Inbox: More moves from Braves by opener?
Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers fans' questions
Braves pitchers and catchers will report to the club’s new Spring Training complex in North Port, Fla., less than two weeks from now, and the Grapefruit League season opener is just three weeks away. Here are a few questions surrounding the team as it attempts to win a third straight National League East title.
Do you think any more moves will be made by the Braves before Opening Day that will have an effect on the starting lineup or starting rotation?
While the Braves will continue to be linked to rumors about Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado, you should prepare yourself for Johan Camargo to be the starting third baseman on Opening Day. As for the rotation, there’s always a chance they could opt to add a veteran to compete for the rotation’s fifth spot.
But for the most part, I think you can confidently predict how the lineup and rotation will look at the start of the season. Getting Marcell Ozuna with a one-year deal compensates for some of the power lost via Josh Donaldson’s departure and strengthens the bench with the additions of Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall.
The significant bullpen reconstruction, which began in July, combined with the stronger bench makes the Braves stronger than they were at this point during any of the previous two years. But given that the goal extends beyond winning a third straight division title, I do expect them to attempt to add a frontline starter before the Trade Deadline.
Arenado or Bryant would obviously strengthen an already-strong lineup. But even if you’re hoping Max Fried establishes himself as a legit No. 2 this year or thinking Mike Foltynewicz can build off last season’s final weeks, there are multiple questions within the projected rotation. Consequently, there will be a likely need to eventually address them with the addition of a proven starter who could be a difference maker in October.
During last week’s Chop Fest, Freddie Freeman lauded general manager Alex Anthopoulos for the aggressive and seemingly wise spending that has pushed the Opening Day payroll above $150 million (approximately $30 million higher than last year’s figure). The exact remaining financial flexibility is unknown. But instead of spending all of it to improve an already strong aspect (the offense), it would be wise to get a better feel for the team’s most pressing needs before using the funds to address what could end up being multiple issues.
Drew Waters or Cristian Pache? Who are you more excited about for this season?
These are two highly touted prospects, but I’m not expecting either to come close to making the kind of early-season immediate impact the Braves received from Ronald Acuña Jr. in 2018 or Austin Riley last year. Both Waters and Pache were humbled to some degree with that potentially valuable month spent with Triple-A Gwinnett last year.
Pache has made great strides offensively, and he’ll instantly become a Gold Glove Award candidate once he reaches the Majors. Waters has shown a capable bat during his first two full professional seasons, but there is plenty of room for improvement. He’s a 21-year-old prospect who has a size 14 shoe and a father who was an offensive lineman at Georgia Tech. You have to think he’s going to continue to physically mature and eventually show plus power, especially from the left side of the plate.
I’m excited to both of these outfielders further develop this year, but I would say I’m more intrigued by where Waters will take his game this year. We’ve got a sense of what Pache could offer, but I don’t think we’ve yet seen Waters’ full potential.
What young pitcher (Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Touki Toussaint, A.J. Minter, etc.) needs a productive 2020 season the most?
Though you’ve seen Wright each of the past two seasons, you have to remember he has logged fewer than 300 innings since leaving Vanderbilt. You want to see him make strides this year and focus on the strengths of his wide arsenal. But this is certainly not a make-or-break year for him.
Wilson and Toussaint might be trending in the direction of eventually becoming relievers, especially if they stay with the Braves. But neither pitcher will likely feel as much pressure as Minter, who is an underdog bullpen candidate just one year after standing as a closer candidate.
At 26, Minter still has time to right himself and regain the promise he showed before the final two months of the 2018 season. Last year’s struggles might have been influenced by the time he missed after jamming his shoulder in a car accident during Spring Training. Regardless, Minter's now in a position where he must fight for a roster spot and prove he does belong at the big league level.
Really worried about the catcher for not only next season, but the future. It has been rough for a few years, just patching things together. Thoughts on the future backstop?
This is a legitimate concern, especially given the fact the Braves will enter this season with a pair of catchers on the other side of 30 Travis d'Arnaud and Tyler Flowers). The only MLB-ready catcher in the farm system is Alex Jackson, who hit 28 homers but also once again struck out in 34 percent of his plate appearances at the Minor League level last year.
To Jackson’s credit, he has improved enough defensively to be deemed serviceable if needed. But the future at this position is focused on Shea Langeliers, who was taken with the ninth overall pick in last year’s Draft, and William Contreras, who struggled offensively during his age-21 season at the Class A Advanced and Double-A levels.
As this year progresses, we’ll get a better feel for what the future may hold for Langeliers or Contreras. There’s room for the Braves to improve their organizational depth at the catching position, but there has been vast improvement in this department over the past few years.