3 rookies (besides Ian Anderson) who could impact 2021 Braves

Atlanta Braves outfielder Cristian Pache plays the hop on a single by Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Will Smith in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020,  at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Atlanta Braves outfielder Cristian Pache plays the hop on a single by Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Will Smith in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

The Braves have relied heavily on young players during their three-year run atop the National League East. That won’t change in 2021, regardless of the season’s length and format.

From Ronald Acuna to Austin Riley to Ian Anderson, rookies have been a significant part of the Braves’ new chapter. Anderson, who’s still considered a rookie, will be part of the 2021 rotation after bursting onto the scene last season. Anderson almost immediately became the second-best pitcher in a damaged rotation.

Who’s the next first-year player to impress? There are several candidates. Here are three rookies other than Anderson who could impact the 2021 Braves:

Outfielder Cristian Pache: The rookie expected to play the most is Pache, who received a baptism by fire in October. When Adam Duvall went down with an injury, Pache was forced into regular duty the entire NL Championship Series. He went 4-for-22 (.182) with a homer, double and four RBIs while providing excellent center-field defense.

It would be an upset if Pache isn’t manning center on opening day 2021. He’ll immediately be one of the better defensive outfielders in the majors, and while his offense likely will require patience, he’ll have a high floor because of that defensive prowess and natural athletic ability. Pache’s bat will determine how impactful he becomes, but barring injury, he should be the Braves’ best rookie position player. Pache and Ronald Acuna are expected to roam the team’s outfield for a long time.

Outfield prospect Drew Waters could soon join them, but he didn’t make this list because there isn’t a clear path to playing time for him, assuming the Braves add another outfielder and want Waters to further develop in Triple-A. Nonetheless, Waters could make his MLB debut this season.

Braves catcher William Contreras gets lose while preparing to play in the Future Stars Exhibition Game on Tuesday, March 27, 2018, in Atlanta.  (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
Braves catcher William Contreras gets lose while preparing to play in the Future Stars Exhibition Game on Tuesday, March 27, 2018, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Catcher William Contreras: Travis d’Arnaud will handle the bulk of catching duties for the Braves, but his backup hasn’t yet been determined. Veteran Tyler Flowers is a free agent, and if the Braves want him back, they likely could re-sign the Roswell native to a short-term deal. But they also could bet on the unknown and make Contreras the primary backup.

Contreras, 23, joined Pache in making his long-awaited MLB debut last season. Manager Brian Snitker and teammates raved about Contreras’ maturity and athletic profile. He went 4-for-10 with a double and an RBI in four regular-season games. Contreras hadn’t played a game above Double-A before making his debut, so perhaps the Braves are more inclined to let him play regularly in Triple-A.

Shea Langeliers, the Braves’ first-round pick in 2019, is another young catcher on the horizon. A Langeliers-Contreras combo might be the Braves’ future at the position. Whether Contreras is part of their present is yet to be determined, but there’s logic in rolling with the youngster behind d’Arnaud – who’s a free agent following the season – and seeing how it goes.

Atlanta Braves' rookie starting pitcher Tucker Davidson, makes his major league debut against the Boston Red Sox Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)
Atlanta Braves' rookie starting pitcher Tucker Davidson, makes his major league debut against the Boston Red Sox Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Left-hander Tucker Davidson: Because we’re limiting ourselves to three prospects for this exercise, it’s safest to pick Davidson of the remaining candidates. He debuted in the 2020 regular-season finale and is well-positioned to see more innings in 2021 as a starter and reliever.

Davidson, 24, broke out in 2019 when he had a 2.15 ERA in 25 games across Double-A and Triple-A. Despite the Braves’ rotation woes throughout the shortened 2020 season, they opted against promoting him, instead letting Davidson develop at the alternate training site. They rewarded him with his first start in the regular-season finale, when he recorded only five outs and allowed seven runs (two earned).

The Braves’ rotation is set when healthy: Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly. They also have Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson as capable starting options. But Davidson will have opportunities, be it in the rotation or bullpen, to establish himself as a major-league contributor.

Other prospects to watch:

OF Drew Waters

C Shea Langeliers

LHP Kyle Muller

INF Braden Shewmake

RHP Jasseel De La Cruz

RHP Patrick Weigel

LHP Jared Shuster

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