April 2018

Braves Mailbag: Jose Bautista, bullpen woes, offensive exploits

The Braves Mailbag is a weekly feature. You can submit your questions to Grant McAuley on Twitter (@grantmcauley).

Let’s check out this week’s edition, where we discuss the bullpen woes, the addition of a longtime American League slugger and what has made Atlanta’s offense so good over the first month of 2018.

If and when Jose Bautista is brought up to start at third and Ryan Flaherty goes to a utility role, what happens with Johan Camargo?

— Josh I (via Twitter)

Bringing in Jose Bautista was done in hopes of providing low-cost power to the Braves lineup. That said, he’s coming in cold after missing all of spring training and looking to get familiar with playing third base on a regular basis again as well. I’d imagine he’ll need 30 or 40 plate appearances before he’s feeling comfortable at the plate and thereby the club would feel comfortable promoting him. If and when that happens, and I have no reason to doubt it will, then Bautista should get the majority of the playing time at third base as you surmised. If he produces, then the signing will have paid off. If he does not, then the Braves still have both Camargo and Flaherty to cover third base for the time being. As the club explores its options, the bench would be fortified by having both men at the ready behind Bautista. Camargo made the most of his opportunity to play regularly in 2017. He was a pleasant surprise, but I still think his long-term role is as a super utility player. That seems to be the general consensus from most I’ve talked to around the club. With Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson both playing well and entrenched up the middle, the at-bats may be a little harder to come by for Camargo this season.

Luiz Gohara will be up soon and take the last rotation spot, I imagine. Who will be the odd-man out when Mike Soroka is ready? Or will the organization bring him up and begin him in a bullpen role like they were saying they would like to do with some young guys?

— Patrick (via Twitter)

I got a few different versions of this question. Each year in spring training, we come to camp and discuss the rotation with club officials and year after year that conversation plays out the same way. Someone is going to get hurt and someone is not going to produce. That’s why you have depth and other options available to cover over the course of the long season. In other words, these things have a way of working themselves out. When Gohara suffered two leg injuries that scuttled his spring training, that opened the door for Anibal Sanchez, who has since landed on the disabled list. Matt Wisler also got two turns in the fifth spot, but if Gohara can get up to speed then there’s no reason to believe he would not supplant both of those men at some point. For the time being, Gohara was activated from the 10-day disabled list and optioned back to Gwinnett in order to continue making up for the time lost in the spring. He should be back at some point in May. The Soroka part of this equation is tricky from a timing perspective. His stock rises seemingly every time he takes the ball, so there is reason to believe Atlanta would like to work him into its plans sooner than later. As of right now, there does not seem to be a definitive timetable or a clear path for him. While I think they would probably consider breaking other young starters in as relievers for a short time, Soroka strikes me as one that they’d want to give a clearly defined starting role upon his promotion. That being said, I’m all for giving opportunities to young arms that are ready to contribute. If the club thinks that is a role that would work for some of them, then it’s worth exploring.

What free-agent relief pitchers can the Braves add? The walks are getting out of hand.

— Jon (via Twitter)

There is no question the Braves bullpen has been undone time and again by walks over the first month of the season. As of this writing, Atlanta’s bullpen had issued a major-league-high 68 free passes in 98.1 innings. That’s a staggering 6.2 BB/9 IP as a group. Lead-off walks are a particularly troubling trend and set up other teams with an opportunity to rally. The ineffectiveness of Jose Ramirez and overreliance on Sam Freeman are two areas I’d point to as the most pronounced struggles. Both men were key pieces in the 2017 bullpen and were obviously big parts of the equation heading into this season. Even Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter and veteran Peter Moylan have been bitten by the walk bug at times. To answer your question, I’m not sure there is much of anything on the free agent market that would make a profound difference on Atlanta’s bullpen. They’re going to have to ride it out with some of these men. They have capable arms, but the adjustments will simply have to be made. It’s a statistically glaring problem, but those rate stats typically normalize over time. Perhaps no game springs to mind faster than the Chicago meltdown, which occurred in terrible weather conditions, but even that game is an outlier of sorts. Bottom line, I still believe the Braves have the arm talent in-house to field a capable bullpen. It all comes down to the current staff righting the ship. If Atlanta is hanging around in a playoff race in June, I’d expect the team to begin exploring all the options outside the organization.

Have you heard any rumblings about turning some of the young (less successful) starting prospects into bullpen help?

— Connor (via Twitter)

We’ve seen the Braves toy with this idea in recent years. Tyrell Jenkins was probably the first of the prospect bunch to be looked at in this light, but Matt Wisler and Lucas Sims were also viewed as possible bullpen pieces at some point over the past two years. Though it could still happen, neither man was able to secure a spot or produce results that warranted a long look in relief. It would be great to see some of these young starters begin to fill those roles, particularly those with the kind of stuff that could work out of the bullpen. Typically, the ability to command two pitches is the minimum requirement, but there is a big difference between the physical and mental aspects of starting and relieving. It changes both the preparation and the mindset of a young arm that is used to the routine of starting, but it is certainly a transition that can be made. The coaching focus has to be there in order to facilitate that change. As I said earlier, it is possible that the Braves could begin to break some of their young pitchers in by giving them a look in the bullpen initially. I don’t expect that to be something that happens incredibly often, but occasionally you see highly valued young arms cut their teeth in relief. It’s something David Price did for Tampa Bay back in 2008. The opportunity for top prospects to pitch out of the bullpen would obviously come with a monitored workload and is unlikely to provide the stability that regular relievers offer.

Why isn’t Kurt Suzuki or Tyler Flowers batting fourth?

