30 Teams in 30 Days - Atlanta Braves

Myworld missed a bit on this division. We had the Marlins right for third place but you would have to reverse the Nationals and Mets at the top of the division and the Braves and Phillies at the bottom of the division to make it perfect.

Overview - They are moving into a new stadium and they have signed a number of veteran pitchers. That will not extricate them from the bottom of the division. Last year they finished last in slugging percentage, last in homeruns and 29th in runs scored. A full season from Matt Kemp will help the offense, but that only gives them two power hitters. Dansby Swanson is still an unproven rookie, but if he wins the rookie of the year award as many predict that will help the Braves at the top of the lineup. Once the innings have been controlled for the younger pitchers you will see the Braves either try to trade the veterans they acquired or waive them to give their younger pitchers an opportunity.

Strengths - The one big strength the Braves have is Freddie Freeman. A few more men on base and he could have driven in more than 100 runs. He plays a solid defense, should be more protected in the lineup with Matt Kemp hitting behind him and provides leadership to the younger players. Shortstop should be well taken care of with rookie Dansby Swanson starting the season there. The Braves lack alternatives should he struggle, unless they promote Ozzie Albies, who they are grooming to fill the second base slot next to Dansby. If Ender Inciarte can stay healthy he can cover a lot of ground in centerfield and provide the Braves with a solid 1-2 punch ahead of the power hitters Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp. Matt Kemp will provide some power in left but he is far from the player he was with the Dodgers. His defense has tumbled and his hitting is no longer as feared as it once was. He will still hit the ball a long way and with the top of the order getting on base this could be a 100 RBI season for him.

Weakness - Myworld is not enamored with the two 40 year old arms R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon. Dickey throws a knuckle ball so his arm could be ageless, but like Kemp he is far from his days when he won a Cy Young with the Mets. Colon finds ways to get hitters out but he gave up a lot of hits last year and doesn’t miss bats. Jaime Garcia is another arm the Braves are relying on but he has had trouble staying healthy. He started 30 games last year but with a 4.67 ERA. Adonis Garcia did hit 14 homeruns last year but at 32 he does not provide a lot of upside at third base. Brandon Phillips was acquired to strengthen second base but he is another player on the down side of his career. In right field Nick Markakis drove in 89 runs but his power has disappeared. A .397 slugging percentage is not what you want to see from your corner outfielders. The bullpen lacks a closer, but that is never a priority with a team recognizing they will not be winning a lot of games. Jim Johnson and Arodys Vizcaino have both had closing opportunities and have both struggled to find success in those roles. The best closer may be Mike Foltynewics, who will be used as the fifth starter. Mauricio Cabrera is another hard thrower who has closer stuff but he will begin the season on the disabled list. Expect him to earn that role by mid-season if he can get healthy.

Breakout Prospects - Dansby Swanson is the most obvious choice. He is the favorite to win rookie of the year in the National League. The Braves are hoping for a .300 bat with double digit homeruns and close to gold glove level defense. Ozzie Albies should join him soon from the second base side. The acquisition of Brandon Phillips delayed Albies arrival but expect Phillips to be traded to a contender by mid-season opening up the spot for Albies. Travis Demeritte has some interesting tools, especially carrying a bat loaded with power. He still swings and misses a lot but if Adonis struggles at third Travis could be called on to replace him. Where the Braves hope to really cash in is with their younger pitchers. The Braves acquired a number of veteran pitchers to allow their younger pitchers to gain more experience at the minor league level. Sean Newcomb may be the first youngster ready to be promoted. Sean throws from the left side with a fastball in the mid-90s and a curve and change that should play against major league hitters. Lucas Sims should be able to help from the right side but he needs to prove that he can throw strikes.

Prospects to Watch - There are a lot of them, especially from the mound. Touki Toussaint was acquired from the Diamondbacks. Myworld loves his 6′3″ frame and high 90s heat, but throwing strikes has always been a challenge for Touki. Kolby Allard and Max Fried are number one draft picks who throw from the left side. Both are trying to recover from injuries, Allard from his back and Fried from his elbow. The hardest thrower of the bunch may be recently acquired Luiz Gohara from the Mariners via Brazil who has trouble throwing strikes but consistently hits triple digits with his fastball. His conditioning could also be a problem. Mike Soroka comes from Canada and is another first round pick. He is probably the least overpowering of this group with a fastball in the low 90s but his secondary pitches are quality and he commands his pitches well. On the position side Kevin Maitan appeared on many top 100 prospects lists but he has yet to have a professional at bat. He was signed by the Braves out of the Dominican for a $4.25 million bonus last year. Ronald Acuna is a potential five tool light outfielder. He dominated the Australian baseball league last year as a teenager. Rio Ruiz was given a nice signing bonus for a fourth round pick by the Astros but he has fallen short of his hype. He needs to pick up on his career if he expects to meet his promise.

Expected Finish - Too many players on the down side of their careers as they wait for the young players to percolate up. They will fight with the Phillies for the last place spot, but trading all their veterans toward the end of the season will cinch the fifth spot for them.

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