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Atlanta Braves 2020: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

Atlanta Braves 2020: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

Atlanta Braves 2020: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

The Braves’ ignominious exit from the 2019 postseason — a 13-1 drubbing, at home, at the hands of the Cardinals, who led 7-0 before the game’s second out was recorded — can’t erase the team’s successful season. The Braves won the National League East for the second season in a row, a first for Atlanta since the Bobby Cox-managed dynasty ended in 2005. Their 97 wins were the second most in the league. They scored the third-most runs and surrendered the fifth-lowest ERA. Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, and Josh Donaldson finished in the top 11 in the MVP vote. Mike Soroka was Rookie of the Year runner-up and received down-ballot Cy Young Award support. The team moved into sole possession of first place in the division on June 12 and never gave it up.

Still, challenges remain for 2020. The entire division, save the Marlins, is competitive; the Nationals, Mets, and Phillies all finished .500 or above. Outfielder Nick Markakis is 36. Three-time Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte had an injury-filled year. Catcher Brian McCann retired.

After watching Donaldson sign as a free agent with Minnesota in late January, the Braves agreed to a one-year, $18 million contract with outfielder Marcell Ozuna just a few days later. Besides shaking up their outfield, Atlanta is hoping Ozuna can replace Donaldson's production at the plate, although it does leave the hot corner as a question mark entering the season.

Opposing Scouts Size Up the Braves

“The Braves have to be the favorites in this division. Freddie Freeman is a star in his prime; their core guys like Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies are only getting better; and Cristian Pache is the next big thing. He’s an incredible defensive center fielder who reminds me of Lorenzo Cain. Nick Markakis is as steady as they come — just a no-nonsense professional hitter, like a guy from a different era. Austin Riley is an interesting guy — he’s young and he’s got real power, but a lot of questions on the defensive side. He has a great arm but questionable range. They’ve got an ace in the making in Mike Soroka; he gets a lot of ground balls, and his strikeout rate will rise in time. Max Fried doesn’t have quite the same upside, but he’s got that big, loopy Barry Zito curveball — it’s always been his thing, and you didn’t know if it would play against major league hitters, but it has, and he’s added a slider. They’ve worked hard on their bullpen, and with Shane Greene, Mark Melancon and now Will Smith, they should have one of the best.” [Editor's note: Scouting report was submitted before Braves signed free-agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna to a one-year deal in late January.]

Atlanta Braves logo

Beyond the Box Score

Drawing 'Em In The Braves attracted 2,655,100 fans last year, the most since 2007 and the fourth straight season that attendance has grown. With a capacity of 41,084, SunTrust Park will never draw the crowds that filled cavernous Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where the Braves averaged nearly 48,000 per game in 1993. But the move to Cobb County has worked well, as the team generated operating income of $71 million, the seventh most in baseball per recent analysis by Forbes.

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2020 Athlon Sports Baseball Preview

Bucking the Trend

 With baseball awash in cash, there’s a concern that owners are content to count their money and not spend to improve their teams. That would seem doubly true of a team like the Braves, owned by Liberty Media, a publicly-traded company. But the Braves were the most aggressive team immediately after the season ended, signing free agents Will Smith and Travis d’Arnaud and keeping potential free agents Chris Martin, Darren O’Day, Tyler Flowers and Nick Markakis under contract. Total outlay: a minimum of $84.75 million, which doesn't include the $18 million for 2020 given to free-agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna in late January.

Stars in the Bargain Bin The spending spree was partly made possible by the Braves locking up their young stars to long-term deals before last season. Ronald Acuna Jr. is signed through at least 2026 for $99 million, and Ozzie Albies is signed through at least 2025 for $34 million. This year, the pair will make $1 million each.

Courting Controversy Braves fans’ Tomahawk Chop has been criticized since its inception, drawing the ire of Native Americans and others for insensitivity. During the playoffs, Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, spoke out against it. Given the “Chop On” logo at the top of the team’s website, this controversy isn’t going away.

Independent to Immaculate Chris Martin was drafted by the Tigers in 2004 and the Rockies in 2005, hurt his shoulder, didn’t sign with either, played a season of independent ball and then quit baseball because of the injury. Three years later, the shoulder felt better, he returned to indy ball, played in three organizations and was released. He went to Japan, compiled a 1.12 ERA over two seasons, signed with Texas and got dealt to the Braves at the 2019 trade deadline. On Sept. 11, he pitched an immaculate inning (three strikeouts on nine pitches) against the Phillies, the first by a Brave in over 12 years. After the season, Martin signed a two-year, $14 million contract.

Projected Lineup

LINEUP

RF     Ronald Acuna Jr. (R)

2B     Ozzie Albies (S)

1B     Freddie Freeman (L)
LF     Marcell Ozuna (R)

C      Travis d’Arnaud (R)

SS     Dansby Swanson (R)

3B     Austin Riley (R)

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CF     Ender Inciarte (L)

BENCH

C     Tyler Flowers (R)
OF   Nick Markakis (L)

UT   Adeiny Hechavarria (B)

UT   Johan Camargo (S)

OF   Cristian Pache (R)

ROTATION

RHP     Mike Soroka

LHP     Cole Hamels*

RHP     Mike Foltynewicz

LHP     Max Fried

RHP     Felix Hernandez

BULLPEN

RHP     Mark Melancon (C)

LHP     Will Smith

RHP     Shane Greene

RHP     Luke Jackson

RHP     Chris Martin

LHP     Sean Newcomb

RHP     Darren O’Day

RHP     Kyle Wright

*Note: Free-agent signee LHP Cole Hamels is expected to miss the start of the season after experiencing left shoulder discomfort. A more exact timetable will be determined but the hope is that he'll be able to make his Braves debut in mid-to-late April.

2020 Prediction: 1st in NL East