Atlanta Braves

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Overview (Present Rank: 30th | Future Rank: 9th)

Former manager Bobby Cox cemented his legacy by leading the Atlanta Braves to an MLB record 14 consecutive division titles. After his retirement, Fredi Gonzalez seized the managing job, but the entire landscape of the organization was beginning to change. Instead of Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine filling the clubhouse, players like Jace Peterson, Adonis Garcia, and A.J. Pierzynski get regular playing time. Gonzalez was able to continue the winning tradition in Atlanta for the first three years in his five-year tenure as Atlanta’s manager.

After Brian McCann departed for the Big Apple (later followed by Jason Heyward and Justin Upton) the Braves fell from a division-leading 96-66 in 2013 to a mediocre 79-83 in 2014. The last two years have been even worse for Braves fans. The team has regressed from a perennial contender to the worst Atlanta Braves team since 1990. In the midst of a rebuilding stage, the brighter days for this Atlanta franchise seem light years away, but after some great offseason moves, a competitive team could be right around the corner.

 

*Detailed analysis conducted April 4, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season.

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Catcher (Present Rank: 21st | Future Rank: 30th)

The Braves were tired of waiting for Christian Bethancourt to finally develop into something more than a replacement-level catcher. GM John Coppolella shipped the 24 year-old to San Diego making it clear A.J. Pierzynski would return as the starter. It appeared Pierzynski’s purpose on the roster as a 38 year-old was to mentor the younger Bethancourt, but after his dismissal, the only other catcher on the big league roster is the newly acquired Tyler Flowers.

A career backup catcher, Tyler Flowers gained playing time over the last two seasons as part of a platoon in Chicago. After being traded to the White Sox in 2008, Flowers returned to Atlanta over the winter on a 2yr/$5.3MM deal. It seems Flowers will now form a platoon with the left-handed hitting Pierzynski for the 2016 season. However, Pierzynski is a free agent at season’s end making people question what Atlanta will do at the catching position in 2017 and beyond.

Future Outlook: An upgrade is coming

In 2016, the Braves aren’t going for the division title that they once won 14 times in a row. They’re not looking to compete in the NL East until at least next year, and it only benefits them to lose in 2016 so they can get better draft picks and higher international spending limits. With that being said, a tandem of A.J. Pierzynski/Tyler Flower is acceptable despite the lack of production it’ll provide. Pierzynski is a free agent after the season, Flowers is nothing more than a backup, and the team has no highly regarded catching prospects.

The team did draft Lucas Herbert in the second round of last year’s draft, but scouts believe his selection was only for the purpose of Atlanta being able to go over the slot to sign Austin Riley and their other two first round picks. If Hebert unexpectedly shows he can handle professional pitching, he could possibly be a part of Atlanta’s long-term plans at the catcher position. However, if a quality backstop is on the board when the Braves are on the clock at third overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, they shouldn’t hesitate to declare him their future starting catcher. (EDIT: The Braves drafted Brett Cumberland with the 76th overall pick in the second round [6/10/16]).

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First Base (Present Rank: 9th | Future Rank: 5th)

The one position on the roster the Braves are comfortable with is first base. They drafted Freddie Freeman with their second round pick in the 2007 draft. Since his debut in 2011 (where he would have been named the Rookie of the Year if it wasn’t for his teammate Craig Kimbrel) Freeman has exceeded all expectations. Having one of the best first baseman in the game gives the Braves at least one thing less to worry about. They’re so confident in the 26 year-old’s abilities they handed him a 8yr/$135MM extension two years ago. Now they’ll focus on surrounding Freeman with a better supporting cast as the team moves into it’s new stadium, SunTrust Park before next season.

Future Outlook: 8yr/$135MM later, Freeman is here to stay

Ever since drafting Freddie Freeman in the 2007 draft, they’ve had their franchise first baseman firmly entrenched in the organization. Freeman’s time in Atlanta doesn’t look to end anytime soon as the Braves plan on making him the centerpiece of the next playoff-bound Braves team. They don’t have any first base prospects lurking, but after inking Freeman to the biggest contract in Atlanta Braves history, they don’t need anybody else. The state of the first base position falls solely on Freeman’s shoulders for the next six years.

