As the Braves enter year two at SunTrust Park and year four of an aggressive rebuild, fans are finally getting accustomed to a life after the Chipper Jones era. However, with an exciting young roster and a minor league farm system chock full of top-100 prospects there is reason for optimism despite last season’s paltry 72-90 record. Derek Schiller, newly promoted president and chief executive officer of the Braves, as well as the father of Luke (11th) and Carson (10th) Schiller is optimistic for the new season, saying “We are incredibly excited to see the team begin to improve. The start of the season has been fantastic and we are now starting to see young players like Ozzie Albies, Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson and others play together with our veterans, including fan favorite, Freddie Freeman.”
So, are the Braves going to make the World Series?
Probably not. But that is ok… Seriously.
Sometimes, you must lose to win. In the NBA, the strategy of losing on purpose in order to gain top prospects is called tanking. While I wouldn’t call what the Braves have done over the past few years tanking, I surely wouldn’t say they have gone all out to win. Instead, they have slowly been exchanging established big league talent (Shelby Miller, Justin Upton and Craig Kimbrel) for top prospects (Ozzie Albies, Mike Foltynewicz and Ronald Acuna). While this may seem extreme, let’s use the 2017 World Series champions Houston Astros as a test case.
From 2011 to 2014 they never eclipsed 70 wins (averaging 58 per season), but by year five of their they had won 86 games and by year eight they had 101 wins. In 2014, Sports Illustrated audaciously ran a magazine cover predicting the Astros as “Your 2017 World Series Champions.” When Houston became world Champions in 2017, they proved to be prophetic. While there is no guarantee the Braves will follow a similar path, there is reason for optimism in Atlanta. Especially in the case of former #1 overall prospect Dansby Swanson, who experts and fans alike to have a breakout season. Sophomore Bella Barnes expects Swanson to “have a breakout season and become a really good player” in the wake of flashes of defensive excellence last season.”
Speaking of Acuna, why hasn’t he been playing for the Braves all season?
This one is a bit trickier. Baseball America’s #1 prospect coming into the season has swirled up quite possibly the most ridiculous controversy of all time. Allegedly Braves management was peeved at Acuna’s decision to wear his hat “slightly lifted above his hair” instead of resting squarely on his forehead. No, I’m not kidding. Just search “Ronald Acuna hat tilt controversy” and 36,500 results will show up on google. On one hand, baseball has a uniform tradition that all players are expected to participate in. On the other, MLB TV ratings are down 6% and are desperate for star players with some semblance of a personality (Forbes). Such archaic views of players are diametrically opposed to the NBA, where the league has promoted individual personalities and has experienced a 8% growth in viewership (VarietyTV).
However, a hat tilt controversy is not the reason Acuna is languishing in Triple A. Let’s make one thing clear: He deserves to be playing for the Braves. After tearing up the minor leagues last season and having a .432 batting average in spring ball, nobody in the organization genuinely believes he isn’t ready for “The Show.” Whatever the PR spin the Braves have put out is their best attempt to rationalize this decision, but what it really comes down to is the 2023 off season. By shifting back his MLB debut a few weeks into the season, the Braves can essentially keep him under contract at an affordable price for an extra season and guaranteeing he is a Brave during the 2024 season. While this might seem absurd, keep in mind this exact situation occurred during the 2015 with Cubs star Kris Bryant… who won NL rookie of the year that season.
What will be different at SunTrust Park/The Battery in season two?
Schiller said “We are excited that there is more life and energy inside The Battery Atlanta right now than there was a year ago when SunTrust Park opened. The 260-room Omni Hotel and the Comcast office building with 1,000 employees are now open, as is Goldberg’s, El Felix and Punch Bowl Social. Sports & Social Club has become the place to watch live sports and there will be a few more announcements of what else is to come in the next few months. The Coca-Cola Roxy continues to book an incredible array of concerts in every genre. All of the planning has brought our idea to life, which is to have a place where people can come before and after games and a place where events happen 365 days a year.
For SunTrust Park, we’ve made some minor changes. Last season we learned about how people use the ballpark – meaning, where are the most popular concession stands, where do fans like to hang out the most and how can we make those areas not get too congested? By the end of last year we knew there were areas that needed to be changed but nothing drastic. We even worked with industrial engineering students from Georgia Tech to help us make our concession lines more efficient and therefore, faster. Our Delta Sky360 Club was so popular we needed to expand the space in the off season. Most fans won’t notice any changes and that’s just how we wanted it. Overall, this is a great place to watch a baseball game and have fun with friends and family.
How do we feel about Alex Anthopoulos? The new Braves GM is as confident as he is successful. Schiller said “Anthopoulos has done a great job stepping in last fall and really putting some pieces in place to help continue to move everything along.” The former Toronto Blue Jays GM during their successful 93-win season in 2015 and Vice President of Baseball Operations for the Dodgers during their National League Championship in 2017, Anthopoulos brings in a strong track record to the position. During his introductory press conference, he said “I view this as one of the premier jobs in all of sports… there is no question that I expect big things going forward.” While he has not made many major moves so far, Braves fans should be optimistic about this season and beyond at SunTrust Park.
Who is Shohei Ohtani, and why is he being compared to Babe Ruth?
To answer the question up front, no he is not the next Babe Ruth. There is no guarantee he will be a Hall of Fame player much less a consistent starter in the league. However, he is doing things in baseball even Babe Ruth’s grandson Tom Stevens said “He’s a long way from being Babe… but he is doing things Ruthian.” So why is he being compared to the greatest baseball player of all time? Besides their large frames, both player’s careers have started on both the mound and the plate. According to USA Today, Ohtani is the first player since Ruth to win one game then homer in the next (as a hitter) since Ruth in 1921.
For now, it is time to view the Braves with cautious optimism. Maybe a World Series ring will not come in 2018, but that can not stop die hard Atlanta fans from dreaming about a future full of diamond rings adorned on fingers and champagne spraying across the locker room with confetti falling down on Suntrust park.
The Atlanta Braves wrapped up their regular season by clinching the National League (NL) East Division