It’s Opening Day for the 2018 season and there is no hope in baseball like opening day hope. Anything and everything is possible on opening day. Regardless of the talent level, experience level, or expectation level of your favorite team, some part of you, however small, thinks this could be a special year. On opening day, every team in baseball *could* shock the world. Except Miami. They suck.
For the Braves, this will probably be the last year they’ll have to rely more on luck than talent. Every move and every word spoken by the front office this season has echoed one sentiment: one more year. One more year to make the aggressive moves in free agency. One more year roster decisions will be made about the present and not the future. We’ll field a contender. Just give us one more year. By every measure, 2019 will probably be better than 2018.
But no one cares about 2019 when it’s Opening Day 2018. Fans care about the here and now. As they should. Looking ahead to next year is an exercise for later in the summer. Opening day is about this season.
So let’s do some 2018 predictions.
I’m going with Ronald Acuña Jr. here. I’ve spent most of the off-season tempering my expectations and taking a conservative approach about his debut his season. Yeah, I’m done with that. Acuña is going to be a monster. Freddie Freeman could be a 5 WAR player in 2018 and still be second best on the team. And that’s what I’m predicting.
Coming into the year, I would have said Luiz Gohara and really wouldn’t have considered anyone else. But the injury problems, and even the weight problems, basically cost him his entire spring. Because of that, I feel like he’s going to be behind most of the year and maybe struggle a bit. So I’m going with Mike Soroka. Soroka came into spring with stuff that was a tick better than last year and his teammates and coaches rave about his readiness. Like Acuña, you get the feeling Soroka would be on the roster today had talent been the only consideration. But he’ll be up eventually, I think sooner than later, and when he does, I think he’ll be Atlanta’s best starter.
When he was acquired before Christmas, I wrote that Preston Tucker was probably a little more interesting than people think. I’m not going to re-make that whole case, but basically Tucker has some underlying skills that could easily lead to more success than he’s had to this point. After Acuña comes up and takes over Tucker’s spot, at-bats are going to be hard to come by but Markakis isn’t going to be here forever. At least I don’t think. And when he get his opportunity, I think Tucker will impress people.
Disappointment is relative to expectations, so this is little tricky. For instance, I don’t think Mike Foltynewicz will be very good this year, but I’ve never been high on Mike Foltynewicz. So if he’s not good this year, is that really a disappointment? I don’t know. For most, probably. On a larger scale, I think Atlanta will experience some injury attrition in their pitching prospect ranks. The bill of health they ran last year was incredible honestly, and just based on the percentages, they should see more arm problems in 2018. And obviously losing any of these guys to major injuries would be a huge disappointment.
If Christian Pache continues to compete and progress at the rate he is then it really wouldn’t surprise me to if Atlanta looks to trade Ender Inciarte at some point. And you might think Pache isn’t close enough to the majors for that but Pache could easily get to AA in 2018. And if the numbers and the growth are there, especially with the bat, a 2019 debut isn’t out of the question. His body and his development have progressed at such a rapid rate, really anything is possible for him. As for Ender, he’s a very good player on a very good contract and if Atlanta made him available, the offers would be enticing. And given the steep decline that usually happens with defensive-first outfielders, I wouldn’t blame Atlanta if they wanted to sell high on asset to address another area of need. Especially if that asset’s replacement is in the process of kicking down the door.
Time to get down to brass tacks. This is really what people are here for. How good will they be in 2018? I’ve gone back and forth on this but 79-83 feels too right to be wrong. They will be better than last year because they simply have more talent. Acuña and Soroka are probably already two of their top 10 players. Combine that with a full year of Ozzie Albies and a 6 win improvement, while optimistic, I think is also realistic.
Enjoy the season everybody. We’ll be right here with you, watching and maybe even writing a thing or two along the way.