Where Do We Go From Here?: Part 5, the Outfield

ATLANTA, GEORGIA – JULY 13: Ronald Acuna Jr. #13 of the Atlanta Braves reacts as he tries to beat out a ground ball he hit in the first inning during the first intrasquad game of summer workouts at Truist Park on July 13, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

If you’re late to the series, get caught up here:

The outfield for the Atlanta Braves could provide the most intrigue going forward of any area of the team.

Within one position group, you have the future – and perhaps present – face of the franchise. For the 2021 season, at least one of the Braves’ most heralded prospects will also be manning the outfield grass. And a couple of recent franchise fixtures could be on their way out the door.

Add in one of the team’s two 2020 MVP candidates splitting time between the outfield and DH, and there’s plenty to talk about.

Looking Back

The 2020 season and the Braves’ third-straight NL East title was, at various times, driven by members of the team’s outfield.

To start at the top, despite battling injuries, leadoff hitter and center/right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. was key to the team’s success this year. Acuña hit just .257 but still managed 14 home runs, eight stolen bases and a .987 OPS over the 60-game season.

September was a memorable one for corner outfielder Adam Duvall, who launched 11 of his 16 home runs during that month. That included a pair of three-homer games on Sept. 2 and Sept. 9. Unfortunately, Duvall skidded into the finish line from there, hitting just .169 with three home runs and 16 strikeouts in his final 74 plate appearances of the season.

Marcell Ozuna became more of a full-time designated hitter for the Braves, but he began the season in the outfield. In most years, Ozuna’s offensive performance would be enough to launch him to the top of the MVP race, as he notched a team-high 18 home runs and 56 RBIs to go with a .338 batting average and 1.067 OPS.

Two more Braves, Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis, played 20 or more games in the outfield this season.

Markakis came on late after initially opting out of the season and looked like a younger version of himself. He hit .368 with a 1.025 OPS for the month of August, striking out just eight times to go with 21 hits in 18 games. The veteran cooled from there, though, hitting just .164 with a .451 OPS in September.

Inciarte also struggled at the plate, hitting .190 with a .512 OPS in 131 plate appearances.

Who’s Coming Back?

From that group, the only player seemingly guaranteed to be back in Atlanta in 2021 is Acuña. Heading into his age-23 season, the Venezuelan phenom is signed through at least 2026 and is slated to make $5 million next year.

Probably also a lock for the 2021 starting outfield is Cristian Pache. Inexplicably left at the alternate site for most of the 2020 season despite the aforementioned struggles of Inciarte, Pache got his chance to start when Duvall went down with an oblique injury in the NLCS. The 21-year-old made his second career start in Game 2 of the NLCS and went 4-for-22 in the series with three walks, a double and a home run. With some good at-bats under his belt and an established reputation as an incredible defender, I would be shocked if Pache is not the Opening Day center fielder.

Duvall would also seem to be set to make a return in a starting role, despite cooling off in September and only hitting .100 with 11 strikeouts in 21 postseason at-bats. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the 32-year-old could be expected to make about $5 million in arbitration. That’s a good deal and would allow the Braves the flexibility to platoon him with a left-handed hitting corner outfield, a concept we’ll visit a little later.

Ozuna is a player that the Braves would certainly like to bring back, but it won’t be cheap. He went to Atlanta on a one-year, $18 million deal and could not have displayed his offensive prowess any better. The future of the designated hitter rule will play a role in how much money he could bring in, but he’ll still be a big target for American League teams regardless.

One would assume that the era of Markakis and Inciarte has passed in Atlanta, though. Markakis isn’t under contract, so it’s likely the soon-to-be 37-year-old will either retire or have to find somewhere else to play in 2021. Inciarte has a guaranteed year and $9.7 million left on his contract, but it’s probably time for the Braves to cut ties with him somehow.

Who’s Coming In?

One name that will get mentioned a lot in the next few months is Drew Waters. During the 2019 season, Waters hit .309 with seven homers, nine triples and 40 doubles in 573 plate appearances in Double-A and Triple-A ball. He will hopefully be a legitimate bat in the big-league lineup one day, but it’s not expected that will come to start the 2021 season.

There are several notable names that could come out of the free agent market, but those really depend on what happens with the DH rule. If Ozuna is in the fold, the Braves might turn to someone like Josh Reddick – a career .270 hitter with solid power against right-handed pitching – to platoon with Duvall in presumably left field. The Braves could also re-visit Yasiel Puig, who bats right-handed but has a career .285 batting average and .845 OPS against righties.

Joc Pederson will perhaps be the most popular platoon option, and for good reason. Currently playing in the World Series with the Dodgers, Pederson is a year removed from a season in which he carried a .920 OPS and 36 homers in 464 plate appearances against right-handed pitching. If he can rekindle that kind of success, a Duvall-Pederson platoon might even work to boost the lineup without a DH.

