Will the Braves regret sending down Ronald Acuna Jr. if they miss the Wild Card/playoffs by one game that he could (possibly) have swung in their favor at the beginning of the season?
Just like the Braves weren't going to mention service time as a variable in their decision to start Acuna in the Minors, they aren't going to publicly say their planning process is based on the belief that they are more than a player or two from becoming a legit postseason contender this year.
With that being said, I understand the stance Brandon McCarthy took on Twitter when he said few expected the Twins and D-backs to be playoff teams at this point last year. And I appreciate the stance of those fans who want their team to field the best team possible throughout the entirety of a 162-game season.
But Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos' responsibility is to evaluate how current decisions will affect the organization on a long-term basis.
The Braves can secure an extra year of contractual control if they promote Acuna -- the No. 2 prospect in baseball -- after April 13. Thus, they could be without the 20-year-old phenom for just 8 percent (13 games) of the season, during which his presence alone likely wouldn't be enough to lead to a playoff berth.
In exchange, they could gain a full season of Acuna when he is closer to his prime and when the team might still be reaping the benefits of the current farm system, which ranks as one of the game's best.
If the Braves exceed expectations and find themselves being criticized for this decision in September, they'll have to deal with what would certainly be a good problem to have, when you consider where the team has been over the past few years. There are no guarantees for any team in any season. But if you evaluate the probabilities, it certainly makes sense to predict a full year of Acuna on the field in 2024 will trump the value of him being available for 13 additional games right now, when the team is still in the midst of its rebuild.
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Regarding Anthopoulos' comments, it appears Mike Soroka was at least discussed as an option out of Spring Training. How serious might those discussions have been and is he someone who could be called up before the All-Star break?
Given that Soroka was reassigned to Minor League camp on March 9, I wouldn't say he was ever considered a serious candidate for the Opening Day roster. But that doesn't mean the internal discussions weren't quite similar to the ones I've had with scouts, who believe he was the best Braves pitcher they saw this spring.
Beyond not wanting to start Soroka's service-time clock or bring him to the Majors without having experienced the Triple-A level, the Braves need to use these first few months to determine exactly what they have with the starting pitching assets already at the Major League level.
This brings us to the next question.
Is this the year we finally trade Julio Teheran?
Soroka, Kyle Wright and Kolby Allard stand as a formidable wave of starting pitchers who could all come to next year's Spring Training positioned to grab a rotation spot. Ian Anderson and Joey Wentz won't be far behind. So, this season will serve as a weeding out process for Atlanta's starting pitchers.
If the Braves are going to be legit playoff contenders in 2019, they need at least a couple of members of this quartet -- Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Luiz Gohara and Soroka -- to move ahead of Teheran in the rotation hierarchy.
Teheran has made strides with his changeup, and more importantly, he has regained confidence in his slider, which has always been his top pitch. But given his inconsistent history and the club's rising young arms, it certainly would be wise to attempt to sell if Teheran rebounds this season.
If Nick Markakis gets traded this year, who is most likely to take his spot?
Let's wait to see how Dustin Peterson fares with Triple-A Gwinnett, but he's provided indications he is even better and stronger than he was before he suffered the left hamate fracture that marred his 2017 season.
If Peterson isn't ready, the Braves could turn to Preston Tucker. Tucker has more power potential and is left-handed, but he could provide the same kind of value Matt Diaz did during his days with the Braves.
If Tucker's power potential translates into extended Major League success, he might be deemed an everyday option for a playoff-caliber team. The capability is there, but for now I consider him a fourth outfielder, whose overall value is diminished by his defense.
Assuming Tucker gets the Opening Day nod in left field, what will the Braves bench look like?
Assuming Tucker gets the start with Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola on the mound -- and the Braves going with an extra bench player while carrying just four starting pitchers -- I think they'll go with an infielder to account for the uncertainty regarding Johan Camargo's back. This opens the door for Rio Ruiz to possibly open the season on Atlanta's roster.
My projected bench is: Kurt Suzuki, Charlie Culberson, Danny Santana, Lane Adams and Ruiz.
Though the numbers have improved, Adams hasn't regained the swing that helped him find unexpected success last year. But because he's on the 40-man roster, I'll give him the nod over non-roster invitee Ezequiel Carrera, whose bid is weakened by Santana also needing a spot cleared on the 40-man.
Carrera provides what the Braves already have in Tucker. He might be the better player, but he doesn't have the same offensive or defensive versatility as Santana, whose ability to play the infield could aid his cause while Camargo is out.
Aside from Wright, which Braves prospect has the best chance to move through the Minor Leagues quickly like Acuna did last year?
Remember, Anthopoulos said he likely wouldn't have accelerated Acuna through the system as quickly as the previous regime did last year. So, I wouldn't expect to see Cristian Pache rise from Class A Advanced Florida to Triple-A Gwinnett this summer. But now that he's physically matured and gained the capability to develop his power, the young outfielder could quickly raise his stock.
Let's not put Pache on Acuna's elite level, but when Andruw Jones endorses him as the organization's best defensive outfielder right now, there's reason to keep an eye on this 19-year-old center fielder.