Atlanta Braves: Six players with the most to prove entering the 2023 season
The Atlanta Braves enter 2023 with a plethora of proven talent, with a good portion locked in to long-term deals over the next few years. Not many teams have the luxury of saying 80 percent of their squad is set for the upcoming year, and beyond.
General Manager Alex Anthopoulos has not wasted any time rewarding young talent who made an instant impact in the Major Leagues. Ozzie Albies, Michael Harris, Spencer Strider, and Ronald Acuña Jr. are just a few players not leaving Atlanta in the near future. Add in Matt Olson and Sean Murphy signing long-term extensions not long after they were traded from Oakland in consecutive off-seasons.
While the core is set for the Braves, there are still pieces left to add to the puzzle that is the 2023 season, and plenty of players who want to solidify their role in the Braves future.
The 22-year old shortstop was called up to the Braves in August, and put up respectable numbers at the plate to earn a spot on the playoff roster. With Dansby Swanson leaving in free agency to join the Chicago Cubs, Vaughn Grissom will get a chance to shine as he'll compete for starting time with Orlando Arcia this year.
Grissom has been working with Ron Washington this offseason, and will get a full spring training with the big league club here in a few weeks time. If he can build off a successful start to his Braves career, he could not only take over as the full-time shortstop, he could find himself the next receipent of a long-term extension from the club.
Mike Soroka/Ian Anderson
Not many rotations in baseball can stack up with Atlanta's. Max Fried continued dominance, Charlie Morton's steady veteran presence, Kyle Wright's resurgeance, and the immediate impact of Spencer Strider make the Braves a World Series threat.
The one pressing question facing the starting staff is at the back of the group, with the impending battle for the final rotation spot between Mike Soroka and Ian Anderson.
There’s bad luck, then there’s Mike Soroka’s luck. After bursting on the scene in 2019 with a stellar rookie campaign, a string of injuries kept the 25-year old righty from ramping back up to full speed over the past three years. He finally got back on the mound in Triple-A Gwinnett in 2022, but got knocked around a bit before being shut down completely in September of last year.
Anderson, the former top-five pick, took a significant hit in 2022. His ERA rocketed toward 5.00 and walks became a big issue that led to his eventual demotion to Gwinnett in August. He got shelled in Gwinnett as well, allowing 13 ER in just over 20 innings of work.
Both pitchers have shown a lot of potential since arriving in Atlanta, both have playoff experience, and both will be coming into the Spring gunning for that final rotation spot.
If you wanted a strong contender for Comeback Player of the Year, you can't go wrong circling Ozzie Albies on your list.
2021 saw Albies named an All-Star for a second time, and take home a second Silver Slugger award after a 30-homer season. He struggled to ever find his footing the following year, hitting below .250 with an OPS around .700 before suffering a fractured left foot in June. He worked his way back only to suffer a fractured pinky his second day back on the active roster.
We know what Ozzie is capable of, and we'll know he'll be hungry for a strong 2023 after missing nearly 100 games in 2022.
From 2017 to 2019, Kirby Yates was one of the better bullpen arms in all of baseball. A 2.40 ERA over three seasons and a sub-1.00 WHIP, the 2019 NL saves leader was a low-risk, low-reward pick up for Anthopoulos in the 2021 offseason.
So far, Yates has struggled to regain his form after returning from Tommy John Surgery late in the 2022 season. He appeared in nine games, finishing with five walks and six strikeouts. Yates was not on the Braves postseason roster.
The closer job is Raisel Iglesias's to lose, but there's a strong crop of contenders for the 7th-8th inning slot, and Yates should be considered in the mix. Yates will hope to return his previous form and get that 2024 team option picked up at the end of the season.
Similar to Ozzie, we know what Travis d'Arnaud has done for Atlanta since he arrived in 2020, and what he's capable of behind the plate.
d'Arnaud had the most plate appearances of his career in 2021, was voted an All-Star for the first time in his career, and set career-best marks in WAR (2.9) and Home Runs (18). Atlanta was spoiled with d'Arnaud and William Contreras behind the dish last year.
Out goes Contreras, in comes Sean Murphy.
The 28-year old Catcher joins an already loaded offensive lineup after setting career-highs in WAR and Home Runs himself. He and d'Arnaud will split time behind the plate and make up one of the best catching duos in all of baseball.
Murphy's addition could lead to less plate appearances for d'Arnaud, but he still could find his way in as Designated Hitter throughout the year. We know where Murphy stands in the front office's plan for the Braves, but where does d'Arnaud fall in that?
He'll be 34 in less than a week with his contract set to expire at year's end. He does have a team option for 2024, and is an important piece of the clubhouse being a part of the last three NL East championships. d'Arnaud will want to be around to continue the hunt for more.