I hope every single Braves fan is as excited as I am. Spring training begins on Wednesday when pitchers and catchers report to Florida. All other players are to report on or before February 18th, Saturday. For this article I’ll focus primarily on the starting players, each position has back up players, but trying to figure out who will be a number 1 or number 2 backup isn’t my job. That’s left up to the Braves manager Brian Snitker. I also will not attempt to guess about which starting pitcher will be positioned in rotation other than Julio Teheran taking the number 1 slot. This will be fun and this article might lead to some discussions and there might be disagreements. We are all Atlanta Braves fans so let’s be respectful of one another.
FIRST BASE: Freddie Freeman. This starts with my current favorite player on the Braves roster. I only own 1 Braves jersey currently and it is number 5 Freeman. Freeman is coming off an MVP type season in 2016. After the All Star break last season Freeman was a hitting machine at the plate. Defensively he is one of the best in the game. Freeman can be a gold glove at first base. Freeman will hit in the number 3 slot where he will have plenty of RBI chances.
SECOND BASE: Brandon Phillips. The Braves were able to trade for Phillips this weekend. His former team, the Cincinnati Reds, have their infield of the future pretty much set and that made Phillips expendable. Phillips is a 3 time All Star with the Reds. He will bring his experience to the Braves for as long as his services are needed. Ozzie Albies looks to be the future 2nd baseman, but in the meantime Phillips will fill this role nicely.
SHORT STOP: Dansby Swanson. During the off season the only name I read or heard about more than Freddie Freeman was Dansby Swanson. Swanson made his major league debut in August of 2016. Swanson was a former first round draft pick for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Braves were able to land Swanson in a trade for Shelby Miller. Swanson is a great defensive player at short stop, and even more impressive were his skills at the plate. He is a fast and power hitter and he will be a perfect number 2 hitter in the lineup. Expect a huge year from Swanson and rookie of the year is a strong possibility
THIRD BASE: Aldonis Garcia. Garcia played extremely well at third base in 2016. He is great offensively and he adds power at the plate as well. I can see him as the number 6 or 7 player in the lineup. It will be interesting to see how the Braves organization uses Garcia if he has the same year he had in the second half of 2016. Making these decisions is why I’m glad to be a writer and not an executive for the Braves.
RIGHT FIELD: Nick Markakis. Markakis had a great and surprising year in right field last season for the Braves. His great offensive numbers were as great as his defensive play in the field. Markakis is quick in right field and he has a strong throwing arm. He threw out many potential base runners at home and at third base. He can take away doubles from hitters who might underestimate his throwing arm. He surprised many players last season in MLB. Look for more of the same in 2017 in the Braves new ballpark. It is hitter friendly but Markakis will have another productive season throwing out base runners. Look for Markakis in the number 5 spot in the hitting lineup.
CENTER FIELDER: Ender Inciatre. He is the defensive center fielder the Braves have been waiting on. Not since Andruw Jones has a center fielder been as explosive. His speed in the field and at the plate m make him a dual threat. He chases down fly balls that look like doubles or triples. His amazing catch against the Nationals robbing a potential home run ball was one of the best plays you will see. His speed on the base pads will turn routine ground balls into singles. His ability to steal bases will turn singles into doubles. He will be a great lead off hitter. He can set the table for the Braves offensive which is looking dynamic.
LEFT FIELD: Matt Kemp. Matt Kemp came to the Braves in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was the power hitter and offensive plug that fit in with the Braves immediately. His power bat created excitement in Atlanta. Not since the Braves traded for Fred McGriff had I been as excited. Kemp is that good of a clean up hitter. Pitchers in baseball could no longer pitch around Freddie Freeman with Matt Kemp in the on deck circle. Kemp has power to all fields at the plate. His play in left field is very good as well. He has a power arm to hold runners at third base who might want to test his arm. Matt Kemp was the blessing that Braves fans wanted at the plate. He will be an ideal number 4 hitter and look for many HRs and RBIs from Kemp in 2017.
CATCHER: Tyler Flowers. Tyler Flowers was a good catcher offensively in 2016. He has a power bat and he can get key base hits. I’m not going to lie, he does need to improve at his defensive numbers from last season. Base runners had a high an easier time stealing bases when Flowers was behind the plate. The coaches have worked with Flowers this off season hoping to make him a better catcher throwing out base stealers. Anthony Recker is good behind the plate and the Braves also have Paco Rodriguez as a third catcher. Carrying 3 catchers on the final 40 man roster might be a stretch, but again that decision is not up to me.
STARTING PITCHERS: In no particular order. Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, R.A. Dickey, Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia. There are other potential starting pitchers in the Braves organization, but it would be almost impossible to list them all.
There are 162 games in an MLB season. Players will get hurt and injuries are part of the game. Back up players such as Jace Peterson, Sean Rodriguez, and others will fill in nicely when needed. With this lineup and pitching staff, the Atlanta Braves will make a lot of noise in 2017. Our patience has paid off and Braves president John Hart and General Manager John Coppolella have put together a great team for manager Brian Snitker. SunTrust ball park is ready to go and so am I. This will be an exciting season and this is what we’ve been waiting for since October. Keep the faith Braves fans and let’s stick to the plan.GO BRAVES!!!!!