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.
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