5 reasons the Braves will improve in 2018

Justin Baker
March 14, 2018 - 10:29 am
Freddie Freeman

© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports


New season, new team, same result?

Not so fast. Sure, this offseason was a notable one in the Atlanta Braves’ storied history and not exactly for all the right reasons. That’s a nice way to cover up a rather embarrassing offseason. But why look at the glass half empty when you can look at it half full?

The boys of summer finished the 2017 season with a record of 72-90. Granted, it’s hard to have belief in a team that lost 90 games last season… 10 away from triple digits. However, that’s an improvement from 2016 when the Bravos went just 68-93.

Since the dismantling of the 2014 roster, which was full of some great power hitters with the ability to hit 25 or more home runs only to strike out 150 times that same year, the Braves have been in baseball purgatory. The “rebuild mode” makes time slowdown in the sports world. It’s the painful process of ripping a Band-Aid off before you and your fan base are really ready. If you do it the wrong way, it can feel more like a slow pull than a quick rip.

For the Braves, they went from hopes of a playoff berth and possible World Series appearance at the start of 2014, to the questions of just how many games they would lose in 2015 and the subsequent seasons.

Atlanta’s ownership group ripped that metaphorical Band-Aid off at the end of the 2014 season. They said good-bye to General Manager Frank Wren and brought in a proven veteran in John Hart who was credited with building many of the great Cleveland Indians teams of the 1990’s. Hart subsequently would bring on John Coppolella as his understudy as the Braves new GM.

Now as the last few months would come to show that Coppolella had committed repeated violations in regard to his tactics to sign multiple international players, both Coppolella and Hart found themselves tied to a rather unsuccessful tenure during their time in the Braves front office. That includes Coppolella being banded from the game for life by Major League Baseball recently. This led to his all but forced recognition from the Braves staff.

It the three years that “The Johns” were in Atlanta’s front office, they oversaw the shipment of high-priced players with heavy contract obligations moved to other teams in return for highly touted, yet unproven talent. They looked to rebuild the Braves farm system and get away from high-priced free-agent signings to getting back to a formula of becoming competitive through “home grown talent”. That is, they were looking to build the team the way the team of the 90’s was built. Young talent making its way through the ranks of the minors as they are groomed for stardom in the Majors.

Coppolella was involved in the trades that sent OF BJ Upton, OF Jason Heyward, CP Craig Kimbrel, SS Andrelton Simmons and RHP Shelby Miller packing. In return, Atlanta received back top unproven talents like that of LHP Sean Newcomb, RHP Matt Wisler, SS Dansby Swanson and 2017 MLB All-Star center fielder, Ender Inciarte.

It wasn’t a pretty exit and their efforts weren’t reciprocated between the foul lines at both Turner Field and SunTrust Park, but both Hart and Coppolella left new General Manager Alex Anthopoulos and a new generation of Braves fans with something that can’t be bought… hope!

Here are 5 reasons to believe in the Braves in 2018.

  1.    A youth movement: When Atlanta began last season, they had the oldest average age among the 30 Major League teams, compiling an average age of 30.4. A year prior to that, MLB.com listed the Braves as the third highest average age in baseball at 30.6 years. Only the Yankees and Mariners were higher that season, both at an average age of 30.7. By comparison, the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, last year’s two World Series teams, both had an average age of 29.2 and 28 respectfully. The Dodgers were the youngest team to make the playoffs in 2017, while the Washington Nationals, Astros and Chicago Cubs were the only three teams to enter postseason play with an average age over 29. Simply put, it’s proven younger guys can win more than older guys these days. Take it from a guy who just entered his 30s. My recovery time from both the gym and/or a late night out at the bar is much longer than what it was in my early to mid 20s.
  2.    Competition: It challenges us to be at our best and baseball can turn boys into men. Last year, there was little doubt that anybody would challenge Inciarte, Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp in the outfield. Now, with Kemp gone, it’s an open race in left field for both Lane Adams and Preston Tucker. Even if both are just leaving a warm spot in the lineup for top prospect, Ronald Acuna to make his MLB debut, it forces both players to be at their best in order to play their way into manager Brian Snitker’s lineup when the season starts. Third base should bring out a battle between Johan Camargo and Rio Ruiz to fight for a starting job. Plus, outside of maybe right-handers Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz, there is a no guarantees who will make the Braves starting rotation and who will find their spot in the bullpen. That leaves veterans Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir, along with young arms like Newcomb, Wisler, Luiz Gohara and Aaron Blair with something to prove if they’re going to take the mound at STP this season.
  3.    Freeman is Free: After an MVP start to 2017, Braves 1B Freddie Freeman appeared in just 117 total games after breaking a bone in his wrist when he was hit by a pitch in mid-May. The injury sidelined him for more than two months. Even with his early return, Freeman struggled later in the year and alluded to discomfort in the repaired wrist. Now with a full offseason of healing and rehabilitation, there is no reason to doubt Freeman won’t return to his MVP type performance he has shown in past seasons.
  4.    There is a plan. Let’s be real, the plan is, let’s see what all this young talent can do. With the movement of Matt Kemp this offseason, the Braves new-look front office isn’t looking to bridge the gap with aging, over-priced veterans, they’re looking to see what young guys like Acuna can do. Just like my philosophy of teaching kids how to swim, thrown them into the deep-end of the pool and hope they float. It’s okay, I won’t be offended if you don’t ask me to teach your offspring how to keep their heads above water.
  5.    They grow up so fast: Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies both enter this season under the age of 25. Swanson struggled early on in his first full season in the Majors but seem to find a renewed confidence after a brief stint back in AAA-Gwinnett and for Albies to play in his first MLB game before the age of 21 gives him the experience he can build on well before his body is truly in the prime of his career. Speaking of which, Inciarte, the two-time Gold Glove winner with an All-Star appearance last year is only 27 and won’t turn 28 until January of 2019. It’s good to be young into today’s game. Father Time is undefeated so why not go young and look to run and gun?

It’s easy to doubt the Braves, they are a team full of young, unproven talent with lots of potential but no results and a track record over the last three years of being well… just flat out bad.

The two biggest executives behind the Braves “rebuild” are both gone without ever seeing the bulk of the young talent they have acquired blossom into top tier talent. These can be reasons for concern, sure, but right now, everybody is 0-0 and when March 29th hits Atlanta controls their own destiny. They get a clean slate and as it stands, they’re undefeated.

Cheer up and chop on Braves country, 2018 will be a better year for the Braves. Batter up!