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Second Base (Present Rank: 27th | Future Rank: 9th)

After coming over in the Justin Upton trade from a year ago, Jace Peterson had an unimpressive beginning to his Atlanta Braves career. In his rookie season, Peterson failed to hit above .240 and got caught stealing on 10 of his 22 attempts. The root of his offensive problems was when facing southpaws on the mound. A .190/.234/.276 slash line showcased how abysmal Peterson performed when facing left-handed pitchers. Peterson’s age (26) and minor league production (.776 OPS) highlight the fact he could improve as he gets more at-bats against major league pitching. However, if he doesn’t start to show improvement soon, the Braves will be forced to move on from the former first round pick.

In case Peterson can’t figure things out in his second full season, the Braves signed Gordon Beckham to be the team’s infielder off the bench. The days of Beckham being viewed as a future star for the Chicago White Sox are a thing of the past. The 2008 eighth overall pick never lived up to his top prospect billing as his career .242/.304/.370 batting line proves. Still just 29 years old, the Braves are hoping he can finally live up to his top prospect pedigree and deliver a productive season for Atlanta if Peterson gets injured or underperforms.

2014 seventh round pick, Luke Dykstra, has hit well enough in the minors to make scouts believe he can handle a utility role in the future. He won’t be ready until 2019, but could provide a reliable presence off the bench. Daniel Castro got a small sample size of big league action for Atlanta’s team last year, but with less than 130 career major league at-bats, he’s still considered a rookie. Once he breaks his rookie eligibility this year, he’ll continue to be a utility-like bench player for the Braves.

(EDIT: The Braves also brought Kelly Johnson in to be a backup infielder, but that didn’t work out, so they sent him to their rival team in New York for wild-throwing Akeel Morris [6/8/16]).

Future Outlook: Peterson might not cut it

Right now the Braves are relying on Jace Peterson to not only be their second baseman during their current stretch of losing, but also when they’ll have real playoff aspirations as the decade dwindles down. Acquired in the Justin Upton deal, Peterson has been a solid contributor at the minor league level. At 25 years old, Peterson struggled in his first taste of big league action last year. If Peterson can’t prove he belongs on a major league roster, the Braves will have no choice but to draft or sign his heir apparent. Atlanta will need stability at the position come 2019, and if he isn’t the player that can provide that, the Braves must go in a different direction.

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Shortstop (Present Rank: 30th | Future Rank: 13th)

Longtime Angels shortstop Erick Aybar found himself on the other side of the Andrelton Simmons trade. The two-time Gold Glove winning Simmons was supposed to be the future of Atlanta’s turnaround, but with plans of landing another promising shortstop of their own, the Braves decided to go in a different direction. In addition to the mediocre Aybar, the team also received future ace Sean Newcomb and the promising RHP Chris Ellis. While Newcomb and Ellis are unproven prospects, Aybar is a 10-year veteran with a consistent track record. However, the 32 year-old started to show his age last year by obtaining his lowest OBP (.301) since his rookie season. If Aybar is hitting well, the Braves could dangle him on the market and see what they can get for him as he’s surely not in their long-term plans with Dansby Swanson now the team’s No. 1 prospect.

Speaking of the team’s No. 1 prospect, the Braves acquired the 2015 first overall pick in a separate blockbuster move that expedited their rebuilding phase. Atlanta shipped ace RHP Shelby Miller to Arizona for SS Swanson, RHP Aaron Blair, and OF Ender Inciarte. In a move that has received national praise for the return Atlanta received. Swanson only received 99 professional plate appearance after being drafted, but he put the world on notice by batting .289 and slugging .482. It’s not just his bat that should make him a franchise cornerstone for Atlanta, as he has the fielding abilities at short that could earn him a Gold Glove or two over his career. Andrelton Simmons was a defensive machine, but now the Braves have a player in their system that can do it with the glove and the bat. If he continues to cruise through the minors, he could be making an impact for Atlanta by the end of the 2017 season.

