Major League Baseball has an off-season unlike any other sport. While it’s relatively short, only spanning November, December, and January mostly, the winter months can feel like an eternity on the calendar. This is because baseball doesn't have the immediate feeding frenzy other sports have when their free agency opens. Everything in baseball’s offseason is a slow, slow burn. Unbelievably slow at times.
This means, for those in the content business, you have to get creative when it comes to things to talk about. MLB Network has assisted in that problem by doing their annual positional rankings, which gives them and the rest of us something to argue about when there’s no much else to talk about.
It just so happens they’ve just wrapped the 2024 installment of these rankings and today we’re going to look at where the Braves popped up on each of these lists. For context, each show has a panel of analyst who give their own individual rankings and then the “official” lists are done by “The Shredder”, MLB Network’s own computer model that spits out the final rankings. They don’t expound upon the inputs used for their computer model, keeping everything vague, which helps increase the outrage meter for maximized engagement. All part of the experience.
Let’s get to the lists:
Zero surprise here. The reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuna Jr sits atop the right field list, and it wasn’t remotely close. The only player who could’ve given Ronald even a little competition here was Mookie Betts and that went out the window when it was announced he was moving to second base full-time in 2024. Tucker, Soto, Tatis and Carroll round out a strong top 5.
Michael Harris II has made quite a name for himself so young into his career, so much so that he mow sits one spot behind the great Mike Trout on the CF list. Aaron Judge in center is going to be fascinating experiment to watch for the 80 or so games he’s actually out there and not hurt or DHing. My guess is on next year’s list, Harris cracks the top 3 with Rodriguez and Robert. Buxton should be up there on talent but he got hurt just reading this.
Atlanta didn't have a player on the left field list, not surprisingly, as their new left fielder Jarred Kelenic has just arrived and has yet to establish himself as a top player at that position. Also calling Yordan Alavarez a left fielder is a bit like calling Marcell Ozuna a left fielder in that it’s highly insulting to anyone who’s ever stood on grass. But you’ll find more than one oddity as we go through these lists. Schwarber is another guy who stretches the word ‘fielder” in left fielder.
It’s amazing the strides Austin Riley has made in a still pretty young career but he has absolutely elevated his game to one of the best third basemen in baseball. Guys like Arenado and Machado having down years in 2023 certainly helped but over the last 3 seasons, Only Jose Ramirez has a higher fWAR than Austin Riley among all 3B and Riley is 5 years younger than Ramirez. He’s earned his ranking, especially if the defensive improvements hold.
Much like left field, the Braves unsurprisingly did not have a player ranked in the top 10 at shortstop. It’s the only position on the field where Atlanta is still using a stop-gap player in Orlando Arcia and shortstop is always a loaded position anyway. What the Braves do at short over the next year or two is going to be fascinating to follow. Old friend Dansby Swanson checks in at number four.
In what was without a doubt the dumbest and most controversial list in this years rankings, as you can see MLB Network is once again telling you they don't think Ozzie Albies is a top 10 second baseman. Someone named Zack Gelof is in the top 10 but perennial 4 WAR 2B Ozzie Albies is not. We’ve left Earth. Second base is admittedly way more loaded than normal, and only made more so by the arrival of Betts to the position, but come on. What are we doing? Ozzie shouldn't be any lower than like 5th on that list and they don’t have him on there at all? Complete nonsense.
It’s still incredibly weird to me to see Bryce Harper on the first base list but now that he’s made the transition, his name definitely belongs near the top. Freeman, Olson and Harper separated themselves from everyone else so as long as those 3 are your top, there’s not much to argue. Goldschmidt is getting older and older and Guerrero Jr is enigma these days. Brandon Belt is on the list but not currently on a team, which begs the question can you be a first baseman if you first have no base to man?
Catcher has turned into an extremely strong position all around the game. Rutschman, Smith, Murphy, and Relmuto needed to be the top 4 in some order and really any order for those four would've been defendable. Old friend Bill Contreras made the list right next to his brother Willson, who the Cardinals almost killed off last season because Adam Wainwright sucks now. It’s a strong group, with guys like Jonah Heim, Patrick Bailey, and Fransisco Alvarez controversially not on the list.
Atlanta boast two aces in their rotation, Spencer Strider and Max Fried and both made the top 10. Fried missed most of 2023 with a forearm injury, which dropped his overall status while Strider continued his ascent to elite status. Of note, Corbin Burners has the wrong team next to his name as he was just traded to the Baltimore Orioles as I'm typing this. 87-year-old Justin Verlander is still chugging along while fellow 87-year-old Max Scherzer finally succumbed to inevitability.
The Braves feature one of the best bullpens in baseball but it’s a pen I would describe as built on a strength of depth vs any one top-end guy. Raisel Iglesias certainly had a case here and AJ Minter maybe even had a better case but ultimately both guys missed. Reynaldo Lopez also probably has a case in some circumstances but it’s not actually clear what his role will be in 2024, starter or reliever. Old Friend Chris Martin has had a tremendous couple years recently and snuck on the back end. Jose Alvarado gets the 10th spot, but is wondering if the grounds crew can come out and improve that.
And that’s your positional rankings heading into the 2024 season. All toll, the Braves had 7 guys selected over 6 positional groups and should’ve no doubt had an 8th with the Ozzie snub. Atlanta of course is probably the most talented team in baseball so they should be all over these rankings. We’ll see what it means for the season.