2020 Braves: Who Needs to Step Up?

There are several members of the Atlanta Braves’ 2020 roster that will hands-down be the biggest keys to success.

If the top four hitters – Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna – and particularly starting pitchers Mike Soroka and Max Fried don’t pull close to their weight, it’s difficult to see the Braves having much success in 2020. But to truly take that next step and have a special season and postseason, the contributions will have to extend beyond those front-line guys.

Here are some other Braves that need big 2020 campaigns, both for reaching team goals and improving their own careers.

Dansby Swanson, SS

The Braves got to see a glimpse of who Dansby could be as a hitter during the first few months of 2019. At the point he went down with an injury in late July, Swanson was hitting .265 with 17 home runs already, a career-high. He didn’t have that same pop upon returning in late August, but the former No. 1 pick came through in the postseason, going 7-for-18 in the NLDS against the Cardinals with a huge RBI double late in the Braves’ Game 3 win.

Swanson has shown more promise during the restarted “summer training” period with opposite-field pop. If he can continue to show progress as a hitter during this 60-game season, he can go a long way toward shoring up the second half of the Braves’ lineup.

Mike Foltynewicz, SP

When the Braves began the 2019 season, they had a couple rotation spots shored up with the back part of the rotation up for grabs among a group of youngsters. As the Braves begin the 2020 season, the same thing could be said as injury-plagued free agent addition Cole Hamels has unsurprisingly remained injury-plagued.

The main difference is that after an All-Star season in 2018, Foltynewicz turned in a forgettable 2019 effort and isn’t one of the stalwarts atop the rotation anymore. And despite a successful defense of the NL East crown, what gets forgotten is how fortunate the Braves were to get an extended stretch of incredible offense toward the middle of the 2019 season. Thanks in part to Folty’s struggles, the rotation was a mess in June, which led to the addition of Dallas Kuechel.

With the season timeline compressed in 2020, the Braves could be in trouble if more rotation issues sync up with an offensive lull this year. The team absolutely needs the fiery righthander to be more like he was in 2018, when he had a 2.85 ERA and a 1.082 WHIP, if the Braves are to finally experience postseason glory again.

Johan Camargo, 3B/UTIL

Speaking of players that would rather pretend 2019 didn’t exist, next up is Johan Camargo. The switch-hitter from Panama did very well as the Braves’ full-time third baseman in 2018 before being relegated to a super utility role in 2019 with the arrival of Josh Donaldson. That experiment didn’t go well, to say the least, as Camargo spent time in the minors while posting a .233 average at the major league level.

But with Donaldson gone to Minnesota and the designated hitter in play for the National League this year, Camargo should return to an everyday role. He’ll likely split time with Austin Riley at third base and could also see time in the DH role depending on how the outfield situation shakes out. Further, with the Braves already lacking left-handed bats because of Nick Markakis’ opt-out and Freddie Freeman perhaps limited early, Camargo could fill a void in the lineup if he can find his bat again.

Shane Greene, RP

For a lot of fans, Shane Greene was the biggest acquisition for the Braves at last season’s trade deadline. His 22 saves with the lowly Detroit Tigers came with a 1.18 ERA and 0.868 WHIP, and he was the clear-cut closer of the group that came to Atlanta in late July. Unfortunately, his time with the Braves got off to a rocky start, and he was supplanted by Mark Melancon.

Fortunately, Greene righted the ship as a setup man, throwing 20 1/3 innings in his final 21 appearances of the season with a 1.77 ERA with 17 strikeouts to just 3 walks in that period. With the Braves’ bullpen expected to be even more crowded this year after the addition of Will Smith, Greene likely can’t afford any stumbles like he had in early August last season. As much as the Braves would like Greene to be great, this one is more for the player than the team.

Travis D’Arnaud, C

Travis D’Arnaud brings expected pop from the right side of the plate, after notching 16 homers and a .251 average for three teams last season. But as important as D’Arnaud’s bat is, the defensive side of catching is where the Braves desperately need improvement, particularly in stopping the run. The Braves finished the season with a 21 percent caught-stealing rate in 2019, good for a tie for 27th in the major leagues and below the league average for the sixth straight season.

The Braves haven’t had a catcher throw out 25 percent of attempted thefts since 2016, when A.J. Pierzynski hit that number on the button, while Flowers threw out just 5 PERCENT of attempts that season to help the Braves finish dead last in the league. The last time the Braves were above league average in that category was 2013, when Evan Gattis, Gerald Laird and a much younger Brian McCann split time behind the dish.

D’Arnaud can help turn that around, though, after he threw out 29 percent of attempts last season. Matching that number won’t vault the Braves to the top of the league, by any measure, but perhaps if D’Arnaud is behind the plate, runners will at least have to think twice about swiping a bag against Atlanta for the first time in several years.

If one or two of these players play up to their potential, the Braves should have little trouble getting back to the postseason. If most or all of them have good seasons, we could be in for something special in Atlanta.