Swanson isn’t the only highly acclaimed shortstop prospect in the Braves’ farm system. Before Swanson’s arrival, Ozzie Albies was being hyped up as the next big thing in Atlanta. After he sported a .310/.368/.404 slash line in Single-A ball as an 18 year-old, it’s easy to see why. Albies is MLB.com’s No. 29 prospect entering 2016, and the third best in Atlanta (behind the newly acquired Swanson and Newcomb). At 5’9”, 150lbs, Albies doesn’t pack much power, but his hit tool has evaluators thinking Albies could carry a .300 average regularly in the majors. His quick hands and strong arm peg him as an above-average defender at short as well. Swanson’s presence combined with Albies’ height could force the 19 year-old to move over to second base if both Swanson and Albies are deserving of regular at-bats in ATL. Albies won’t be ready for the show next year, but he could be a Rookie of the Year favorite in 2018 if his rookie eligibility doesn’t expire during the 2017 season.

Future Outlook: No. 1 pick Dansby Swanson is now the team’s No. 1 prospect

Acquiring Dansby Swanson from the Diamondbacks assured the Braves of having two of the top-14 picks from the 2015 MLB draft. While the team is still waiting on what No. 14 overall pick Kolby Allard can provide, Swanson proved he belongs in a professional setting after his stellar professional debut. A trade that sent Shelby Miller to Arizona could look like one of the best trades in baseball history if Swanson continues on his trajectory and becomes a top-5/top-10 major league shortstop. Even if the team didn’t have Swanson, they could rely on Ozzie Albies to produce at shortstop. If Peterson doesn’t make the right adjustments at second, the Braves could have a middle infield consisting of Swanson and Albies for years once Albies makes the transition to second base where his 5’9” stature would fit well. Re-signing Aybar on a one-year deal or acquiring a stop-gap for 2017 should also be in the plans.

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Third Base (Present Rank: 25th | Future Rank: 11th)

The fact that Adonis Garcia is penciled in as the team’s everyday third baseman is a perfect representation of how bad this Braves team currently is. Garcia made his debut last season at age-30 and held his own. However, Garcia struggled immensely against right-handed pitchers (.256/.270/.436). Considering his overall minor league track record isn’t that great either, Garcia is likely to decline slightly this season. If the Braves could find him a platoon partner so he faces strictly southpaws where he thrives (.328/.344/.638), then it would be a different story.

The Braves are thinking Rio Ruiz could possibly step up into that left-handed counterpart at third base. Ruiz will turn 22 years old this year and just spent the entire 2015 season in Double-A. He entered 2015 as the Braves No. 10 prospect (according to Baseball America), but his stock dropped significantly once he followed up a bad showing in the Arizona Fall League with a lackluster year in Double-A. Ruiz is still just 22 years old entering Triple-A, so he’s already ahead of the curve. If he can muster some production in Gwinnett (the team’s Triple-A team), Ruiz could be with the big league club down the stretch in 2016. He’ll have to put together a big year in Triple-A to convince the Braves he can handle starting third base duties down the line.

It might be too late for Ruiz to claim that distinction as Austin Riley has put the Braves on notice after being drafted 41st overall last year. The 6’3”, 220lbs monster was known to have raw power, but after dropping 12 bombs in 60 games as an 18 year-old, it’s clear Riley will be a source of power in Atlanta’s lineup for years to come. Riley was a two-way player in high school, but the Braves chose to have Riley focus on hitting. He doesn’t have the best range at the hot corner, but his quick hands and strong arm could make him a plus defender.  The Braves are expecting Riley to be ready for the show by 2019.

Future Outlook: Look no further than Austin Riley

Adonis Garcia is one of the league’s worst starting players in the league and unfortunately for Atlanta, he's the team's everyday third baseman. Rio Ruiz was once seen as the long-term answer, but after struggling in 2015, doubt remains. The Braves wasted no time in finding their long-term replacement by selecting Austin Riley 41st overall in the draft. Riley put on a power display in his professional debut and scouts believe he’ll deliver much more as keeps adding to his frame. As a perennial 30-HR threat with solid defense, Riley could become a staple in Atlanta’s lineup for years to come once he arrives in 2019.

