With the pending arrival of top prospect Ronald Acuna, the Braves will add a potential potent bat to the lineup. Manager Brian Snitker will then figure out where to put Acuna in his batting order.
Some believe lineup construction is irrelevant, but that’s crazy. There is a method to the madness of where to put what kind of batter in a lineup. We could get overanalytical here, but don’t worry. That’s above this columnist’s paygrade.
Instead, in trying to figure out what the Braves lineup might look like, we’ll just use baseball sense. But until we know exactly what kind of hitter Acuna might be, it’s not an easy decision to make.
Plus, there are other issues at hand. The sudden power surge of Ozzie Albies makes his placement in a lineup interesting. And, with Dansby Swanson doing well, he’s not just someone you can slide down lower in the lineup. Maybe he’ll deserve to be higher once again.
Snitker might initially start Acuna sixth in the order, to not put too much pressure on him early on. That would simply mean Acuna would replace Preston Tucker. If Acuna does well, and would need to be moved up, that’s when things get interesting.
Part of this is tied to Freddie Freeman. You usually want your best hitter hitting third, but you also need Freeman to have some protection. Freeman’s already one of the leaders in walks, so opponents are trying to pitch around him. Someone with power, like Acuna, could help if he’s behind Freeman in the lineup.
So, does that mean Acuna should move to fourth and be the cleanup hitter? Well, that’s possible. Then Nick Markakis could slide to fifth and keep the left-right thing going. The catcher could then hit sixth, followed by Swanson and most likely third baseman Johan Camargo, a good hitter, hitting eighth.
Snitker could put Acuna second behind Ender Inciarte. Acuna has great speed, so that would be two speedsters at the top of the order. Would he keep Freeman third, or might he even be tempted to move Albies to fourth in the lineup? Albies certainly doesn’t look like a cleanup hitter, but his early power shows he has some pop.
Albies hitting fourth would also reset the lineup. Much is made about having the three best hitters in the first three spots in the order, but having Albies behind Freeman would be like starting over, with Markakis (who wouldn’t be a bad number two hitter, either) behind Albies.
What if Acuna hit third and then Freeman moved to fourth? That would give Freeman plenty of RBI opportunities, but could Markakis or the catchers give that needed protection? The Braves could even have Albies lead off, with Acuna hitting second and then Inciarte third and Freeman in the cleanup spot.
Last season, Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers combined for 31 home runs. Even with Flowers hurt, if we knew that was going to happen again that could be some protection for Freeman in the lineup, which might tempt Snitker to drop Freeman to fourth and have Inciarte, Albies and Acuna in the top three spots.
We don’t know if Acuna will show immediate power. Sometimes that takes a while to develop, and we must remember Acuna is still just 20 years old. But if Acuna hits anything like he did in spring training (.432 batting average, .519 on base percentage and four home runs in 44 at bats), the Braves will have to find room for him at the top of the order.
Atlanta’s offense is off to a great start, and with Camargo coming back off the disabled list and Acuna joining the roster at some point soon, the lineup is going to improve. The way it is constructed might be a work in progress, and if there is an ongoing debate about who should bat where, that’s only a sign this team is truly getting better.
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