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Culberson thrilled to join hometown team

Georgia native hopes to fill Braves' utility role
Special to MLB.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Perhaps lost in the Braves' winter exchange of substantial contracts with the Dodgers was Atlanta's potential new utility man, Charlie Culberson.

Since his brief debut in 2012 with the Giants, Culberson, 28, has had short stints with the Rockies and Dodgers, batting .231 with a .272 on-base percentage and a .324 slugging percentage in 443 regular-season plate appearances. But in the 2017 National League Championship Series and World Series, Culberson excelled while replacing injured Los Angeles shortstop Corey Seager. Culberson went 8-for-16 with a home run, a triple and two doubles.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Perhaps lost in the Braves' winter exchange of substantial contracts with the Dodgers was Atlanta's potential new utility man, Charlie Culberson.

Since his brief debut in 2012 with the Giants, Culberson, 28, has had short stints with the Rockies and Dodgers, batting .231 with a .272 on-base percentage and a .324 slugging percentage in 443 regular-season plate appearances. But in the 2017 National League Championship Series and World Series, Culberson excelled while replacing injured Los Angeles shortstop Corey Seager. Culberson went 8-for-16 with a home run, a triple and two doubles.

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"I think it was a lot of things," Culberson said of his postseason success. "It was just preparation; obviously, consistency was there with everything. It's just a big moment and just being ready for it."

Georgia-born Braves players
Kyle Davies 2005-07 Decatur Stockbridge
Blaine Boyer 2005-09 Atlanta Walton
Jeff Francoeur 2005-09 Atlanta Parkview
Brian McCann 2005-13 Athens Duluth
Cory Rasmus 2013 Columbus Russell County, Ala.
David Hale 2013-14 Marietta The Walker School
Gordon Beckham* 2016 Atlanta Westminster
John Gant 2016 Savannah Wiregrass Ranch, Fla.
Madison Younginer 2016 Augusta Mauldin, S.C.
Tyler Flowers* 2016-present Roswell Blessed Trinity
Dansby Swanson 2016-present Kennesaw Marietta
Lucas Sims 2017-present Lawrenceville Brookwood
Charlie Culberson present Rome Calhoun
Name Years with Braves Born H.S.

*indicates player who did not debut with Atlanta

Culberson is more than ready to don a Braves jersey as a native of Rome, Ga., who graduated from Calhoun High and resides in Smyra. Culberson relishes the opportunity to settle back into life at home in Georgia while playing for the team he grew up with.

"'At some point in my career,' I'd always think, 'Man, it would be nice to play for the Braves, to be able to come back home,'" Culberson said. "I'm married now for six years. My wife, Sarah, and I have three kids. To be able to live at home and keep them at one place will be really nice."

Especially given his positional diversity -- he has played left field and all four infield spots -- Culberson should have no problem earning a job if he can push his batting numbers closer to his postseason surge. But as a player on his fourth team in just his sixth Major League season, he prefers to live in the moment and take nothing for granted.

"Once you get somewhere, you kind of picture yourself there, hoping things will work out," Culberson said. "You can only stay in one spot for a while, but with me being from Georgia, this would be ideal, to put on a Braves uniform for a while. But it's so tough, you just don't know what's going to happen."

Having a manager's confidence should help, though. Brian Snitker said Culberson's diverse set of skills, work ethic and upbeat mentality have been immediately evident.

"I love Charlie," Snitker said. "A lot of people [here] have known Charlie for a while, his play, the versatility. It's really impressive what he did last year in the playoffs when Seager went down. He just comes with a lot of really good things -- it's just the kind of person he is. There's a lot to like."

Culberson said the familiarity with some of his Braves coaches and a few former teammates has helped him feel even more welcome from Day 1. He hopes to grow closer with his new teammates once he has assured himself a slot on the Opening Day roster, particularly the fellow Georgians.

"I think once we get a little further into camp, we're able to converse a little bit more with those guys, to see how it's been for them," Culberson said of teammates playing in their home state. "You can kind of come together and feed off each other, asking how it is to play at home, live at home, drive to the park -- all that stuff."

The cultivation of Braves born in Georgia has been a streak for this team for 15 years. Beyond current Braves Culberson, Tyler Flowers, Lucas Sims and Dansby Swanson, 10 other Georgians have played for Atlanta since 2004, according to Baseball Almanac. This also includes outfielder Nick Markakis, who was born in New York but moved to Georgia at a young age.

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Only four of these players debuted with a team other than Atlanta, including Flowers and Markakis, so the diversity of perspectives from his Georgia-born teammates should make Culberson feel right at home.

In the table in this story are the 13 active Georgia-born players who have taken the field for the Braves. The one inactive player during this 15-year streak of Georgians is outfielder J.D. Drew, who played for Atlanta in 2004, graduated from Lowndes High and was born in Valdosta, according to Baseball Almanac.

Zak Kerr is a contributor to MLB.com who covered the Braves on Wednesday.

Atlanta Braves, Charlie Culberson

Snitker unveils travel roster for first camp trip

Camargo impressing at Spring Training after participating in winter ball
Special to MLB.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The group representing the Braves in their first three games of the 2018 Grapefruit League schedule are set to make the trip this weekend along Florida's east coast.

Manager Brian Snitker announced the travel roster on Wednesday, which will include catchers Rob Brantly, William Contreras, Alex Jackson and Kade Scivicque; infielders Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Christian Colon, Ray-Patrick Didder, Sean Kazmar, Austin Riley, Rio Ruiz and Dansby Swanson; outfielders Lane Adams, Cristian Pache, Dustin Peterson and Danny Santana; and pitchers Jesse Biddle, Rex Brothers, Sam Freeman, Anyelo Gomez, Josh Graham, Adam McCreery, Akeel Morris, Miguel Socolovich, Chase Whitley and Matt Wisler.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The group representing the Braves in their first three games of the 2018 Grapefruit League schedule are set to make the trip this weekend along Florida's east coast.

Manager Brian Snitker announced the travel roster on Wednesday, which will include catchers Rob Brantly, William Contreras, Alex Jackson and Kade Scivicque; infielders Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Christian Colon, Ray-Patrick Didder, Sean Kazmar, Austin Riley, Rio Ruiz and Dansby Swanson; outfielders Lane Adams, Cristian Pache, Dustin Peterson and Danny Santana; and pitchers Jesse Biddle, Rex Brothers, Sam Freeman, Anyelo Gomez, Josh Graham, Adam McCreery, Akeel Morris, Miguel Socolovich, Chase Whitley and Matt Wisler.