— Jack (via Twitter)

The very simple answer to this question is that Flowers has been on the disabled list and Suzuki has settled into the fifth spot in the order behind Nick Markakis. Say what you want about Markakis, but his presence in the clean-up spot has been serviceable to say the least. While the Braves will continue to look for power in the middle of the lineup, whether that be with the Jose Bautista signing, the promotion of Ronald Acuña Jr. or with moves yet to be made, Markakis has capably filled the four-spot over the first few weeks of the season. He is slashing .289/.393/.411 in his 23 starts as the clean-up hitter and has posted an .828 OPS while grounding into just one double play with runners on-base this season. Markakis has also posted a .152 ISO (isolated power) in the early going, which is his highest mark since 2012. All of that said, we’re still discussing a relatively small sample size. I would continue to call Atlanta’s lineup a fluid situation. Though you may not see nightly or regular changes, there will come a time (or times) over the course of the summer where the viability of hitters in certain spots will be reevaluated and adjustments to the lineup will be made. It could happen with the arrival of Bautista, the elevation of Acuña in the order or some other personnel moves.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Kevin Seitzer’s influence on some of these veterans seeing offensive improvements and some of these young guys (like Dansby Swanson) figuring it out at the plate. I don’t think he gets enough credit sometimes.

— Josh II (via Twitter)

I’m glad you brought this up. Kevin Seitzer and assistant José Castro have been working diligently in the background for four seasons now. In the court of public opinion, the hitting coach seemingly never gets the credit while absorbing a fair amount of the blame for hitters’ successes and failures. The truth is, that doesn’t matter. The work is never done. Seitzer has preached an aggressive approach inside the strike zone, which is why you see the Atlanta hitters swinging early and often. By melding analytics, advanced scouting and video, hitters are equipped with a plan of attack against opposing pitchers. Having that plan at the plate is the most important aspect of what Seitzer has instilled in hitters young and old alike. Even though they’re being aggressive early in counts, Braves batters aren’t finding themselves racking up strikeouts. They’re making solid and consistent contact, which is evidenced by the fact that Atlanta is leading the National League in numerous offensive categories. That list includes batting average (.268), slugging percentage (.432), runs scored (137), hits (240), doubles (60), and total bases (387), while the club ranks second in the NL in on-base percentage (.339) and fifth in home runs (27). They’ve done all of this while boasting one of the lowest strikeout totals in all of baseball (205) through 25 games. It’s all about approach and embracing the philosophies that can lead to success at the plate. Swanson is a fine example of work ethic and adjustment. He hasn’t made wholesale mechanical changes to his stance or swing between 2017 and 2018, but he has found improved results through executing his game plan on a more regular basis. Baseball is a constant game of adjustments, and Seitzer has helped Atlanta hitters make some subtle but effective changes.

Acuña fulfills family dream of reaching major leagues

For Ronald Acuña Jr., baseball is not just a dream he happened upon. It’s one he was born into.

The son of a former minor league outfielder and grandson of a former minor league pitcher, Acuña boarded the fast track last year and found himself knocking on the door of fulfilling his goal of making it to the major leagues.

That’s a place both his father and grandfather, like most professional baseball players, were unable to reach.

The dream became a reality on April 25, 2018, when Acuña made his major league debut against the Cincinnati Reds.

Acuña added the junior suffix to his name this spring as a way to recognize his father, Ronald Sr., who was a Mets farmhand nearly two decades ago. His grandfather, Romualdo Blanco, was a hard-throwing pitcher in the Astros organization during the 1970s before arm injuries derailed his promising career in Double-A by the age of 23.

The elder Acuña only climbed as high as Double-A in his eight seasons of affiliated baseball as well, but he went on to play another four years in Venezuela. It was there that a young Ronald Jr. got to watch his father play on a more regular basis.

The seed was planted. And it started at home.

“I had the good fortune of being able to watch my father play in the states and in Venezuela,” said Acuña through team translator Franco Garcia. “I kind of always idolized him and I mirrored him, I tried to be like him. So that was the great upbringing and opportunity that I had.”

Acuña plays the game with a cool confidence that complements his love for baseball. His ability is evident to anyone that happens to be in the same ballpark on any given night. All five tools are on display for the world to see, honed as a third-generation ballplayer.

Neither his father’s nor grandfather’s career led to big league stardom, but they helped pave the way for Acuña. The young prodigy transformed into a five-tool talent who has drawn comparison to some of the game’s great young players.

How’s that for representing the family name?

“Fortunately, I guess as they say, ‘the student has become the teacher’ or something like that,” Acuña quipped. “I’m proud to say we’ve gotten to that point where perhaps in our skills I might be able to say I’m a little better than him, but I’m very grateful for having that experience with him and for me to be able to look up to him.”

As one might imagine, Ronald Sr. is more than happy to see his son reaching these heights. Baseball has long been a game shared by fathers and sons. This success and all that’s still to come is a family affair.

“He is extremely proud and he’s very happy for me – not just my father, but my mother, my whole family and all my friends,” said Acuña. “I think they’ve really enjoyed this opportunity to watch. Like I said, they’re all very proud and happy for me.”

Nearly 400 major leaguers hail from Venezuela. The Acuña family is from La Guaira, just two hours away from the city of Maracay, where Miguel Cabrera grew up. Acuña had a chance encounter with Cabrera early in spring training, reaching first base after a single and standing side by side with one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball history and a boyhood idol of sorts.

It was a case of baseball and life coming full circle for Acuña.

“I was very fortunate to be able to watch Miguel Cabrera play, even in Venezuela when I was a little kid,” said Acuña. “To this day, he’s one of my favorite hitters and I love watching him play.

“I always admired him, and I admire him to this day. So, we’ve always kind of had that relationship. He just kind of gave me advice on all the small things and all the little things to do, especially once you get to the big leagues. The things you need to make sure you take care of and the things you do well and do right, things that will sustain your career as you move forward in the big leagues.”

Cabrera’s path was not unlike the ride Acuña finds himself on. After all, Cabrera debuted in the big leagues at 20 years old with the Miami Marlins in 2003. He was even playing in the World Series just one year after starting the prior season in High-A ball.

From the small stage to the biggest stage at breakneck speed. One minute you’re playing in relative obscurity and the next the cameras and microphones follow your every move.

Acuña has become increasingly accustomed to his new-found fame, which is currently at fever pitch with no signs of stopping any time soon.

