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Legends On Deck

Braves Fans, Enjoy 2018

Tanking, rebuilding, retooling, what ever other words people are using to describe it, it’s a common theme in today’s MLB. No fan base likes to see their team trade away big name players in an attempt to take things down to the studs and begin looking towards the future, especially when it means a lot of losses are on the horizon. Fans want to win and they want to win now. There is nothing wrong with it, that’s just human nature. This is exactly what the Atlanta Braves fan base has been living through for four years.

But Braves fans, something very special is going to happen in 2018 and instead of holding a grudge because Craig Kimbrel isn’t there to pitch the ninth inning, I want you to sit back and enjoy this season. Supporting a club that will be sub .500 for the fifth straight season with a black eye of unprecedented punishment for rules violations is a substantial ask, I understand. But, instead of being the guy or girl that hasn’t tuned into a game since Chipper Jones retired and is now claiming “all the Braves do is trade away their good players”, embrace the opportunity you have to watch an extremely young and talented team come together and build towards the future.

Ranting about the Atlanta fan base aside, if you can appreciate the game of baseball, you can appreciate this 2018 Braves team. It starts at the top with new General Manager Alex Anthopoulos who took over in November 2017 after the international market scandal. He is a breath of fresh air after the stain John Coppolella, who is now banned for life from baseball, left on the franchise. While we have Coppy on the brain, we have to give credit where credit is due. He built an outstanding farm system and if the Alex Wood, Hector Olivera deal had never happened, there wouldn’t be much to criticize outside of the rules violations.

Regardless, Anthopoulos brings a proven track record to the club and has shown in the past he is not afraid to shake things up in an attempt to win. That wasn’t exactly the case this offseason with the exception of him bringing in some faces he is familiar with, but that just means he likes what the Braves have in-house, or is at least taking the time to see who fits in the future plans. Plus, he will have some money to spend next offseason.

The Pitching Staff

Julio Teheran will make his fifth consecutive Opening Day start later this afternoon, a Braves franchise record. While the rotation begins with him, there is a lot to watch behind number 49. One season removed from the Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia, and R.A. Dickey experiments, the Braves will plug veteran Brandon McCarthy into the rotation. While his performance on the field is important, he also provides a veteran presence with Teheran that will be good for the young ball club. Mike Foltynewicz has been up and down and it seems that the organization, and the fan base, will be looking for him to stay consistent during 2018 and prove he can be a middle of the rotation guy for the long haul.

The most intriguing aspect of the rotation will be the young guns. Sean Newcomb really proved he belonged in the bigs last year. Look for him to take a step forward in 2018 and lock himself into the rotation for the foreseeable future. Luiz Gohara, who is often plagued by injury, will hopefully return soon from an ankle issue. The Brazilian left hander made his major league debut in 2017 and showcased a nasty arsenal of stuff. Behind them, we look to guys like Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard, among others, who could very well make their big league debut in 2018.

If I had to guess, I would say that Lucas Sims and Max Fried may get the occasional spot start, but they won’t find themselves as permanent rotation arms. However, they could factor into an exciting young bullpen that also features A.J Minter whom many have pegged as the Braves future closer.

The Lineup

The low hanging fruit here is Ronald Acuna Jr. I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. The kid is good and we all agree the service time manipulation stinks, at least from a spectator perspective. The question remains, just how good will he be? If you had to pick one reason to watch the Braves this season, it would be to see how the 20 year old phenom handles himself at the plate when he is staring down Max Scherzer or Noah Syndergaard in a meaningful regular season game.

There is cause for excitement up the middle as well. Tyler Flowers proved to be one of the better catchers in baseball last season while his platoon mate, Kurt Suzuki, helped round out a pretty good 1-2 punch at the position. Gold glove centerfielder, Ender Inciarte has a found his calling in Atlanta and continues to put up solid numbers at the plate. While some consistency is to be expected at catcher and in center, the real focus for Braves fans will be in the middle infield.

Dansby Swanson was picked by many, yours truly included, to be the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year prior to last season. It is no secret that he struggled to a poor campaign, especially at the plate with a .232/.312/.324 slash line. A lot of expectations were put on Swanson, like we tend to do with a lot of Georgia born players, and he simply didn’t live up to them. Now Braves fans will enter 2018 with hopes of a bounceback season from their shortstop.

This brings us to Swanson’s double play mate, Ozzie Albies. Albies had an outstanding age 20 season in 2017 that saw him slash .286/.354/.456 and post a 112 wRC+ while playing good defense at the keystone. Many folks are on the Albies train and if you’re not already, hop on now. This kid is going to be special to watch over the course of a full season.

I know, how have we made it to the end of this post without bringing up the Braves best player, Freddie Freeman? We all know what to expect from steady Freddie on the field and if all else fails, Braves fans still have one of the best players in baseball to watch over the Summer, barring injury. The fact that Freeman is the last player discussed here should be an encouraging sign of the young players the Braves will trot out in 2018.

The young pitching staff that has led to such a highly touted farm system over the last handful of years is finally knocking on the door. Ender, Ozzie, and Freddie will be an exciting 1,2,3 at the top of the lineup. Seeing if Dansby Swanson can turn things around. Ronald Acuna’s major league debut. Seeing how a handful of veterans can contribute not only on the field, but in the clubhouse. There is a lot to look out for in Atlanta this season. Braves fans, enjoy 2018.

Jake Berry
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Jake Berry

Contributing Writer at Legends On Deck®
Jake resides in Carrollton, GA and loves everything baseball. He is a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan and enjoys traveling to watch their Minor League teams. He graduated from the University of West Georgia with a Bachelor's Degree in Sport Management. Jake is also a certified personal trainer and has a passion for fitness and weight lifting. You can find his personal site at berrysbaseball.com

You can also reach out to Jake at jberry@legendsondeck.com
Jake Berry
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