The Principality

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19th April 2018 - Acuna Matata

Posted by theprincipality on April 20, 2018 at 8:05 AM

It's been a whirlwind start to the 2018 MLB season. We're 17 games in and so already 10% has been and gone. What we have seen so far has been encouraging, but at the same time frustrating - as any Braves fan will have come to expect from the past few years. A 10-7 record to start the year is, on the one hand, a good sign. We haven't had a winning record at any point over the past two seasons and to be 10-7 is no fluke. Atlanta has won its first four home series for the first time since 2000 - and those victories have been earned in what looks to be a very competitive division.

On the other hand though, 10-7 could easily be 13-4. The bullpen continues to look suspect and whilst you have to admire Brian Snitker's faith in Jose Ramirez, I don't see it lasting. Ramirez has single-handedly cost us the past two losses and has a fantastical 17.5 ERA for the season. He has however now landed himself on the DL, which as anyone knows is the first step to finding yourself out of work when you're a reliever!

The Mets lead the East at 13-4, but that is unlikely to last, despite a healthy pitching corps this year. An improved Philadelphia and all-star Washington will make sure that East remains a tight four-horse race well into the season. Unsurprisingly, Miami (after their latest firesale) languish in last place and I really don't see any way they finish anywhere else. The larger problem they face is that, despite a large hispanic population, Miami is a football town and always will be - but I digress.

All the preaseason hype this year has surrounded just one of the Braves' many prospects. Outfielder Ronald Acuna has been labelled as baseball's number two overall prospect and could provide speed and power in the middle of Atlanta's lineup for years to come. People are rightly excited to see this kid in action, especially after an impressive spring. However, I think the team are doing the right thing by keeping him in the minors a bit longer. They could have promoted him on April 13th, without losing an extra year of arbitration eligibility but have opted to let him develop in AAA. This is the right call because Acuna was struggling with the transition and hadn't been hitting well, despite a home run a few days ago. Snitker thinks he may be trying a bit too hard and the weight of expectation could be a bit much for the youngster. Nonetheless, we can expect to see him in Atlanta before the end of the year.

A perfect example of why you should be pateint with prospects is Dansby Swanson. Swanson was the first overall draft pick a few years ago and was of course the headline trade when Atlanta shipped Shelby Miller to Arizona. Starting his first full campaign last year, Swanson couldn't get out of second gear and found himself back in the minors for a portion of the year. It took a lot of effort to get back to Atlanta and dividends are being reaped this year as Swanson continues to hit over .300.

Whilst Acuna waits in the wings, there are other faces admirable filling in the gap. Preston Tucker has performed well in left whereas Ryan Flaherty leads the team in average, whilst manning the third base duties. Ironically, having gone from having no third baseman, with Flaherty as a stop-gap, Atlanta now has an embarassment of riches to choose from with Flaherty, Rio Ruiz, Johan Camargo and Jose Bautista to pick from. Bautista is an interesting one. We are not long past the days where Bautista was the AL's top home run hitter. But much like Ryan Howard was last year, Bautista is a no-risk experiment for the Braves. Should he make the Major League roster, his salary will only be $1m. Compare that to the $17m each we are paying Adrian Gonzalez and Scott Kazmir this year simply to have offloaded Matt Kemp and create some payroll flexibility next year.

Perhaps with that payroll flexibility, we can pick up a top-drawer starter. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm feeling totally uninspired by the rotation this year. There was all the talk about trading Julio Teheran, which came to nothing and he still anchors the rotation. Brandon McCarthy is the main acquisition, but whilst he has a 3-0 record from 4 starts this year so far, he seemed a little bit of a gamble given previous injury woes. If the Braves are not going to pick up a top free agent, then inspire us with our young stars, yet only Lucas Sims is on the roster, and as a reliever. The Mets' rotation consists of Syndergaard, Harvey, deGrom, Matz and Gsellman, all of which were home-grown. The Phillies have Jake Arrieta, a recent Cy Young winner and the Nationals have Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Gonzalez and Cole, a good mix of ace, veteran and youth. Atlanta needs to keep up with its rivals and start getting its youngsters ready for the bigs.

So as everyone waits on tenterhooks for the arrival of Acuna, the Braves have quietly started the season well. Breaking .500 wasn't a big deal and Kevin Seitzer's hitting policy of making contact appears to be paying dividends, with all but Ender Inciarte over .300. The question is for how long this will continue?

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