“It really is surreal,” said Acuña. “I never thought that things would ever happen his quickly, as I’ve said before. But I’m very happy. This is everything I have ever dreamed up.

“I am very blessed, and I thank God for all the blessings and everything has happened to me and come into my life. Right now, at this point, I’m just grateful for everything and I just want to keep giving it my all, keep working hard and keep trying to go after these dreams I’ve set for myself.”

The distinction of being the top prospect in the game is a complex one. Do well and the label comes off as the player graduates to the big leagues. Struggle and that acclaim passes to the next man in line.

Either way, the mantle is inherently short-lived.

As Acuña’s star rises, he’s drawn comparisons to other teenage phenoms of the not-too-distant past, Angels center fielder Mike Trout and Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.

Those names carry with the loftiest of expectations. That’s not lost on Acuña.

“I’m very proud and humbled to be compared to superstars like that,” Acuña said. “You know, it’s great and it’s amazing. All it really does is motivate me more, to work harder and to keep continuing to improve and develop. But I’m very humbled and honored to be compared to them.”

Acuña’s well-documented trip back to Triple-A Gwinnett reunites him with Damon Berryhill, the former Braves catcher who managed him for the final two months last season. Berryhill’s playing career spanned 14 seasons and he’s been coaching for the past 15 years.

When it comes to comparisons for Acuña, only one name came to Berryhill’s mind.

“You know, the only one I can really think about would be Alex Rodriguez,” said Berryhill. “Kind of at that same age, I saw Alex when he came up with Seattle at 19. The composure that he had and the swing and just the maturity at that young age is kind of what reminds me of Ronald.”

Comparing Acuña or any young player to a proven performer may be fun, but more times than not those expectations prove difficult for a prospect to live up to. Like most Braves coaches or front office types, Berryhill recognizes Acuña’s immense talent and believes it will only get better in the weeks, months and years ahead.

“I think he just needs to stay his course,” said Berryhill. “He’s a young player and he still has stuff to work on, as talented as he is. We’ve never had a problem with Ronald working.

“He wants to get to the big leagues. He loves to play this game and we’re looking for pretty much the same as we got from him last year and a little bit more. He had a great fall ball and a great spring training. It’s only a matter of time for him to get an opportunity. Hopefully when he gets that opportunity, he keeps performing the way he’s been doing it.”

To his credit, Acuña has handled everything that has been thrown at him thus far, both on and off the field. The tremendous pressure that can come with the spotlight seems to be nothing more than white noise for the young outfielder.

How is that even possible? Even Acuña had trouble explaining it.

“I never really felt pressure, even with it being my first spring training, I just never felt pressure of being with the big league club,” said Acuña. “I guess I was pretty grateful, appreciative and surprised I didn’t feel that pressure.”

As he returned to Gwinnett to begin the 2018 season, the chapter entitled “Top Prospect” is on its final pages. But the book of Ronald Acuña Jr., “Major Leaguer” is about to be written.

Braves promote top prospect Ronald Acuña Jr.

The wait is over. The Atlanta Braves officially promoted top prospect Ronald Acuña Jr. from Triple-A Gwinnett on Wednesday. He joined the big league club in Cincinnati, where he is batting sixth in the starting lineup and playing left field against the Reds.

Initial indications that Acuña could be called up began shortly after the Braves’ 9-7 loss to the Reds on Tuesday night. Mark Bowman of MLB.com confirmed that the club planned to promote the talented outfielder. The move was officially made in advance of Wednesday night’s game. Atlanta designated outfielder Peter Bourjos for assignment to make room on the roster.

Acuña, 20, caught the baseball world’s attention in 2017 when he blazed his way through three levels of the minor leagues and earned top prospect status. He batted .325/.374/.522 with 31 doubles, 21 homers, 82 RBI and 44 stolen bases in 139 games, all the while improving at each stop. Baseball America anointed Acuña the No. 1 prospect in the game, while MLB Pipeline rated him No. 2 behind Los Angeles Angels two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani.

Acuña followed up an outstanding 2017 season by earning MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League. Then he turned in a torrid spring training for Atlanta to open 2018. Acuña led the Grapefruit League with a .432 batting average while hitting four home runs in 52 plate appearances at the time he was reassigned to minor league camp.

Ultimately, the club decided to start the talented young outfielder in the minor leagues. The decision was based on service time. Sending Acuña back to Triple-A for just two weeks allowed Atlanta to gain an additional year of contractual control.

The Braves had to wait until April 14th in order to insure the seventh season of control. Delaying Acuña’s promotion until early June would have allowed the club to avoid Super Two status, but that never seemed to be a real consideration.

Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos cited some final development as the reason Acuña began this season in Gwinnett. Though he started slowly, Acuña had shown recent signs of turning things around at the plate, including two more hits on Tuesday night for Gwinnett. He was batting .232 with one homer, two RBI, nine runs scored and four stolen bases in 17 games for Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate this season.

The slow start gave the Braves reason to wait and see when the young outfielder would start to put up the kind of at-bats and numbers all parties had grown accustomed to. The expectation was always that it would happen sooner than later.

Now the wait is over.

“His ability, his talent, what we think of him long term hasn’t changed one iota,” Anthopoulos said last week. “There’s a difference between spring training, where no one is preparing and advancing for you and you’re playing six or seven innings and getting into the flow and routine of games.”

“More development isn’t going to hurt anybody,” Anthopoulos added. “We prefer to call players up when they’re performing at a high level, when they’re locked in.”

Anthopoulos, who served as a Dodgers executive last season was quick to point out a recent precedent for promoting a young player who was in a groove as opposed to one who was scuffling.

“My most recent experience with that would be Cody Bellinger last year with L.A.” said Anthopouos of the 2017 National League Rookie of the Year. “He was on fire down there. Our manager down there was saying ‘he’s the best player in the league, he looks great, he’s locked in.’ Those are the type of conversations you hope to have. That’s when you’re looking to call guys up, when they’re locked in and seeing the ball well.”

