Well, we did 29 of these, so we may as well round out the set, right?
The Atlanta Braves won 101 games during the 2022 season and captured their fifth straight NL East title. However, they ran into a buzzsaw in the postseason and fell to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS. Despite the disappointing finish, the Braves have an exceptional young core and figure to be in the playoff hunt for years to come.
Expectations for 2023
Atlanta entered the offseason with their roster largely set with the exception of the shortstop position where Dansby Swanson was a free agent. Swanson signed with the Cubs and the Braves elected to stick with their internal options to replace him.
The team still went out and made a big move by adding catcher Sean Murphy, whom they then locked up with yet another long-term extension. They spent the remainder of the offseason adding depth in the outfield and in the bullpen.
Atlanta’s path to a sixth straight division title won’t be easy, though. Both the Phillies and the New York Mets were extremely active during the offseason. Given the relative strength of the division, the Braves simply can’t afford another slow start to the regular season, unless they’re planning on another miracle run through the summer.
Atlanta is banking on bounce back seasons from Ronald Acuña Jr and Ozzie Albies, who look like they are all the way back from a health standpoint, along with Eddie Rosario who endured essentially a lost season after eye surgery in 2022.
Despite those question marks, this is a deep club with a talented young core. Most projection systems have them at the top or near the top of the National League and injuries are probably the only thing that could keep them from reaching that level.
To be very clear, because it’s easy to be glib about a team we’ve all been following for a while: this Braves team, on paper, looks like the best team in baseball. That’s not a fringe view, but more or less a modeling consensus, with a few outliers (hi PECOTA).
Projected roster via our latest roster projection
- Ronald Acuña Jr. - RF
- Matt Olson - 1B
- Austin Riley - 3B
- Sean Murphy - C
- Michael Harris II - CF
- Ozzie Albies - 2B
- Marcell Ozuna - DH
- Eddie Rosario - LF
- Orlando Arcia - SS
Travis d’Arnaud - C
Ehire Adrianza - UTIL
Sam Hilliard - OF
Kevin Pillar - OF
- Max Fried - LHP
- Spencer Strider - RHP
- Charlie Morton - RHP
- Kyle Wright - RHP
- Jared Shuster/Dylan Dodd - LHP
Raisel Iglesias - RHP
A.J. Minter - LHP
Joe Jimenez - RHP
Collin McHugh - RHP
Dylan Lee - LHP
Kirby Yates - RHP
Lucas Luetge - LHP
Jesse Chavez - RHP
Oh boy, how to pick just one...
The Braves were one of the better offensive clubs in 2022 and could be even better this season. Ronald Acuña Jr. looks fully healthy and played center field throughout the World Baseball Classic. If he is anywhere close to the form he showed pre-injury in 2021, then Atlanta could have the best offense in the National League.
The addition of Murphy and return of Travis d’Arnaud adds flexibility. Both could see time at DH. Austin Riley showed that his 2021 season was no fluke and Matt Olson looks way more comfortable during the spring after a more normal offseason. They will also have a full season of Michael Harris II and a returning Ozzie Albies.
The rotation figures to be in good shape as well. Max Fried is back as the No. 1 starter, but could get pushed by Spencer Strider for that honor if he is anywhere close to where he was last year. Kyle Wright came out of nowhere and became a dependable option and Atlanta is counting on a bounce back from Charlie Morton after a normal offseason.
Oh, and then there’s the bullpen, which doesn’t matter nearly as much in the grand scheme of things, but looks like the best on-paper bullpen in the league, and not by a small margin, either. According to Fangraphs’ Depth Charts, the projected WAR gap between the Braves’ relief corps and the second-place bullpen (Padres) is biger than the gap between the Padres and the 11th-ranked bullpen.
Aside from the relief corps, the Braves don’t have one best-in-class position, but they’re top-five at five different positions, and top-10 at two others, including the rotation. Even if this isn’t the best roster in MLB (and it’s arguable that it is), it’s probably the most well-rounded.
There are two glaring incongruities on this roster relative to everything else. Hands-down, left field is an eyesore on what is an almost-pristine roster otherwise. Eddie Rosario probably won’t be as bad as he was in 2022, which is probably impossible for someone who doesn’t have vision problems... but he’s coming off a lost season and wasn’t exactly killing it in terms of his MLB career before then. The other options the Braves accumulated for the position are interesting but speculative, and it looks like Rosario is getting the default first crack anyway.
Then, given the events of the past week, there’s something to be said for shortstop, too. Losing Swanson hurt, but it was expected. The expectation was that the team would give Vaughn Grissom every opportunity to win the job. Grissom performed well during the spring, even after he was pushed for a brief period by Braden Shewmake. To land back at Orlando Arcia as the Opening Day starter can be seen as either or both baffling and disappointing. If there were enough doubts about whether Grissom could satisfy the organization enough to land the job, then they simply should have done something to address the position during the offseason. Instead, they’ll move forward with Arcia for the time being, which isn’t a left field-sized debacle at the moment, but is the only other part where the roster doesn’t look great.
There is a good chance that we see Grissom sooner rather than later, but again, the Braves can’t really afford to stumble out of the gate because the margin for error is going to be lower. There’s enough uncertainty here that it’s not a given that the Grissom-for-Arcia swap will really matter, but it could.
Reinforcements from the Farm
Atlanta’s farm system is ranked as one of the worst in the majors by most publications, but you need look no further than the spring training performances of Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd to see that there might be a few surprises in store anyway. You can also look back to last season when Harris and Strider finished first and second, respectively, in the Rookie of the Year balloting. Harris was on the back end of many Top 100 lists while Strider was mostly unranked.
One of Dodd or Shuster appears poised to begin the season as the team’s fifth starter. We will likely see both before the end of the season. Shewmake was one of the spring’s biggest surprises and along with Grissom, could also enter the infield picture at some point.
There are some other intriguing names in the lower minors. AJ Smith-Shawver is one to keep an eye on, as are JR Ritchie and Owen Murphy. None are likely to have an impact this season, but Atlanta’s system depth could start to look different as soon as midseason.