TAMPA, Fla. -- The Braves were attached to several free agents this winter, and while they didn't make any big signings, the 2018 season could be an important turning point that allows them to make a big splash in next offseason's mega market.Unless, of course, they don't need to.That's what
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Braves were attached to several free agents this winter, and while they didn't make any big signings, the 2018 season could be an important turning point that allows them to make a big splash in next offseason's mega market.
Unless, of course, they don't need to.
That's what new general manager Alex Anthopoulos is hoping will be the case as he embarks on his first season with the Braves, who possess one of the most talent-rich farm systems in the Majors.
"This is a really critical year for us to find out with so much young talent what we will do going forward and how aggressive we may be in free agency," Anthopoulos said. "The ideal scenario is that these guys emerge, they all take these jobs, run with them and become a part of our core."
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
With two-time All-Star Freddie Freeman locked in at first base through 2021, the Braves have their franchise player signed for the next four seasons. Joining him in the infield this season will be second-year sensation Ozzie Albies at second base, former No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson at shortstop and sophomore Johan Camargo also on the left side of the infield -- though Anthopoulos seems high on Austin Riley (the team's No. 8 prospect according to MLB Pipeline) as a potential option at some point.
"Dansby Swanson at shortstop; everyone knows about Draft status and talent and all of that, but he didn't have the year he's capable of last year," Anthopoulos said. "He'd be the first one to tell you that. Does he take that step and emerge as our shortstop? Johan Camargo, he's got a chance to be that guy. Riley did really well last year and had a good Arizona Fall League; does he become the answer at third base?
"This thing can swing a lot of ways. If the answers are no, maybe it is the free-agent market we jump into; maybe it's going to be trades because we have a ton of young talent that could be currency for guys to fill those spots."
Anthopoulos also mentioned catcher Alex Jackson (the Braves' No. 14 prospect according to MLB Pipeline) as a player who could prove to be important going forward, as both Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki are slated to hit free agency after the upcoming season. And, of course, there's Ronald Acuna Jr. Jr., the team's top prospect and MLB Pipeline's No. 2 overall prospect in the game.
In addition to the catchers, the Braves have a plethora of players set to become free agents next fall, including Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and Nick Markakis, who will make roughly $30 million combined this season.
Acuna is expected to be a foundation at a corner-outfield spot once he reaches the Majors, while lefties Kolby Allard (MLB Pipeline's No. 58 overall prospect) and Luiz Gohara (No. 49) and right-handers Kyle Wright (No. 30), Mike Soroka (No. 31) and Ian Anderson (No. 51) have a ton of upside on the pitching side.
Freeman, Julio Teheran and Ender Inciarte are the only players with guaranteed money on the books in 2019, earning about $38 million. If the kids take the next step this season, the Braves will have fewer holes to fill from the outside, enabling the club to focus on one or two free agents as it looks to return to the postseason for the first time since 2013.
So what exactly would constitute a significant step forward for the young players?
"I don't know if there are specific expectations rather than the hope and the goal that they just get better," Anthopoulos said. "Whether that's one percent, five percent, 10 percent, you just want them to move forward rather than regressing."
Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar arrived at Yankees camp as the two rookies with the biggest chance to impact the 2018 club, but it's another rookie who has opened the most eyes during the first week of games.
Estevan Florial, the team's No. 2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline (and No. 44 overall in the Top 100), is off to a blazing start, hitting .308 (4-for-13) with three triples and a 1.169 OPS in seven games. No wonder general manager Brian Cashman held firm to his desire to hang on to the 20-year-old center fielder this winter as one team after another tried to pry him away.
"I knew coming in based on the conversations I've had with [Yankees VP of baseball operations] Tim Naehring and some of our guys and watching him on video this offseason, you understand why we're not letting him go," manager Aaron Boone said. "You heard his name a lot [in trade rumors], but he's one of the guys we're not letting go. He's a special talent.
"He can do it all; he can really run, the power is real, he's a great kid. This is a great opportunity because he's getting a lot of playing time, he gets to be in there with these guys and he's doing really well. He's performed and he's gaining confidence. This spring for him is part of the growing experience. I'm really excited about it.
Florial has made quite an impression on his veteran teammates this spring -- not only with his play on the field, but with his work ethic and demeanor away from the white lines.
"I'm a huge fan of his; he's got a great head on his shoulders," Brett Gardner said. "A kid that age, just his ability to communicate, his willingness to learn, he speaks great English already. He's doing everything he can to get better. He's got a great arm, he can run well and he's a special young player. Being around him, he seems like a really great person."
Adam Lind spent a little more than one week at the MLBPA's free-agent camp in Bradenton, Fla., though unlike many of his fellow players, he's now wearing a big league uniform again after signing a Minor League deal with the Yankees.
For the rest of the guys getting in shape as they wait to find a new organization, Lind said the anxiety to sign a deal is apparent.
"I know guys are champing at the bit to try to get out of there and get jobs," Lind said. "A lot of people are getting what they can out of it, but they really want to get into an organization. People are just trying to figure out what's going on. Like a lot of things, things change and you have to adjust."