As baseball season starts back up, the Braves come into camp with some new faces. They bolstered their starting rotation with the addition of Jaime Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and R.A. Dickey, as well as adding Brandon Phillips to the starting line up. While most people (including myself) don’t have the Braves as legitimate contenders, they should be very fun to watch. If the team can build off of the offensive surge that they ended last season with, which included an MVP level Freddie Freeman as well as an in shape Matt Kemp, they should be feared by any competent pitcher. The new additions to the starting rotation should give them a much needed boost, as well as giving their top pitching prospects time to develop. Here are five Braves Players to watch during spring training.
Garcia is coming off of a lackluster 2016 season in which he struggled mightily. While he struggled, he is not far removed from good years in 2014 and 2015. While he definitely has the tools to be a quality starter for the Braves, the fact that this is his walk year will give him even more reason to do well. The Braves didn’t give up any substantial prospects to get him from the Cardinals, so whether or not he chooses to re-sign constitutes no big threat to the Braves. With Julio Teheran holding down the number 1 spot, and Mike Foltynewicz as a solid number 2, the pressure on Garcia should be less than it was on the Cardinals.
Many people questioned the acquisition of an aging and out of shape Matt Kemp last season. His numbers with San Diego were lackluster, and his contract was substantial. After less than half a season it seems that the Braves came out on the better end of the contract swap. Kemp injected new life into the lineup and gave Freddie Freeman much needed protection, which fueled his MVP caliber second half. Kemp hit for .280 with 12 home runs and 39 RBI’s after coming over from the Padres, but there was a good deal of concern with his poor body shape. Much of his poor shape translated into one of the league’s worst defensive outfielders. Kemp has taken notice and gotten in noticeably better playing shape, but fans should keep an eye out on how this affects his play in spring training.
After a season ending elbow injury at the end of last season, Albies seems to have healed up enough to play again. While many thought he would start the season with the Major league club, the acquisition of Brandon Phillips allows Albies to fully recover. Albies flashed a solid hitting tool in the minors paired with his speed. He is the future of the Braves at second base, which has many people excited for the Albies-Swanson double play partnership. Depending on how well he plays in his return from injury may impact on whether or not the Brave choose to deal Phillips towards the trade deadline.
The sometimes forgotten piece in the Shelby Miller trade, Blair has shown a lot of promise but has done little to back it up in his limited Major league experience. While he put together some respectable starts at the end of last season, time starting to thin for a former top prospect. He has showed lack of control but is trying to add new pitches to his arsenal. With the stream of elite pitching prospects starting to hit Mississippi and Gwinnett, Blair will need to impress in his limited opportunities during spring training.
High End Pitching Prospects
Okay, so technically this isn’t one particular player to look out for, but honestly, there are too many to list. With Sean Newcomb, Patrick Weigel, Max Fried, and A.J. Minter, the Braves have a surplus of elite pitching talent. While you may see these players in limited doses, that doesn’t lessen the importance of them during spring training. Most of these players will make up the core of the Braves rotation for years to come, and Minter might already be major league ready and the Braves closer in waiting.
Overall, this spring training looks to be one of the most interesting and entertaining ones in years, with the mix of savvy veterans, players entering their prime, and future stars all on one team. While its first season might not be the best for Sun Trust Park, it certainly will be exciting.
Photo Credits to Joe Robbins/Getty Images