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"The young big leaguers are going to have to go play, which is good," Snitker said. "We're not going to [overwork] anybody. We're going to spread it out, probably get the other guys [not making the trip] in there on Monday against the Nationals in the opener here."

Wisler, a right-hander, will start the team's first game, Friday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie. Snitker plans to follow with a pair of lefties to start the two games in West Palm Beach: Sean Newcomb Saturday against the Astros and Scott Kazmir on Sunday against the Nationals.

"It's in one-inning stints, but they're the three starters," Snitker said. "It'll probably be eight to nine [pitchers] each day, just one-inning things over the weekend to just get everybody out there, playing."

Snitker said he would plan to play no player more than twice on the trip.

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Camargo continues to impress

Health and confidence have peaked for Camargo after a strong 2017 season, despite a right knee injury, Snitker said. Camargo hit .295/.340/.473 in 33 games for Triple-A Gwinnett. He debuted almost as well with the Braves at the plate, slashing .299/.331/.452 in 82 games.

"He knows he can play here," Snitker said. "We got him working all over the infield right now, as well as most of them, really. But I'm excited about him too. In seeing him the last couple years, prior to last year even, where he's come mentally, physically … the kid just keeps getting better."

Video: PHI@ATL: Camargo puts Braves up with two-run double

Snitker praised Camargo's continued success in the Dominican Winter League after the knee injury caused him to miss some of the 2017 MLB season. While playing for Aguilas Cibaenas, Camargo slashed .324/.425/.500.

"He keeps maturing … and with his skill set, I'm not so sure he's not an everyday big leaguer," Snitker said. "It's good for those guys to play that competition there [in winter ball]. … It used to be the guys from the States went -- that was part of the maturation process to the Major Leagues."

Snitker said young up-and-coming players such as Camargo have showed they belong more than last Spring Training. They have stayed crisp, focused and with a sense of urgency, Snitker said.

Hoping Cabrera rebounds

Snitker was pleased with right-hander Mauricio Cabrera remaining in the organization with Triple-A Gwinnett after the Braves designated him for assignment on Monday.

Video: ATL@MIA: Cabrera slams the door on the Marlins

"The kid's got some work to do," Snitker said. "He got off the rails last year and fought some things. We're not going to give up on him. With an arm like that, we've got to keep working with him and do what's best for him."

A right-elbow issue slowed Cabrera's 2017 Spring Training after his effective relief work in '16 as a rookie. Cabrera went 5-1 with a 2.82 ERA in 38 1/3 innings for Atlanta that season, even saving six of seven opportunities. In '17 he struggled in multiple Minor League levels, amassing a 7.86 ERA with Gwinnett in 26 1/3 innings and a 5.27 ERA with Double-A Mississippi.

"We can slow it down for him and let these [coaches] get their hands on him," Snitker said. "Hopefully we get him back to where he was two years ago when the season ended, which was pretty good."

Zak Kerr is a contributor to MLB.com who covered the Braves on Wednesday.

Atlanta Braves

Resilient Moylan ecstatic to rejoin Braves

Fan favorite signs one-year, non-guaranteed contract with Atlanta
MLB.com @mlbbowman

LAKE BUENA VISTA Fla. -- Peter Moylan has undergone one right shoulder surgery, two Tommy John surgeries and three back surgeries, one of which resulted from hauling lift chairs while spending his mid-20s as a pharmaceutical representative in his native Australia.

Moylan's baseball story had the makings to be a short and sad one, when at the age of 19, he returned to Australia after being released by the Twins.

LAKE BUENA VISTA Fla. -- Peter Moylan has undergone one right shoulder surgery, two Tommy John surgeries and three back surgeries, one of which resulted from hauling lift chairs while spending his mid-20s as a pharmaceutical representative in his native Australia.

Moylan's baseball story had the makings to be a short and sad one, when at the age of 19, he returned to Australia after being released by the Twins.

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Yet, there the 39-year-old reliever stood on Tuesday morning, proudly donning the Braves' uniform yet again and allowing himself to be somewhat nostalgic about being back at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex where his tale took an improbable twist when he was pitching in the inaugural 2006 World Baseball Classic.

"This is where I started my career," Moylan said. "This is where I re-launched my career. As frustrating as traffic is [in the Orlando, Fla., area], this actual place here holds a real special place [in my heart]."

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Though he felt some of the same frustration other free agents have experienced over the past couple months, Moylan maintained a somewhat realistic mindset. He is 10 months shy of his 40th birthday and has a medical history that led the Braves to put him through a three-hour physical filled with multiple MRIs and X-rays before officially completing a one-year, non-guaranteed deal that includes a $575,000 base salary and an escalator that provides a $1.25 million payday if he wins a spot on Atlanta's Opening Day roster.

"As much as I feel great, it's a risk for a team to sign a 39-year-old," Moylan said. "It doesn't matter what you did last year. I'm happy to prove myself over and over again. I've been proving people wrong most of my career."

Moylan's underdog story began when he transformed himself from a pharmaceutical sales representative into the sidearm reliever who came out of nowhere to throw a mid-90s fastball against a potent Venezuelan team during the 2006 Classic. His command certainly wasn't spot on, as he recorded a strike with just 22 of his 51 pitches and issued five walks. But as he counted Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez and Ramon Hernandez among his four strikeouts, he impressed enough to get a Minor League deal from the Braves.

After making a few appearances for Atlanta in 2006, the fun-loving Aussie made 80 appearances and posted a 1.80 ERA for the 2007 Braves. He underwent Tommy John surgery during the first month of the following season and then totaled 172 appearances over the next two years. The workload took its toll as he underwent back surgery and then a right shoulder surgery in 2011.

When Moylan underwent a second Tommy John surgery while pitching for the Astros during Spring Training in 2014, it looked like his career might be over. But after agreeing to become a pitcher and pitching coach for the Braves in 2015, he pitched effectively enough to gain 22 appearances at the Major League level that season. He made 50 appearances for the Royals in 2016 and then posted a 3.49 ERA while making a Major League-high 79 appearances for Kansas City last year.

"I kind of pinch myself. I told my wife the other day, 'Any kind of inning I have or any pitch I've been able to throw since 2014 -- when I blew [my elbow] out the second time -- has been an absolute godsend," Moylan said. "I take every day for what it's worth and I don't try to plan too far ahead because you never know what's going to happen. I'm just pumped I'm still able to play the game I love for the team that I love."

Moylan stands as one of the funnier players to inhabit the Braves' clubhouse over the past two decades and his humorous social media exchanges have further endeared him to Atlanta fans. He now will attempt to earn a spot as the seasoned member of what is a rather inexperienced bullpen.

