If you’ve followed anything baseball for the past month and a half, you’ve probably heard that the Braves aren’t very good this year. But it wasn’t a secret coming into the year that Atlanta was going to be severely lacking in the wins department. The franchise has dubbed 2016 a “rebuilding year,” and while it may not be the most glorious last year for Turner Field or a fun year for Braves Country as a whole, the plan was to begin the process of laying the groundwork for a potential World Series caliber team a few years down the road. Here, I’ll try to describe what (or who) I have liked about the Braves so far in 2016 and what it could mean down the road.
1. Veteran Leadership
While Freddie Freeman may be in the middle of busting out of a slow start to the season, I think it’s fair to say that he’s proven he can be an asset that the Braves can begin to build around offensively. He’s a career .284 hitter who currently has 109 career homers in his seven years as a Brave. While Freeman started off the season hitting just .167 through his first 15 games, he’s hit .375 in the following 15 games to bring his average to a respectable .273 on the year. On top of this, he has carried the bulk of his team’s power burden so far, hitting five of the team’s eight homers this year. While these numbers won’t blow anybody away, it is fair to claim that Freeman may not have been 100% by the start of the season, still combating a wrist injury suffered late in 2015. While Freeman may not be putting up the numbers on par with a guy like Bryce Harper or Mike Trout, he’s a proven dugout leader who has posted strong numbers throughout his Big League career. Also, with the way this season is going, the Braves may have the ability to draft young talent in 2017’s draft, in which they’d currently have the #1 pick.
Nick Markakis is another guy who hasn’t slacked around since coming to Atlanta. While he may not have the power numbers, he is a very patient hitter at the plate, currently with a 19/18 K/BB ratio in 2016. He currently leads the Braves in every major batting statistic other than homers this year. While the RBI numbers will likely drop now that he’s found his way into the leadoff spot in the lineup, Markakis still has a respectable plate approach that young guys could benefit from learning from.
Potential Young Talent
The Braves have a good amount of young guys that, given time, could turn into potential assets for the team in the future. Mallex Smith is probably the one making the most noise currently, as he’s one of just four Braves with a homer on the year. He’s also stolen four bases, so he could become a valuable speedster in the future. The biggest concern for Smith right now is his plate discipline, which is why it’s good to have guys like Markakis to help him out. Smith currently has walked just 5 times, compared to 21 strikeouts. As one of the faster young players, Smith will have to become more accustomed to seeing pitches and potentially working from behind in the count.
I’m hesitant to mention Adonis Garcia, although he also has done well to provide for the Braves this season. He’s another one of the few Braves with a homer this season, and currently has a .260 batting average. He’s done well in his first full year as a Brave, but the caveat is that he’s already 31 years old. He may be able to provide for a few seasons, but a 31 year old 2nd year player is not ideal (not everyone can play into their 40s like Jamie Moyer or Bartolo Colon).
The young middle infielders, Jace Peterson and Daniel Castro, are still finding their legs at the plate. The good news is that, so far, their fielding has been on point. Castro is yet to commit an error in his still young career at second base, so if he’s able to settle in at the plate over the next few years, he could become a staple with the Braves. Peterson is pretty similar in that regard, after playing almost every game at second base in 2015, he committed just 9 errors to host a .987 fielding percentage. If he can continue to shore up his defense, and start making headway at the plate, this potential middle infield duo could begin to make some noise in the next few years.
While Ender Inciarte has been injured for the majority of 2016, he has some good potential upside near the top of the Braves lineup. He stole 21 bases in 2015 in Arizona, while also hitting .303. If he’s able to recover well from this injury, Braves fans could see the value in having another young speedster in the outfield.
The Braves have a lot of young guys on the mound. While they haven’t all made their way to the MLB yet, they’re down there. Aaron Blair, Julio Teheran, and Matt Wisler are all young guns that have found themselves in the Braves rotation this year, and while the wins certainly aren’t there, the numbers aren’t horrendous (having the team averaging the lowest runs per game doesn’t help a pitcher’s record, just ask Felix Hernandez). Blair is currently 0-2 in three starts with a 3.31 ERA, but was 3-0 in 4 starts with just a 1.42 ERA while playing with AA team Gwinett this year.
Matt Wisler didn’t even make an appearance in Minor League ball this season, but his MLB numbers aren’t bad by any stretch of the mind for a 2nd year pitcher. He’s 1-3 in six starts with a 0.97 WHIP and a 3.27 ERA. Wisler also made a relief appearance and picked up a save for the Braves this year. Again the wins aren’t there because the offense hasn’t done squat all season for these arms (ranked last or 2nd to last in every major offensive category in the MLB).
Julio Teheran probably has the worst of it this year, being forced into the number one spot in the rotation, causing him to be slated against guys like Max Scherzer, Jose Fernandez, Aaron Nola, and Matt Harvey. Those guys are all great pitchers and when they’re facing an already floundering Braves offense, it’s a wonder Teheran gets any run support whatsoever. He’s currently 0-3 with a 3.48 ERA and has 39 Ks to 14 walks on the year.
The Braves also have a lot of guys who are still down on the farm. Tyrell Jenkins, Casey Kelly, and John Gant are just a few names from Gwinett that the Braves could see in Atlanta jerseys by the end of the season, especially if it continues to go the way it has.
I guess my one critique of the Braves this season (aside from the entire offense) has to be the acquisition of Bud Norris in the offseason. Norris hadn’t done particularly well over the past few seasons, being demoted to the bullpen in 2015 with San Diego and Baltimore. I feel like all Norris has really done in 2016 is soak up time that another one of these young guys could have been using to gain experience at the Major League level. Norris’ ERA is currently sitting at 7.30, and he hasn’t had a pretty outing all season. I guess the logic may have been to hope that Norris returned to his Houston form and could potentially work as trade bait for another young arm/bat around deadline time. This hasn’t panned out thus far, however, and Norris may find more time in the bullpen in Atlanta than as a starter if this keeps up.