Atlanta Braves 2019 Season Preview

Josh Donaldson

The Atlanta Braves are coming off a shocking 2018 campaign that nobody saw coming, going 90-72 and winning the NL East title. However, this was not the only highlight of the season. By reason of the Braves introducing many more of their talented young athletes from their stacked farm system, players like Rookie of the Year winner Ronald Acuña Jr. and young talented pitchers like Mike Soroka, Max Fried, and Touki Toussaint were key parts to the Braves success in 2018.

In the 2018 season, the Braves also benefited from having other teams struggle within their division. The Washington Nationals were the only team other than Atlanta that finished with a winning record (82-80), while the Philadelphia Phillies (80-82), New York Mets (77-85), and Miami Marlins (63-98) finished below the .500 mark. All these teams, with the exception of the Marlins, have improved their respective clubs and the NL East will be a different monster for the Braves to overcome in 2019.

Atlanta Braves 2019 Preview

Off-Season Review

The Braves did not spend stupid amounts of money this off-season, but they did improve their squad. They added former All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson to a one-year contract for $23 million and added former Braves catcher Brian McCann to a one-year contract worth $2 million. Donaldson and McCann are not the same players they once were, but both guys will give the Braves a big boost in the lineup, as well as playing solid in the field.

The Braves might not have added a lot this off-season, but they did not lose much either. The only notable losses for the Braves being catcher Kurt Suzuki and starting pitcher Aníbal Sánchez. The Braves also re-signed starting right-fielder Nick Markakis to a one-year deal. This appears to be a case of Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos believing the Braves will be more successful by keeping the team together and just adding a few key pieces to ensure that same chemistry stays intact.

Strengths

The Braves have the strength that every team in Major League Baseball desires: a strong farm system. They are filled with youth, ranking 3rd in Keith Law’s 2019 farm system rankings. Atlanta slipped from their number one spot because of the debuts of many prospects in the 2018 season. But to still be ranked in the top three for another year is very impressive.

With the young pitching and position prospects that have already arrived in Atlanta and the ones that are to come, the Braves young core is becoming one of the best in the game. Adding these players along with veterans like Freddie Freeman, Markakis, McCann, Donaldson, Darren O’Day, and Jonny Venters is a major strength for Atlanta.

Areas to Improve

The biggest area of improvement most Braves fans can agree on is the bullpen. The Braves bullpen constantly got themselves in a jam last season by not throwing enough strikes, as they issued the most walks per nine innings in MLB. Whether the Braves decide to explore the free agent or trade market for some extra bullpen help or allow new pitching coach Rick Kranitz to work with the young staff to reduce the walks, there is a definite need for improvement.

Projected Lineup

The Braves lineup has become one of the best in the National League since Acuña and Ozzie Albies joined Freeman and the others in the Braves lineup. Adding Donaldson and McCann will give the Braves even more power and depth. And do not forget about Charlie Culberson and Johan Camargo who will be key players for the Braves, as they will add much-needed quality depth to the bench.

The 2019 lineup should look similar to this:

  1. Ronald Acuña Jr.
  2. Ozzie Albies
  3. Freddie Freeman
  4. Josh Donaldson
  5. Nick Markakis
  6. Brian McCann/Tyler Flowers
  7. Ender Inciarte
  8. Dansby Swanson
  9. Pitchers Spot

Acuña in the Lead-Off Spot

A big talk among Braves Country is the debate of whether the Braves should put Acuña in the lead-off spot or put him in the clean-up spot. Acuña flourished batting lead-off in 2018 when he was put into the role after the All-Star break. He hit a home run in five consecutive games while batting lead-off, setting the MLB record as the youngest player to accomplish this feat.

Putting Acuña at lead-off gives the Braves power and speed at the top of their lineup, and sets the tone for the rest of the order. Acuña seems to want to stay in the lead-off spot, saying “If it was up to me personally, I’d like to stay in the leadoff spot, simply because I like hitting there.”

Projected Rotation

The Braves rotation is a young but very talented rotation, ranking seventh out of 30 Major League teams in total pitching. 2018 was a breakout year for Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb, as well as rookies Touki Toussaint and Mike Soroka who showed their potential in limited action.

There are still some question marks about Julio Teheran as he continued to struggle in 2018, but he will look to put it behind him and have a much better 2019 campaign. Luiz Gohara is another name that could come into play for the fifth rotation spot, as reports from Spring Training have said he has gotten into great baseball shape. The 2019 rotation should look similar to this:

  1. Mike Foltynewicz
  2. Kevin Gausman
  3. Sean Newcomb
  4. Julio Teheran
  5. Mike Soroka/Touki Toussaint

Back-to-Back?

The big question on all Braves fans minds is whether or not this team can repeat as NL East champions. Atlanta was a 90-win team a year ago and the Braves have only gotten better this off-season. If Atlanta can stay healthy, keep the lineup productive, limit the walks, and get the best from their rotation, they will once again be battling atop the NL East. Despite the division looking much tougher for 2019, Atlanta will attempt to replicate the success from last season and claim their second straight division crown.

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