Tweet from @PeterMoylan: Chest. Is. Done! pic.twitter.com/1raieU99MD

"I'm open and willing to answer all questions these kids have and if they don't have questions great," Moylan said. "I'm excited to be around a bunch of younger guys. It makes me feel younger. It can make you feel older too when they're running sprints and you're just kind of looking at them pass you by."

When a reporter mentioned that Moylan's 17-year-old daughter is just three years younger than Braves top prospect Ronald Acuna, the reliever smiled and said, "Yeah, they'll probably never meet."

The Braves were certainly glad to meet Moylan more than a decade ago and this latest return might create a fitting final chapter to what has truly been an improbable journey.

"Speaking to people who know him, he's loved in this organization from top to bottom," Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "Anyone he has been around feels so strongly about him, what he brings to the club, what he means as a human being and what he is as a competitor."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Peter Moylan

Albies' elbow issues a thing of the past in camp

Second baseman came back from injury to post strong '17 debut
MLB.com @mlbbowman

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A refreshed and confident Ozzie Albies has returned to Braves camp thankful that he is no longer dealing with the concerns that surrounded him last year, when he entered Spring Training with some doubts about the fractured right elbow he'd sustained the previous September.

"I talked to him about how good he must feel about having a normal offseason because he rehabbed the whole [offseason] last year," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "Then when he got called up, you could see the adjustments he made and how well he played second base. He's come a long way in a year and a half."

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A refreshed and confident Ozzie Albies has returned to Braves camp thankful that he is no longer dealing with the concerns that surrounded him last year, when he entered Spring Training with some doubts about the fractured right elbow he'd sustained the previous September.

"I talked to him about how good he must feel about having a normal offseason because he rehabbed the whole [offseason] last year," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "Then when he got called up, you could see the adjustments he made and how well he played second base. He's come a long way in a year and a half."

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Albies stood as one of MLB Pipeline's top prospects and was bidding to possibly begin the 2017 season in the Majors before he fractured his elbow while attempting to check his swing during a Southern League playoff game in '16.

Instead of spending the ensuing offseason growing excited about his debut, he remained restricted for a period of time and had to arrive at the Spring Training complex in early January. Then, once the switch-hitting second baseman was cleared to swing during Spring Training, he began the long process of regaining the confidence that he would not re-injure the elbow while taking a swing from the left side of the plate.

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This past winter proved to be much more relaxing as Albies had an opportunity to decompress while being around friends and family members in his native Curacao. He arrived in camp last week buoyed by the confidence he gained as he hit .286 and produced an .810 OPS in the 244 plate appearances he tallied after being called up to the Majors in August 2017.

"Having a normal offseason was good," Albies said. "I got myself strong and got away from baseball. Now, my mind is all about baseball."

A more versatile Ruiz
Rio Ruiz certainly has more reason to be thankful for losing more than 30 pounds off of the 240-pound frame he carried at the end of the 2015 season. Ruiz still stands as a third-base candidate, but he could also see some time as a left fielder and first baseman during the Grapefruit League season.

Ruiz began taking some fly balls in left field during the latter portion of last season, but he has never been used as an outfielder during his professional career.

"In this day and age, that versatility is just so big for guys," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "You're crazy not to want to learn more positions if it's going to mean a stay in the Major Leagues."

With Johan Camargo standing as the favorite to open the season as Atlanta's third baseman, Ruiz's bid to earn a bench spot will be influenced by how versatile he shows he can be. The Braves will be prioritizing versatility if they follow through with the plan to utilize an eight-man bullpen and four-man bench.

Ruiz will likely serve as the Braves' first baseman in at least one of the Grapefruit League games the Braves will play this weekend. With each of the three contests being played at least two hours from Atlanta's Spring Training complex, Freddie Freeman and some other veterans will likely wait until Monday to begin playing in games.

Bullpen battle advantages
As things currently stand, closer Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter, Jose Ramirez, Sam Freeman and Daniel Winkler are projected to fill five of what will likely be eight bullpen spots. The recently-signed Peter Moylan now stands as a favorite for one of the open spots. But the 39-year-old reliever must prove himself in what will be a crowded and interesting battle.

Video: Moylan on his new younger teammates on the Braves

Right-handed reliever Josh Ravin, who was acquired from the Dodgers in November, is out of options. This means if not placed on the Opening Day roster, he would have to be pass through waivers before being sent to the Minors.

Additionally, Rule 5 Draft selection Anyelo Gomez would have to be offered back to the Cubs if he doesn't remain on Atlanta's active roster throughout the season.

Winkler must remain on the active roster through the season's first 14 days before exhausting the Rule 5 Draft requirements he has carried since the start of the 2015 season. His time has been extended as he has rehabbed from two different elbow surgeries within the past three seasons.

Players who are out of options or still linked to Rule 5 Draft restrictions have somewhat of an advantage in close roster battles. But there certainly won't be any guarantees, as Rex Brothers and Jacob Lindgren are a pair of intriguing lefty candidates and the Braves have long relief options in Chase Whitley, Lucas Sims and Aaron Blair.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. Listen to his podcast.

Atlanta Braves, Ozzie Albies

All clubs to don Douglas caps for ST openers

MLB.com @_dadler

All 30 Major League teams will wear Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School baseball caps before their Spring Training games this weekend to show support for the Parkland, Fla., community and the Stoneman Douglas student body after the tragic shooting at the school on Feb. 14.

Players across MLB will then be signing the caps and auctioning them to raise money for the Broward Education Foundation, which will benefit the official Stoneman Douglas Victims' Fund. Seventeen people were killed in the shooting, including 14 students and three staff members.

All 30 Major League teams will wear Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School baseball caps before their Spring Training games this weekend to show support for the Parkland, Fla., community and the Stoneman Douglas student body after the tragic shooting at the school on Feb. 14.

Players across MLB will then be signing the caps and auctioning them to raise money for the Broward Education Foundation, which will benefit the official Stoneman Douglas Victims' Fund. Seventeen people were killed in the shooting, including 14 students and three staff members.

Video: Teams to wear Stoneman Douglas hats for ST openers

"It's a tragedy. It was a tragedy that hit the state of Florida, where we have two teams, but obviously has very specific baseball connections," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "Really a very strong sentiment among the clubs that this was the appropriate thing to do immediately."

MLB teams will wear the caps pregame on Friday and will also be allowed to wear them during their games. Since they're off on Friday, the Royals and Rangers will don the hats on Saturday.

The Commissioner approved the use of the caps during all games on Friday, the Spring Training openers for most of the clubs.

