Time has come for Braves to harvest the youth

Joe Patrick
March 27, 2019 - 4:15 pm
Atlanta Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson (20) celebrates with Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies

© Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Categories: 

There’s a reason why, in sports, we so often hear young players — specifically a collection of young talent — referred to as “crops.” It makes sense. The metaphorical seed is planted the moment their name is announced as the team’s newest draftee/signee, and over time those seedlings grow and until they are ripe for picking.

That time has arrived in Atlanta for its young arms. Last week the Braves announced that Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright, 21 and 23 respectively, would be making starts for the reigning National League East champs in the second and third games of the season against division rival Philadelphia Phillies.

While fans and media alike will analyze these pitchers under the microscope for these highly-prominent games to start the season, the mere significance of them making the Opening Day roster is even more notable. Their performances in the coming days and weeks will shape a certain narratives among the young pair, but together they symbolize the continuation of a new era of Braves baseball that began last year with the meteoric rise of players like Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies.

Braves will rely on quantity as much as quality

While there was enough handwringing to go around Braves Country this offseason due to a lack of spend on a deep free agent pool, make no mistake — there’s plenty of talent in the clubhouse. The addition of Josh Donaldson lengthens the lineup, and his presence combined with Freddie Freeman and Acuna presents one of the most dangerous 2-3-4 hitters in all of baseball. But while this part of the order illustrates the Braves’ top-line quality, the depth of the roster will be just as important of a component to any success the Braves have this season.

That depth start with Johan Camargo — a highly versatile player who lead the team in RBIs last season and could play as many as 100 games this season even without any prolonged spells as an injury replacement. Bumped out of the third base position he held down last year by the incoming Donaldson, Camargo now offers depth in almost every position outside the battery. It could be a shrewd move come the end of the season by manager Brian Snitker to use Camargo in this way — so long as Camargo himself is content with the role.

Of course, those upset by lack of spending is primarily down to the wary feeling around the team’s pitching staff. A top-of-the-rotation signing like a Dallas Keuchel or a bonafide closer in Craig Kimbrel would effectively slot everyone else in the rotation/bullpen down a peg in a similar way that Donaldson lengthens the batting order. But instead, the Braves seem content to continue to rotate their young arms through the rotation when needed, and could even shift some of those arms into bullpen duty like Atlantans saw in the playoffs last year.

Expect this roster to evolve

The Braves could have one of the more fluid rosters over the course of the season of all the National League East contenders, thanks in large part to its depth, youth, and #financialflexibility. The hashtag has become an internet meme over the offseason, but the fact is that the Braves can still make a deal for a star player in-season that could change the trajectory of the season. The Braves and General Manager Alex Anthopoulos seem unwilling to deal in the market as it currently exists, but in a couple months the market will be much different and likely more appealing for Atlanta. Unsigned free agents won’t have a second-round draft pick attached to the price tag, and some teams will be falling out of the race and could be more willing to deal talent that could help the Braves this season.

And make no mistake, there are weaknesses in the Braves roster. The bullpen is objectively shaky, the team’s two veteran catchers are average offensively and defensively suspect (which will be compounded if Braves pitchers struggle with walks again this year) and the rotation is untested. If the Braves stay in the hunt, this team has maneuverability through its payroll space and it’s plethora of talent down its minor league system.

Lastly, for as much as I and others have touted the Braves young talent, there is still inherent risk there. Some of that talent might not turn into productivity at the major league level, and some might be stars in the making. We simply don’t have enough data points to make clear determinations on what that raw talent will become. Over the course of the season, as the young talent ebbs and flows over the long 162-game schedule, expect to see the Braves experiment with a handful of youngsters in the pitching staff to try to find the right mix.