LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After struggling through most of last season's first half, Freddie Freeman produced a torrid stretch that earned him legit National League Most Valuable Player consideration for the second time through six full big league seasons.As the 28-year-old Braves first baseman enters what could be the
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After struggling through most of last season's first half, Freddie Freeman produced a torrid stretch that earned him legit National League Most Valuable Player consideration for the second time through six full big league seasons.
As the 28-year-old Braves first baseman enters what could be the prime of his career -- with the benefit of spending a full season with Matt Kemp batting behind him -- he has the potential to once again garner consideration for top postseason honors, including the Esurance Best Major Leaguer and Top Hitter Awards.
While Freeman has steadily established himself as one of the game's top players, Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson will enter this season as a favorite to win top rookie honors. Swanson finished two at-bats shy of crossing the rookie threshold after spending last season's final six weeks at the Major League level.
If the Braves realize their aspiration to exceed expectations and possibly contend for a playoff spot, there is also a chance Brian Snitker could garner Manager of the Year consideration in what will be his first full season as a big league manager. After becoming Atlanta's interim manager in May, Snitker guided the Braves to 50 wins over their final 97 games on their way to a 20-10 finish.
Some of this success that helped Snitker get over the hump of interim status to maintain the full-time role coincided with the impressive surge produced by Freeman, who slashed .338/.436/.659 with 24 home runs over his final 95 games. His 1.095 OPS within this span ranked second in the Majors, trailing only Cincinnati's Joey Votto (1.104). Despite producing a .775 OPS through his first 63 games, Freeman still ranked ranked ninth in the Majors with a 6.1 fWAR and sixth with 152 Weighted Runs Created Plus. He finished third in the NL in both categories, trailing Votto and Daniel Murphy in WRC+, and reigning NL MVP Kristopher Bryant and Corey Seager in fWAR.
Freeman struggled through an injury-plagued 2015 season, but he still ranks sixth in the NL with the 13.6 fWAR tallied since the start of the 2014 season.
Swanson began last season at the Class A Advanced level and then spent a few months with Double-A Mississippi before receiving his first call to the Majors in August. The suburban Atlanta native, taken by the D-backs with the first overall selection in the 2015 MLB Draft, lived up to the hype as he slashed .302/.361/.442 over the 145 plate appearances recorded for Atlanta.
While there might be some growing pains as Swanson is forced to account for the adjustments opposing pitchers will make against him, his mature poise should help him continue providing value with both his bat and glove, which will be further highlighted as he forms a double-play duo with the oft-exciting Brandon Phillips.
Swanson's primary competition for top NL rookie status could come from Padres right fielder Hunter Renfroe. The American League's top candidate will be Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.