The Atlanta Braves season came to an end Monday night in SunTrust Park. There wasn’t an upset fan in the house (a packed house at that) as the magical season concluded with a 6-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Divisional Series.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard the phrase “they are ahead of schedule,” quite a bit. This is certainly true in every sense, both good and bad. Sure, they finished with about 15 more wins than most projected and wound up in the playoffs, but some of the young ones may have been rushed a bit too quickly.
Either way, from the Nick Markakis Opening Day walk off to the near three-run bomb from Lucas Duda with the 2018 MLB season fading away, there is plenty of positives to take away from 2018.
So, what did we learn?
Ronald Acuña, Jr. is the real deal
The Braves started Acuña in Triple-A to start 2018 (remember that? Seems like an eternity ago that he was a minor leaguer). After a slow start, it seemed that almost immediately the naysayers jumped out of the woodwork to try to get the “I told you sos” out of the way.
Then he launched his first home run, and as we wrote here, all was well in the world.
Six months later, Acuña was a big leaguer, in the playoffs and then this happened.
I’m not here to anoint Acuña a Hall of Famer after 487 plate appearances (in which he posted a .917 OPS as a 20 year old), but his talent is undeniable. As he has at every level, Acuña made adjustments in season, and grew better as the season went on (he slashed .322/.403/.625 with 19 home runs, 14 stolen bases and a 67:33 strikeout-to-walk rate in 303 second half at bats). Throw away the obvious talent, that is the thing that has always been the most impressive to me about Acuña.
The arms race is... intriguing
Mike Soroka. Kolby Allard. Touki Toussaint. Bryse Wilson. Kyle Wright. Chad Sobotka. The prized pitching prospects all began to make their big league debuts. But was it all good?
Recently, our own reillocity questioned how successful the Braves aggressive approach to promoting prospects, especially the likes of Allard and Wilson who at the time of their call up weren’t even old enough to buy beer to celebrate. And yes, Acuña was a stud, and others like Juan Soto exploded onto the scene, but pitching prospects and hitting prospects have long been different in age expectations.
As reillocity points out, the Braves added four of those pitchers — Wilson, Soroka, Allard, and Wright — to the 40-man well before they had to (for Rule 5 purposes) and the results didn’t necessarily merit it. That’s a-ok, it was fair to see “what they got”, but when you think that none were on the postseason roster, it is fair to question.
Furthermore, his FABIO rankings raise eyebrows as well:
The 2018 MLB FaBIO percentile ratings are as follows (97: plus plus, 84: plus, 50: average, 16: minus, 3: minus minus).
Mike Soroka (ATL, 113 BF,23/G, 99 Youth): 1 Overall, 86 Ctl, 18 K, 0 Batted Ball (57 GB, 0 IFFB, 0 LD Avoid, 97 OFFB Avoid, 76 PullOFFB Avoid)
Kolby Allard* (ATL, 47 BF,16/G, 99 Youth): 0 Overall, 22 Ctl, 0 K, 13 Batted Ball (6 GB, 23 IFFB, 77 LD Avoid, 0 OFFB Avoid, 12 PullOFFB Avoid)
Bryse Wilson (ATL, 33 BF,11/G, 99 Youth): 0 Overall, 1 Ctl, 18 K, 0 Batted Ball (0 GB, 20 IFFB, 0 LD Avoid, 99 OFFB Avoid, 3 PullOFFB Avoid)
Kyle Wright (ATL, 28 BF,7/G, 96 Youth): 20 Overall, 0 Ctl, 19 K, 89 Batted Ball (37 GB, 30 IFFB, 100 LD Avoid, 0 OFFB Avoid, 1 PullOFFB Avoid)
As he points out, Soroka was probably well on his way to the bigs no matter what, but the other three may have been moved a little too quickly. Judging by the eye test (I watched Soroka outduel Jacob deGrom and that speaks volumes itself) it is worth looking into his analysis.
There is a large contingency that doesn’t want to see the Braves trade away their young arms, but now we have something to base that judgement off of. Should they not improve next season, looking to move some to the bullpen or for some bigger pieces isn’t the worst idea.
SunTrust Park is an exciting place to be
I’ve said it plenty of times and I will say it again. Covering the 2016 Rome Braves was the most fun I’ve ever had covering baseball. It wasn’t just that they were infinitely better than the rest of the South Atlantic League, it was the way they rumbled to that title.
They always had smiles on their faces, they took losses with disappointment, but also as a learning tool, and they treated each and everyone of us very well. They always had fun, celebrating every win like it was the World Series, and those of us on hand to watch did as well.
No more talk let the kids play pic.twitter.com/vtf1IcEsTp— Ronald Acuna Jr (@ronaldacunajr24) October 4, 2018
That attitude is infectious, and the Acuña/Albies fun is just part of the bigger whole.
Look, I wasn’t an Atlanta resident in the 90s, but for almost all of the 2000s, I spent a lot of time at Turner Field. I never missed an Opening Day, I worked there for two seasons, and was at plenty of playoff games. I never once saw or heard Turner Field like it was for Game 3 at STP.
It wasn’t just Acuña’s slam that got the crowd up, it was electric hours before the game. When Chipper Jones came out to throw the first pitch, you could hardly hear Crazy Train playing in the background. And I don’t care what the haters say about the chop. I got two words for you: Chop on.
If you don’t think that’s a direct result of the way these Braves play the game, you’re out of your mind. A large portion of this fanbase has only been told or read the tales of their young prospects, and now they are seeing the like of Albies and Acuña budding into stardom. Not only are they good, they are making the team good. There has never been a more exciting time to be a Braves fan.
Don’t stop yet
The baby Braves are off to a good start in the Arizona Fall League. Personal favorite Ray-Patrick Didder, who started to look like himself again in Double-A, went 2-for-5 in his debut and Christian Pache is 4-for-15 in three games. This will be a good test to see if Izzy Wilson’s tools are just loud or if they will translate into a solid outfielder.
And Braxton Davidson is 0-for-5 with four strikeouts. That is likely the last sentence you will see my write about him on this site.
Two pitchers of interest — Thomas Burrows and Kyle Muller — are also on the Peoria roster and will be important to watch. Muller is full of intrigue as we wait to see if he’ll live up to being in that same level as the Braves elite pitching prospects and Burrows seems on the cusp of the MLB bullpen at times, while others, not so much.
We don’t know much yet about 2019. Nick Markakis wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer and the coaching staff sat down with the front office, but nothing will be announced until next week (ish).
I know Braves Twitter is split on two things: the future of Brian Snitker and the future of Bryce Harper. If both are in Atlanta next year, I’ll be more than happy, but I know there are plenty that don’t want to see either.
What an offseason we have ahead, Braves Country.