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Outfield (Present Rank: 24th | Future Rank: 27th)

In addition to attaining promising reliever Paco Rodriguez, Hector Olivera was acquired from the Dodgers last July in exchange for the Braves’ top prospect Jose Peraza, high-upside lefty Alex Wood, and some other players in a blockbuster 12-player, three-team trade. Olivera is already 31 years old, but was rated the No. 55 prospect in the game heading into 2016 (by Baseball America) after defecting from Cuba. Oliver is the next high-profile Cuban player to come over to the majors after signing a 6yr/$62.5MM deal with Los Angeles.

Following the paths of Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu, and Rusney Castillo, Olivera has a lot to live up to. Unfortunately, a domestic violence assault will suspend Olivera for half of the 2016 season. The silver lining is Atlanta doesn’t have to pay him most of the $4MM they owe him this year (LA still owes him $4.67MM/year). Once he returns, it’s been rumored the Braves are desperate to get rid of him. If the Braves do hang onto the once prized Cuban, he could still live up to his potential as a quality bat with the versatility to play all around the diamond. His future outlook will become much clearer once he returns from suspension.

(EDIT: The Braves traded the troubled outfielder for Matt Kemp from the San Diego Padres in a swap of bad contracts. While Atlanta will owe Kemp $62.5MM of the remaining $87MM left on his contract, they rid themselves completely of Olivera's contract. Click here to read more about what to expect from Matt Kemp [7/30/16]).

Along with Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair, the Braves received the services of Ender Inciarte in the deal involving Shelby Miller. Inciarte followed up his Rookie of the Year-caliber season in 2014 with a robust .303/.338/.408 batting line last year. Inciarte can play all over the outfield and has provided excellent defense in his two short seasons at the major league level. He has maintained a good batting average despite a severe lack of power. Scouts didn’t expect this kind of production from the 25 year-old, but Inciarte has no problem exceeding all expectations set for him. With an uninspiring minor league track record, Inciarte could go back to what he was supposed to be as a fourth outfielder, or he could keep his impressive run going. A change of scenery will give Inciarte the opportunity to prove he’s a starter as he was blocked by A.J. Pollock, Yasmany Tomas, and David Peralta in Arizona’s outfield.

The only fully established player in Atlanta’s outfield is Nick Markakis. The Braves offered the Atlanta native 4yrs/$44MM to sign in free agency before the 2015 season. The 32 year-old might not be around for Atlanta’s next wave of contention, but his veteran presence in the clubhouse could help Atlanta’s young talent develop and mature. Markakis doesn’t provide much power or speed in right field, but he still has the cannon for an arm that helped him win two Gold Glove awards. He won’t be a part of the next division-winning Braves team on his current contract, but if he can continue to get on base like he did last year (.370 OBP), the Braves would be wise to extend the hometown hero.

Jeff Francoeur quietly had a solid comeback season in 2015 for the Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves brought the 32 year-old back to Atlanta on a cheap 1yr/$1MM deal to be the team’s fourth outfielder. With Olivera’s suspension, Francoeur will likely step in as the team’s starting left fielder.

Another outfielder capable of stepping up for Atlanta this season is Mallex Smith. The team’s No. 10 prospect (according to Baseball America) has the speed scouts absolutely love their leadoff hitter to have. Stealing 88 bases in 2014 proved what kind of impact Smith can have on the basepaths. His outfield defense isn’t as good as it could be with that kind of speed, but the Braves are working with him on improving his reads in center field so he can become an elite defender. Smith won’t confuse anybody for a power hitter, but his quick bat could lead to solid batting averages and on-base percentages in the bigs. It’s all about opportunity for the 23 year-old, and once he gets his, he’ll be a mainstay in Atlanta’s outfield.

There’s three other outfield prospects in Atlanta’s system that don’t have the same potential as Smith, but could develop into fourth outfielders at the big league level. Dustin Peterson, Ronald Acuna, and Braxton Davidson all fit this distinction.

