The Atlanta Braves were a top-10 offense in 2019, finishing within those parameters in runs scored, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, wOBA, and wRC+, and featured arguably one of the best 1-4 lineups in baseball. That roster stayed mostly the same for 2020 — with the Braves thus far mostly using their offseason moves on pitching — but will be missing a big piece, as their 2019 cleanup hitter, Josh Donaldson, rejected a qualifying offer from Atlanta to sign with the Minnesota Twins. Atlanta still has three All-Stars at the top of the order, but they’ll need more than that if they want to make a longer championship run than they did last year.
**Update** After signing All-Star outfielder Marcel Ozuna to a 1-year contract for $18 million in January, the Braves officially have more, with Ozuna more than capable of filling in the hole left by Donaldson.
(Last Updated: July 3, 2020)
60-Game Season Update
Baseball is back! To celebrate, we are updating our team-by-team Hitter Profiles by adding a summary of the players who saw their stocks go up or down based on the time off, new rules, and other major changes we’ll see in 2020 and updated projected lineups.
It’s hard not to imagine Austin Riley seeing more time. Given the shortened season’s rules and Nick Markakis opting out, the team only needs to keep him inactive for about a week to gain the extra year of control. Beyond that, and even though he’s being rostered as a left fielder, the only guy really in his way is Johan Camargo at third base. Riley’s relative youth and dynamism being added to a group that’s already headed by wunderkinds Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna could help Atlanta seize a moment in the NL East that might seem cheap now but one that fans would cherish all the same if it ended with a title.
Ender Inciarte also will see additional opportunities due to some of the (very reasonable) attrition in the outfield. He’s a fantastic defensive center fielder and unless he is absolutely toxic with the bat, he should be able to get plenty of plate appearances for the Braves. His speed and batting average can be useful for fantasy managers, but it’s the glove that will be what appeals the most to the Braves’ brass.
The aforementioned Johan Camargo seems to lose the most with the shortened season. With the 2020 campaign turning into a sprint we’ve never seen instead of a marathon like we’re used to, there might not be much value in keeping a utility- or bench-type bat in the lineup even if it’s from the nine-hole (or unless it’s zombified Nick Markakis). I have a soft spot for Camargo’s game but he mostly has his current spot as a starter by default after Atlanta failed to sign a third baseman once they lost out on re-signing Josh Donaldson. If they can add more bop by subbing in Austin Riley, it’s hard to see why they wouldn’t.
Also, just to reiterate, Nick Markakis decided to opt out of the 2020 season. Additionally, Freddie Freeman continues to face an uphill battle with a particularly intense case of COVID. We wish him good health as soon as it can arrive. In his absence, and to fill the roster spot left by Markakis, the Braves signed Yonder Alonso.
|2||Ronald Acuna Jr|
|1||Ronald Acuna Jr.|
Original March Edition
Travis d’Arnaud (C | Batting 4th)
2019: 52 R, 16 HR, 69 RBI, 0 SB, .251/.312/.433 | C #12
2020 ADP: 256.1 (C #16)
One of the sneaky-good signings this offseason, Travis d’Arnaud comes to Atlanta on a two-year, $16 million deal. The prospect that never was, d’Arnaud has spent most of his career sidelined with one ailment or another and was traded twice in 2019 — first to the Dodgers for about three seconds before ending up in Tampa Bay. In a part-time role/injury replacement, d’Arnaud matched his career-high of 16 home runs in his 391 plate-appearances and set career highs in runs scored and RBI, with a batting average that was his highest since 2015. If d’Arnaud manages to stay healthy all season, he could be in for a very productive year, as he’s currently penciled in to hit cleanup behind the murderer’s row that is Atlanta’s 1-3 batters. When Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman are your lead-in, good opportunities should be aplenty.