That appears to be the case for Acuña of late.

After batting just .138 over the first seven games for Gwinnett, Acuña batted .300 over the last 10 games and was starting to put together much better at-bats.

Acuña will become Atlanta’s starting left fielder, and at 20 years, 128 days old will become the youngest player in the major leagues upon his debut, supplanting teammate Ozzie Albies.

Chipper Jones’ Hall of Fame Career by the numbers

Atlanta Braves great Chipper Jones is celebrating his 46th birthday on Tuesday. As he spends the next few months patiently awaiting his day in Cooperstown, let’s take a look at the incredible accomplishments of his Hall of Fame career.

In just over two decades in professional baseball, Jones grew from fresh-faced youngster to face of a franchise with Atlanta. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 amateur draft and became one of the greatest switch-hitters in baseball history, won the World Series as a rookie in 1995, was named National League Most Valuable Player in 1999 and made eight All-Star appearances.

His place among the all-time greats…

Hot Corner: Chipper Jones becomes the 17th third baseman elected to Cooperstown.

Circling the bases: Jones is currently 33rd on the all-time home run list with 468.

Take a walk: Chipper’s 1,512 bases on balls rank 16th on the all-time list, just ahead of Lou Gehrig (1,508).

Getting aboard: He ranks 54th all-time with a .4011 on-base percentage, just behind Rickey Henderson’s .4012.

Elite company: Chipper is one of only 13 players with 400 HR and a .400 OBP. He is the lone primary third baseman to do so. That list includes: Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Jimmy Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Manny Ramirez, Babe Ruth, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome and Ted Williams.

Even more elite company: Jones is one of just 10 players with a .300 average, 2,500 hits, 500 doubles and 400 home runs. The others: Hank Aaron, Miguel Cabrera, Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. Jones is one of just four to do all of that for just one club (Williams, Gehrig and Musial are the others).

Number one: Chipper Jones and Ken Griffey Jr. are the only two No. 1 overall draft picks elected to Cooperstown.

Facing the aces: As of 2017, Chipper Jones faced just five Hall of Fame pitchers during his career.

Randy Johnson: .349 AVG with 6 homers (17K) in 47PA.

Pedro Martinez: .204 AVG with 3 HR and 10 RBI in 59 PA (10K)

Tom Glavine: .188 AVG with 1 HR in 37 PA (2K)

Greg Maddux: .375 AVG with 1BB/1K in 8 AB

Trevor Hoffman: .227 AVG with 1 HR in 25 PA.

His place among switch-hitters…     

Anything but average: Chipper Jones’ .3034 batting average is third best among switch-hitters, behind Hall of Famers Roger Connor (.3164) and Frankie Frisch (.3161) and ahead of Pete Rose (.3029) and Roberto Alomar (.3029) among the Top 5 in that category. Those five men are the only switch-hitters with a career batting average of .300 or better.

Slashing his way to greatness: Chipper is the only switch-hitter in baseball history to post a career slash line of .300/.400/.500, turning in a .303/401/.529 mark. Only 22 players in baseball have ever produced that line.

Model of consistency: Chipper Jones batted .303 as a LHH (7686 PA) and .304 as a RHH (2928 PA). He is the only switch-hitter in modern baseball history (post-1900) who is documented to have batted .300 from both sides of the plate – not Mickey Mantle, not Pete Rose, but Chipper Jones. Historical batting splits are incomplete for Frankie Frisch, who batted .316 from 1919-1937.

Long gone: Jones’ 468 homers place him third place behind Mickey Mantle (536) and Eddie Murray (504).

Home run history: He is one of just five switch-hitters with 400 home runs. Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira joined that club after Jones retired.

On-base percentage: Jones’ .401 OBP is the 5th best all-time among switch-hitters, trailing Mickey Mantle (.421), Roy Cullenbine (.408), Lance Berkman (.406) and Lu Blue (.402). His OBP is third best by a switch-hitter since 1950, behind Mantle and Berkman.

Chipper and Mickey: Jones and Mantle are the only two switch-hitters in baseball history with 400 homers and a .400 on-base percentage.

Bring ‘em home: Jones’ 1,623 RBI are second most all-time for a switch-hitter, behind only Murray’s 1,917.

Power and speed: Chipper is one of just 14 switch-hitters to post a 20 HR/20 SB campaign. He is one of just six switch-hitters to do so more than once.

Free passes: Chipper’s 1,512 walks are third all-time among switch-hitters, trailing Mantle (1,733) and Pete Rose (1,566).

His place in Braves history…

Only Hank Aaron (3,076) has played more games in Braves history. Chipper’s 2,499 games played rank just ahead of Eddie Mathews (2,223) and Dale Murphy (1,926).

Jones is second in franchise history with a .401 OBP (Billy Hamilton posted a .456 mark from 1896-1901), but Chipper was head and shoulders above the rest for well over the last century of Braves baseball.

Chipper (.529) is third on the slugging percentage leaderboard, behind Hank Aaron and Wally Berger. His .930 on-base plus slugging is second best, behind Aaron (.944). Pretty good company there.

Chasing Hank: Jones is second only to Aaron in hits, extra-base hits, doubles, RBI, runs scored, runs created, total bases, plate appearances, at-bats, times on base, sacrifice flies and intentional walks.

Trotting and walking: Chipper ranks third on the franchise list in home runs with 468, behind Aaron (733) and Mathews (493) and is the franchise’s all-time leader in bases on balls with 1,512.

Home and away: He hit .314 at home (5,304 PA) and .293 (5,310 PA) away, just a six PA difference.

First major league hit: September 14, 1993 vs. Reds, infield single against Kevin Wickander

First major league home run: May 9, 1995 vs. Mets, solo-shot against Josias Manzanillo

Last major league hit: October 3, 2012 vs. Pirates, single against A.J. Burnett

Last major league home run: September 2, 2012 vs. Phillies, walk-off against Jonathan Papelbon

His home run exploits…

Who gave them up: Chipper Jones hit 468 home runs against 323 different pitchers in 37 different ballparks.

