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The Braves core was young and is now it is even younger

With the addition of Jarred Kelenic, Atlanta’s position player group gets even younger than it already was.

Seattle Mariners v Atlanta Braves
New additional Jarred Kelenic (r) joins the Braves’ longest tenured player, Ozzie Albies, as part of team’s position player core under team control through at least 2025.
Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images

Heading into 2024, the Atlanta Braves are looking to continue a playoff streak that started when the team won the National League East in 2018 and includes winning the 2021 World Series.

A lot has changed since 2018 as only Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna, Jr. are still with the team from a position-player standpoint. As for the pitchers, only Max Fried and A. J. Minter remain with the team, and they are both entering the final year of their contacts with Atlanta.

Albies is the longest tenured Brave, debuting on August 1, 2017 - one week before Fried and three weeks before Minter. Here’s the kicker - the Braves longest tenured player hasn’t yet turned 27 as he won’t celebrate his birthday until January 7, 2024.

Furthermore, the team’s best player - and the reigning NL MVP - has yet to turn 26, as Acuna, Jr’s birthday is one week before Christmas.

That 2018 team was fairly young with Baseball-Reference showing an average age of 27.4 for the position players and 27.7 for the pitchers. Fast forward to ‘23 and the average age only slightly increased for position players - 27.9 - but was pushing 30 (29.9) for the pitchers, helped by the ageless Charlie Morton and Jesse Chavez who both started last season as 39-year-olds.

Where is this going, you ask?

Well, as it stands now, the Braves current position player core has gotten even younger after this week’s trade for Jarred Kelenic. There’s still a long way to go until pitchers and catcher report in two months, so something could happen to alter this, but the current still-under-30-and-controllable-beyond-2025 group of position players (age as-of December 5, 2023, in parentheses) includes:

  • Acuna (25)
  • Albies (26)
  • Michael Harris II (22)
  • Kelenic (24)
  • Austin Riley (26)
  • Orlando Arcia (29)
  • Sean Murphy (29)
  • Matt Olson (29)

That doesn’t include Vaughn Grissom who, at least for now, could be part of that group and he’s only 22.

Evan White, also part of this week’s Mariners trade is 27, although it is too soon to know if he will stay with the organization and if he does if he will be able to overcome issues that have plagued him since 2021. Although he struggled offensively at the MLB level, his three minor league seasons prior to 2020 saw him post seasons with a .877, .824 and .838 OPS, so with health, maybe there’s still potential for him to be a factor for the organization who controls the 2020 AL Gold Glove winner through 2028.

The pitching staff could be in a transitional phase after 2024 given next season could be the final champaign for Morton and the swansong as Braves the afore mentioned Fried and Minter. It is possible - maybe even likely - that Atlanta will add another experience arm (young or not) to the starting rotation, but there is still a lot of youth on the mound - although many of those names are unproven and/or coming off injuries.

Here’s a look at the under-30 experienced members of the pitching staff who are controllable beyond 2025 (age as-of December 5, 2023, in parentheses):

  • Bryce Elder (24)
  • Spencer Strider (24)
  • Huasacar Ynoa (25)
  • Ian Anderson (25)
  • Dylan Lee (28)
  • Joe Jimenez (28)
  • Reynaldo Lopez (29)

That list doesn’t include non-40-man roster prospects nor guys who debuted last year like AJ Smith-Shawver (21), Darious Vines (25), Dylan Dodd (25) and Daysbel Hernandez (26). This isn’t to suggest that all of those names will be long-term parts of the Braves core, but it is possible that one or two could be.

For a historical perspective, when the Braves had their legendary run from 1991 through 2005, at no point was the average position player core younger than 27.9 (which occurred three seasons in-a-row from 1995 to 1997). This current run has seen three seasons where the average position player age was 27.9 or younger - 27.9 in 2023, 27.5 in 2022 and 27.4 in 2018.

The pitching staff of the two eras are not drastically different but next year could see a dip for the current era - or a peak if Jesse Chavez returns to the team.

The metaphorical playoff window that opened in 2018 looks to remain open for at least another three-to-five years with a nucleus of position players who could ultimately spend five to 10 years as teammates.

Yes, there will be changes, but the 2027 starting position player group could largely resemble the one that took the field in 2023. The most mind-boggling part of that statement is that of the core listed above - most will still be in their prime in four years.

In the meantime, the Braves will see if the untapped offensive potential of Kelenic will solve the left field hole that has been a fluid roster spot for decades. At the least, he will be an eight-years-younger option than the outgoing Eddie Rosario and is 11 years the junior of Rosario’s some-time platoon mate from last season, Kevin Pillar.

The Braves got league-average performance from Rosario last season, so Kelenic won’t have a high bar to clear next season offensively. Younger doesn’t mean better but Kelenic gives the Braves a chance to be younger and better next season.

If he is then this generational core will be even stronger - and younger - that it was last season.

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