The 2021 Atlanta Braves have high expectations. After a 2020 season that ended with a Game 7 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, this season is shaping up to be a World Series-or-bust season in Atlanta. The Braves have made acquired Charlie Morton, and they even re-signed Marcell Ozuna.
Just how good can the 2021 Atlanta Braves be? Let’s take a look at the 26 names that will likely fill out the Opening Day roster.
The 2021 Atlanta Braves Rotation (5):
Ian Anderson, Max Fried, the aforementioned Morton, and Drew Smyly are locked. Kyle Wright made eight starts in 2020, and he should fend off opposition from Bryse Wilson in the rotation. Atlanta will be patiently waiting for the return of 2019 All-Star Mike Soroka. Soroka tore his Achilles in the 2020 season, so it may be until June or July that Soroka returns.
Braves Bullpen (8):
There will be some re-shuffling with closer Mark Melancon heading to the San Diego Padres, but there are several locks. Atlanta could look to re-acquire Shane Greene, but the bullpen will feature likely feature eight of the following nine names: Grant Dayton, Luke Jackson, Chris Martin, Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, Sean Newcomb, Will Smith, Josh Tomlin, and Jacob Webb. All besides Newcomb and Webb made at least 17 appearances in 2020. Newcomb is a swingman reliever with 57 career starts and 52 relief appearances. Webb debuted in 2019 and posted a 1.39 across 32 innings. He tossed 10 scoreless innings in 2020.
The 2020 Braves had a dominant bullpen, but with Melancon and Greene off the roster (for the moment), Atlanta could come back to earth in 2021.
Braves Infield (7):
Barring unforeseen circumstances, the starting infield will be Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, and Austin Riley (from right to left). Johan Camargo will be a utility player, primarily playing third base. He is likely to be joined by the new addition Jason Kipnis. Former All-Star Jake Lamb will be in the mix as well as a corner infielder.
Atlanta is missing a natural shortstop to back-up Swanson, but they have about a month to find someone. Camargo has the capabilities to play shortstop, Atlanta should look in a different direction.
Braves Outfield (4):
Ozuna will suit up as a full-time left fielder and defensive heart attack. Ronald Acuna will play in right field. Centerfield and the utility outfield role will be split between Ender Inciarte and Cristian Pache. Beyond Inciarte and Pache, Kipnis and Camargo have varying levels of outfield experience. Nick Markakis is on the market if the Braves have a desire to return the 37-year-old, but it seems likely that Atlanta will begin the season with four outfielders plus Kipnis and Camargo’s versatility.
Braves Catching Situation (2):
Travis d’Arnaud will be the starting catcher. Behind him is a question mark. Tyler Flowers has been in Atlanta since 2016, but he is a free agent. Alex Jackson and William Contreras played a handful of games for the big club in 2020. Contreras has never played AAA-ball, so Jackson may begin the year in the Majors while Contreras builds experience. Jackson slugged .533 with the Gwinnett Braves in 2019, and his 118 strikeouts in 85 games seem right at home with Atlanta’s tendency to forgot how to hit.
A fully healthy Braves lineup begins with Acuna. In his 46 games played in 2020, Acuna led off in every game.
Albies is the natural two-hole hitter, but he struggled in his 10 appearances in 2020. Swanson batted second in 20 games in 2020, and he seemed to play better. One of the duos will almost certainly bat second while the other bats in the six-hole.
While Freeman batted second in 26 games, that was due to Albies missing time. Freeman is a lock to be the three-hole hitter for a healthy 2021 Atlanta Braves team.
Ozuna will bat fourth, benefitting from Freeman’s excellent on-base percentage.
While he split time between the four and five spots, d’Arnaud will slide in as the five-hole hitter. He will hope to replicate his success from 2020.
Riley spent sections of the season batting in the six, seven, and eight spots. In an ideal world, he bats in the seven-hole, consistently driving in d’Arnaud and Albies/Swanson.
Regardless of who starts, Inciarte and Pache will likely be relegated to the eight-hole. They will be playing because of their defensive prowess, not their offensive prowess.
With the designated hitter rule leaving the National League for 2021, pitchers will once again bat ninth.
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