 

Future Outlook: Like with Hector Olivera, there’s a lot of question marks here

Hector Olivera was supposed to solve the team’s short-term and long-term problems in left field. Despite being 30 years old at the time of the trade last July, Atlanta believed they could get at least four to five good years out of him. Instead, a domestic violence case has clouded Olivera’s future with the club before it could really get started. Olivera is a good representation of Atlanta’s entire outfield situation as the rest of the Braves' outfielders have serious question marks surrounding them too. Can Ender Inciarte keep up his unexpected production? Will Mallex Smith hit enough to warrant an everyday spot in the lineup? Will Nick Markakis still be around for the team’s next run at the playoffs? Can Dustin Peterson, Ronald Acuna, or Braxton Davidson exceed expectations and become a starter? Will the Braves be forced to sign multiple outfielders because of an inability to develop their own? Hector Olivera’s future will become more clear once he returns later this season, but the rest of those questions might not be answered for years.

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Left-Handed Starting Pitchers (Present Rank: 28th |  Future Rank: 5th)

The odds of Manny Banuelos living up to his potential become slimmer every year. Banuelos was once the No. 13 prospect in the game (according to MLB.com), but hasn’t been named a top-100 prospect since 2012. Some evaluators believe Banuelos can still become a quality starting pitcher, but he’s starting to run out of chances. The 5’10” southpaw never had the height MLB scouts desire, yet he made up for it with a solid three-pitch mix. However, Banuelos’ command has been all over the place. Scouts have been waiting for him to improve his control, but after a 5.13 ERA, 1.595 WHIP, 19K/12BB performance in the majors last year, it’s clear they’ll have to wait a while before he can throw strikes consistently. With a plethora of other starting pitching options, the Braves won’t be so patient with the 25 year-old anymore.

The Braves don’t have much hope for any lefties making an impact in 2016, but they do see some potential in three of their southpaws down on the farm. Sean Newcomb has become the top lefty in the system after headlining the package for Andrelton Simmons. The 6’5” lefty stays in the mid-90’s with his fastball and combines it with three reliable offspeed pitches (curveball, slider, changeup). Starting the year in Double-A, Newcomb could make an impact for the Braves at some point this season. It shouldn’t be too long until he settles in as a mid-rotation starter.

Max Fried headlined a trade package of his own when the Braves shipped Justin Upton to San Diego. Fried was the seventh overall pick in 2012 as the first high school pitcher taken. After missing the 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery, it remains to be seen if he can regain his top prospect status. He’s not quite as tall as Newcomb, but he still stands at an imposing 6’4”. The lanky lefty stayed in the low-90’s pre-surgery with a nasty breaking ball and plus changeup. Fried’s future will be tied to his recovery from Tommy John surgery, but the stuff is there for him to become a mid-rotation starter.

Taken with the team’s first round pick last year, Kolby Allard might have the most potential of all Atlanta Braves pitchers. He doesn’t have the height/velocity combo of Newcomb (Allard is 5’10” and throws low-90’s) or the top-10 draft pick status of Max Fried (Allard was taken 14th overall), but he has a lively fastball of his own and was a potential first overall pick before a back injury caused him to miss most of his senior season. Allard also has the best curveball of the bunch with some scouts believing it’s so devastating it could end up higher than 70 on the 20-80 scale. He’s only 18 years-old so it likely won’t be until at least 2019 that his lethal fastball/curveball combination debuts in the majors if Allard can stay off the disabled list.

Future Outlook: Newcomb, Fried, and Allard could become a productive trio

After John Hart was fired, the Atlanta Braves fully committed to rebuilding, and have acquired tons of exciting, young talent. Other than the entire projected 2019 lineup besides Freeman, the new front office also managed to attain the services of three future impact starters. President of Baseball Operations John Hart has added Sean Newcomb, Kolby Allard, and Max Fried to Atlanta’s collection of players with bright futures. It might not be until the 2020’s that we see all three lefties start to catch on with the big league team, but the potential is there for each of them to be frontline starters.

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Right-Handed Starting Pitchers (Present Rank: 22nd | Future Rank: 8th)

The only reliable starter in Atlanta’s rotation is Julio Teheran. The 25 year-old was destined to be the Braves’ ace ever since signing out of Columbia in 2007 for $850K. He was an annual top-100 prospect making Baseball America’s exclusive list four years straight. He turned his potential into production instantly by going 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA in his rookie season. He  followed that up with back-to-back 200+ inning seasons including an All-Star appearance in 2014. The Braves extended the 6’2” righty for 6yrs/$32.4MM ($12MM Club Option for 2020). As the biggest trade asset on the Braves, many executives around the league believe Teheran could be on the move if the price is right. In any trade for Teheran, the Braves would certainly only sign off if they get at least two elite prospects in return, with catcher, outfield, and pitching as priorities.

