How the Braves’ initial roster shakes out:
RHP Mike Soroka
LHP Max Fried
LHP Sean Newcomb
RHP Mike Foltynewicz
RHP Kyle Wright
The Braves’ rotation will begin without free-agent acquisition Hamels, who’s been delayed since spring training and won’t return anytime soon. In the meantime, the Braves will need someone beyond Soroka – a potential Cy Young candidate – and Fried to step up.
After struggling much of last season, Foltynewicz recaptured form across his final 10 starts before delivering a gem and a dud in the postseason. The Braves can’t afford much patience in a 60-game season. Foltynewicz needs to be sharp immediately.
Newcomb returns to the rotation after a successful stint in the bullpen last season. The Braves need Newcomb and/or Foltynewicz to be reliable. Those two determine the rotation’s success as a unit.
Wright is expected to be the fifth starter. A former No. 5 overall pick, Wright has the perfect opportunity to pitch his way into the Braves’ long-term plans. If he excels, it would be a colossal development for the Braves’ present and future.
RHP Mark Melancon
RHP Shane Greene
RHP Darren O’Day
RHP Chris Martin
RHP Luke Jackson
RHP Josh Tomlin
RHP Touki Toussaint
RHP Jhoulys Chacin
LHP Grant Dayton
LHP Tyler Matzek
LHP A.J. Minter
The Braves will be piggybacking pitchers early, so the bullpen will be instrumental. Unlike past years, it’s an experienced group with impressive resumes. Smith will begin the season on the injured list because he tested positive for COVID-19, and while his absence hurts, the Braves can cover in the meantime.
When Smith rejoins his team, they’ll have four former All-Stars in the bullpen. Mark Melancon should be the primary closer. Shane Greene was an All-Star last season and pairs with Chris Martin to bridge the path to Melancon.
Without Smith, the Braves are carrying three lefties in Dayton, Matzek and Minter. Dayton, now healthy, appeared in 14 games last season. Minter impressed in summer camp and will get another chance in the bullpen after disappointing a season ago. Matzek hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2015.
O’Day and Jackson have experience in the later innings, though the team’s supply will push them toward more regular middle-inning roles.
Tomlin, Toussaint and Chacin will play important roles as stretched-out relievers who can also start. The trio could factor heavily into the Braves’ piggyback plans. It’s notable that Bryse Wilson, another of the Braves’ young starters, didn’t make the cut but remains available in the team’s player pool.
The Braves signed d’Arnaud to replace veteran Brian McCann, who retired. They’re comfortable with d’Arnaud and Flowers managing their pitchers. During summer camp, d’Arnaud exhibited some of the power he displayed last season, when he knocked 16 homers in 92 games with the Rays.
1B Freddie Freeman
2B Ozzie Albies
3B Austin Riley
SS Dansby Swanson
3B Johan Camargo
UTL Charlie Culberson
SS Adeiny Hechavarria
1B Matt Adams
The Braves have one of baseball’s best infields, headlined by Freeman and Albies. Riley received the opening-day nod at third, though he’ll share that position with Johan Camargo, who makes the roster despite a recent minor hamstring injury.
Matt Adams, who joined the team earlier this week, beat out Yonder Alonso for a spot. Adams will log time at designated hitter. Hechavarria returns after impressing late last season, when the Braves signed him during Swanson’s absence. Culberson made the team after he was non-tendered in the offseason. His versatility is even more valuable in baseball’s new landscape.
A healthy Acuna is a legitimate MVP candidate. The Braves’ All-Star leadoff man won’t achieve the 40-40 season he just missed in 2019, but he could approach 20-20, which would still be astounding in a 60-game season.
Despite his defensive limitations, the Braves seem comfortable using Ozuna regularly in the outfield. If that changes, he’s a logical DH candidate. Most important, the Braves are banking on Ozuna as their clean-up hitter behind Acuna, Albies and Freeman.
Duvall is a weapon against lefties and a plus defender in left field, which should make him less likely to DH. Inciarte is expected to handle the bulk of center-field duties.