LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As the Braves enter the fourth season of their rebuild, they are entering a transitional phase during which they will introduce some elite prospects to the Major League level and begin to get a feel for what pieces they need to realize their potential to
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As the Braves enter the fourth season of their rebuild, they are entering a transitional phase during which they will introduce some elite prospects to the Major League level and begin to get a feel for what pieces they need to realize their potential to become legit postseason contenders in 2019.
Most of the focus during Spring Training has been placed on Ronald Acuna Jr., Mike Soroka and Austin Riley. These top prospects handled themselves admirably during their first big league camp and provided indication they could soon be capable of strengthening a Braves nucleus that already includes Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Ender Inciarte.
• Spring Training:Info | Tickets | Gear
This season's success will be dictated by the youngest members of a starting rotation that has already been weakened by a left ankle sprain that will sideline Luiz Gohara through at least the end of April. If Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb make positive progressions and Soroka lives up to his potential once he arrives, the Braves will have a better feel for what their rotation might look like in 2019 and beyond.
What's the goal?
It can be viewed that the Braves are about to embark on a 324-game season. They want to move closer toward producing their first winning record since 2013, but not at the expense of the immediate future. They have money to spend next winter and the potential to make significant strides in 2019. But before making any significant moves, they first want to take advantage of the chance to analyze and evaluate all of their current assets.
The Braves would love to post a .500 record and finish the season in a strong manner with many of the young players playing key roles. But the primary goal this year is to gain a better feel for where the prospects stand in their development and to better understand what the team needs to take another step forward next season.
What's the plan?
The offense should benefit from the addition of Acuna, who could make his Major League debut as early as April 13, and a full season from Freeman, who was producing MVP-caliber numbers before a fractured wrist sidelined him for nearly seven weeks last year. But there is some uncertainty within the rotation, which could assume a few different looks this season.
Brandon McCarthy will provide stability within the rotation and a rebound season from Julio Teheran would be much welcomed. But the focus on the rotation will center around Foltynewicz, Newcomb and Gohara. The Braves will use the first couple of months to evaluate their starters and get a feel for where Soroka might fit in the event he is deemed Major League ready by June.
Foltynewicz, Newcomb, Gohara and Soroka are all capable of surpassing Teheran on the rotation's depth chart at some point this season. The front office will also be keeping close tabs on Kyle Wright and Kolby Allard, a pair of high-ceiling prospects who certainly could be in the mix for a rotation spot within the next year.
What could go wrong?
Though Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter and Jose Ramirez are capable of forming a reliable late-inning trio, the bullpen lacks quality depth. It might also take some time for the rotation to take shape.
Foltynewicz and Newcomb have produced some encouraging signs during Spring Training. But Gohara created concern about his durability as he suffered two separate injuries within the first month of camp. The Braves need at least two of these young hurlers to take a step forward this year to enhance confidence about the 2019 season and beyond.
Who might surprise?
As Braves fans have eagerly awaited Acuna's arrival, Dustin Peterson has shown he, too, might positively impact the outfield mix at some point this season. Peterson was hampered most of last year by the broken left hand he suffered during Spring Training, but the right-handed slugger has returned this year healthy and possibly stronger than ever. If the Braves opt to trade Nick Markakis at some point this year or there is a need for an outfielder to be promoted, Peterson could prove to be a valuable midseason addition.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.