So we know most of the moves the Braves are making right now will be for the 2017 season. That’s when they will move into the new Sun Trust Park in Cobb County, north of Turner Field in downtown Atlanta.
The Braves don’t want to use the word ‘rebuild,’ but that’s what this is. They are retooling, rebuilding or whatever you want to label it. They are just trying to fix something that was broken.
But while two years away is an eternity in baseball, with many, many more moves expected between now and that season, what should we expect going into the 2017 season?
Some things we should know about, but most we simply don’t. Using the players who should be under contract and the prospects, let’s make a few predictions and projections – just for fun.
Here are some of the things we know. Julio Teheran will be in the rotation. I’ll say Alex Wood will as well. Wood will be arbitration eligible for the first time that previous offseason, so he’ll have three more seasons left under control once the Braves enter their new ballpark.
Shelby Miller will be two years away from free agency, so chances are he’ll be in the rotation. I will guess that Mike Minor will not. I’m worried about Minor’s health, and since he will be getting more expensive through arbitration I will predict he’ll be traded at some point if he can stay off the disabled list.
That leaves two spots open. Will the Braves go after a veteran in the next two offseasons, someone like David Price, who is on the market next year and grew up a Braves fan? Well, it’s possible. The financial flexibility will come into play once Dan Uggla’s contract is off the books, and you have to wonder if the money from Sun Trust Park will tempt them to invest in a pitcher who could be a veteran ace and compliment Teheran.
Here’s the best thing about 2017 when it comes to the rotation. The Braves should have Lucas Sims, Max Fried and Tyrell Jenkins knocking on the door or already up in the rotation. Sims may go to Double-A in 2015 and there’s no reason to rush him. Fried will probably start 2016 in Double-A after he takes next season off to recover from Tommy John surgery. But if all goes well, Fried could be almost ready by the time 2017 rolls around.
Jenkins is perhaps a little closer than Sims and Fried. We’ll see this season how far away he may be from Atlanta. But by 2017, Jenkins should be ready.
That’s the kind of backlog the Braves have had in the past with pitching prospects. They’ll probably get more in trades and you can only imagine the priority pitching will have in the next two drafts. I imagine the Braves will target some college pitchers that could be on the fast track, a la Alex Wood a few years ago.
Hopefully, some of the Braves other prospects – like Garrett Fulenchek and Alec Grosser – will develop well and make the farm system stronger. You could only imagine the Braves will be stingy in putting pitchers in any deal over the next few seasons to simply build up that depth.
Will Craig Kimbrel be part of this team in 2017? I say no. I don’t think they want to trade him now, but at some point the Braves will be tempted to trade the best closer in baseball. Let’s say they do that next season. Well, Kimbrel will only be 27 going into the 2016 season, and he will have three years (including the option year in 2018) left on his contract. There is still significant value in that player and could net the Braves a tremendous return.
So who might close in 2017 if Kimbrel is gone? Well, Arodys Vizcaino is a candidate. He is back and is healthy. Shae Simmons is a candidate. He’s got to stay healthy, but if he does he’ll be only 26 going into 2017. Simmons has the stuff to be a closer. Jason Hursh is a pitcher some scouts project could become an effective reliever, so he should be kept in mind, too.
We can make a few assumptions about the positions players. It looks like the players that will be in the lineup in 2017 include Christian Bethancourt at catcher, Freddie Freeman at first base, Jose Peraza at second base, Andrelton Simmons at shortstop and Nick Markakis in right field.
So that’s five of the eight positions on the diamond that we should know who will be starting in two years. That leaves three spots – third base, left field and center field.
The Braves have a decent third base prospect in Kyle Kubitza, who might be ready sometime in 2015. He’s like Chris Johnson, a solid player with not much power. But Kubitza can hit and shows good patience at the plate.
Dustin Peterson was immediately ranked as Atlanta’s 13th best prospect by MLB.com after being acquired from San Diego. Peterson will be 22 years old going into 2017 and should be finished with Double-A. Will he stay at third base or move to the outfield? Well, that question could make the Braves continue to look at additional third base options over the next few years. But if Peterson develops well, he’ll be close to being ready sometime in 2017.
B.J. Upton will be in the last year of his disastrous contract in 2017, but let’s be hopeful and say he’ll be gone way before then. I don’t know how, but let’s just be hopeful. That would mean the Braves would need a center fielder.
Mallex Smith is a possibility. He came over from the Padres after leading the minor leagues with 88 stolen bases last season. I wonder if Ozhaino Albies could be an option later in the decade. He’ll be 18 years old next season and will probably be in Low-A Rome. Albies is a shortstop, but if he is blocked there by Simmons and by Peraza at second base, where else could he move but center?
Albies could be a phenom. He hit .364 as a 17-year-old in the GCL and Appalachian Leagues last season. If he continues to develop, the Braves may want to give him an outfield glove just to see what he might do out there.
The Braves probably hope Braxton Davidson can be closer to the big leagues in 2017, but it will probably take longer. Davidson just turned 18 as he was heading to the Gulf Coast League last summer. It’ll be interesting to see if the Braves push him to Rome this season or let him go back to Danville, where he played for 13 games late last season. Davidson will likely be on his way to Double-A in 2017, so he’ll likely be a more polished candidate in 2018 or 2019.
The Braves need more outfield prospects. This will probably be a priority in the next two drafts. They will need to find someone to compliment Nick Markakis, who will be in his third year of the four-year contract he signed with the Braves. There is not an obvious candidate for left field right now, at least for 2017. Davidson is just going to take more time.
There is more work to be done. The Braves do have a core, a base to work from. But there are many more moves to be made and draft picks to be signed to add to an organization still in need of an infusion of serious talent. The 2017 roster still has to take shape, but some shrewd moves should put this team right where it needs to be heading into the new ballpark.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.
So what about 2017? Who will be ready?
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