Q: How do you think the rotation should shape out?
A: There has definitely been some uncertainty to the Braves’ 5th rotation spot all offseason. There could potentially be 4 or 5 answers to that last rotation spot. And with the Hamels setback, it doesn’t make anything easier.
Hamels is expected to miss the first week or two of the season and until then, the Braves are currently left with just three locks into the rotation for the Opening Day roster. These guys being Mike Soroka, Max Fried, and Mike Foltynewicz. There are two spots open that could potentially be filled by two out of these five pitchers – Felix Hernandez, Sean Newcomb, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, and Touki Toussaint. All of these guys are qualified for the rotation, but will ultimately depend on how Spring Training goes.
Q: Who will fill the void at 3B?
A: Again, this one will likely be determined by how Spring Training goes. As of right now, it will probably be Johan Camargo manning the left side of the infield along with Dansby Swanson. But if Austin Riley hits .450 in Spring Training with 8 homers, then you’ll almost definitely be seeing him out there at 3rd base. Both of these guys are said to have gotten in way better shape and improved their games massively over the offseason. Camargo has lost over 10 lbs. and Riley has changed his swing to adjust to a Major League offspeed pitch when needed.
There is still a possibility that the Braves still make a move for a star third baseman such as Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado, but with Spring Training already up and running, it seems very doubtful that would happen. I am definitely one to believe that the Braves can be perfectly fine with a Riley/Camargo platoon for the 2020 season.
Q: Do you think Acuna will go 40/40?
A: When Ronald Acuna arrived at Spring Training, it was quoted from Ozzie Albies that Acuna is looking toward a 50/50 season. The 50s symbolizing homers and stolen bases. Acuna is a generational talent who we will be seeing as a top superstar in the sport for many years to come. Acuna came so close to the 40/40 in 2019 but fell short by 3 stolen bases with a small injury late into the season. 50/50 seems like a big longshot but 40/40 definitely seems achievable.
Q: Where do you see the Braves finishing in the NL East standings for 2020?
A: The Braves lost a key player during the 2019-20 offseason. Josh Donaldson signed with the Minnesota Twins in January on a 4 year $92M deal. However, don’t make the mistake to think the Braves only got worse in the offseason because they did anything but that. You can argue that the biggest problem in 2019 was the Atlanta bullpen. And I would agree with that statement. The Braves have solved those issues by bringing in guys like Darren O’Day, Chris Rusin, Chris Martin, Shane Green, Mark Melancon, Josh Tomlin, and Will Smith. Those bullpen issues, you can pretty much say goodbye to.
The Atlanta Braves also added much depth with the position players. They have signed players such as Travis D’Arnaud and Marcell Ozuna. D’Arnaud will play the role of starting catcher and Ozuna will be the everyday left fielder and likely will hit 4th in the lineup. They also added/retained some under the radar players such as Yangervis Solarte, Yonder Alonso, Adeiny Hechavarria, Charlie Culberson, Rafael Ortega, Tyler Flowers, and Nick Markakis. Hechavarria is a very interesting player here as he was very good with the Braves in 2019 when they signed him down the stretch. In 24 games, he hit .328/.400/.639 with 4 homers and a 1.039 OPS.
One of the biggest things the Braves addressed was the rotation, letting Julio Teheran and Dallas Keuchel walk and picking up players such as Cole Hamels and Felix Hernandez. With the Cubs in 2019, Hamels went 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA and 143 strikeouts over 141.2 IP. Felix Hernandez had well.. a horrible year last year with the Mariners. However, I strongly believe he could turn his career around and get back to the pitcher he once was. The 5th spot is still up for grabs, whether a prospect can claim that spot or a veteren like Felix Hernandez.
Because of these reasons, I firmly believe that the Braves are going to win the division for the 3rd straight year. However, the Mets, Nats, and Phillies have all had successful offseasons and will give the Braves a run for their money down the stretch.