Atlanta Braves Spring Training: 5 Players to watch

Joe Patrick
February 14, 2019 - 2:10 pm
 Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Luiz Gohara

© Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

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We continue or march toward Atlanta Braves Spring Training — pitchers and catchers report to the team’s training facilities Friday. Despite some recent grumblings about the Braves' lack of activity in the free agent market, it’s still an incredibly exciting time for the franchise. The Braves are fortunate to have multiple MVP candidates on the roster, plus a whole host of exciting young talent that is tantalizingly close to a big-league breakthrough.

Here are the five players I’m going to be keeping a close eye on over the next six weeks.

Josh Donaldson, 3B

This is kind of obvious, as everyone always wants to keep an extra eye on the big free agent purchase of the offseason (yes, there was one). After an injury-plagued season that limited him to fewer than 200 at-bats (many of which were at less than 100 percent fitness) Donaldson will be hoping to get his career back on the lofty trajectory it’d been on prior to the pesky shoulder and calf injuries that plagued his 2018 season. If he does, he immediately gives the Braves one of the best infields in baseball. The former MVP-winner and three-time All-Star will give the Braves the a power bat they’ve been seeking and could add upward of seven wins in value.

Luiz Gohara, LHSP

Like Donaldson, Gohara fell victim to the cruelties of injury and misfortune, derailing his 2018 season after the most impressive of starts to a career the year prior. In 2017, Gohara went from A ball all the the way to the Braves rotation, and Brian Snitker and Freddie Freeman both raved about him heading into Spring Training last season. And that’s where things fell apart. Gohara sadly lost his father soon before the start of 2018 spring training, then rolled his ankle early on and never regained fitness throughout camp. Gohara then continued to deal with personal and physical issues throughout the season, and one point even having to return to his native Brazil to care for his ill mother. Gohara, often criticized for his extra body weight, had reportedly shed 35 pounds as of GM meetings in November, spending his offseason working out in Florida rather than his customary return to Brazil. If he can get himself sorted out, he’s one of the hardest throwing pitchers in the Braves’ system, and would be a dangerous left-hander to pair alongside Sean Newcomb in the Braves starting rotation.

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Ronald Acuña Jr., LF

This is just obvious.

Touki Toussaint and Mike Soroka, RHSP

I’m grouping these last two together because we can look at them similarly. They are two young, promising starting pitchers that will both feature at some point in the Braves rotation this season. The question is whether either of them will be able to snag the (presumably) open fifth spot in the rotation to start the season. Toussaint has the leg up here. Despite both having already started five games last season, Toussaint’s appearances came in crunch time — September and October — adding three scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers out of the bullpen in the NLDS. This would seemingly give him some momentum heading into spring training compared to Soroka, who suffered through a nagging shoulder injury last season. For this reason, keeping tabs on Soroka’s velocity will be worth watching. It’s likely the club will want to be safe with him considering his physical situation, but like many of these young Braves starting pitchers, they all have an opportunity to make themselves into an option that manager Brian Snitker can’t refuse.