George Springer – a three-time All-Star and capable defender – would be the best option if the Braves wanted a full upgrade in left field. He carried an .899 OPS with 14 homers in 2020 after a huge 2019 season that saw him hit .292 with a .974 OPS and 39 home runs. At 31 years old, Springer will be looking to land one last big contract and will have plenty of suitors based on his ability to hit for both power and contact while also holding his own in the field.

There are other options, such as Springer and Reddick’s 2020 teammate, Michael Brantley, who would likely only come into play if Ozuna is re-signed as a DH. Brantley lacks the power to provide what the Braves need behind Freddie Freeman, but he’s a consistent .300-level hitter with enough power to be a threat deeper in the lineup. There’s also always the chance that the Marlins don’t pick up Starling Marte‘s option, but that seems extremely unlikely, as does Nick Castellanos opting out of the three years and $48 million remaining on his contract.

In the end, most of the 2021 Braves outfield hinges on the status of the DH, whether the team can bring back Ozuna and how much money is available. The good news is that a core of Acuña, Pache and Duvall is likely in place to create options no matter what happens.

16 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here?: Part 5, the Outfield”

  1. Think Reddick would be a good fit as you suggested, but getting Ozuna back, assuming the DH stays, is priority one

  2. In general, I’m a big fan of platooning. Tampa Bay is showing how successful a strategy they can be. Bobby Cox loved them.

    (Jimy Williams probably took it to an extreme; if I recall correctly, when he went and managed Houston, he trotted out a different lineup nearly every night, to the point that people at the time held him out as an example of overmanaging. It felt less matchup-driven, and more just going by gut and showing the players who’s boss so no one could feel too comfortable.)

    But as far as I can tell, Snitker doesn’t seem to like that strategy nearly as much. I think he may not be as comfortable with moving his players around; he seems to believe in giving his players an expectation of consistency: the job’s yours until you lose it, that kind of thing.

    When we have flawed but useful players, from Duvall to Riley to Camargo, they really shouldn’t be full-time starters. The best thing to do would be to figure out who would be the best caddy to make up for their weaknesses. So I like the strategy you outline, I just hope that AA and Snitker could actually align on the strategy.

  3. The Braves had a great run and the future is bright…Freddie was great and hope he gets the MVP. But after watching MLB for over 70 years I must say…Ozuna was something ELSE. Time after time he came thru with a timely hit, his demeanor, excitement, and club house leadership was tremendous and money can not buy this. Hope the Braves can keep him. Chop Chop

  4. What the heck is this new emphasis from Smoltz on guys throwing the ball “firm?” I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean, unless it’s just him trying to find a synonym for “hard.” He just gets fixated on these concepts and can’t let them go, and it’s hard not to find it irritating after a while.

  5. Enjoyed seeing Muncy get Hrbek’d. Guess it’s just legal to pull runners off the bag, in the World Series at least.

  6. “Firm” is pitching coach speak for a high spin fastball that holds its line when viewed from the side. Fried has a firm fastball. Wright does not and needed to change to a sinker as a result.

  7. @7, thanks! Appreciate the education and an excuse to be irritated at myself instead of Smoltz, who I am trying really hard not to get frustrated with.

  8. from your late nite late arriving reporter……

    Watched ‘Rebecca’… change channels…11.15

    arrived at the top of the 8th…6-6

    Anderson pitching, 2 out, Seager bloop single, 7=6, lucky bastards….

    top 9th, Rays must score.. Gman Choi, lead off walk! fly out, one out…..Lowe strikes out, 2 out
    Adamses bloop single, still 2 down, pinch runner at 2nd…Graterol pitching… Renfroe flyout, bad guys win

    3-1…ring a bell?

  9. CORRECTION!!!!

    top 9, Dodgers batting leading 7=6 12.02

    ensen pitching, strike out Japanese catcher

    fly out 2 put…but

    Arozerina ?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 3 for 4. one @113

    walked him 2 om 2 outPhillips at bat

    UNFUCKINBELIEVABLE!!!!

    rays win rays win, score twice on dodger errprs

    Phillips singled to CF, tying run scored after Taylor bobble, winning run, Arizaeena, scores after catcher bobbles easy third out with score only tied. 2 err0rs!!!!!!

    2 -2 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. @5 Smoltz has not been good this postseason, and his head is a few sizes too big. I have heard so many complaints about him. What I really dislike about him is the casual baseball fan often times has no idea what he is talking about. That’s not good for baseball.

  11. We just need to re-sign MARCEL to a 5 yr.$$$$$,,contract n f.a. ace pitcher,,((BAUER)))..thats all we need…Drew its around the corner n if DUVALL failed he’ll be in…GOOO BRAVOS”,..

  12. I can solve your problems by simply one thing going to the minors and bringing up good players
    You got a player down in the Gwinnett stripers team then whatever out of every 11 times he played pro he hit home runs his name’s Rafael Ortega he used to wear number 18 for the braves I’m hoping next year he’ll get to wear some number and be back on the team the kid has played every position in the outfield in Gwinnett and he’s also been a DH over there I don’t know how you can make it any better dudes and yes ladies he’s good looking as well

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