In this article, I will discuss The Atlanta Braves Next 5 players who I believe will have the biggest impact this season. I will not be including Ronald Acuña Jr, Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, Mike Soroka, and Max Fried in this list. I’m going to focus more on the next tier of players that may not necessarily be the next five best players, but could determine the outcome of Atlanta’s season.
Braves Next Five: Fresh Prince of Bel Air
Will Smith was the first big splash of the off-season when Atlanta inked him to a 3 yr/40 million deal. Smith has been one of the most consistent relievers over the past few seasons. The southpaws slider produced an elite strikeout rate (13.2 SO9) through 65.1 innings last season. He has the chance to be the Braves version of Josh Hader or a prime Andrew Miller type of lefty in this bullpen. If used properly, he will get most of the high leverage opportunities whether that is in the 9th inning or earlier. The signing of Will Smith allows everyone in the bullpen to slide down a spot which makes this a very formidable group. The strength of this bullpen will shorten games for the first time since the days of O’Vent’Brel. Atlanta will have the opportunity to win more games despite starters only laboring through five inning stints unlike past seasons.
Braves Next Five: The Real “X” Factor
The Braves rotation success this year will rely a lot on which Mike Foltynewicz we get. If Folty is back to his 2018 version then Atlanta will likely be a top 10 rotation in baseball. If Folty struggles again this year, then this group will certainly be far worse. For better or worse, the Braves are relying on Folty to be their third best pitcher this season. In my opinion, a struggling Foltynewicz will likely end his time in Atlanta due to inconsistencies. This would force the Braves to use their prospect capital to fill yet another spot in the rotation or trade for a reliable veteran to solidify the rotation. Mike Foltynewicz has the stuff to be a mid to top of rotation caliber pitcher when he is on which is what Atlanta will be looking for this season.
The Former #1 Pick
The Atlanta Braves, arguably, rushed Dansby Swanson up to the big leagues much faster than most organizations would have. After spending minimal time in the minor leagues, he was quickly in Atlanta’s lineup to help weaken the blow of another lost season in the middle of a rebuild. He has since shown signs of being an above average shortstop in the big leagues, but has yet to complete a fully healthy season. Dansby was a very productive player last season before being attacked by the injury bug again. He even garnered some all-star attention for his great first half and seemed destined to hit over 20 homers for the first time in his career. The Braves need Swanson to look like the first half of last season to really lengthen this lineup. It is also worth mentioning that his presence as a consistent defensive shortstop is something that is greatly valued by this team.
Travis “Lil D” d’Arnaud
Travis d’Arnaud is another productive player that has struggled to stay healthy in his career. He put together a solid season with the Rays after stops with the Mets and Dodgers. He really turned it on in the second half hitting cleanup for a 96 win Tampa Bay team. He hit 16 home runs in only 92 games in the middle of a playoff run. Traditionally, D’Arnaud has been well-known for his pitch framing ability despite that statistic being less impressive with Tampa. However, this is likely just due to him adjusting to new pitchers mid-season. The Braves will be expecting him to also lengthen the lineup and provide some stability at catcher after the loss of Brian McCann. Atlanta really needs Travis to stay healthy and provide some power in the middle of the lineup to prevent the back half of the lineup from being a true weakness.
The Big Bear
Marcell Ozuna was the final splash of Atlanta’s offseason when he surprisingly signed a 1 yr/$18 million deal. The Braves quickly pivoted to Ozuna just days after the Donaldson loss. I don’t believe we will see another 6 WAR season out of Ozuna, but Atlanta is hoping for him to replace the loss of power. He isn’t a gold glove caliber outfielder, but he isn’t terrible in the field either despite his wall antics. Freddie Freeman’s best seasons typically correlate to the seasons where he has a legitimate threat behind him in the cleanup spot. Atlanta will need another bounce back season from a guy in a walk year to put this lineup in the top tier of the National League again. Hopefully, Marcell’s elite exit velocity will translate into more success much like what we saw from him in Miami.
Thanks for reading about “The Atlanta Braves Next Five”. If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy Drake’s last piece, “Atlanta Braves Bullpen: Ahead of the Curve”.