Braves: Outfield preview

Joe Patrick
February 21, 2019 - 11:49 pm
Atlanta Braves left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. makes a catch at the wall

© Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Categories: 

Continuity is the theme of the Atlanta Braves outfield heading into 2019, but it’s also an area that could very well be upgraded during the season. Atlanta’s outfield is excellent defensively but is prone to running hot-and-cold at the plate (an issue that extends to Atlanta’s lineup in general). Here we will take a look at the outfield core and how things might shake out as the season progresses.

Ronald Acuna Jr. 

If there’s one reason I can’t wait for the Braves season to start back up, it’s to see this man swing the bat — truly one of the most aesthetically pleasing sights in the sport right now. I don’t even know what else to say about the 21-year-old Venezuelan prodigy, other than “atta boy, kid. Keep it up.” But seriously, that’s all the Braves need from Acuna. He provided 4+ WAR in just 111 games last season. The biggest question with Acuna is where to place him in the batting order. Ideally, you’d like to utilize his power in a spot a little lower in the order to allow him more opportunities to drive runners in. Realistically though, Acuna is so skilled that it’s immaterial, and manager Brian Snitker will be best served to consult with Acuna and let him bat where he wants. I expect him to lead off again as he did much of last season.

Related:

Ender Inciarte

Inciarte, the man with the brightest smile I’ve ever seen in my life, provides the Braves with one of the best gloves in baseball in center field. His defensive prowess alone is enough to justify his worth in the lineup, but his bat may be more important than many think. For as productive as players like Acuna, Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman were last season, the way in which the team’s results coincided with Inciarte’s performance at the plate was striking. The Venezuelan’s batting average was 116 points higher in wins than losses. Inciarte had 23 doubles in the 86 wins he started vs the 4 doubles he had in the 65 losses. Inciarte’s OPS in wins vs. losses was an amazing 341 point difference. These types of splits aren’t uncommon, but they generally relate more to teams’ core offensive pieces than players like Inciarte who are known more for their gloves.

Nick Markakis

If you’ve been reading my preseason posts here on the 92.9 The Game, you’ll know that I’m very much anticipating Alex Anthopoulos to make a move at some point during the season to strengthen the team. For example, Julio Teheran’s spot in the rotation is a glaring area of upgrade. In the outfield, it’s right field. Markakis is a steady hand, and returning him on a $4 million contract makes sense in a vacuum. It’s not a stretch to say Markakis is coming off the best year of his career, so to bring back that production on less than half the money he was on last year makes sense. The issue is that Markakis wore down after the All Star break, and it’s uncertain whether the offseason has rejuvenated him enough to turn around that second-half slump. Even if he does get back to his pre-All Star break form in 2019, I’d still expect Braves front office members to be lining up a possible reinforcement (like they did last season with Adam Duvall. Except, you know… better).

Fourth Outfielder

The Braves fourth outfielder is one of the squad’s primary question marks heading into spring training. Adam Duvall, who the Braves acquired from the Reds near last season’s trade deadline, was a flop and only recorded seven hits as a Brave. Still, the team offered Duvall a (non-guaranteed) contract and will give him a chance to prove himself.

Outfield is a position where the Braves don’t really have any prospects ready to break through to the major league level. Christian Pache and Drew Waters are the top two prospects in the Braves’ system, but neither have played above AA ball.

For this reason, Johan Camargo and Austin Riley are reportedly going to get some reps in the outfield this spring. Considering the trajectories of both of those two players, it makes sense to assess whether they can give you average play defensively in either outfield position. Their strong arms would naturally translate well to either corner outfield spot, leaving Acuna and Inciarte as the two options in center.

Charlie Culberson also exists, and we all know he can play anywhere. He even pitched an inning last season! Not all heroes wear capes.