Should Braves manager Brian Snitker stick to the lineup used Sunday against the Phillies?
In the MLB Morning Lineup podcast on Friday, I told colleagues Anthony Castrovince and Richard Justice that I thought the Braves' lineup would be optimized by putting Ozzie Albies in the leadoff spot and moving Ender Inciarte to the ninth spot. At the time, I wasn't sure whether Atlanta would put Ronald Acuna Jr. or Dansby Swanson in the two-hole.
But there's no doubt the lineup is best structured with Albies, Acuna and Freddie Freeman filling the first three spots. So yeah, I do think you'll see the Braves consistently utilizing this structure moving forward.
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Like Inciarte, Albies hasn't shown the plate discipline or produced the strikeout/walk rates you might have once looked for in a prototypical leadoff hitter. But we've passed that era and entered one where lineup construction should be focused on bringing your most dynamic offensive threats to the plate in the first inning and provide them more plate appearance opportunities over the course of an entire season.
Plus, Inciarte now essentially serves as a second leadoff hitter. In terms of foot speed, the two-time Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder doesn't match Albies or Acuna, who both possess elite speed. But as Inciarte has tallied a MLB-best 13 stolen bases thus far, he has provided a glimpse of how he could continue being a valuable catalyst with each subsequent turn through the lineup.
Do you think Mike Soroka will be in the starting rotation before June?
Let's just say, I believe Soroka will be in the starting rotation at some point in June. There's still a chance he could start in place of Julio Teheran on Wednesday. But after Teheran completed his side session on Sunday, the Braves seemed optimistic he had moved past the tight trapezius muscle issue that plagued him on Friday night.
Are the Braves going to have a noticeably higher payroll next year?
At this stage, it seems safe to say the Braves' payroll for the 2019 season will still rest between $120 million-$130 million. The only players under contract beyond this season are Freeman, Teheran and Inciarte, who will combine to make $38 million. Approximately $13 million more could go toward arbitration-eligible players (Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Foltynewicz, Sam Freeman and Dan Winkler). Then of course you have a number of players like Albies, Acuna and Swanson, who will all likely make less than $1 million as they wait to become arbitration-eligible.
When the Matt Kemp trade was made, I projected Atlanta could have up to $80 million to spend this offseason. A team official later indicated the figure might be closer to $30 million-$50 million. More recently, I've heard the team will likely have at least $50 million to use as they peruse the upcoming offseason's talent-rich free-agent market and address multiple needs, which could include third base, catcher and right field.
How much money is available to spend will also be influenced by the success of the team's top prospects over the course of the season. Rotation needs will be better understood once the team gets a better feel for what can be expected from Sean Newcomb, Luiz Gohara, Foltynewicz, Soroka, Kyle Wright and Kolby Allard. Austin Riley's rise will determine whether third base is truly considered an area of need.
Why don't the Braves consider using Johan Camargo as the everyday third baseman?
This did seem to be the perfect year to get a feel for the potential possessed by Camargo, who has hit .300/.336/.485 over the 243 plate appearances he's tallied since becoming a mainstay on Atlanta's roster last year. Maybe he would be best utilized as a versatile utility player over the course of his career. But this does seem to be the right time for the Braves to provide him a chance to be an everyday player.
The Braves have made it clear Jose Bautista will be the everyday third baseman if he is promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett. There's no doubt Bautista could add some power potential to the lineup. But he has tallied just two extra-base hits through his first 32 Minor League at-bats, and the uncertainty he provides at the hot corner seems to take away from the team's commitment to improving defensively.
Time will tell whether Atlanta will promote Bautista. But before doing so, it would be wise to ask whether the potential offensive gains of this gamble are enough to significantly impact a team that leads the National League with 5.59 runs per game.
Will Max Fried get a chance to be a starter? Or has that ship sailed?
When Fried was added to Atlanta's bullpen last week, the Braves made it clear the 24-year-old southpaw was still viewed as a potential starter and would likely soon return to Triple-A Gwinnett's rotation. Multiple scouts have projected Fried to be a reliever at the Major League level. This seems to be his most likely role if he were to remain within Atlanta's pitching-rich system. But at this point, it does make sense to allow him to extend his development as a starting pitcher at the Minor League level.