What are you most interested in seeing during Spring Training? -- Jeff P., Roanoke, Va.While much of the attention will understandably be placed on Ronald Acuna Jr., the strides made this year by the young starting pitchers will have the most significant impact on the club's future. There is far
What are you most interested in seeing during Spring Training?
-- Jeff P., Roanoke, Va.
While much of the attention will understandably be placed on Ronald Acuna Jr., the strides made this year by the young starting pitchers will have the most significant impact on the club's future. There is far too much inexperience within the pitching staff to label the Braves postseason contenders, but there is also enough talent within this bunch to believe the expectations could be much different next year.
Like it's far too early to give up on Mike Foltynewicz, it's far too early to anoint Luiz Gohara a legit ace. Like it's far too early to predict Sean Newcomb will never throw enough strikes, it would be premature to assume Mike Soroka or Kolby Allard are going to make an immediate impact when they reach the big league level.
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There's nothing wrong with getting excited about the possibility of using some of these pitching prospects to complete a significant trade. But at the same time, it's best to put yourself in general manager Alex Anthopoulos' shoes and ask, "What exactly do we know about the young pitchers who would garner significant interest?"
Foltynewicz is entering a season that could define his future as a starter or a reliever. A year from now, we could be talking about him potentially serving as a No. 2 starter or closer. His window of opportunity is closing, but it's far from being shut.
As for Gohara, he has totaled just five starts. Yeah, the big lefty's potential is much greater than that of Hiram Davies and other five-start wonders of the past. But it would currently be irresponsible to confidently project him to sit at the top of Atlanta's rotation for many years to come.
Soroka, Allard and Gohara seem to be the cream of the crop of Braves pitchers who could be deemed Major League-ready at some point this year. Kyle Wright could join this group once he has a chance to get better acquainted with professional baseball. And we'll likely hear a lot about the success Ian Anderson and Joey Wentz have this year.
It's going to be interesting to see how Atlanta's rotation takes shape this season and equally interesting to see which prospects move closer to being deemed Major League-ready. The progress made by these pitchers this year will influence Anthopoulos' trade options and also provide a better understanding of whether it is wise to consider the Braves postseason contenders in 2019.
With 2019 the target to be competitive, will the Braves focus on making improvements via trades or free-agent signings?
-- Tim H., New Bern, N.C.
The Braves will have the currency necessary to be players within both markets. They'll have $40 to $60 million to spend next offseason and the capability to use some of their top prospects to make a significant trade.
Because so many of the top prospects are either Major League-ready or a step from earning this description, this is one of the most important years within the rebuild. The assets have been developed over the last few years; now it's time to accurately assess their value.
Like Austin Riley's progress this year will impact whether the Braves pursue Josh Donaldson or Manny Machado this offseason, the development of the young arms will give Anthopoulos a better feel for how he might address other needs via a trade.
There is risk involved in essentially every trade. But the risk can at least be deemed more calculated once Anthopoulos gets a chance to watch individual development and formulate an idea of how he would like to put together future rosters.
Who is left to provide Freddie Freeman protection in the lineup?
-- Joe D., Temple, Ga.
I've toyed with a few different options, including batting Freeman second. However you cut it, there is not an optimal answer to this question. If Acuna arrives at some point during the second half of April, he would lengthen the lineup. But it's not like he's going to immediately be placed behind Freeman.
For now, I would assume Tyler Flowers will fill the cleanup spot on those days when he is serving as the catcher. The primary problem here is the Braves essentially had Flowers and Kurt Suzuki sharing the catching duties down the stretch last year.
Even if Flowers were used three out of every five games, you'd have Suzuki or somebody else filling that cleanup spot in 40 percent of the games. Of course, if Suzuki homers once every 10.8 at-bats like he did during last season's final three months, this might not be a problem.
Why are the Braves always talking about needing to get a future third baseman? Do they not have confidence in Johan Camargo?
-- Don M., Gainesville, Fla.
When the Braves have discussed Riley's potential or the possibility of acquiring a third baseman, they have simply looked at ways to add much-needed power to their lineup. Camargo has earned the respect of the coaching staff and could be a valuable piece for many years to come. There's a good chance he'll begin this season as the third baseman, and his presence also provides some insurance if shortstop Dansby Swanson's struggles extend into this year.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.