For years, the Yankees had their core. It was a group that won several World Series. There may never be another group like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. But it’s a model that many teams may try to follow in shaping their future.
The Braves core is fairly obvious: Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel. This was pretty much settled when the organization signed all four to contract extensions before last season.
But we’ll add two more to this core, and while some may wonder if it’s premature, we believe in at least planning the organization’s course it is necessary. Christian Bethancourt will likely take over as the Braves starting catcher in 2015. He’s 23 years old. Then at some point this season the Braves will likely insert Jose Peraza as the starting second baseman. He’ll turn 21 in late April next year.
That’s four of the eight positions on the field, a starting pitcher and the closer who will be the main players on the Braves for the next several seasons. They are all in their early-mid 20s, with an average age of 24.2 years old for the 2015 season.
After his first two full seasons in the big leagues, Teheran has become the ace of the staff. He turns 24 in January and is under contract through 2020. Teheran has averaged 14 wins and 203 innings in the last two seasons. He has a chance to be the best young pitcher the Braves have developed since Kevin Millwood. Teheran got better in 2014 and his record would have been more impressive if the Braves had given him offensive support in September. The Braves will depend on Teheran to be the ace as the rest of the rotation takes shape.
The best closer in baseball will turn 27 during the early part of the season in 2015. He is signed through 2018, so the Braves will have him into his early-30s. By then, if Kimbrel stays healthy, he could be in the Top 10 in career saves. The Braves have not showed any interest in trading Kimbrel, despite an obvious retooling of the organization. They believe the best way to stay competitive during this transition is to have the best closer in the game on the roster. So Kimbrel will likely remain as one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle.
The Braves made him the centerpiece of the franchise last spring with the long-term contract that will keep him in Atlanta through 2021. Last year, Freeman’s main numbers all decreased from 2013, but he will still be counted on to be the main cog in the lineup which will obviously be rebuilt around him. Freeman needs to show more power. He had only 18 last year after two straight seasons of hitting 23. Defensively, he’s above average at first base. The Braves want Freeman to be a leader, and the presence of Nick Markakis will hopefully give Freeman a role model to show him what is necessary to take that next step as a clubhouse mentor.
The shortstop is now 25 years old and is signed through 2020. There is little doubt about Simmons’ value defensively. He’s simply the best defensive player at perhaps any position in the game. But the Braves do need Simmons to get better at the plate, as his numbers decreased last season. His value is definitely in the field, but Simmons’ ability to become more of a complete player will enhance his standing as a member of the Braves core players. It is a tremendous value to the pitchers to have Simmons at shortstop for the next six years.
With Evan Gattis possibly on his way out, it opens the door for the 23-year-old Bethancourt to take over as the starting catcher. His strongest asset is his defensive, specifically his arm. Bethancourt will change the game with runners thinking twice about running so easily on Braves pitchers. He still needs to get better at calling games and blocking balls in the dirt. The Braves were pleased with how Bethancourt improved offensively last season in Triple-A, hitting .283. He’ll likely never be an on base machine, but if his defense is stellar, he’ll simply need to develop and contribute like Simmons. If Bethancourt sticks, it will lock up the important spot behind the plate for the next six years.
At some point in 2015, 21-year-old Jose Peraza will likely take over as the starting second baseman. He hit .335 in 44 games at Double-A Mississippi, but the Braves would like him to get a little more time developing to start next season. If he does well, it’s possible he could come up after the arbitration deadline in June, which would give the Braves an extra year of his services. Scouts believe he’ll be a solid leadoff man with 50-steal potential. The belief is he’ll continue to improve at second, where he’s made the transition from shortstop. A poor-man’s Rafael Furcal is not a bad player to have on a team.
So can the Braves build around these six players? They added a veteran for right field in Nick Markakis through free agency, and he was needed due to a lack of outfield talent in the minor leagues. The Braves need two good drafts to restock the farm system so more young talent can complement these six. But the trades made this offseason are needed, as well, so that more options are available. The current status of the farm system is poor, so more talent is needed from trades and the next few drafts.
But not many teams have this type of core, so consider the Braves fortunate. How they add players around this group will determine how successful the franchise is going into Sun Trust Park in 2017.
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