College football is over. And truthfully, once Alabama beat Georgia Monday night I immediately got my calendar out to see how many days it was until the day all baseball fans countdown to – when pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
That day for the Braves is Feb. 13, so we have just a little over four weeks until baseball season will begin. And like all baseball fanatics, I can’t wait.
Hold on, the Braves were 72-90 last season. They finished 25 games out of first place. Why should we be excited that they will start back up soon?
There are plenty of reasons. This team is going to be better in year four of the rebuild. More young players are going to graduate to the big leagues. The young players who have already arrived will get better. Any rebuild is about young talent, and the Braves are loaded.
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Ronald Acuna is considered the best prospect in baseball. We’ll see him this season. How good will he be? Matt Kemp won’t be there this season, and that’s good thing. He was fat and couldn’t play defense and was a shell of his former self. Even a 20-year-old like Acuna will be better than Kemp.
We’ll see a full season of Ozzie Albies, who played 57 games at the end of last season. Albies, who just turned 21 last week, is an exciting and dynamic player who will make the Braves better.
Yes, Dansby Swanson needs to get back on track, and maybe the footsteps of Johan Camargo coming up behind him will inspire a bounce back season. If Swanson falters, Camargo might just take over at shortstop. For now, Camargo could play third base until phenom Austin Riley is ready sometime later in the summer.
It’s the pitching that should make you excited about this year’s Braves. Last year’s starters had a combined 4.80 earned run average. I’m going to bet that’s going to improve this season.
Julio Teheran must be better. If Mike Foltynewicz struggles, he’ll be headed to the bullpen. With all the pitchers coming up from the minors, now is not the time for Foltynewicz to struggle and believe he can keep his job in the rotation.
Brandon McCarthy came over from the Dodgers in the Kemp trade. He’ll provide some veteran leadership and hopefully innings. Both Teheran and McCarthy could be traded if the kid pitchers push their way to Atlanta.
That’s what we have to really look forward to – the kid pitchers. Sean Newcomb returns after making 19 starts last season as a rookie. If Newcomb lowers his walk totals, he’s going to be successful.
Many believe Luiz Gohara, who was called up and made five starts late last season, could be ready to take off and become a star. And one of my favorites is Max Fried, who made four starts last season before doing really well in the Arizona Fall League.
Lucas Sims was good and bad at times in his debut last season, so he must find consistency. But there is no doubt Sims’ stuff plays in the big leagues. He’ll get his shot to win a job in March.
Then there are three more young pitchers who will likely start the season in the minor leagues that you need to keep an eye on. Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard and Kyle Wright are three of the best pitching prospects in baseball. When will they be ready?
That’s 10 starting pitchers for five spots. Many will wonder what the rotation will be like on opening day. I’m more curious as to what it will be on the final day of the season. It might be drastically different, with an even younger flavor if the prospects do well this season.
Atlanta’s bullpen must improve, and we could see a few more names added to the roster. Just having Jim Johnson gone should help. Plus, A.J. Minter is Atlanta’s best relief prospect since Craig Kimbrel. He could be ready to take over as the closer from day one.
There is a lot to look forward to this season. Brian Snitker may actually have a competitive team to manage, and after four straight losing seasons, the fans are hoping a season near the .500 mark might be a good next step in this rebuilding process.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org