Bill Shanks

Atlanta Braves desperately need more hitters

Atlanta’s Jeff Francoeur, left, is congratulated by interim manager Brian Snitker after scoring on a single by Nick Markakis during the first inning the Braves’ game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday.
Atlanta’s Jeff Francoeur, left, is congratulated by interim manager Brian Snitker after scoring on a single by Nick Markakis during the first inning the Braves’ game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday. AP

The Atlanta Braves are rebuilding with pitching. They did it in the late-1980s, and it worked. So to have pitching as the priority is smart.

But this organization is in desperate need of additional offense — both at the big league level and in the minor leagues. We know the major league team can’t hit a lick. The Braves are last in baseball in batting average, runs scored and home runs.

There are some games when this team simply can’t buy a hit. The Braves rarely “hit them where they ain’t,” as the old saying goes. Last week’s game-winning home run by Freddie Freeman was probably the only big hit the Braves have had this entire season.

The Braves’ prospect list is packed with pitchers. That’s great, and there’s no reason to complain about that. We know from experience that teams win championships with pitching. We saw the Braves do it well in the 1990s.

But we are about to see a change. In the next two months, the prospect list will become more balanced, as more young position players are added to Atlanta’s organization.

The draft starts Thursday, and the Braves have the third overall pick. It’s not looked at as a great draft, and there is still plenty of suspense about what the Braves will do. Mercer outfielder Kyle Lewis and Tennessee third baseman Nick Senzel are both candidates for the Braves, but as always, the front office might be more tempted by a high-upside high school pitcher with that first pick.

Regardless of what the Braves do at pick No. 3, they are expected to place a heavy emphasis on finding bats. Last year, the focus was on pitching, as the Braves picked arms with 18 of their first 23 picks. So it’s expected the Braves will try to identify solid position player prospects for most of the draft.

Then on July 2, the Braves will be in the mix to sign several high-profiled international prospects. Rumors have the Braves as the favorites to get Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan, who has been compared to Miguel Cabrera and Juan Gonzalez. They are considered the favorites to sign six of the top 30 international prospects next month.

Later in July, the trade market should heat up, and the Braves have several trade candidates. Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, Arodys Vizcaino, Eric O’Flaherty, Jim Johnson, A.J. Pierzynski, Kelly Johnson, Erick Aybar, Jeff Francoeur, Nick Markakis and Gordon Beckham could all be part of trade deadline deals.

Now, the Braves might not trade all 11 of those players, but a number will be dealt. Just because the Braves need more hitters does not mean pitchers won’t be targeted in potential deals, but the priority must be to get more position players.

The infield is mainly set for the future, with Freddie Freeman locked in for the long term at first base. Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson will be the middle infielders, likely starting next season. Mallex Smith, even with some speed bumps along the way, looks like a keeper for the outfield.

But that’s about it. The Braves must find a third baseman, a catcher and a couple of more outfielders. There are a few nice prospects in the minor leagues (Rio Ruiz, Dustin Peterson, Austin Riley and Ronald Acuna), but it’s unclear if they can develop into impact players.

The Braves must find some power bats. They have some nice offensive players, but where is the next Ron Gant, or the next Ryan Klesko or the next Andruw Jones? They need to find players who have 20 to 30 home run potential.

Atlanta’s prospect list will look a lot different in a couple of months, as new draft picks, new international players and prospects acquired in trades will balance out a pitching-heavy group of young players. And as we see the Braves struggle to score runs on a nightly basis, the hitting prospects can’t get to Atlanta soon enough.

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