Most Home runs vs. any pitcher: 7 vs. Steve Trachsel (87 PA)

One and done: There are 15 pitchers that Chipper Jones faced just once and hit a home run against: Edwin Almonte, Carlos Castillo, Steve Colyer, Horacio Estrada, Kevin Gryboski, Mike Judd, Brandon Knight, Daniel McCutchen, Jeff Nelson, Henry Owens, Troy Percival, Steve Rain, Matt Reynolds, Pete Walker and Joel Zumaya.

Home and Away: 259 of his home runs came at home, with 226 at Turner Field and 33 at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. The other 209 came at 35 different road parks, with 19 at New York’s Shea Stadium.

Switch hitting: 361 of his home runs came while batting left-handed, 107 while batting right-handed.

Clutch hitting: He hit nine walk-off home runs, 40 game-tying home runs and 161 go-ahead home runs.

Multi-homer games: Chipper had 39 two-home run games and one three-homer game.

By defensive position: Chipper hit 389 of his home runs while playing third base, 63 while playing left field, seven as a designated hitter, six as a shortstop and three as a pinch-hitter.

By batting order position: Chipper hit 353 of his home runs while batting third, 98 hitting fourth, seven batting sixth, four batting fifth and three from the ninth spot (all of his pinch-hit home runs).

Runners on: Chipper hit 267 solo-homers, 143 two-run homers, 52 three-run homers and 6 grand slams.

His other noteworthy numbers…

Favorite opponent: New York Mets, against whom he hit .309 with 49 HR and 159 RBI in 245 games.

Most Hits vs. pitcher: 26 vs. Livan Hernandez (92 PA)

Total pitchers faced: Chipper Jones faced 1,308 different pitchers in his career (257 of those just once).

Pitcher perfect: Chipper Jones is batting 1.000 against 115 of the 1,308 pitchers he faced.

Free pass: Chipper Jones drew a walk in his only plate appearance against 37 different pitchers.

Take your base: Over the course of his 18 full seasons, Chipper Jones was only hit by pitch 18 times. Only one pitcher hit him twice – Carlos Zambrano.

 

All statistics are courtesy of Baseball Reference.

Braves Prospect Profile: Drew Waters

The Atlanta Braves boast perhaps the most pitching-rich farm system in the game, but some young position players are starting to make the rest of baseball take notice.

Among those men is Rome Braves outfielder Drew Waters. The local product from Etowah High School in nearby Woodstock, Georgia, was selected in the second round of the 2017 draft and received high praise from Braves officials across the board.

Waters, 19, embarks on his first full season of professional baseball and it begins in the South Atlantic League. The switch-hitter slashed .278/.362/.429 with 14 doubles, four home runs, 24 RBI and six stolen bases in 50 games at two Rookie-level stops last season. The tools are tantalizing, but the intangibles may help Waters go a long way as well.

I had a chance to catch up with Waters as Rome opened up the 2018 season. In just a few short minutes, it was easy to see why Atlanta is so high on this young outfielder. And you might be pleasantly surprised to discover what former Braves player has already had a big impact on Waters’ fledgling career.

Grant McAuley: It’s your first full season of pro-ball, but of course you got your feet wet last summer. Making the jump from high school, what were your impressions of your first year and how much have you been looking forward to getting back out on the field?

Drew Waters: It was definitely a learning experience for me. I had to learn a lot of things, especially at the plate. I’m facing a lot better competition. Guys not only throw the fastball at 95, but they also locate and spot up two other really good pitches, so I had to learn how to hit all three pitches. There’s a couple of things in my swing that I changed this offseason that I think will give me a lot of success for this season.

GM: Yeah, baseball is a constant game of adjustments. That’s something you well know, and I guess you’ll find out more about as you climb in the system. It’s a pretty good group of guys that you’ll have here in Rome this year. I know this isn’t necessarily your backyard, but its not too terribly far away from Woodstock. It has to be kind of nice to have a full season where you can play in the same region as your family…

DW: Yeah, I am really looking forward to it. I think a lot of success comes with having a good foundation and to me my family is my foundation. With them being able to come to a lot of the games and to be there to support me throughout the season, I think I’ll be able to have a great season.

GM: Walk me through last year, I mean it’s not even been a full year since you were drafted by Atlanta. This is a team you had the experience of growing up watching and being a fan of. How surreal was that to have the Braves be the team that chose you?

DW: I’ll definitely say it was a quick year. I went from winning the state championship, to graduation, to all of a sudden my name being called by the Atlanta Braves in the second round. When I got to put on the uniform, I was like, this is what I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid. So, it was a surreal moment and I’m grateful that I’m playing for the Braves.

GM: As you embark on this first full season of pro ball, has there been anybody that you talk to or leaned on? Because it is a grind. It’s not the 162, but the 140 not a joke either.

DW: One of the main guys I like to talk to is Fred McGriff. I got to play for him when I was coming up through travel ball, when I got to play on the Braves’ scout team. So, me and him stay in touch, especially now that I’m playing for the Braves. He’s been a great mentor for me, just telling me I’ve got to keep working and it’s not easy, especially your first season. You’ve just got to continue to grind it out and do what you’ve got to do for your body. Whether that’s getting in the training room early or getting your lifts in every week, you just gotta stay on top of everything to stay healthy and stay strong throughout the season.

GM: I talked to Brian Bridges back on draft day, when you guys were selected, first Kyle Wright and then yourself. I had no idea that you had played for McGriff. That had to be a pretty interesting connection, and I’d imagine that’s more or less what may have put you on the Braves radar in some ways.

DW: Yeah, it’s actually funny. A lot of the mock drafts had me going before the Braves second pick. And the day before the draft, Fred McGriff was texting me and saying, “Oh, you better sign with the Braves.” But I knew deep down that the Braves would be a good pick for me, just because a lot of the affiliates are right by my house and being able to stay home and play in front of the hometown crowd is just something you dream of. So, I was super excited about playing for the Atlanta Braves.

