Atlanta Braves: Four Things to Watch for in Spring Training

Spring Training is right around the corner, and the Atlanta Braves are looking great in the late stages of their rebuilding process. The Braves have had a fairly quiet offseason along with the rest of the league, but there’s still time to make a move or two in preparation for the 2018 season.

Even if the Braves don’t make a big move to ensure playoff contention before the season starts, their season will still be full of great moments that are all part of the long, rewarding rebuilding process. Guys will debut, milestones will be reached, skills will be tested, and at the end of the year, a couple of guys may walk away with some hardware.

As we tiptoe into this 2018 season (hopefully with free agents signed before Opening Day), we’ll learn a great deal about some of the younger players during Spring Training. Many will fight for roster spots, but only 25 from each club will start the season at the MLB level. With an abundance of talent throughout the Spring Training roster, even the earliest stages of the season could be plenty of fun for the Atlanta Braves.

Here are four things for Braves fans to keep an eye on in Spring Training:

1. Acuña/Albies

Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies could potentially be hitting back-to-back in the Braves’ lineup for the next 5+ years, and fans will get the first taste of this dynamic duo as early as the end of February. Acuña will be 20 and Albies will be 21 for the entirety of the 2018 season, so what we see from them this year most likely won’t even be close to their respective ceilings.

Both players possess great speed, defense, and contact ability, and while Acuña is the one often flexing his muscles with the longballs, Ozzie slugged .456 in 57 MLB games (244 PA) last year, so don’t think he’ll just be lining singles over the middle infielders.

These two guys have been envisioned by many as the core of the Atlanta Braves’ lineup (along with Freddie Freeman, of course) moving forward past the rebuild. Albies has drawn comparisons to Jimmy Rollins, and everyone knows the names Acuña’s been associated with. Albies will start the year in Atlanta, and depending on how well he performs during Spring Training, Ronald Acuña may force his way onto a big league roster by Opening Day (although not likely, as the Braves will almost certainly tinker with his service time to gain a year of club control).

2. The Lefties

The Braves have a chance to have a lefty-heavy rotation at some point during 2018, and that may come sooner than expected if a couple of young arms show off their stuff in Spring Training. Kolby Allard, Luiz Gohara, Max Fried, and Sean Newcomb are all 24 years old or younger, and each of these lefties has a real shot at making the Braves’ rotation this year. This group, excluding Allard, has a chance to make up part of the Opening Day rotation.

Braves fans saw Gohara, Fried, and Newcomb at the MLB level last year, and while none of them were exceptionally dominant, each of them saw success in their own, unique way. Newcomb saw how dominant his curveball can be when he can control it, Gohara’s slider saw one of the highest whiff rates in the MLB, and Fried logged over 50 crucial innings between Atlanta and the Arizona Fall League (where he was arguably the most dominant lefty).

Kolby Allard has the most to prove out of the four lefties mentioned earlier, but each will be fun and exciting to watch as they face some of the game’s most skilled hitters. With a great spring performance, as well as a strong triple-A showing early in the season, Kolby Allard could propel himself into Atlanta’s rotation by July or August. Fried, Gohara, and Newcomb have a chance to get warmed up against MLB talent as they’re preparing for their first full big league seasons.

3. Riley/Jackson

Third baseman Austin Riley and catcher Alex Jackson both had outstanding 2017 seasons developmentally, and both finished the year by tearing up the Arizona Fall League alongside Ronald Acuña. It’s not certain if either of these guys will see MLB action in 2018, but their Spring Training performances will surely be a factor.

Austin Riley slugged 20 homers for the second season in a row in 2017, and Jackson recorded career-bests in doubles (21), home runs (19), and slugging percentage (.480). Both are due for great triple-A seasons this year, and there’s a legitimate case to be made for both to be September call-ups if they’re still hitting like they have been. However, it all starts with Spring Training.

The Atlanta Braves have long needed solid, everyday guys at third base and behind the plate, and with these two, they may have found what they’ve been looking for. Only time will tell, though, and both Riley and Jackson have a chance to make their first real impact with fans in Spring Training. If each can put his power on display while also showing importance in the field, their debuts will be even sweeter when the time comes.

4. Pache/Contreras

They might not be difference-makers at the MLB level in 2018, but Cristian Pache and William Contreras are two non-roster invitees to get excited over. Contreras’ name may sound familiar, and that’s because his brother, Willson Contreras, is the Cubs’ catcher. Pache, however, is a name that not many know…yet. Pache was listed as FanGraphs’ 37th ranked prospect entering the 2018 season, and this year is a key point in his development.

Cristian Pache will be just 19 years-old for all of the 2018 season, and Contreras is still just 20, so there’ s no need to be picturing these guys in Atlanta anytime soon. Both are at least two years away from their MLB debuts, but that doesn’t mean fans can’t get excited for the future.

Contreras has slashed .290/.379/.432 124 games over three seasons at rookie level, and he’s looking just as promising as his brother, who didn’t slug higher than .423 until he reached double-A. William appears to be the full package, as he’s known for his exceptional defense behind the plate. If he can maintain a steady bat at higher levels, he’ll have a chance to catch every day for the Atlanta Braves in the next few years.

Everyone is still waiting on Cristian Pache’s power, and I’m telling you, it’s coming. He’s got a beautiful swing that, if tweaked a bit when he gets bigger, could generate power that equates to 15 or more home runs throughout a season. Pache and Contreras will each get a handful of at-bats in Spring Training, and it will be interesting to see what each does with the opportunities he’s given.

Looking Ahead to the Regular Season

Not every top-ranked prospect will make his MLB debut in 2018, but they’re fun to keep track of regardless of where they’re playing. Several guys, however, will be debuting for the Atlanta Braves at some point in 2018, and those guys will be especially exciting if they can help this young team make a run at the playoffs.

Even if the Braves don’t make the playoffs this year, they weren’t supposed to. Everyone’s still writing the Braves off (as an MLB team, not a farm system), and that’s okay. Rebuilding takes time, patience, and honestly, a bit of luck in the draft. Debuts will be fun, development will be tough at times, and the season may once again end in heartbreaking fashion as Atlanta misses the playoffs again, but it’ll all be worth it moving forward.

If Spring Training tells fans one thing about the Atlanta Braves, it’s that the future is bright, and it’ll only get brighter as the club inches its way towards becoming the on-field dynasty it once was.

I’m a 20-year-old aspiring writer out of Mississippi. I have a passion for the Atlanta Braves, but I’m looking to expand my writing to all things MLB, eventually branching out to the NFL.