The effort started with a few Grapefruit League teams, which wanted to wear the caps pregame, and it quickly spread across camps in Florida and Arizona. Soon all 30 teams had decided to join in the support and fundraising effort for the school community.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo attended Stoneman Douglas, and spoke at a prayer vigil at Pine Trails Park the day after the shooting. 

"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Rizzo said Monday about meeting with families of the victims of the shooting. "You don't know what to say, there's nothing you can say. When people get shot, you're grateful they're alive. When they pass away, you're grateful you knew them. Just to see how real it is, it's sad and it's why I'm so proud of what they're doing back in Parkland and how everyone is coming together. They're going to turn this tragedy into something positive.

"The caps made for the fundraising effort will be provided to all players, coaches and umpires."

The Stoneman Douglas High School caps are reminiscent of how the Mets wore NYPD and FDNY caps following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The Mets donned the caps to honor the first responders in their first game after the attacks, in Pittsburgh on Sept. 17, and again in their return to New York four days later. In that memorable game at Shea Stadium, Mike Piazza hit the go-ahead home run in the eighth inning to lead the Mets to an emotional win over the Braves.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Chipper: Acuna is 'way ahead of me'

Hall of Famer impressed with outfield prospect's skills
MLB.com @mlbbowman

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Chipper Jones grew up as a Major Leaguer with Andruw Jones and saw plenty of a young Vladimir Guerrero when the Braves shared a Spring Training complex with the Expos in the 1990s. But he's not sure he's ever seen anybody as impressive as Ronald Acuna, the Braves' 20-year-old five-tool outfielder who may be just a couple of months away from his Major League debut.

"He's way ahead of me [as a prospect]," Chipper said. "I'd have to lump him in with Andruw just because he graduated three [Minor] levels in one year. He's as good a prospect as I've seen."

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Chipper Jones grew up as a Major Leaguer with Andruw Jones and saw plenty of a young Vladimir Guerrero when the Braves shared a Spring Training complex with the Expos in the 1990s. But he's not sure he's ever seen anybody as impressive as Ronald Acuna, the Braves' 20-year-old five-tool outfielder who may be just a couple of months away from his Major League debut.

"He's way ahead of me [as a prospect]," Chipper said. "I'd have to lump him in with Andruw just because he graduated three [Minor] levels in one year. He's as good a prospect as I've seen."

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Chipper and Andruw were present as Acuna experienced his first full-squad workout with his Braves teammates on Monday afternoon at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex.

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Jeff Francoeur and Jason Heyward created a lot of hype, but there's legitimate reason to describe Acuna as being the best prospect the Braves have produced since the aforementioned Jones boys, who will spend the next couple weeks in camp filling their roles as special assistants.

"[Acuna] is a better athlete than everybody else," Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson said. "You'll just have to wait and see. It's pretty hard to explain. When you watch him, you can just tell there is a difference. Whether you know a lot about baseball or know nothing, you can see that guy is doing something right."

Video: Ronald Acuna on his expectations for 2018 season

Nearly all of the pitchers once again held the upper hand as hitters were reintroduced to the speed of the game while taking live batting practice on Monday. Freddie Freeman exited one of his rounds against Julio Teheran and could only chuckle having fouled back three of the four pitches at which he swung.

But Acuna didn't have much trouble as he showed his capability to drive the ball to all fields while taking swings against left-handed reliever Sam Freeman.

"[Acuna's] bat stays in the zone for a long time," Chipper said. "He's going to make consistent contact. He's not quite what Andruw was in the outfield, but he's not far off. I think he's going more for damage from foul pole to foul pole than Andruw did."

Video: Former 90's Braves on team's run in 'Atlanta Rules'

Andruw will forever be remembered for bursting on the Major League scene during the latter portion of the 1996 season and homering in his first two at-bats of that year's World Series. Acuna didn't realize his bid to reach the Majors as a teenager and because of service-time circumstances he may have to spend the first couple of weeks of this season with Triple-A Gwinnett.

But once Acuna arrives and becomes a mainstay in Atlanta's lineup, it will be easy to see why Chipper and so many others have been incredibly impressed by his tremendous skills.

Video: Outlook: Acuna is an elite prospect with the Braves

"I don't say much to Ronald," Chipper said. "You don't have to say much to Ronald. As far as me watching him in the cage, he does nothing I would change. The ball explodes off his bat. He's got a great bat path. His bat is in the zone a long time. You can't teach that. It's God given. Whoever taught him very well. If it's not broke, I'm not looking to try to fix anything."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. Listen to his podcast.

Atlanta Braves, Ronald Acuna

Snitker tells players to embrace analytics

Manager says change has been positive; former Braves greats appear at camp
MLB.com @mlbbowman

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Braves manager Brian Snitker addressed his players before the team's first full-squad workout on Monday, he told them to embrace the change that occurred over the offseason when MLB's investigation led to the baseball operations department being overhauled.

With general manager Alex Anthopoulos now running the baseball operations department, the Braves have adopted a much more enhanced analytical approach, which has already altered some of the Spring Training preparations.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Braves manager Brian Snitker addressed his players before the team's first full-squad workout on Monday, he told them to embrace the change that occurred over the offseason when MLB's investigation led to the baseball operations department being overhauled.

With general manager Alex Anthopoulos now running the baseball operations department, the Braves have adopted a much more enhanced analytical approach, which has already altered some of the Spring Training preparations.

Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Gear

"We went through a lot of change in the offseason, no need to elaborate," Snitker said. "There are a lot of new faces running around here. We're being introduced to the analytics side of the game now. There's a lot of information for [the players and coaches]. It's going to be presented to them in a good way."

Video: Anthopoulos on beginning of Braves' Spring Training

Anthopoulos lured Alex Tamin from the Dodgers to serve as his director of Major League operations and oversee the analytics department. Tamin was on the field late last week providing information to third-base coach Ron Washington about how he could alter some defensive drills for outfielders. He has also suggested that the Braves join the growing list of teams who push back the start time of their Spring Training workouts to provide the players a chance to get more sleep.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Tamin will remain in constant contact with players and coaches, providing analytical information in a manner that could help them make beneficial changes to a variety of things, including lineup construction, a pitcher's two-strike approach or a hitter's swing plane.

While performing similar duties for the Dodgers, Tamin drew compliments from Braves veteran pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who spent the past three seasons with Los Angeles.

"It's all new to me," Snitker said. "That's what I told [Anthopoulos]. I said, 'You've got a bunch of dogs you're teaching new tricks to.' I'm learning it all. It's interesting. It's been cool. I know, so far with our player interactions, it's been nothing but positive and really good."