Strengths: HR, RBI, R
Weaknesses: SB, Health
450 PA. Pretty simple. There’s a reason that d’Arnaud has stuck around for so long, even as he’s been constantly hurt, and there’s a reason that Atlanta just ponied up $16 million for him: dude can hit. He hit 16 home runs splitting time with Mike Zunino last season, and his 0.049 HR/PA was 10th among catchers with at least 350 PA, putting him just behind J.T. Realmuto. If d’Arnaud gets 400 PA, he’ll likely hit around 20 home runs, with a .250 AVG that won’t kill you and at a price of virtually free. But if (BIG IF) d’Arnaud stays healthy, it’s not unreasonable to think he can reach 450 PA, with only Tyler Flowers pushing him for playing time (which isn’t a small thing, given Flower’s framing prowess). And that probably means 20+ HR, with counting stats that will reflect getting to hit behind the aforementioned trio of destruction that Atlanta will trot out 1-3 in the order.
The flip-side is just as simple as the best-case scenario; a season-ending injury or injuries that limit him to under 300 PA. D’Arnaud is still only 30-years-old and doesn’t have any strong warning signs of a big drop-off at the dish, so he’s only going to hurt you by his absence from the lineup. Even if Atlanta makes another big free-agent signing, d’Arnaud will likely hit 5th and will still be hitting behind one of the most fearsome foursomes in baseball.
2020 Projection: 52 R, 69 RBI, 13 HR, 1 SB, .257/.316/.440
Freddie Freeman (1B | Batting 3rd)
2019: 113 R, 38 HR, 121 RBI, 6 SB, .295/.389/.549 | 1B #2
2020 ADP: 16.4 (1B #2)
No one will hoot and holler when you draft Freeman; no one will call you savvy for your bold move. What you will get, however, is a metronome of production on which to build the foundation of your fantasy house. Freeman set new career-highs in 2019, with his 38 HR, 113 R, and 121 RBI all setting new personal elevations. The rock-steady Freeman struggled towards the end of the season — hitting only two home runs in September, with a .754 OPS — but repeatably denied that lingering elbow issues were affecting his performance. Lo and behold, about four seconds after the Braves were eliminated from the playoffs in October, Freeman had arthroscopic elbow surgery to remove three loose bodies and clean out multiple bone spur formations. Expected to be ready for Spring Training, Freeman hits behind two of the best players in baseball and is a solid start to any fantasy team.
Strengths: HR, R, RBI, AVG
Weaknesses: Bone Spurs
A fully healthy Freeman hits 30+ HR with 200 R+RBI and around a .300 AVG. So, basically about the same thing he does every year.
The elbow injury lingers, causing Freeman to either miss time and/or start off slowly. Freeman has had one of the most reliable floors in baseball and health is about the only thing that changes his production.
2020 Projection: 98 R, 33 HR, 103 RBI, 6 SB, .293/.385/.541
Ozzie Albies (2B | Batting 2nd)
2019: 102 R, 24 HR, 86 RBI, 15 SB, .295/.352/.500 | 2B #5
2020 ADP: 39.3 (2B #4)
After finishing last year as the #5 second baseman, surely the fantasy world is fully awoken to his awesomeness, right? It seems Albies has been around forever, but he’s still 23 years old and just came off of the best season of his young career. I say “the best,” but really the only big change from Albies’ production in 2019 versus 2018 was a 34-point bump in batting average. His home run total was the same, stolen bases were within one of each other, and runs scored were within three. Albies had 14 more RBI than in 2018, but maybe, just maybe, that’s what happens when you bat behind Acuña Jr. Albies had a .291 xBA, according to Baseball Savant, added 2.5 mph to his average exit velocity, and raised his hard-hit rate four points to 33.5%. Maybe you don’t count on a .295 AVG again, but with Acuña in front and Freeman behind, if this isn’t the best spot in baseball then it can at least put in a strong claim.
Strengths: PA/AB, R, SB, AVG, OBP
Last year happens again. Like Acuña before him and Freeman after, there aren’t a lot of red flags in 2019 that portend less success for Albies in 2020. Around 25 HR, 200 R+RBI, and 12-15 stolen bases, with a batting average in the .290 range.
The average drops back down to last year’s .261 AVG, I guess? Albies’ 2018 and 2019 were so similar that it’s hard to find reasons for regression after seeing a 23-year-old have essentially the same season twice. I suppose Atlanta could move Acuña back out of the leadoff spot, which would put a ding on Albies counting numbers, but I can’t find many other reasons for doubt.