Teheran is the only righty starting the season in Atlanta’s rotation with frontline starting potential. However, Matt Wisler, Mike Foltynewicz, and Ryan Weber all made their debut in Atlanta last year with the potential to stay in the rotation as mid-rotation pieces. Wisler had a rocky rookie season in 2015 (4.71 ERA; 1.459 WHIP), but scouts believe he can settle into a No. 3/No. 4 role once he goes through some growing pains.

Foltynewicz has an elite fastball that some evaluators graded an 80 on the 20-80 scale. His lack of quality secondary pitches could push him to a bullpen role where he could be a serious threat at the end of games. Weber doesn’t have the power arm Wisler and Foltynewicz both have, but he has command and excellent movement on his pitches. His two-seam fastball is lethal and combined with the rest of his impressive complimentary pitches, he could end up being the best of the bunch, but without the explosive stuff, could be just another pitcher as well.

With an abundance of young, unproven pitchers, GM John Coppolella brought in Bud Norris on a cheap 1yr/$2.5MM deal. After posting a 6.72 ERA over 83 innings in his age-30 season last year, Norris isn’t the same reliable pitcher he once was. Still, it was just a year ago that he went 15-8 with a 3.65 ERA. Considering the team isn’t expecting a playoff birth in 2016, Norris is a low-risk investment that could pay off if he mentors the younger pitchers on the staff. (EDIT: After a strong start to the season, the Braves traded Norris to the Los Angeles Dodgers for minor league RP's Caleb Dirks and Phil Pfeifer who both project to be impact relievers in a few years [7/1/16]).

The Braves also have two highly touted righties that could make their debut for the team this season. Aaron Blair, acquired in the Shelby Miller deal, might have the highest ceiling of all righties in Atlanta’s system as he combines a well-balanced repertoire with the height (6’4”) and track record (3.13 ERA in minors) needed to succeed at the next level. John Gant has flown under the radar, but his excellent showing in Double-A for the Braves last year could have been his coming out party. The 6’5” righty doesn’t have an intimidating fastball, but he commands it well in the low-90’s and mixes it with an effective changeup to keep hitters off balanced. The two pitchers could be mainstays in Atlanta’s rotation by the end of this season.

Down in the lower levels, Max Povse and Mike Soroka have made great impressions leading evaluators to believe they can develop into quality major league starters. Povse is a 6’8” monster, but sits in the low-90’s with his fastball. He has good movement on his two-seamer, and has flashed above-average with his offspeed pitches at times. Starting the year in High-A, it’ll all come down to how much the 22 year-old can harness his command and effectively keep his pitches low in the zone.

As for Soroka, it’s shocking that he isn’t receiving more praise around the league. The 18 year-old is already hitting mid-90’s consistently with his fastball. His curveball is dangerous, and his changeup is just as deceptive thanks to his smooth delivery. Right out of the gate he attacked minor league batters by racking up 37 strikeouts over 34 innings while only walking five hitters. The tools, physical abilities, and draft pedigree are there for Soroka to develop into the next ace-caliber pitcher for Atlanta.

Rob Whalen, Tyrell Jenkins, Lucas Sims, Williams Perez, Chris Ellis could develop into back-end starters for Atlanta. With the abundance of promising righties in their system, it’s likely they’ll max out as spot starters or long relievers for the Braves unless traded to another team. Sims in particular could climb his way to the back end of the bullpen if given the opportunity while Perez has the best chance to make an impact in the rotation.

Future Outlook: ATL might have hit the jackpot

Besides the established Julio Teheran, the Braves have tons of right-handed starters with upside in their system. In addition to Matt Wisler, Mike Foltynewicz, and Ryan Weber who have already tasted the bigs, Aaron Blair and John Gant could show the world what kind of impact they can have in 2016. After that, there’s also Max Povse and Mike Soroka poised to become reliable starters in the future. Considering the loaded amount of high-upside righties in ATL, it seems very likely the Braves have hit the jackpot with at least a few of them, and found some quality arms they can count on going forward. This is also one of the few positions that the Braves have enough to depth to use as trade bait over the next few years as they continue to build a contender.