Just like old times
While Chipper Jones was providing some tips as Johan Camargo and Rio Ruiz were taking grounders at third base Monday morning, Andruw Jones was on another field working with Ender Inciarte, Ronald Acuna and the other outfielders in Atlanta's camp.

"It's great having those guys here," Snitker said. "They'll take an active part and I want them to. I want them to be out there and let these guys know what they're seeing and if they see somebody, talk to somebody."

Chipper: Acuna is 'way ahead of me' 

The Braves bring Phil Niekro, Gene Garber, Tim Hudson and others to camp to serve as special instructors for a week at a time. But the Jones boys are actually just fulfilling the special assistant roles they were given within the past few years.

Along with spending time with the team during Spring Training, the Jones boys and Fred McGriff, who is also employed as a special assistant, could spend time scouting amateur players or providing assistance to prospects within the organization.

"For me, it's more than just inviting them down for a specific amount of time," Snitker said. "Those guys are free to come and go and be here. We can use them. I feel good about calling them at some time and getting them back here."

Chipper plans to remain with the club through the end of February and then possibly return before Spring Training ends. Andruw has told the club he may spend the next three weeks in camp.

Tweet from @Braves: Outfield = Covered #ChopOn | #BravesST pic.twitter.com/6R5MyntbOm

High praise for Camargo
Martin Prado stands as one of Chipper Jones' favorite all-time teammates, and Camargo has drawn comparisons to Prado. Thus, it wasn't surprising to hear the newly-elected Hall Famer showering praise upon Camargo after Monday's workout.

"I'm a huge Camargo fan," the Braves' former third baseman said. "Huge. I think since I came back in the fold after I retired, he's probably been the most improved player I've seen in this organization. He was a guy who was a slap hitter from both sides of the plate. It was like he was swinging a wet newspaper at the plate."

Video: PHI@ATL: Camargo puts Braves up with two-run double

Even though he's stood as the organization's best defensive infielder since Andrelton Simmons was traded, Camargo's bid to become a Major Leaguer was certainly in doubt when he produced a sub .700 OPS at both the Double-A and Class A levels. But he physically matured by the time he arrived at Spring Training last year and surprised many as he hit .299 and constructed a .783 OPS in 256 plate appearances with Atlanta last year.

As things stand, Camargo, 24, appears to be the favorite to open the season as Atlanta's third baseman. But there's a chance he could move to shortstop if Dansby Swanson's 2016 struggles extend into this season.

"[Camargo] has always had the ability to catch and throw at short and he's now playing third," Chipper said. "The fact he is a shortstop and they're trying to find a place for him to play says a lot about what they think about him."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. Listen to his podcast.

Atlanta Braves

MLB announces pace of play initiatives for '18

MLB.com @_dadler

Major League Baseball will implement new pace of play rules for the 2018 season, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Monday, but there will be no pitch clock this season.

After consulting with the MLB Players Association and all 30 clubs, MLB announced its slate of rules changes, among them a limit on mound visits per game.

Major League Baseball will implement new pace of play rules for the 2018 season, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Monday, but there will be no pitch clock this season.

After consulting with the MLB Players Association and all 30 clubs, MLB announced its slate of rules changes, among them a limit on mound visits per game.

•  Pace of play rules FAQ

A pitch clock -- giving the pitcher a certain amount of time to deliver the ball -- had been one of the major proposals considered. MLB decided to defer implementation of a pitch clock, as well as a between-batter timer, in order to give players an opportunity to respond to the new rules and positively affect pace of play throughout the 2018 season.

"I am pleased that we were able to reach an understanding with the Players Association to take concrete steps to address pace of play with the cooperation of players," Manfred said in a statement. "My strong preference is to continue to have ongoing dialogue with players on this topic to find mutually acceptable solutions."

New phone lines connecting the video review rooms and the dugout will be installed and monitored, limiting the ability of teams to steal signs, which is viewed as a contributing factor to the increasing number of mound visits. Rules governing when players can and cannot leave the batter's box between pitches, instituted during the 2017 season, remain in effect.

•  Players, managers react to new rules

"Players were involved in the pace of game discussion from Day 1, and are committed to playing a crisp and exciting brand of baseball for the fans, but they remain concerned about rule changes that could alter the outcome of games and the fabric of the game itself -- now or in the future," said Tony Clark, the MLBPA executive director.

Here is a breakdown of the new rules:

• Mound visits: Mound visits will be limited to six per team per nine innings. Teams will receive an additional visit for every extra inning played. Any manager, coach or player visit to the mound will count as a mound visit. Visits to the mound to clean cleats in rainy weather, to check on an injury or potential injury or after the announcement of an offensive substitution are excepted. Also, normal communication between player and pitcher that do not require either to vacate their position on the field do not count as a visit. If a team is out of visits, the umpire will have discretion to grant a visit at the catcher's request if he believes there has been a cross-up between the pitcher and catcher.

Video: Hot Stove on mound visits regarding pace of play

• Between-inning breaks: As has been the case since the start of the 2016 season, a timer will count down between innings from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised games, from 2:25 in nationally televised games and from 2:55 for tiebreaker and postseason games. The difference now is that at the 25-second mark, the umpire will signal for the final warmup pitch and the pitcher must throw it before the clock hits 20. The batter will be announced at the 20-second mark and the pitcher must begin his windup to throw the first pitch of the inning within the five seconds before the clock hits zero. Another important change is that a pitcher is no longer guaranteed eight warmup pitches between innings. However, he can take as many as he wants within the countdown parameters noted above. The timer will start on the last out of the inning, unless the pitcher is on base, on deck or at bat, in which case the timer shall begin when the pitcher leaves the dugout for the mound. If the final out of the inning is subject to replay, the timer begins when the umpire signals the out.

• Timing of pitcher changes: The timing clock -- as listed above -- also applies to pitching changes, and it will begin as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track.

Video: Hot Stove on batter's box rule, replay review changes

• Instant replay: All club video review rooms will now receive direct slow-motion camera angles in order to speed up challenges and the resulting review. New phone lines will connect the rooms to the dugout and will be monitored to prevent their use for sign stealing.

Summary of 2018 Rule Changes

I) Mound Visits 
1. Number
A. 2018 Championship Season. Mound visits without a pitching change shall be limited to six (6) per team, per nine innings. For any extra-innings played, each Club shall be entitled to one additional non-pitching change mound visit per inning.  
B. OBR 5.10(l). Official Baseball Rule 5.10(l), which governs mound visits by a manager or coach, remains in effect (i.e., a pitcher must be removed on the second visit by a manager/coach in an inning). 

