There are not many teams in Major League Baseball who have been more consistent over the past five seasons than the Atlanta Braves. I’m sure any fan would sign up for five consecutive division titles, including a World Series in 2021. The Braves have had significant player departures over the past couple of seasons, but have maintained their winning ways. After a fairly shocking loss to the Phillies in the Division Series last fall, the Braves look to continue their run of dominance in a tough NL East.
2022 record: 101-61 (1st, NL East)
2023 FanGraphs projection: 94-68 (1st, NL East)
Similar to the Yankees this season, Atlanta entered the spring with a shortstop battle on their hands. With the loss of free agent Dansby Swanson to the Cubs, the Braves were looking for a new starter at the position for the first time in six seasons. Prospects Vaughn Grissom and Branden Shewmake were in a competition with veteran Orlando Arcia, and early indications were that one of the young players would ultimately win the job. That changed last week when the Braves decided to option both players to Triple-A, leaving Arcia as the Opening Day shortstop.
The Braves feared that if they named either Grissom or Shewmake the starter, it would shift Arcia to a utility role, effectively leaving no room on the roster for Ehire Adrianza. Adrianza would then most likely opt out of his minor leave contract and sign with another club. The Braves decided to prioritize overall roster depth to start the season, which has become a staple of the franchise in recent years.
Replacing a franchise legend is difficult, but Matt Olsen did a fine job in 2022 after the Braves let Freddie Freeman walk in free agency. While his average and OPS were down, Olsen set career-highs in home runs and RBIs and will look to continue his success at first base in 2023. After an injury-filled 2022, Ozzie Albies will return as the Braves’ second baseman, looking to return to All-Star form. The infield will be rounded out by Austin Riley, who has become one of the better third basemen in all of baseball. He played 160 games in 2021 and 159 in 2022, earning top-10 NL MVP finishes in both seasons. These are the types of cornerstone players that help you win championships. Pencil Riley in every day and let him rake for you all season. No surprise that the Braves are also rolling out a dynamic catching duo entering the season. After an offseason trade with Oakland for Sean Murphy, the Braves now have two excellent veteran defensive catchers in Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud. Both can threaten with the bat as well.
The bottom line is that the Braves have talent up and down the roster. The outfield is no different. Michael Harris II is coming off a campaign in center where he was named NL Rookie of the Year and will look to build off his early success. One of the best players in all of baseball, Ronald Acuña Jr, will roam right field. This is Acuña’s second season removed from an ACL injury. He appears to be at full strength and ready for another excellent season.
One hole the Braves may have is in left field. Eddie Rosario only played 80 games last season and hit .212. The Braves have enough offense in their outfield to make up for deficiencies in left, but a return-to-form for Rosario in 2023 would be an added boost for a team with championship aspirations. Marcell Ozuna could also spend some time in left field, but his lack of arm strength and back-to-back poor seasons (on and off the field) has to be concerning for the Braves.
The Braves also have one of the better starting rotations in all of baseball. Max Fried is a clear ace at the top of a rotation that boasts a mix of veterans, like Charlie Morton, and youngsters such as strikeout artist Spencer Strider (the runner-up for Rookie of the Year behind Harris). Kyle Wright is coming off a breakout season in 2022, where he eclipsed 20 wins and posted a 3.19 ERA. Lingering shoulder issues are a concern for Wright but the team thinks he should be ready to go in the first couple of weeks of the season.
Alex Anthopoulos and the Atlanta front office have consistently put a contending roster on the field and 2023 will be no different. The Braves are deep, athletic, and can beat you in multiple ways. It is no surprise that Brian Snitker is leading a club with championship goals in 2023. The NL East is going to be a fun ride this season.
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