GM: Walk me through the winter for a moment. I know you don’t have a terrible lot of time when it comes to the offseason. Seems like it goes by pretty quickly, but were there some things you keyed in on? You mentioned a little bit about tightening up the swing and working on a couple of things there, what in specific were you spending your time on this winter?

DW: One of the major things is when I was hitting last season, especially late in the season when my body started to get tired, I just tried to do too much and I got into a bad habit of having bad posture in my swing. What I mean by that is when I’d go to load, I’d kind of hunch up with my upper body and when I do that my head would turn with it, causing me not to be able to see pitches. So, I was chasing a lot out of the zone, which led to a lot of strikeouts. This offseason I really focused on my posture and on my upper body, just to make sure that I’m not chasing pitches and so my swing path is where I want it to be. And then another thing is my lower half, I am working on calming things down so I can hit all three pitches more efficiently.

GM: As you get into the season, everyone’s goals, of course, are to stay healthy, win baseball games and develop or evolve as players. Some of these guys you got a chance to get in the trenches with last year. Who in particular did you get to play with that you are looking forward to getting back out there this year with?

DW: Honestly, I’m looking forward to playing with all of the guys. You hear some guys talk about their organization and how they don’t really enjoy being around the guys, but in the Braves organization everyone is a great guy. It’s a lot of young talent, a lot of pitchers, but I really think there’s a lot of great position players that are coming up through the organization, especially on this team. There’s also a lot of sleepers. I think the biggest one that caught me off guard was Jean Carlos Encarnacion, our third baseman. A lot of people didn’t really know who he was until last season. I didn’t even know who he was, but then I started playing with him over the course of the season. I got called up to Danville and got to play with him there. Just watching him play and watching how he goes about the game, he really caught my attention. He’s going to be a really good player.

GM: To follow up on that, there is a lot of talent in the organization. I am sure for players, whether position players or pitchers, it has to be a lot of fun to surround yourself with those kinds of guys with that kind of talent to raise the competition level beginning in the spring…

DW: I mean, when you’ve got an organization like the Braves, everyone pushes everybody. I think right now a lot of people focus in on the pitching prospects, just because everyone hears all the great pitchers that are in the organizations, but there’s really just as many good position players as there are pitchers, but just the position players are younger. I personally think that we’re going to have a lot of good position players come up through the organization that’ll make an impact in the big leagues.

Anthopoulos bullish on Braves’ addition of Joey Bats

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves are taking a chance on a veteran slugger their new general manager knows all too well. The club signed Jose Bautista to a minor league deal on Wednesday. Now Alex Anthopoulos is hoping Bautista might add a jolt to the Atlanta lineup at some point this summer.

Anthopoulos had Bautista in Toronto when he emerged as one of the premier power hitters in all of baseball. The two are hopeful this reunion could bear fruit in a new city with a team that appears to be on the rise.

Bautista, 37, is a two-time American League home run champion who has won three silver sluggers, finished in the Top 10 in the AL most valuable player voting four times and made six All-Star appearances in nearly a decade with the Blue Jays.

It’s an impressive pedigree, but Bautista’s production has declined precipitously of late. His home run total dropped from 40 in 2015 to 45 combined over the past two seasons. He slashed just .203/.308/.366 with 23 home runs in 686 plate appearances in 2017 while striking out a career-high 170 times.

This winter, Bautista found himself among scores of veteran free agents looking for work well into spring training. As it happens, even after the regular season began. After making $18 million on a one-year deal with Toronto in 2017, Bautista will get $1 million if he reaches the big leagues with Atlanta.

Though he may not be the player he was even a few years ago, Anthopoulos believes this to be a low-risk move that will allow the Braves to find out if Bautista has something left in the tank.

“He prepares as well as anybody that you’re going to see,” said Anthopoulos. “I am excited about what the potential is for him and what he can do for us. That being said, we’re going to see what we have here shortly as he ends up getting into games.

“He was following us. He knew our lineup and he likes the team. He thinks this team has a chance to be competitive and to contend.  He said ‘I could just sense you have a good thing going there and a good group of guys just watching them.’”

Bautista is a Tampa resident and reported to the Braves spring training complex in Orlando upon signing on Wednesday. Anthopoulos said he already knows Bautista is in great shape. He’ll work out for a little while with the extended spring training group and then seems likely to join the High-A Florida Fire Frogs of the Florida State League to get back in action.

“He will get out to an affiliate first and once he starts playing in games, then we’ll watch, we’ll observe, and we’ll get with him and come with a plan when we see where he’s at,” said Anthopoulos.

“Now it’s a matter of just being able to get him in the box, getting him reps, getting him at-bats and see how he looks. But in terms of work ethic, the conditioning, all those things, they’re going to be elite.”

In a true case of “what’s old is new again,” Atlanta’s initial plan is for Bautista to move back to third base. He has experience playing multiple positions over the course of his career and both sides believe Bautista can make a smooth transition. He will work with Braves roving infield instructor Adam Everett to get reacclimated with third, a position he has played just a dozen times since 2012.

Atlanta has utilized veteran Ryan Flaherty at the hot corner to open the season. The Braves also activated versatile infielder Johan Camargo from the disabled list on Wednesday. While both have been productive in limited time, neither provide the same kind of power Bautista brings to the table.

In recent years, Bautista has become a somewhat polarizing player for his sometimes-brash manner of playing the game. Despite that, Anthopoulos believes that Bautista’s value goes well beyond what he does at the plate. He sees Bautista as the kind of teammate who makes a club better across the board.

His old GM should know.

“I think what you see on the field is different than what you see in the clubhouse,” Anthopoulos said. “There has been a lot of commentary that he can be a little fiery, demonstrative, things like that, but he’s a class act individual who cares and works hard.