2. Definition of Mound Visit. A manager or coach trip to the mound to meet with the pitcher shall constitute a visit. A player leaving his position to confer with the pitcher, including a pitcher leaving the mound to confer with another player, shall also constitute a mound visit, regardless of where the visit occurs or the length of the visit, except that the following shall not constitute mound visits:
A. Discussions between pitchers and position player(s) that (i) occur between batters in the normal course of play and do not require either the position player(s) or the pitcher to relocate;
B. Visits by position players to the mound to clean spikes in rainy conditions;
C. Visits to the mound due to an injury or potential injury of the pitcher; and
D. Visits to the mound after the announcement of an offensive substitution.

3. Cross-Up in Signs. In the event a team has exhausted its allotment of mound visits in a game (or extra inning) and the home plate umpire determines that the catcher and pitcher did not have a shared understanding of the location or type of pitch that had been signaled by the catcher (otherwise referred to as a "cross-up"), the home plate umpire may, upon request of the catcher, allow the catcher to make a brief mound visit. Any mound visit resulting from a cross-up prior to a team exhausting its allotted number of visits shall count against a team's total number of allotted mound visits.

II) Inning Breaks and Pitching Changes
1. Time of Break. The timer will count down from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised championship season games, from 2:25 for breaks in nationally televised championship season games, and from 2:55 for tie-breaker and postseason games as follows: 

Time Remaining | Required Action
25 seconds: 
Umpire signals pitcher to complete last warmup pitch.
20 seconds: Batter's announced and must leave on-deck circle, batter walk-up music shall begin, and pitcher shall complete last warmup pitch.
0 seconds: Pitcher must begin motion to deliver first pitch.

A. The pitcher may take as many warm-up pitches as he desires, but regardless of how many warm-up pitches he has thrown, he must deliver his final warm-up pitch at least 20 seconds prior to the end of an inning break or pitching change. OBR 5:07 will be revised to reflect that pitcher is not guaranteed eight warm-up pitches. 
B. The umpire shall signal for the last warm-up pitch at 25 seconds, unless a special circumstance (as described below) applies. 
C. The batter must leave the on-deck circle and proceed directly to the batter's box when the pitcher throws his final warm-up pitch.  
D. The pitcher must begin his motion for the first pitch as soon as the batter steps into the box and is alert to the pitcher; provided, however, the pitcher cannot begin his motion for the first pitch more than five seconds prior to the end of an inning break or pitching change so that television is ensured to be back from commercial break. 

2. Special Circumstances. A Player will be excused from following the time limits set forth above if the umpire determines that any of the following special circumstances are present:  
A. There is a delay in normal warm-up activities during the inning break due to no fault of the Players (e.g., injury or other medical emergency, equipment issues, playing field or grounds crew issues);
B. The umpire believes the pitcher is at a legitimate risk of injury if he does not receive additional time to throw warm-up pitches; 
C. The umpire believes the batter is at a legitimate risk of injury if he does not receive additional time to enter the batter's box; 
D. Any other special circumstances which, in the umpire's judgment, warrant allowing the pitcher to throw after the deadline. 

3. Start of Timer for Inning Breaks
A. Last Out of Inning. The timer shall start on the last out of an inning for an inning break.   
B. Close Plays/Replay Review. The Field Timing Coordinator shall delay the start of the timer if the final out of the inning is a close play that may be reviewed by instant replay. If the final out of the inning is determined in instant replay, the timer shall start as soon as the out is signaled by the umpire.  
C. Pitcher or Catcher On Base/On Deck. If a pitcher ends an inning on base, on deck, or at bat, the timer shall reset when the pitcher leaves the dugout for the mound. If a catcher ends the inning on base, on deck, or at bat, the timer will reset when the catcher enters the dugout (and another catcher must begin warming up the pitcher). 
 
4. Start of Timer for Pitching Changes
A. Pitcher Crosses Warning Track. The pitching change timer shall begin as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens) to enter the game. In the case of a pitching change that occurs during an inning break, the timer shall reset if previously started as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens).  
B. Relief Pitchers Must Promptly Leave Bullpen. Relief pitchers shall leave the bullpen promptly following an appropriate signal by their manager or coach. During the playing of God Bless America, or any other extended inning event previously approved by the Office of the Commissioner, the timer will begin at the conclusion of the song or event. 
 
5. Enforcement. Umpires shall direct players and enforce the inning break and pitching change time limits on the field. Players who consistently or flagrantly violate the time limits will be subject to progressive discipline for just cause by the Office of the Commissioner pursuant to Article XI(C) of the Basic Agreement.

III. Batter's Box Rule
The batter's box rule that was in effect during the 2017 season will remain in effect during the 2018 season.

IV. Video Replay Review
The following adjustments will be made to the video replay technology:
A. Install capability for all Club video review rooms to receive direct slow motion camera angles for the 2018 championship season; 
B. Install new phone lines connecting the video review rooms and the dugout, and monitor the communications over those lines to prevent their use for sign-stealing.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

20 vision: Can Allard follow Avery's path?

Braves' highly touted lefty prospect could find himself in Majors before age 21
MLB.com @mlbbowman

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Twenty-eight years after Steve Avery burst on the Major League scene as a 20-year-old phenom, Kolby Allard stands as yet another highly touted left-handed pitching prospect who has the potential to join Atlanta's rotation before reaching the legal drinking age.

"I'm not going to lie about it and say you don't think about [reaching the Majors at 20 years old]," Allard said. "Obviously, that's in the back of your mind. But you've just got to go out there and focus on what you do every day. Yeah, I'm confident and I know I can go out there and compete. But that's not my worry and my decision. So, I'm just going to focus on getting better every day. Hopefully, when that day comes, I'll be ready to roll."

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Twenty-eight years after Steve Avery burst on the Major League scene as a 20-year-old phenom, Kolby Allard stands as yet another highly touted left-handed pitching prospect who has the potential to join Atlanta's rotation before reaching the legal drinking age.

"I'm not going to lie about it and say you don't think about [reaching the Majors at 20 years old]," Allard said. "Obviously, that's in the back of your mind. But you've just got to go out there and focus on what you do every day. Yeah, I'm confident and I know I can go out there and compete. But that's not my worry and my decision. So, I'm just going to focus on getting better every day. Hopefully, when that day comes, I'll be ready to roll."

Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Gear

Allard has stood as a centerpiece of Atlanta's rebuild since the Braves took him with the 14th overall selection in the 2015 Draft. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the game's No. 58 overall prospect and the No. 7 left-handed pitching prospect. He has been described as an artist on the mound, but his maturity and baseball IQ might be what sets him apart.