Thanks for reading “2020 Braves: Who Need to Step Up”. In case you missed it, here’s our last piece on Braves Roster Updates.

28 thoughts on “2020 Braves: Who Needs to Step Up?”

  1. It’s a shame that the radar gun picked favorites last night and chose to read right for everyone but Folty.

  2. See, I read those comments completely different. I was actually encouraged because I felt like Folty was just not worried about his velocity and had his mind on other aspects of his game. Even if he’s wrong, I thought that was a good sign.

  3. @2 I would agree but he wasn’t particularly effective without velocity and regardless of where his head is at, he was lit up. We need more out of him than that kind of outing.

  4. @3 Oh I agree wholeheartedly that he needs to be better, but at the end of the day, it was an exhibition in rain heavy enough that they probably wouldn’t have started the game if it counted. If Soroka got lit up in those circumstances, we wouldn’t bat an eye. If a hitter struck out three times, we’d say “meh it’s an exhibition.” Folty – rightfully so, in some regards – gets special scrutiny.

  5. Takeaway from last night: as long as we can bat against pitchers who aren’t ready for the major leagues, we’ll be fine.

  6. @2, I’m not sure we can take Folty’s expressions of unconcern at face value. These guys are trained to say platitudes on camera. “Just got to make sure I don’t do too much, focus on executing my game plan and letting things work out,” and the like.

    What was he supposed to say, “I dunno why I sucked but if I was a fan I’d be worried too?”

  7. @6 That’s kind of what I’m getting at. He was giving an answer that reflected, “Hey let’s not worry too much about that velocity” to me. Not “I’m blaming the scoreboard for my problems.”

  8. Yeah but I’m gonna worry about the velocity plenty. They are explicitly trained to lie when they’re asked if they’re worried. Rub some dirt on it etc.

  9. I appreciate the optimism, Jeremy, but the point is that Soroka would never even mention the board. We’ve been here before, and we know that it’s pretty likely that if Folty is complaining about the freaking board postgame, it’s because the fact that his velocity on it was down was distracting him and affecting his performance during the game.

    Now, it is an exhibition game, so I’m perfectly willing to forget about this whole thing from a results standpoint. None of it matters. But I think it’s pretty clear that Folty continues to get derailed by stupid crap, and that’s setting aside what it might mean if his velocity really is down that much (which I’d say lets give another game or two before we freak out about).

    If he really didn’t care about the board, he wouldn’t have said anything about the board at all. Wouldn’t have even been looking at the board. So I think it’s fair to guess that the whole thing was way more “I’m blaming the scoreboard for my problems” than “let’s not worry too much about that velocity.” Folty doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt for this sort of thing at this point.

  10. @9 a lot of that is fair but also remember that quotes are almost always the result of a question. Folty likely didn’t just walk up to a reporter and say, “Hey Mark let me tell you my thoughts on my fastball velo tonight.”
    Someone asked him about velocity, so he gave his thoughts. Were they the best thoughts? Maybe not. But I’m sure he would’ve preferred to just not talk about it.

  11. He also said he didn’t care about the three pitches that he gave up home runs on because they were all solo shots. I wasn’t aware that the old axiom about giving up a solo home run not being the end of the world applied when you give up three in a row.

  12. Folty just has a way with words, doesn’t he?

    I’m not too worked up about it. This is a put up year for Folty. He’ll be 28, he’s making $6M this year, and Atlanta will non-tender or trade him after the year if he struggles again. So if he thinks it was the gun, then so be it. We’ll know soon enough if he’s 2015-2017 & 2019 Folty or 2018 Folty.

  13. FWIW, the way I read Folty’s comments is that he realizes the velo was down but he was blaming it on the rain and the lack of rosin. Me personally, I’m blaming it on the arm.

  14. Can anyone confirm that Folty looked even thinner than he did last year? Some on the Twitters said that.

  15. Looked the same to me. I think people are just terrible at judging these things over video and think they’re seeing things that they’re not. A bunch of people said they thought Freeman looked borderline emaciated or something when he came back from COVID-19 and it turned out he’d lost a grand total of one pound.

  16. For somebody like Folty who seems to be in their head a lot (and I say that not at all critically, as I def. am one of those people myself), I wonder if playing without fans might make it harder in some way to keep your brain from excessively picking yourself apart. Dunno if that would translate to velocity being down/what happened yesterday, but I do wonder if the psychological weirdness of this year might affect some players’ performance more than others. Or if there might just be a learning curve to it.

  17. I am certain that playing without fans will take some getting used to. On that Chipper Jones Instagram Live video with Boog Sciambi that someone shared here from a couple weeks ago, Chipper talked about how challenging it was for him to pinch hit or be a designated hitter — just a totally different process to get mentally locked in. He explained that he figured it out, but it took time. I’m sure it will take time for all of these players, too.

  18. 15 — I was thinking that too before I even saw other people suggesting the same thing on Twitter.

  19. @19: with the crowd noise, the radio broadcast didn’t sound really any different at all last night.

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