MLB

Atlanta Braves 2017 preview

SunTrust Park focuses on fan experience

 

This is the latest of our 2017 team previews. Each week during spring training, we'll preview a division with a team each day (Monday-Friday). This week: Washington Nationals l New York Mets l Miami Marlins l Philadelphia Phillies. Up next: The AL Central and the Cleveland Indians

LAST SEASON

68-93, last place in NL East

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WHAT'S NEW

Key additions: SP Bartolo Colon (free agent from Mets), 2B Brandon Phillips (trade with Reds) SP R.A. Dickey (free agent from Blue Jays), SP Jaime Garcia (trade with Cardinals), C Kurt Suzuki (free agent from Twins), IF Sean Rodriguez (free agent from Pirates)

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Key subtractions: OF Mallex Smith (trade with Mariners), RP John Gant (trade with Cardinals), SP Tyrell Jenkins (trade with Rangers), A.J. Pierzynski (free agent)

3 STRIKES

1. It's in with the old: The Braves' recent rebuild has focused on acquiring a load of pitching prospects (Mike Foltynewicz, Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair and Sean Newcomb, among others). But while those arms continue to develop, and perhaps in the interest of providing a better product for their first season in a new stadium (more on that soon), Atlanta added a trio of veteran starters to the staff this offseason. The "old dudes" are Colon, Dickey and the 30-year-old Garcia, with a combined age of 115 years. These three are expected to fill out the rotation along with Julio Teheran and Foltynewicz.

2. It's a rebuild-in-progress: The rebuild also features a mixture of youngsters and veterans set to take the field, with 2016 trade-deadline acquisition Matt Kemp manning left and 33-year-old Nick Markakis in right, sandwiching promising center fielder Ender Inciarte, who was acquired in the infamous Shelby Miller deal with the Diamondbacks. This season, NL East fans will also get an extended look at 23-year-old shortstop Dansby Swanson (also acquired in the Miller trade), the No. 1 overall draft pick by Arizona in 2015. In 38 games with the Braves in 2016, Swanson slashed .302/.361/.442.

3. The Braves are breaking in the new digs: At the end of the 2016 season, the Braves said goodbye to Turner Field and this spring will begin play in their brand-new 42,000-seat SunTrust Park in suburban Cobb County (about 10 miles outside downtown Atlanta). The new ballpark's outfield wall has some character built in: While the wall is not as deep in right-center field (375 feet) as it was at Turner (390), it will be much taller than the 8-plus feet at the old stadium. From right-center over to the right field line, the SunTrust wall will stand 16 feet tall, with six feet of brick atop 10 feet of padding below, creating some interesting carom plays like Boston's Green Monster.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO

Atlanta finishes at or above .500 and Freddie Freeman, Ender Inciarte and Julio Teheran and make the All-Star Game. And Bartolo Colon slugs his second career home run.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO

Last place in the NL East, no Colon homer.

SURPRISING STAT

2012 NL Cy Young Winner (for the Mets) R.A. Dickey returns to the NL after four seasons in the AL with Toronto, with whom he posted a 4.05 ERA (4.58 FIP) after a 2.95 ERA (3.55 FIP) in three seasons in New York.

BEST BETS

Projected win total (via Atlantis Casino Resort): 71.5

World Series odds (via VegasInsider.com): 200/1

TOP 5 FANTASY PLAYERS

1. Freddie Freeman: Lost in the Braves' roster rebuild was Freeman's best season of his career. He banged out 34 homers with 102 runs and 91 RBI for a team that won only 68 games. His early-third round average draft position is fair.

2. Julio Teheran: If you're looking for durability, the Braves' ace has started 30 or more games in four consecutive seasons. With the reliability comes an ERA closer to four than 3.50 and about eight strikeouts per nine innings.

3. Matt Kemp: It appeared the 32-year-old outfielder experienced a slight offensive surge following his 2016 trade from the Padres to the Braves. He hit 12 homers, scored 35 runs and drove in 39 with a .280/.336/.519 triple slash in only 56 games after the trade.

4. Dansby Swanson: The top pick in the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft by the Diamondbacks is slated to hit second for the Braves. If owners can squeeze 15 homers with 10-15 stolen bases out of the 23-year-old Swanson, he'll make a sound middle infielder.

5. Ender Inciarte: The team's leadoff hitter possesses great speed, which has allowed him to average better than 18 stolen bases per season along with a respected batting average over the past three years. With Swanson, Kemp and Freeman hitting behind him, Inciarte will make a sound fourth outfielder on draft day.

(Courtesy of FOX Sports Fantasy Baseball)

PREDICTION

Fourth place in the NL East