“He is very highly respected overall. The work ethic and the prep, I’ve seen him individually influence players and make players better. Edwin Encarnacion is a great example, when [Toronto] got him from the Reds, I think being around Jose, his conditioning got better, his preparation and the way he studies video and does all those things. Those things can impact other players and can affect other players. [Bautista] is a very intelligent, very cerebral player. A very instinctive player, so that can only help being around a guy like that.”

Anthopoulos confirmed that Bautista had an offer on the table from another club with a higher base salary and incentives that would have paid significantly more than his minor league pact with Atlanta, but the veteran slugger was eager to find the best fit.

“I think to Jose’s credit, the conversation I had with him, it’s not about the money for him,” said Anthopoulos. “It’s about what he felt the best fit for him was and the best opportunity for him was.”

Another draw for Bautista was to be reunited with former Blue Jays hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, who was one of many voices that supported bringing Bautista into the Braves organization.

“The hitting coach here had him in Toronto and felt strongly about him,” Anthopoulos said of Seitzer’s input on the acquisition. “We talked extensively internally. He’s very excited about him.”

“Anyone that’s been around this guy, that’s worked with him and spent time with him, all were very emphatic to make this move. That was important as well. I think that helps, and I don’t want to speak for Jose, but I think the comfort and the familiarity that he would have already here certainly didn’t hurt.”

The Braves will begin the process of bringing Bautista up to game speed, starting first with some work at the spring training facility and then eventually heading out to get playing time through the minor league system. If and when they feel he’s ready, they’ll look to bring him up to Atlanta.

There is no hard timetable on when exactly Bautista could join the big league club, however.

“We’re going to work with him on that,” said Anthopoulos. “It’s something that’s going to be open dialogue.

“He knows his body, he knows himself. He understands where we are as a team and what we’re looking to do. He understands as much as he’d like to get up here, he needs to do the right thing and prepare himself as well. He told me the first thing is ‘I don’t want to hurt the team. For now, I want to make sure that I come up there and help.’”

If Bautista can recapture the magic he experienced in a career renaissance with Toronto, the Braves could have a very affordable power source. One that could help Freddie Freeman in the heart of the Atlanta lineup.

Braves’ Freeman dodges injury bullet, X-rays negative

ATLANTA — Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman received a scare on Wednesday night when he was once again hit by a pitch on the left wrist. The team announced tests came back negative and Freeman avoided what could have been another prolonged stint on the disabled list.

Freeman exited Atlanta’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies in the eighth inning after being plunked by reliever Hoby Milner. Freeman was struck by an 89 mph fastball, grimaced and immediately departed the field. The pitch hit Freeman in virtually the same spot as the one that landed him on the disabled list in 2017.

Freeman underwent X-rays, but the results weren’t immediately made available following the game. He was reevaluated on Thursday morning and the team has deemed him day-to-day, but he was right back in the starting lineup in the series opener against the New York Mets.

After running the initial tests on Wednesday night, Freeman went home with the indication from doctors that he had avoided refracturing the same wrist that cost him 44 games last season. He underwent CT scans on Thursday morning to confirm there were no breaks.

Despite two strikingly similar incidents inside a calendar year, Freeman is not planning to change his stance or utilize any radical wrist guards. He believes it’s simply a risk that every hitter runs each time they step in the box.

“There’s nothing you can really do,” said Freeman. “This is how I hit. It’s how I stand and I’m not changing it. I’ve just got to get out of the way.”

Freeman is batting .288 with two home runs and 12 RBI in 17 games this season. He is among the major league leaders in walks, on-base percentage and wins above replacement.

Additionally, Freeman said he has already heard from Milner, who apologized for hitting him with an errant pitch.

“Hoby actually already texted me,” said Freeman. “He reached out, so I really appreciated that. It was very nice of him to do that. Obviously, it was a 2-2 count and he tried to go in. I understand; it’s just part of the game.”

Braves Mailbag: Hot start, Acuña’s arrival, Gohara’s return

The Braves Mailbag is a weekly feature. You can submit your questions to Grant McAuley on Twitter (@grantmcauley).

Let’s dive into the inaugural edition of the mailbag to check the status of some young players, roster decisions that are looming and just what the Braves hot start means:

With the good start, do you think the Braves regret not doing a little more to fortify the bench and back end of the pen?

— Aaron (via Twitter)

I think every team would love to do more in both those areas. To that end, I would say the amount of arms brought in to compete for bullpen spots this spring was ample. They’ve been tremendous collectively over the first 12 games, posting a major-league-best 1.42 ERA across 50.2 innings. We can always quibble over the results, which can vary on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, but the core group of Arodys Vizcaino, Jose Ramirez, Sam Freeman, A.J. Minter, Peter Moylan and Dan Winkler is a pretty good one. There will be injuries and attrition throughout the year, so things could change in unforeseen ways. As for the bench, the three catchers experiment went out the window when Tyler Flowers was injured on opening day and I don’t see that being revisited any time soon. The impending arrival of Ronald Acuña Jr. along with the return of infielder Johan Camargo means that both Preston Tucker and Ryan Flaherty are likely ticketed for reserve roles. Early results would indicate those two may contribute more than initially expected.

How long before A.J. Minter and Arodys Vizcaino switch roles?

— Doc (via Twitter)

In my mind, this is more a question of when than if. A.J. Minter has long been viewed as a potential closer for Atlanta, but that job currently belongs to Arodys Vizcaino. Recency bias aside, Vizcaino has been an effective reliever when healthy and deserved the opportunity to operate as the Braves’ top late-inning option. That said, if he continues to struggle and the team feels it would be better served by making a change, then you may see Minter get the first crack at closing. Once installed, it’s a job he may not relinquish for a while.

The Braves will have a good amount of speed and youth up and down their lineup, especially when Acuna arrives. Will the Braves continue to show aggressiveness on the basepaths this season as they have early this season?