2020 Projection: 89 R, 24 HR, 82 RBI, 14 SB, .287/.344/.490
Dansby Swanson (SS | Batting 8th)
2019: 77 R, 17 HR, 65 RBI, 10 SB, .251/.325/.422 | SS #30
2020 ADP: 260.7 (SS #25)
The former #1 overall pick (for Arizona), Dansby Swanson had his best season as a pro in 2019, making modest improvements on his performance in 2018. For the second straight year, however, a production-sapping injury reared its ugly head. It was a wrist injury in 2018 that slowed Swansby down, as he dropped from a .766 OPS pre-injury to a .678 OPS after. And it was déjà vu all over again this past season, with Swanson sitting at a .798 OPS prior to acquiring a lingering foot contusion, but then posting a .552 OPS afterward. If Swanson can stay off the IL all season, he could be a steal as the #25 SS being taken, but that good health is a lot to assume.
Strengths: R, SB
Weaknesses: PA/AB, AVG
A healthy season and the 600+ PA that would come with it. Even with only 545 PA last year (and the aforementioned post-injury struggles), among qualified second baseman, Swanson was 17th in runs scored, 16th in RBI, 17th in HR, and 10th in stolen bases. Everyone is aware of how deep shortstop is in 2020, with 15 shortstops being taking in the first 100 picks — according to NFBC ADP — but after Tim Anderson at #96, only nine shortstops are taken until you get to Swanson at #260. If Swanson can avoid another injury that costs him both time and performance upon returning, then it’s not unreasonable to think he could be a top-15 shortstop.
Swanson misses another 30 games or so from injury and then isn’t very good after returning. You know, just like the last two years?
2020 Projection: 70 R, 18 HR, 69 RBI, 10 SB, .253/.325/.416
Austin Riley (3B | Batting 8th)
2019: 41 R, 18 HR, 49 RBI, 0 SB, .226/.279/.471 | 3B #59
2020 ADP: 264.4 (3B #30)
Austin Riley is going to have to be pretty decent in 2020 to justify the Braves not re-signing Donaldson or signing another third baseman. After Riley hit 18 home runs in 297 PA this season (and struck out 36.4% of the time), Atlanta is seemingly set on Riley manning the hot corner instead of keeping him in the outfield, where he played all but 10 of his games last season. No one is questioning the boom in Riley’s stick, but there is a lot of swing-and-miss too, and Braves fans would probably feel more confident if Donaldson was still in the fold, with plans to make Riley the majority owner in an outfield rotation with Nick Markakis and/or Ender Inciarte.
There are seemingly no more spots available in the outfield after the signing of Marcell Ozuna, leaving Riley to battle things out with Johan Camargo in spring training for the starting job at third base. If he can’t beat out Camargo, Riley is more like to end up back in the minors than on Atlanta’s bench.
Strengths: HR, RBI, SLG
Weaknesses: AVG, SB
Riley gets his strikeout problems under control and eventually hits his way up from the eighth spot in the lineup to fifth or sixth (currently projected to be occupied by Markakis/Swanson). If Riley is good enough to hit fifth, then his RBI and runs would get a large bump with three All-Stars hitting in front of him and a pitcher no longer hitting behind him.
Riley continues to strike out nearly 40% of the time, continues to hit at the bottom of the order, and is only useful in fantasy for streaming purposes/emergencies, given his batting average. So, the worst version of Joey Gallo, but now with fewer home runs? Actually, the worst-case scenario is all of the above, but then Riley gets supplanted by Johan Camargo and heads to the bench or back to the minors.
2020 Projection: 57 R, 24 HR, 70 RBI 2 SB, .250/.308/.475
Ronald Acuña Jr. (RF | Batting 1st)
2019: 127 Runs, 41 HR, 101 RBI, 37 SB, .280/.365/.518 | OF #2
2020 ADP: 1.5 (OF #1)
Why hello there, beautiful! Have y’all heard about this Ronald Acuña Jr. fella? People are saying he might be the real deal. Yes, yes; everyone knows about Acuña’s awesomeness, but given the circumstances of 2019, he might actually be better in 2020. For one, if a hip injury hadn’t limited Acuña to only one plate appearance after Sept. 21, we might’ve seen only the fifth 40 HR/40 SB season in history. But the real question is; what if Acuña had batted leadoff all season, instead of batting cleanup until May 9th?