Video: Top Prospects: Mike Soroka, RHP, Braves

"He knows what he's doing," manager Brian Snitker said. "He's got an idea executing pitches and getting hitters out. It's pretty impressive. I was watching him throw his side session the other day. He looks bigger and stronger."

A year ago, Allard and his good friend Mike Soroka, who ranks as MLB Pipeline's No. 31 overall prospect, capably handled the challenge of skipping the Class A Advanced level. Now they stand with outfielder Ronald Acuna as three Braves prospects with legitimate aspirations of reaching the Majors before turning 21.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Barring an injury, Acuna is seemingly destined to gain this distinction. Allard and Soroka have until August to follow the path paved by Avery, who debuted for Atlanta two months after his 20th birthday.

"All these guys, I'm just blown away by the confidence they have in their abilities," Snitker said. "They're not dazed by anything. I remember Avery, Tommy [Glavine] and [Kent] Mercker. You could have fun with them at a young age and mess with them and carry a conversation. They were all ahead of their time, maturity-wise. These guys are a lot like that. They're a lot of fun to be around, because of their maturity level."

Avery totaled 319 1/3 innings, including 82 1/3 innings for Triple-A Richmond, before making his MLB debut on June 13, 1990. Allard has totaled 243 2/3 innings thus far and Soroka's professional career has consisted of 330 2/3 innings.

Allard and Soroka could both begin this season with Triple-A Gwinnett. They have developed a close bond as they have pushed each other throughout their respective pro careers. Their next step will be influenced by the success they have this year and the needs that develop within the Atlanta rotation, which counts two other members of MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list -- Luiz Gohara and Max Fried -- among its current candidates.

"Everywhere you look, there's a great arm," Allard said. "That competition is good. Me and Soroka were talking about it the other day. I would so much rather come into a situation like this where you have so many good arms and you have so many good players around you.

"Yes, there might be more competition, and yes, it might take a little longer for you to get to that spot because there are so many good arms. But I wouldn't be where I am today if I came up in another organization, because you push each other every single day."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Kolby Allard

Braves struggle to tell Culberson, Swanson apart

Back in December, the Braves acquired infielder Charlie Culberson as part of a trade with the Dodgers for Matt Kemp. It brought the Georgia native back to Atlanta, but it also added a fun dynamic to the Braves' clubhouse.

It turns out that Culberson and shortstop Dansby Swanson have a lot in common. They're both former first-round Draft picks, they're both Georgia natives, they're both infielders and they even both look alike. Their appearances are so similar that Culberson said that he's been mistaken for Swanson at least 20 times already.

Huddy impressed with Braves' young arms

Former Atlanta pitcher serving as Spring Training special instructor
MLB.com @mlbbowman

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Tim Hudson has enjoyed watching Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, Kyle Wright and some of the Braves' other young pitchers experience the early days of Spring Training.

"It's hard to pick one that is better than the other when you're watching them throw," Hudson said. "They're all really young, but they are polished beyond their years. The stuff they are throwing in there is pretty good. I don't even know if I'd get drafted these days."

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Tim Hudson has enjoyed watching Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, Kyle Wright and some of the Braves' other young pitchers experience the early days of Spring Training.

"It's hard to pick one that is better than the other when you're watching them throw," Hudson said. "They're all really young, but they are polished beyond their years. The stuff they are throwing in there is pretty good. I don't even know if I'd get drafted these days."

Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Gear

Three weeks separated from his induction into the Braves' Hall of Fame, Hudson has spent this week serving as a special instructor at Spring Training. He'll attend Sunday afternoon's workout and then return to his hometown of Auburn, Ala., to continue his duties as Lee Scott Academy's junior varsity baseball coach.

Tweet from @Braves: Howdy, Huddy! #BravesST pic.twitter.com/RZI72bqEtV

Hudson notched 222 wins and a 3.49 ERA during his 17-season Major League career. As he played with the Braves from 2005-13, he served as a valuable mentor to Kris Medlen, Tommy Hanson and many other young pitchers who passed through the organization.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"I was blessed to pitch a lot of years and have some really knowledgeable people pour into me as a player," Hudson said. "It comes full circle. You hope what you've learned over the years can help young kids and young big leaguers. Obviously the game changes and evolves over the years. You just hope what you've learned over the years can be incorporated into the philosophy of today's game."

The Braves' big league Spring Training camp includes five pitchers -- Soroka, Allard, Wright, Luiz Gohara and Max Fried -- who are listed on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list.

As Wright has experienced the early days of first Spring Training, he has made a strong impression and shown why many considered him to be the best right-hander available in last year's Draft.

Video: Prospect Mike Soroka talks about a Atlanta's fans

Before Saturday afternoon's workout, Hudson spent some time talking mechanics, grips and approach with Soroka, the cerebral Canadian who features a heavy sinker -- a pitch that proved so valuable to Hudson during his career.

"I'm impressed with [Soroka], and not just from a pitching standpoint," Hudson said. "He's pretty smart and mature for a 20-year-old. I think he wants to be really good, and I think he has a chance to do it.

"You talk to a lot of kids, and they're listening half the time. Half the time they're looking at you, and half the time they're not. He's locked in. He looks you in the eye the whole time, asking really good questions, not questions that 20-year-olds usually ask. That tells me a lot about him and where he's at, mentally, from a pitching standpoint. He knows what he's looking for, and he asks the right questions. I just hope I gave him the right answers."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves

6 reasons Braves are this year's surprise team

MLB.com @castrovince

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Commissioner Rob Manfred was addressing the competitive landscape of baseball here the other day when he made a salient point about the modern game.

"It is harder today," he said, "because of the significance of young players in the game and how quickly they have emerged, to make judgments about how teams are going to play moving forward."

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Commissioner Rob Manfred was addressing the competitive landscape of baseball here the other day when he made a salient point about the modern game.

"It is harder today," he said, "because of the significance of young players in the game and how quickly they have emerged, to make judgments about how teams are going to play moving forward."

This winter's free-agent "market malaise" (as one general manager put it) was an extension of the opportunities teams are increasingly extending to their young talent. And from opportunity has come impact the likes of which the game has never seen from previously inexperienced players.

The blessing and the curse of giving opportunities to unproven players is that there's legitimately no telling what you'll get from them, and this brings us to the topic of the 2018 Atlanta Braves, who might have this season's widest differentiation between potential ceiling and potential floor.

To be clear, the floor is real. The Braves are going to give a ton of opportunity to a ton of unproven players this year, particularly in their rotation, and no one is smart enough to know how that goes.

It's the ceiling, though, that could make Atlanta this year's surprise team in the National League.

