John Hart and the Atlanta Braves have had a tumultuous offseason. Some of their fans have questioned their moves, some have questioned their overall plan while others have made endless and well deserved Major League references.
So what’s going on in the Braves universe?
1. Welcome Back, KJ.
The Braves traded away Kelly Johnson to the New York Mets at the deadline last season for John Gant (who wound up catching fire in Double-A for the Braves going 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP and 43 strikeouts in 40 innings) and Robert Whalen (who, too, performed admirably in High-A). Now, they got him back.
The early rumors are that he is going to compete to platoon at third base with Adonis Garcia. Garcia is the 30-year old former Yankees farm hand that came stateside after seven seasons in the Cuban Serie Nacional. He finally made his big league debut last season. He showed good pop — 10 home runs in just 198 plate appearances — but I don’t get the position change.
Garcia will be 31-years old this season. Prior to last season’s experiment by the Braves, he had played a total of 39 games at third base over the first 11 years of his career. When he switched to third last season the results were — well, to put it as nicely as I can — frightening. He made 10 errors in 96 chances and posted a range factor that fell well below the league average.
It seems to me that Garcia should be the one heading into the season in the utility role while Johnson should be regarded as the Opening Day third baseman. Instead, according to most current depth charts and Braves insiders, with Hector Olivera heading to left field, Garcia could get the chance to be that guy.
2. The Braves go big at Spring Training.
As my guy Ricky Keeler — editor of the Washington Nationals site District on Deck — said to me, the Braves are certainly going to be fun to watch in Orlando this spring.
Dansby Swanson — the center piece of the Shelby Miller trade and 2015 first overall pick — will be at Spring Training. So will Ozzie Albies, the 19-year old shortstop that made one-time Braves top prospect Jose Peraza expendable (side note: I scouted and interviewed Albies in Rome this past season, if you are interested in finding out more about him you can read it ==> HERE).
Sean Newcomb and Aaron Blair, two young pitchers acquired this offseason and already in the Braves Top Five prospects, will get their chance to show off their stuff this spring training as well. Of all the youngsters in camp, I believe these two have the strongest chance at making an impact early with the big club, so keep an eye on them both.
Lucas Sims and Braxton Davidson will also be in the mix. While the farm system underwent major change from midseason last year until, well Hart may have actually pulled off another trade as you’re reading this, these two were actually drafted by the Braves.
Keep an eye on Rio Ruiz who came over in the Evan Gattis trade. With the third base situation that has already been discussed, his path — with an improved bat — may be much quicker than expected to Atlanta.
3. Can Julio Teheran really be the ace this Braves team needs?
Remember when there was a time that every team in the league wanted Teheran? The Braves brass (pre-Hart, of course) deemed him untouchable. Those days seem to be gone, huh?
Teheran had a nightmare season in 2015 as he fell off in nearly every statistical category. Let’s not even worry about his win-loss record, because the Braves weren’t good enough for that to matter. His ERA plummeted to 4.04 after posting 3.20 and 2.89 ERAs the two seasons prior. His strikeout rate remained about the same, but he walked the most batters he ever had in his short career. More frighteningly his signature fastball came in almost a full mile per hour under the league average.
Teheran is a mere 24-years old, and when he is atop his game, he is still one of the most exciting young pitchers to watch in the sport. But he has an arsenal of young arms gunning for him in the revamped Braves organization that could very well take over as the new Braves’ ace.
After cruising through two solid seasons to start his career, it will be interesting to see how he bounces back after his first down campaign.
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