Braves eyeing ways to boost power in 2018

Healthy Freeman, Acuna's pending arrival could be key

February 1st, 2018

ATLANTA -- The Braves had numerous reasons to make the financially motivated bad contract swap that sent Matt Kemp to the Dodgers, and their likely plan to go with an eight-man bullpen and a short bench influenced the decision to non-tender Matt Adams, whose left-handed power potential now rests on the Nationals' bench.

With those offseason departures, Atlanta is staring at a power shortage. The Braves ranked 28th in the Majors last year with 165 home runs. Thirty-five percent of that total was provided by players who are no longer with the organization, namely the aforementioned duo and , whose 11 homers made him one of the seven Atlanta players with a double-digit total.

Adams (19), Kemp (19) and Phillips (11) combined to hit 49 home runs. The Braves tallied 78 home runs from players not named Freddie Freeman who are still with the organization. Despite missing seven weeks with a fractured left wrist, Freeman hit 28 homers, nine more than any other Atlanta player last year.

"We've talked about the loss of the power and how we make up for it," Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "I don't have any answer today. Normally you would say, 'It's [early February], how do you not have an answer?' But there are a lot of free agents still out there."

The Braves looked into acquiring in December, and they remained interested until it was apparent the Marlins would insist on prized prospect Ronald Acuna being included in any deal for the outfielder, who was shipped to the Brewers last week. Atlanta has also kept tabs on the market for , a power-hitting third baseman whose invitation to the Braves would hinge on the acceptance of a short-term deal.

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But for now, the Braves will have to hope their power potential is enriched by Acuna's arrival and the maturation of their two young middle infielders -- and Dansby Swanson. A full year of a healthy Freeman will help, but the team can't necessarily count on another 19-homer season from .

Suzuki found comfort during his first season with Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, and he ended up hitting 15 of his 19 home runs over the 163 at-bats after the end of June. The 10.9 at-bat-per-homer ratio in that span wasn't expected from the backup catcher, who had a 72.1 AB/HR rate while hitting 21 home runs over the previous four seasons (2013-16).

"Suzuki and [Tyler Flowers] had tremendous offensive seasons," Anthopoulos said. "We'd love to walk in and say, 'We're going to get the same season from them.' We also have the potential for upside from the guys on the roster as well. So maybe that will balance out."

Before hitting 11 homers last year, had totaled 13 over the previous three seasons. It was certainly a surprising output, but at this stage of his career, the increase can at least partially be attributed to his growth as a hitter.

Home run totals account for just a portion of the power-potential value. So it should also be noted that Adams (.543) and Kemp (.463) stood with Freeman (.586) and Suzuki (.536) as the only Braves (minimum of 300 plate appearances) with a .450 slugging percentage or better last year. To put that in perspective, 134 Major Leaguers hit that mark last year.

Freeman should once again serve as the offensive cog, as he enters this year confident he has regained strength in his fractured wrist. The first baseman was slugging .748 and had a 9.64 AB/HR ratio when he was sidelined on May 17. If projecting him to total 600 at-bats, he was on pace for a 62-homer season.

Just as it's hard to project what Freeman might do without the luxury of consistent protection behind him in the lineup, there's not necessarily a scientific way to predict what Acuna might do after arriving. But there's no doubt he has the potential to exceed the output of his good friend Albies, who, after arriving in August, set a pace that would have equated to 16 homers over a 600-at-bat season.