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Scouting the opponents: Atlanta Braves

We finish our look at the Red Sox schedule with a look at the reigning NL East champs.

Atlanta Braves Summer Workouts Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As we get closer to the start of the season, we are going to spend some time focusing on the opponents on the Red Sox schedule for 2020. In this strange season, Boston will be playing only nine teams, so we will go one by one and look at each individually. Today, we look at the Atlanta Braves.

Overall

The Nationals were obviously the World Series champions and that’s every team’s goal, but it’s easy to forget now that the Braves were actually the team that won 97 games and the National League East. They bring back one of the most exciting cores in baseball for this season as well, with arguably the most exciting young player in baseball manning right field. There are some holes on the roster, most notably with the pitching, but there is enough talent here to make a run and there is more coming up through the system to plug holes as the year goes along, too.

Best Hitter

Freddie Freeman

It physically pains me to not write about Ronald Acuña, the aforementioned most exciting young player in the game, in this space, but if we’re only talking about hitting he falls just short. Freddie Freeman, in my opinion, is wildly underrated as just a consistently incredible hitter. He’s Joey Votto without getting the saberhead Joey Votto love. As a first baseman who doesn’t hit 50+ homers ever year, he automatically isn’t the most exciting player, but all he does is hit. Over the last seven years, his wRC+ has been between 132 and 150 every single year. Remember what Rafael Devers did last year? That was a 132 wRC+. That has been the floor for Freeman for the better part of the last decade. That is wild. He draws walks, he makes contact and he hits for power. There’s not one area of the game at which he is the best, but there are only a handful of hitters who are as consistently great at as him.

Best Starting Pitcher

Mike Soroka

Lost in the ball of joy that is the Ronald Acuña/Ozzie Albies pairing in the Braves lineup is that they also got a borderline ace developed on their staff last season in Soroka. He is not your prototypical ace in the mold of a Scherzer or a deGrom (nor is he that good, of course), but he gets outs and that’s what matters. In 2019 as a 21-year-old, he pitched to a 2.45 ERA with a 3.68 FIP. When I say Soroka isn’t a prototypical ace it’s because he doesn’t miss bats like those kind of pitchers, striking out 20 percent of his opponents last year which is probably what we should expect moving forward. But that’s usable when you have outstanding command and big-time movement that makes you very, very hard to square up. Regression is always a concern with a limited track record like Soroka’s, but I mostly buy into his performance from last year.

Best Relief Pitcher

Mark Melancon

Hey remember him? Melancon has had a very strange career, but he’s settled back in as a solid late-inning arm. Honestly, this was kind of a hard one to pick because there are about four good-not-great relievers that I could see stepping up as the best reliever on this Braves team. Honestly, the success of their bullpen probably relies on the sum of the parts being greater than the whole, with Melancon, Shane Greene, Luke Jackson, and Chris Martin mixing and matching to get late-inning outs. Melancon is my pick from this group, but I’d listen to arguments for any of them.

X-Factor

Sean Newcomb

I went back and forth on this one a million times, because the Braves really do have a sort of top-heavy lineup with some interesting players on the second tier but ones with things to prove. Ultimately, though, I think they need a third starter to step up behind Soroka and Max Fried. Newcomb is one of a handful of options, but the former top prospect should get the first chance to fill this role. The Massachusetts native has had control issues hold him back, but the stuff is there for him to be very effective. As he just turned 27, now is the time for him to take that leap forward, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Braves.

Top Prospects

Cristian Pache, Drew Waters, Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, William Contreras, Tucker Davidson, Shea Langeliers, Braden Shewmake, Kyle Muller

The Braves are a fascinating team in respect where they are a true contender who are expecting to make the postseason, but they are also carrying all ten of their top prospects from FanGraphs’s rankings. A big reason for that is the majority of these names are ready to step up and contribute right now. Both Pache and Waters, two of the best outfield prospects in the game, could get time this year. Anderson, Wright and Wilson could all get chances in this rotation as the year goes on, and if not can play a role in the bullpen. The rest of the names are more depth than real options, but this is a really unique roster makeup for a contender.

Old Friends

Mark Melancon

Well, I already talked about him.

Jhoulys Chacín

It says a lot about the Red Sox rotation that when Chacín was released by the Twins this week I figured he would be signed by the Red Sox because he would easily make this rotation. This is a guy who pitched in Boston last year with a 7.36 ERA in five starts and one relief appearance. Instead, the Braves signed him and he’ll serve as rotation depth for them.