157 PA (Cleanup): 21 R, 7 HR, 22 RBI, 2 SB, .276 AVG
558 PA (Leadoff): 106 R, 34 HR, 79 RBI, 35 SB, .280 AVG
Quick! To the extrapolation machine! How would a hypothetical all-leadoff Acuña have fared, if we assume the rates of his counting stats per plate appearance while batting leadoff?
715 PA (Actual): 127 R, 41 HR, 101 RBI, 37 SB
715 PA (Hypothetical): 136 R, 43 HR, 101 RBI, 45 SB
Strengths: PA/AB, R, HR, RBI, SB, OPS
Weaknesses: Too much fun, according to curmudgeonly baseball announcers
He stays healthy and at leadoff all year, giving his owners another fantasy fiesta that ends with him being the #1 player in baseball.
He’s only a top-10 player in fantasy? I suppose the Braves could move him back to clean-up, but why would they? Acuña might stop running eventually (see: Trout, Michael) but it probably won’t be as a 22-year-old, so the stolen base potential (along with all the other awesomeness) makes Acuña #1 in my overall rankings.
2020 Projections: 106 R, 37 HR, 93 RBI, 29 SB, .282/363/.527
Marcell Ozuna (LF | Batting 4th)
2019: 80 R, 29 HR, 89 RBI, 12 SB, .243/.330/.474 | OF #27
2020 ADP: 98 (OF #27)
You’ll need to first excuse the Cardinals fan in me for being upset that they couldn’t manage to get a deal done with Ozuna. He turned down a $17.8 million qualifying offer from St. Louis but then signed with Atlanta for a one-year contract for $18 million, with a one-year “prove-it” deal seemingly a better option than remaining with the Redbirds.
Even before Ozuna signed himself into one of the sweetest lineup spots in baseball, Ozuna was already a hot fantasy commodity heading into 2020. Ozuna had a “down” year in 2019 but a lot of that perception was due to him missing 28 games with fractured fingers and putting up only a .243 batting average. The power was still there, however, with Ozuna hitting 29 home runs in 130 games. Ozuna was a Statcast darling as well, with his .288 xBA right in line with the previous two years and a .548 xSLG that was in the top-9% of baseball. Slotted in behind three of baseball’s best players, Ozuna is primed to make himself a lot real dollars in 2020 and fantasy players a lot of fake ones.
Strengths: HR, RBI, OBP
Weaknesses: AVG, R
Ozuna goes back to the .280 AVG of year’s past, with 35+ HR, 100+ RBI, with around 90 runs scored and a handful of stolen bases thrown in. However, hitting behind Acuna, Albies, and Freeman, it wouldn’t be that surprising if Ozuna was able to near his career-highs 0f 37 HR and 124 RBI in 2017.
Ozuna goes back to the power-outage days of 2016 and 2018 when he only hit 23 HR and keeps the .244 AVG of 2019. A perfect combination of mediocrity.
2020 Projections: 82 R, 31 HR, 99 RBI, 7 SB, .276/.343/.495
Nick Markakis (LF | Batting 5th)
2019: 61 R, 9 HR, 62 RBI 2 SB, .285/.356/.420 | OF #81
2020 ADP: 504.8 (OF #118)
Markakis had his best offensive season since 2012 in his 2018 campaign, with a .297 AVG, 14 HR, and 93 RBI in 162 games and 705 PA. He turned back into Nick Markakis in his 469 PA in 2019, missing time with injury and putting up a 102 wRC+ compared to the 115 wRC+ he had the year before. His splits also suffered dramatically, with the veteran apparently forgetting how to hit lefties, posting a 71 wRC+ against them after a 104 wRC+ against them in 2018. Right now, Markakis is penciled in as the starting left fielder, but could start losing at-bats to lefties if this trend continues.
