As spring training continues to charge forward, so does our in-depth look at the Atlanta Braves’s organizational depth at each position. Today, we’re going to examine the Braves’ outfield options which, like most positions on the roster, appear to be locked up for the long-term thanks to a couple of extensions with a pair of young stars.
Atlanta has a plethora of options to hold down the outfield. But in reality, only one open spot in left field as centerfield and right field are occupied by Michael Harris II and Ronald Acuna Jr. Both Harris and RAJ signed rather team-friendly extensions early on in their careers and figure to hold onto both positions for quite some time.
Acuna is still continuing to attempt to work his way back to 100 percent after an ACL injury derailed his 2021 campaign. While he showed flashes of brilliance last season, it was apparent he wasn’t at full strength for a majority of the season. But even despite not being his usual self, Acuna still slashed .266/.351/.413 with 15 homers and 29 stolen bases. Attempting to get more at-bats in preparation of the 2022 season, Acuna played ten games in the Venezuelan Winter League where he dominated, posting a slash line of .441/.513/.647 with a double and two dingers.
Coming off a season in which he won National League Rookie of the Year, Harris will be the Braves center fielder for at least through the 2030 season with two options for the following two years. In his first professional season, Harris put up a 5.3 WAR season while slashing .297/.339/.514. He also 19 home runs and swiped 20 bags. Harris’ speed and defensive value give him the ability to be one of the game’s top center fielders for a long time and pairing him alongside Acuna gives the Braves one of the more dynamic outfields in baseball.
In terms of left field, it’s a bit of a mixed bag at the moment in terms of players currently on the 40-man roster. With a logjam of players vying for the right to be the opening day starter, the hope is that by March 30, a few players will stand out. If opening day were tomorrow, Eddie Rosario would most-likely get the nod to start in left field for Atlanta. However, the 2022 season was a trainwreck from the start for Rosario. Starting the year going 3-for-44, in April, Rosario went on the IL after undergoing eye surgery, which sidelined him until early July. On the season, Rosario posted a .587 OPS and a -1.6 WAR season.
But Rosario may not run away with the job as three offseason acquisitions could also vie for time. Jordan Luplow and Sam Hilliard are two guys who have a good shot to see significant playing time if they perform well in spring training.
The Braves signed Luplow to a one-year $1.4 million deal in December after spending the 2022 season in Arizona posting a .634 OPS and 11 home runs. Defensively, Luplow has experience at all three outfield positions as well as first base, second base and third base.
Acquired in a trade with Colorado in November, Hilliard had spent his entire career with the Rockies before coming to Atlanta. The 2022 season was not a good one for Hilliard as he only managed an OPS of .544. However, he has shown signs of life offensively the year prior where he sported a .757 OPS in 81 games. Over his career, Hilliard has suited up at each outfield position, giving him a good amount of value as a LHH.
Eli White is a light-hitting utility player who had spent his career with Texas before being acquired by Atlanta for cash considerations during the offseason. He has experience playing all three outfield positions as well as second base during his career.
Marcell Ozuna has spent a majority of his career in left field and could also fill-in if needed, but as his defensive value has significantly dropped off, he’s viewed as more of a liability in the field and the Braves would prefer to keep him at DH if he has to be in the lineup.
Austin Riley also has experience in left field but is obviously holding down the hot corner.
As it’s been noted before, the Braves lack of a deep farm system in terms of prospects reaches most positions outside of pitching, and the outfield is no different.
The first outfielder that appeared on our preseason top prospect list was Jesse Franklin V, who came in at 16. Franklin was only able to get into 15 games before undergoing Tommy John surgery in April. During those games, the 24-year-old hit two homers with an OPS of .733. While Franklin possesses some of the best raw power in the system, the 2022 injury setback combined with his age and level (double-A) means he needs to rebound in a hurry if he wants to gain his prospect stock back.
Atlanta’s best outfield prospect has yet to play a game for the organization. Luis Guanipa was the Braves top international signee during the 2022 period and possesses arguably the top power/speed combination currently in the system, albeit raw potential.
Douglas Glod is another international prospect that could soar in terms of prospect lists and value if he manages to put it altogether. But like Guanipa, the sample size just isn’t there yet to render a fair analysis on what their long-term value is.
Guys like Brandol Mezquita, Kadon Mortona and Tyler Collins are all outfield prospects who each bring different skillsets to the table but either have too little time as a professional or the tools just aren’t there to project them as future major leaguers.
The Braves waited until the 17th round to draft an outfielder and then spent the next two picks on outfielders as well.
A georgia native, Kevin Kilpatrick Jr. was drafted out of the University of Central Florida and possesses a decent power tool and some sneaky speed to go along with it. He only played in one game for the Braves’ FCL team, going hitless in his one at-bat.
One of the more intriguing signees for Atlanta was 18th-rounder Noah Williams out of Redondo Union High School in Southern California. While Williams is considered a very raw prospect, he did have a good showing in his pro debut. As an 18-year-old, Williams played in 10 games in the FCL, posting a .590 OPS with a double. Williams then got the bump up to Augusta where he put up much better numbers. Despite it only being 5 games, Williams posted a .353/.450/.471 slash line with a pair of doubles to his credit. With his raw tools and potential, Williams has the ability to significantly increase his prospect stock in 2023.
Finally, the Braves selected Christian Jackson in the 19th-round right out of their backyard from Dutchtown High School in Hampton, Georgia. Jackson had a pro debut to forget, only posting a .392 OPS. But only being 18, there’s plenty of time for him to make adjustments.