2017 MLB Preview: NL East- Atlanta Braves

2016 Record: 68-93 (5th Place)

Manager- Brian SnitkerScreen Shot 2017-03-19 at 5.04.40 PM

2016 was a year to forget for the Atlanta Braves, whose 68-93 record had them among the worst teams in baseball. They scored the second-fewest runs in baseball, with only their division-rival Phillies performing worse in that category.

The club only made one new addition to their lineup, trading for three-time All Star Brandon Phillips in February. While the 35-year-old may not possess the power he once had, he continues to maintain high batting averages while playing stellar defense at second base. This is certainly an upgrade from Jace Peterson, who will transition into a utility role this season.

The Braves will rely on their young core to produce more runs this season, a core led by their franchise first baseman Freddie Freeman. Freeman slugged a career high 34 home runs last season, while finishing with a batting average above .300 for the first time since 2013. Ender Inciarte was another young stud that didn’t disappoint, hitting .291 and stealing 16 bases from the leadoff spot. He would also earn a gold glove for his play in center field.

Yet nobody on the Braves roster heads into 2017 with higher expectations than shortstop Dansby Swanson, who along with Inciarte was acquired from Arizona in the Shelby Miller deal last offseason. Swanson breezed his way through the minor leagues last season, earning a promotion to the majors midway through August at just 22 years of age. He hit .302 with 3 HR and 17 RBI’s in just 38 games, solidifying his everyday role at shortstop this season. Now 23, the former top pick in the 2015 draft will enter the season as the favorite to win rookie of the year, and will gradually work his way toward the heart of their lineup.

Matt Kemp should start the year in the center of the lineup after tying a career high with 39 home runs last season, after being acquired from San Diego in a salary-dump deal at the trade deadline. The biggest difference between the MVP caliber Kemp of 2011 and last year’s Kemp is batting average, as the 32-year-old hasn’t finished a season over .300 since 2012. Nick Markakis also saw a dip in batting average, hitting a career low .269 last season. His 13 HR and 89 RBI’s were a big improvement from the previous season, yet his dip in batting average could be signs of aging having recently turned 33.

After an underwhelming first season in Atlanta, Tyler Flowers will likely find himself splitting time at catcher with newly signed veteran Kurt Suzuki. Adonis Garcia will continue to be the everyday third baseman, but doesn’t appear to be part of any long-term plans after two painfully average seasons at the position. Their 22-year-old third base prospect Rio Ruiz could potentially end up in a platoon with Garcia as a left-handed hitter.

The Braves made two additions to their rotation early on in the offseason, signing two former Cy Young winners in Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey. Both veterans are well past their glory days, but should help eat innings in a young and fragile rotation. The team also went out and acquired 30-year-old Jaime Garcia, who has struggled with injuries throughout his career but has maintained a respectable 3.57 career ERA. His 171.2 innings pitched for St. Louis last season were the most he has thrown since 2011.

Their rotation will be lead by their young ace Julio Teheran, whose 7-10 record was skewed by a weak Atlanta lineup. After a shaky 2015 campaign, Teheran returned to his dominant-self last season posting a 3.21 ERA over 188 innings. Still just 26-years-old, Teheran will look to establish himself as the centerpiece of the Braves’ rebuilding plans.

The last spot in the rotation should go to 25-year-old Mike Foltynewicz, who has greatly outperformed Matt Wisler to this point in Spring Training. The club’s 2010 first round pick made progress last season, posting a 9-5 record with a 4.31 ERA over 123.1 innings. The expectations for Foltynewicz will be much higher this season, as he will be under constant pressure to perform with two promising young starters in Wisler and Aaron Blair behind him on the depth chart.

Closer Jim Johnson will be under a similar amount of pressure, with young relievers Arodys Vizcaino and Paco Rodirguez serving as alternative 9th inning options.*

Bottom Line: In order to be competitive, the Braves will need their veterans to stay healthy and their young players to break out, particularly their young pitchers at the back of their rotation. They will certainly finish with a better record, but are still a year or two away from contention.

*Stats and Info from Baseball Reference

-Featured image from Zimbio.com