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Bullpen (Present Rank: 18th | Future Rank: 3rd)

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Originally part of Atlanta’s future “big 3” that also included Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino has had a quite a journey since then. The Braves shipped Vizcaino off to Chicago only to re-acquire his services before the 2015 season. He’s not the elite starter that Teheran continued to be, but now he’s the team’s go-to closer. At 25 years old, Vizcaino has a bright future in the back of Atlanta’s bullpen until he’s eligible for free agency after the 2019 season.

(EDIT: After the team traded Jason Grilli to Toronto, Jim Johnson and Chris Withrow will be elevated into the setup roles. Considering their lack of success in recent seasons, it would be wise for manager Brian Snitker to turn to Hunter Cervenka and Mauricio Cabrera in high-leverage situation. While Johnson will likely look at 2016 as the last year they play in Atlanta, this year could be just the beginning for Withrow, Cervenka, and Cabrera [6/1/16]).

The other relievers that could contribute to Atlanta’s 2016 bullpen include Paco Rodriguez, Ian Krol, Shae Simmons, and Casey Kelly. Rodriguez was acquired in that blockbuster three-team trade involving Hector Olivera from last July. He’s been consistently reliable in the majors, albeit in small sample sizes.

Krol has been involved in multiple trades as well being viewed as a high-upside southpaw. His starting days are behind him, but he could rejuvenate his career with a successful stint in the bullpen. Simmons is the most enticing of the bunch with his stellar track record. However, after coming off of Tommy John surgery, it remains to be seen what he can continue to produce. Casey Kelly had massive potential as a starter once upon a time, but he’s flamed out, and likely won’t ever make a name for himself as the major league level.

In the future, the Braves have Vizcaino and the potential of converted starters (Foltynewicz, Sims, Jenkins, Ellis) as well as future free agent signings and trade acquisitions. One player that could add to the intrigue is Touki Toussaint. The No. 90 prospect (according to Baseball America) already has “the best one-two punch in the minors” with his fastball/curveball combo. He’ll continue to develop as a starter, but if that doesn’t work out, he could be a force to be reckoned with in the ‘pen.

Future Outlook: Vizcaino is here to stay

Arodys Vizcaino returned back to Atlanta and dominated major league hitters in 2015. At only 25 years old, the sky’s the limit for the former top starting pitching prospect. He won’t be pitching six innings a night in the rotation, but the Braves are fine with him shutting down teams in high-leverage situations instead. Unfortunately for Atlanta, Vizcaino is surrounded by players with not as much as potential. Atlanta’s bullpen might be rough the next couple of seasons, but the combination of Touki Toussaint, Mike Foltynewicz, and Lucas Sims adds to the intrigue of future Braves relief corps. We’ll see what moves GM John Coppolella sprinkles in to balance it all out.

KEY | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | PIT | LHP | RHP | PEN | OVERALL

OVERALL OUTLOOK: The future is bright

Don’t worry Atlanta fans, things can only go up from here. The state of the Braves franchise might appear bleak now, but Atlanta is quietly building a dominant contender slowly, but surely. Atlanta took a big step in the right direction this past offseason by acquiring promising young players like Sean Newcomb, Aaron Blair, and Dansby Swanson. New GM John Coppolella has gone on record saying he wants the Braves to be competitive by 2017 when they open their new stadium, SunTrust Park. While that looks very unlikely considering the current personnel, fielding a competitive team by the end of the 2010’s is much more realistic.

The moves the team has been able to make just in the last year has been revolutionary in transforming the Braves from a hopeless team to one with a bright future. Atlanta now has the young players in place, and will keep acquiring more talent through the draft, the amateur free agent market, and through more trades (Julio Teheran). All the young talent Atlanta has acquired could culminate in one of the league’s best team’s throughout the 2020’s. They might not reach 14 straight division titles, but don’t be surprised if they come close.

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