Atlanta Braves: Solving the Outfield Puzzle for 2021

It could be argued the Atlanta Braves have the best outfield in Major League Baseball.

Thanks to its young, solid core of outfielders the Braves appear poised for another postseason run.

THE LINEUP

According to Braves.com, Marcell Ozuna is the starting left fielder with Ender Inciarte in center and Ronald Acuna Jr. in right. The team will also play Cristian Pache, but Abraham Almonte and Travis Demeritte could see action. Braves manager Brian Snitker likes to play the hot hand while also giving struggling players time off.

If a left-handed pitcher is starting, I anticipate Pache to play in centerfield with the knowledge he can call off Ozuna in left field. Acuna Jr. would play rightfield if Pache is in center. The two players — Pache and Acuna Jr. — are interchangeable in center and right field. When Ozuna is given a day off I suspect Almonte to play because of his versatility as a switch hitter. Demeritte is another valuable option because of his speed and defense. Both would be a strong addition when it comes to playing doubleheaders and extra innings.

Most of the time we should see Inciarte in center because of his left-handed bat. Having said that, I would expect the Braves to use him and other young pitchers as trade bait. The club is hoping to trade for either a left-handed bat, third baseman, or starting pitching. Almonte could be given more of an opportunity because he’s a switch hitter but would likely move to right field with Acuna Jr. in center and Ozuna in left.

DAYS OFF/SUBS

As it stands now on the Atlanta Braves depth chart, Almonte, Demeritte, and Pache are all bench players. I’d also throw Austin Riley in that category because he can play leftfield.

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RULES FOR 2021

MLB and the MLB Players Association announced on Feb. 9 the COVID-19 health and safety protocol rules for next season. These terms will take effect for both spring training and the regular season.

Doubleheaders will be two seven-inning games. In my opinion, this is both a blessing and a curse. A positive is that bench players will give an opportunity to showcase their talents. A negative is pitching could take a hit depending on injuries, depth, and the score itself.

In the event a game goes to extra innings, each offense will place a runner on second to start the extra frame. I like this new rule. I think fans and players like it because it gets the game over quicker and brings excitement to the game.

The active roster limit will revert to 26 and expand to 28 in September. This will give the club the ability to concentrate on its pressing need heading into postseason play. Last year the Braves decided to go with more pitching and defense. The move paid off as Pache replaced an injured Adam Duvall. Pitching-wise, A.J. Minter stunned baseball with his first career start in the postseason, striking out seven batters in three innings.

Clubs are permitted to carry up to five additional Taxi Squad players on all road trips. This is an obvious need because of COVID-19. This continues to press the need for all-around depth on clubs.

No expanded playoffs this year. The three division winners along with two wildcard spots will vie for postseason berths in each league.

NO DH, NO PROBLEM

The Atlanta Braves have plenty of depth when it comes to outfielders. On the active 40-man roster six players are listed but more have experience. As it stands now, according to braves.com, Acuna Jr. will play in right with Ozuna in left field and Inciarte in center.

If I were the Braves manager, I’d consider starting Pache over Inciarte because he’s the future. You want to know exactly what you’re getting from the young player and how he reacts to everyday situations. In that same school of thought, Inciarte could be used as trade bait to reel in either pitching or a possible third baseman.

Another way the Braves can solve the problem of not having the DH is by acquiring a solid third baseman. The team has attempted to address this issue this past offseason but to no avail. For the time being it looks as if Riley and Johan Camargo will platoon the position. Camargo brings more offensive flexibility because of his ability to switch hit. Riley is certainly going to get his opportunity but needs to provide more production at the plate.

The negative about not playing with the DH is that Ozuna will have to play in the outfield thus opening himself up to further injury. That problem is easily solved by putting Acuna Jr. in centerfield and Pache in right or even vice versa. If you do this, you allow the starting centerfielder the freedom to have more range and call off Ozuna for tougher plays in left field.

As it stands today there will not be a universal designated hitter. That means all the American League teams will have the DH and NL games won’t. Interleague games will have the DH in AL parks but not in the NL.

DARKHORSES

The Braves invited 25 non-roster players to spring training.

The outfielders invited were Justin Dean, Michael Harris II, Trey Harris, and MLB’s top 30-ranked prospect Drew Waters. Dean, a centerfielder, has spent time in the Braves organization with Danville Braves, Rome Braves, and Augusta Green Jackets. Harris II spent 2019 in the Gulf Coast League and Rome. Harris has slowly moved within the Braves organization from rookie ball to Double-A with the Mississippi Braves. I don’t expect anyone other than Waters to get a potential taste of the big leagues, barring the club’s injury situation.

How do you think the Atlanta Braves should handle their outfield situation? Leave a comment below.

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