With Spring Training fully underway, we are doing a daily look into the organizational outlook of each position in the Atlanta Braves system. In this article we are going to evaluate how trades have impacted the team’s depth at first base, which has always been on the leaner side as far as prospects go.
40-man roster outlook
The Braves have one of the cornerstones of the lineup at first base, Matt Olson. So as long as he stays healthy their depth shouldn’t be a concern. Especially when Olson has a history of taking his game to another level in odd years, which 2023 is one. Olson for his career posted OPS marks of 1.003 (59 games in 2017), .896 (2019), and .911 (2021) in odd years - with just a career high .802 OPS in even years. Add in the fact that he’s now in his second year in Atlanta, and facing NL pitching, and he could potentially be in for a big year.
Olson is the only pure first baseman on the 40 man, though Austin Riley, Travis d’Arnaud, and offseason addition Jordan Luplow all have big league experience at first should Olson need a day off. Riley seems like the obvious backup, but with Sean Murphy likely to take away opportunities behind the plate it is actually likely to be d’Arnaud as the top backup here.
The Braves have been thin at first down on the farm since Freddie Freeman graduated as a prospect more than a decade ago now, and this year is no exception. No true first baseman that started 2022 in the organization was ranked in our preseason prospect list. The only first baseman listed in our top prospect list was 2022 draftee David McCabe, who the team is giving a try at third to start his career.
That’s not to say there isn’t an interesting prospect, and one who made the honorable mention list in Mahki Backstrom. Backstrom is a bat first prospect who hit at a .769 OPS in Low-A last year, but he was still only 20 years old and after a slow start to his season did post an .844 OPS from June 4th until the end of the season. The Braves also have fan favorite Drew Lugbauer who started his career with a fantastic season in rookie ball but has since faded. Lugbauer has tremendous raw power and hit 28 home runs last season, but his ever-climbing strikeout rates have stuck him in limbo at Double-A.
The Braves drafted two guys who could play first in the 2022 MLB Draft. The previously mentioned McCabe, a fourth-round pick, is a slugger out of Charlotte that got a brief taste of Low-A after signing last summer. He is likely to start in High-A Rome, but is also going to be given a look at third base first defensively. McCabe didn’t face the best pitching in college, so while there is real offensive ceiling in his bat, he will also have to prove he can be productive against high end velocity on a regular basis.
The other draft pick was 12th round pick Justin Janas out of Illinois. Janas, who also got to Low-A briefly, is a very different type of player than McCabe. Janas is more of a contact-oriented bat who hits for average, but doesn’t have the power typically seen at first base.