The Braves have eight players on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list for 2018, the most of any club. They have the No. 2 overall prospect in the game in outfielder Ronald Acuna, as well as right-handers Kyle Wright (No. 30) and Mike Soroka (No. 31), left-hander Luiz Gohara (No. 49), righty Ian Anderson (No. 51), lefties Kolby Allard (No. 58) and Max Fried (No. 83) and third baseman Austin Riley (No. 97).

Video: Anthopoulos on Braves stacked with top prospects

Seven of those guys (all but Anderson, who spent last season in Class A ball) are in Major League Spring Training camp with the club. Not all of them are going to make a major impact in 2018 (Wright is only in camp via the typical invite given to first-round picks from the previous year), but the bulk of them are no longer the rays of light looming deep in the distance. They are close.

"The 2018 season is really going to tell the tale about our core," general manager Alex Anthopolous said. "The biggest thing for us right now is we need to see who is part of our core going forward. Take a look at the Royals. They gave Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer a lot of rope. They had to keep playing those guys. The flip side is Seattle, which had a lot of young, talented players that didn't develop."

The Braves finished 72-90 last year, and FanGraphs projects them to go 75-87 (third in the National League East) this year. No, the Braves will not be overtaking the Nationals. But the upside that exists in this organization is not to be ignored in the NL Wild Card picture, particularly in a competitive landscape that allowed a team like the Brewers to contend last year (at least) a year ahead of schedule.

Why might the Braves be this year's rousing risers? Let us count the ways.

1. The base

Just a few things to know going in: Braves catchers (Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki) had the highest FanGraphs-calculated WAR of any team at that position last year (5.1). Freddie Freeman's wRC+ of 146 the last five years is second in the NL only to Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt. Ender Inciarte is annually a three-win player because of his center-field glove. Twice in the last four years, starter Julio Teheran has been worth 3.2 WAR (and following that back-and-forth track record, he's "due" for another in 2018).

So there's a legitimate base to work with here.

Video: Peter Gammons goes one on one with Freddie Freeman

2. Acuna in the role of 2008 Evan Longoria

I'm not going to tell you the 2018 Braves will make like the 2008 Rays, who went from 96 losses the previous year to the World Series. But it is worth remembering that the 2008 Rays entered the year with seven guys on Baseball America's Top 100 prospects list, including Longoria at No. 2.

When the Rays promoted Longoria on April 12, 2008, he had just one full Minor League season and only 38 Triple-A games to his name. But he exploded that year with an .874 OPS and 4.8 Wins Above Replacement. He was the young catalyst the Rays needed to pair with Carlos Pena in the middle of the order.

We don't know if the 20-year-old Acuna, who has played only 54 games at Triple-A, is up to a similar task. But we do know he slashed .325/.374/.522 with 21 homers and 44 steals across three Minor League levels last year, then lit up the Arizona Fall League. So an instant impact is hardly inconceivable. If he's Longoria and Freeman is Pena, there's your middle-of-the-order mashing for a team that otherwise is short on power.

Video: Ronald Acuna on his expectations for 2018 season

3. A maturing middle infield

Shortstop Dansby Swanson was a big disappointment last year. The consensus NL Rookie of the Year pick this time a year ago, Swanson instead posted a not-so-nice OPS+ of 69 (or 31 percent worse than league average) and was demoted back to Triple-A briefly in late July.

Hey, you try seeing your hometown team plastering your image on buses, billboards and bobbleheads in your first full season and see how you respond.

But Swanson responded to the brief demotion with a .360 OBP down the stretch. It's not at all uncommon for an elite prospect to have a less-than-linear progression, to be humbled before he hits. Don't rule out a sophomore surge now that Swanson can play a little looser and pressure-free.

As for second baseman Ozzie Albies, we've only seen a 57-game sample from him. But in that small sample, he posted the fifth-highest WAR on the team (1.9). It's exciting to think about what a full season might look like.

Video: Washington discusses the Braves' young infielders

4. The rotation points upward

A year ago, the Braves were relying on key innings from 40-somethings in Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey. Though trade acquisition Brandon McCarthy figures to get meaningful innings, if healthy, this is the year the rotation beyond 27-year-old Teheran and 26-year-old Mike Foltynewicz is turned over to all these burgeoning arms in the system.

Gohara came up late last year and impressed with his presence and the overpowering stuff that resulted in more than 12 strikeouts per nine prior to his promotion. Sean Newcomb, a key acquisition in the Andrelton Simmons trade, should get a longer look this year after showing some flashes (and, yes, quite a few walks) in his 19 starts last year. Fried had an encouraging big league debut (113 ERA+ in nine appearances), then starred in the AFL last fall. And we could see Soroka and/or Allard late in the year.

Again, high ceiling, low floor. That's how it is with young arms. But better to have new tires than to be relying on retreads.

Video: Gohara discusses his comfortability in Majors

5. They can (and should) still add on, now or later

The Braves took on a lot of upfront salary in that megadeal with the Dodgers in exchange for ridding themselves of the 2019 commitment to Matt Kemp. That was a smart move given the Braves' most realistic competitive timetable.

But the Braves still have around $15 million to play with before they hit the general payroll number they've worked with the last couple of years, and they just opened a ballpark that welcomed 2.5 million fans last year.

By this point, it's obvious the Braves are a positional fit for Moustakas and equally obvious that they aren't especially interested in signing him, even at the depressed prices of the current market. But the financial flexibility both now and in the future (the Braves only have $38 million on the books for 2019 and $31 million in 2020 and '21) means this club could still find a fit in this free-agent class or -- and this is the important part -- take on some dollars at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, should they find themselves in the Wild Card mix a la the Brewers last year.

And when it comes to trades, well, there are few organizations in baseball as well-stocked as the Braves to get a deal done. That matters.

6. The division

The Nats are the only club in the NL East projected by FanGraphs and PECOTA to finish with a winning record this year. Division strength can matter greatly in the Wild Card race, because deep divisions can drive down win totals with the way the schedule is weighted. The Braves and Phillies are in similar boats in terms of the wide range of potential outcomes based on youth, and the Mets have a wide range of outcomes based on the health history of their talented rotation.

Best-case scenario for the Braves? Their upside comes to life while padding their win total while the Phillies demonstrate their inexperience, the Mets get hurt and everybody walks all over the Marlins.

Now you tell me if that scenario sounds totally unrealistic. I'm not picking the Braves to win a Wild Card, but I sure as heck ain't ignoring them in today's climate.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Atlanta Braves, Ronald Acuna, Max Fried, Luiz Gohara, Sean Newcomb