rush their top prospect because of an eight week injury. Fun to think about? Yep. Chances it happens? A very small number just above zero.
Whichever way they want to do it, the Braves need to use the Rosario injury as an opportunity to address one of the biggest weakness on the team. Plant Ozuna in the DH spot and put three real outfielders out there for maybe the first time this season. The fans would appreciate it. So would the pitchers.