A likely better option than Ender Inciarte, Markakis should start in right field, with Ozuna set to play left and Acuna taking over at center.
Strengths: AVG, OBP
Markakis stays healthy and gets back close to the 2018 version of himself, hitting lefties and keep himself as a full-time starter. Even then, Markakis is ideally on your bench in fantasy.
The wheels start falling off the 36-year-old, and he is not only platooned against lefties, but also loses overall at-bats as the Braves regularly rotate him with Riley, Camargo, Charlie Culberson, and Adam Duvall.
2020 Projection: 70 R, 14 HR, 75 RBI, 2 SB, .284/.357/.432
Ender Inciarte (RF | Bench)
2019: 30 R, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 7 SB, .246/.343/.397 | OF #145
2020 ADP: 341.7 (OF #88)
Inciarte was beset on all sides by injury last year, with 2019 being bookended by serious injuries. A lumbar injury in May cost him 55 games before being shut down in August for good after suffering a Grade 2 hamstring strain. If healthy — which might not be a big ask, seeing that he played in 156 and 158 games in 2017-19 — then Inciarte can contribute enough in four categories not to kill you, but it’s the speed that really plays. He only swiped seven bags in his 65 games this year but had 28 SB in 2018 and 22 in 2017. With a throwaway ADP, Inciarte is one of the few sources for cheap speed at the back end of drafts.
Enciarte is most hurt by the Ozuna signing, as he’ll likely head to a fill-in role with Markakis slated to start in right and Acuna taking over center field. Now projected for around 300 PA by the major projection systems, Enciarte won’t be much of an option in fantasy unless there is an injury or Markakis falls off at the plate.
Strengths: SB, OBP
Weaknesses: HR, RBI
Inciarte plays in 155 games and steals 20+ bases while contributing enough to not kill you in other categories. So, basically what he did in 2017-18. With a 360 ADP, Inciarte steals his way to a substantial profit.
His defense falls off enough that the bat doesn’t justify everyday at-bats, Acuña takes center field back over, and Inciarte joins a rotation with Markakis, Duvall, etc.
2020 Projection: 62 R, 10 HR, 51 RBI, 16 SB, .265/.330/.387
Playing Time Battles
If Atlanta had elected to re-sign Donaldson, this would be a whole different kettle of fish, with Riley moving into a rotation battle in the outfield. If the Braves are committed to Riley as their everyday third baseman, then the infield is on lockdown with Freeman, Albies, and Swanson. The catcher position is a little trickier after the Braves elected to sign d’Arnaud, because while he’s certainly the superior bat, Flowers is a framing master, collecting the third-most framing runs in baseball this past year, even though the catchers who finished above him caught at least 100 innings more than he did. Flowers won’t be a fantasy asset, regardless of his playing time but if he hits enough to keep D’Arnaud from reaching 400 PA, then d’Arnaud will go from sleeper to asleep on the wire.
|1||Ronald Acuña Jr.||CF||R|
|1||Ronald Acuña Jr.||RF||R|
Nothing much more needs to be said about the Braves’ top of the order, but since Atlanta has thus far stood pat on adding any more offense via trade or free agency, a lot of their offensive hopes are pinned on unknowns. If no reinforcements are brought in, then Atlanta will need their players to not only stay healthy but also to perform at better levels than they did in 2019. Because as good as Acuña, Albies, and Freeman are, they’re going to need more if they want to keep up in a division that got a lot better in the offseason — and happens to include the World Series Champion Washington Nationals. When a lineup starts with what Atlanta is proffering, the offense will likely be alright, regardless of those following them in the order. However, swapping out Donaldson for second-year K-machine Austin Riley is a big downgrade, and 2020 could depend on how spots 4-8 in the lineup are able to keep up (and keep healthy) in support of the studs at the top.
Swapping Donaldson out for Austin Riley? Dicey. Swapping out for Marcel Ozuna and the 30+ HR and 100 RBI most are projecting for him? Nicey. Starting off with Acuna, Albies, Freeman, and Ozuna now give Atlanta arguably the most dangerous foursome in baseball.
Mooninites duplicate, reunite, and annihilate. Behold! The Quad Laser of Awesome.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)