Inbox: How will Braves stack batting order?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers fans' questions

March 8th, 2019

How do you see the lineup shaking out? Why not bat Ronald Acuña Jr. second and Josh Donaldson fourth? Would it not be a concern that Acuña would see less pitches to hit with less protection behind the cleanup spot?
-- @JBLittle3

Donaldson has long made it clear he wants to bat second, and after he reiterated this preference a few weeks ago, manager Brian Snitker said he thinks there’s value in allowing players to hit where they are most comfortable. By saying this, he strengthened the argument that Acuna should get his wish by staying in the leadoff spot.

But when the Braves had all of their regulars playing together for the first time in Friday night’s game against the Phillies, Snitker showed which way he’s leaning, placing Ender Inciarte in the leadoff spot and Acuna in the cleanup spot. Still, I don’t think he’s set on this arrangement, and there’s certainly reason to believe the lineup could look much different when the Braves are facing a left-handed starter.

By now, we all realize Acuna would receive at least 30, and probably closer to 40-plus additional plate appearances over the course of the season if he bats leadoff. As for your question about him possibly seeing fewer pitches to hit when in the cleanup spot with Nick Markakis or Tyler Flowers batting behind him, it’s worth noting Freddie Freeman saw a career-high 47.5 percent of pitches in the zone while batting ahead of Markakis last year. This may have been influenced by Markakis’ improved production and the power decline Freeman experienced over last season’s final three months.

Ultimately, I think we’re long past the era within which there was seemingly a need for a bona fide cleanup hitter. It makes more sense to attempt to maximize the potential production value of Donaldson and Freeman by ensuring Acuna is going to factor into the equation. The only way to do so is to put him in the leadoff spot.

Are the Braves still in talks with Craig Kimbrel?
-- @hunter3bell

The Braves have made it clear that they may have interest in a one- or two-year deal and Kimbrel has understandably held out hope another team will give him a longer-term commitment. We’re less than three weeks from Opening Day and I’m assuming he’s going to pitch for someone this year. So, I guess you could say there’s a chance he eventually ends up with the Braves. But, I haven’t been given any reason to believe the two parties have had any serious discussions.

Freeman missed a seven-foot putt that would have given him a win against Kimbrel in a golf match a couple of weeks ago. After the round, the closer said he was heading home to get his family and would be returning to Florida. The fact that he’s spent nearly half of Spring Training around the Braves’ Spring Training complex is just a product of his agent living here and his desire to be around some of his close friends.

If Mike Foltynewicz won’t be ready for Opening Day, who do you think gets the nod? Julio Teheran? Sean Newcomb? Someone else?
-- @finnance1716

Kevin Gausman currently lines up to start the March 28 season opener in Philadelphia. But considering early camp shoulder discomfort prevented him from making his first spring start until Friday, the Braves obviously aren’t committing to him, or for that matter, any of their other pitchers.

Newcomb will start Saturday in Lakeland and Teheran will start Sunday’s game in Jupiter. Neither currently lines up for Opening Day. But when the Braves have a better chance to assess where they are coming out of next Thursday’s off-day, they then could alter the schedule to set up either Newcomb or Teheran to be available for Opening Day.

Bryce Harper went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts against Philadelphia native Jesse Biddle last year. So, it only makes sense the Braves use Biddle to serve as their opener on Opening Day. I kid. I think.

Do you think Kyle Wright will be a big piece of the rotation this season?
-- @lsroberts51

Wright, the Braves' No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, has greater upside than any of the Braves' other highly-regarded prospects and he has been the team’s most impressive pitcher thus far. I think it’s safe to say he’ll entrench himself in the rotation at some point this summer. But I’m still thinking he’ll begin the season sharing the fifth spot with Max Fried and Touki Toussaint on a rotating basis.

My guess is that Wright’s April will consist of two or three starts for Atlanta and maybe an additional two for Triple-A Gwinnett. He’s less than two years removed from Vanderbilt and the wish will likely be to keep him around 175 innings total this year. Managing his early season schedule could prove beneficial down the stretch this year.

Would you say at this point the Braves are done making offseason moves?
-- @dappercale

I think that depends on what Adam Duvall does over the remainder of Spring Training. If the Braves are not confident that he can provide offensive value off the bench, then it may be wise to turn to some of the backup outfielders who may come available near the end of Spring Training.