— Army Greene (via Twitter)

You know, that was one of the main talking points over the offseason and it began at the winter meetings when we spent our first extended time with general manager Alex Anthopoulos. He stressed defensive improvement and base running as two areas the club should focus on improving in 2018. Well, that’s exactly what they’ve done so far. With some dynamic base runners like Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies atop the order and Ronald Acuña Jr. on the way, Atlanta has three players who could steal 20-30 bases annually. I don’t know that I’d expect them to run wild necessarily, but going first to third and stealing bases with a high success rate are two things that can energize the lineup and help the Braves make the most of their opportunities to score runs. This is a club that will not live and die by the long ball, so that aggressiveness on the basepaths you speak of is a valuable component to the offense’s success.

When can we expect to see Luiz Gohara and Ronald Acuña in Atlanta?

— Marty (via Twitter)

I’ve been answering questions about Acuña’s eventual promotion since the offseason, but my answer continues to be, “sooner than later.” How soon? I’d say Monday, April 16, at home against the Phillies makes the most sense. Atlanta has declined to indicate any timetable whatsoever, but April 14 is the first day the Braves could summon him to the big leagues and gain that extra year of contractual control. A slow start by Acuña in Triple-A Gwinnett coupled with bad weather forecast in Chicago seems to rule out a weekend debut against the Cubs. The Braves would love to see Acuña shake off the early struggles and be in a groove when he gets the call, but a week’s worth of minor league at-bats won’t discourage them from calling up the top prospect in the game. As for Gohara, he had a pair of leg injuries (strained groin and ankle sprain) wipe out the entirety of his spring training. That means he’s starting from square one and needs to make up for lost time with a rehab assignment. Gohara has been throwing to live hitters and could be back in the next three weeks if he is able to avoid any further injuries or setbacks. Given that timetable, he should join the Braves rotation sometime in early May.

Whose spot does Acuña take when he gets the call?

— Josh (via Twitter)

Difficult to say right now, but there are a couple of different ways to answer this question. The 25-man roster decision could call for the Braves to designate a player for assignment. If that is the case, they may be able to sneak Lane Adams through waivers. Acuña is quite obviously being brought up to play every day, so Preston Tucker would most likely slide to a reserve role. The club is not going cede too many at-bats, but the occasional start against a tough righty matchup would provide Tucker some at-bats. The Braves could choose to option Tucker to Gwinnett so that he could play regularly, but I don’t expect that to be the case as he would provide a valuable power threat off the Atlanta bench. The fast start for Tucker was encouraging, but does little to change the big picture plan for left field this season. Some have suggested trading Nick Markakis in order to open both corner outfield spots for Acuña and Tucker, but it’s unlikely a move like that would happen anytime soon. Markakis is in the final season of the four-year deal he signed with Atlanta prior to 2015 and has been a durable and steady contributor.

Braves Prospect Profile: Bryse Wilson

The Atlanta Braves have leaned heavily on pitching to execute what is now a four-year rebuilding plan. Nowhere has that been more apparent than in the June amateur draft. Though first-round picks typically attract the most attention, it was a fourth-rounder from 2016 that may have been the breakout pitching prospect in the system last season.

Bryse Wilson, 20, was selected out of Orange High School in Hillsborough, N.C., where he was a two-sport star and one of the state’s top prep prospects. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder has a fastball in the low-mid 90s and took great strides establishing the rest of his arsenal for Rome last season.

He finished 10-7 with a 2.50 ERA that ranked second in the South Atlantic League. Wilson struck out 139 batters against just 39 walks across his 137 innings as well. That performance silenced the contingent that may have felt Wilson could be better suited to be a reliever.

Perhaps the best performance of his season came on July 8, 2017, when he fired a 9-inning shut-out at West Virginia. Wilson surrendered five hits with no walks and struck out seven while using a career-high 105 pitches to finish the gem. One month to the day later, Wilson racked up a career-best 11 strikeouts over seven scoreless innings against Augusta.

I had a chance to catch up with Wilson at the close of spring training to get his thoughts on the 2017 campaign and what he hopes to accomplish this season, beginning in the High-A Florida State League.

Grant McAuley: You had a really productive first full season. Now that you’ve had a chance to look back on all that and reflect, what are your memories and takeaways from 2017?

Bryse Wilson: I think the biggest memory was the complete game. That was a lot of fun, but I think a lot of the takeaways were all the things I learned by being with the guys I was with and just having a good time.

GM: It was a great starting staff for Rome (Wilson, Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz). How does that comradery and even the competion amongst the guys benefit you?

BW: It’s nice because it helps everybody to be a little bit more comfortable. We all get along. We all help each other and push each other and want the best from each other. It’s just great to have all these guys around and be able to work with them every day.

GM: Walk me through the winter for you. It came after throwing the most innings in any season of your life. How did you approach the time off?

BW: For me, it was a lot of rest. I took about two weeks off from lifting and then got back into it. I started throwing in late December and got back into that. It was a good offseason.

GM: Spring training is all wrapped up. How’d it feel getting back on the mound and facing live hitting again?

BW: I’m just feeling good. Stuff feels good and I’m learning to pitch a lot better, with more command. I think I’m just trying to have another good season like I did last year and just keep pitching and put my team in the best position to win.

GM: You mentioned pitching with more command. That’s obviously a focus. Are there any other things, whether it’s mechanically or mentally, that you’re looking to improve?

BW: I’m just trying to get more consistent with everything. You know, location. Just throwing the slider and changeup and being able to replicate those. Throw them on both sides of the plate and be able to be more consistent so I can pretty much throw whatever pitch whenever I want.

Wilson made his 2018 debut on Monday for the Florida Fire Frogs. Working on a pitch count of 65, he fired 3 2/3 scoreless innings and struck out five. Though he did allow five hits, a walk and a hit batsman, Wilson kept Fort Myers off the board.

The new Braves front office appears to be taking a more cautious approach when it comes to rapidly promoting prospects. With success in Florida, Wilson figures to reach Double-A Mississippi at some point this sesaon and he could be closing in on SunTrust Park before 2019 comes to a close.

Braves offense clicking early and often this season

ATLANTA — Unlike some clubs, the Atlanta Braves were expecting runs to be a little harder to come by this season. That has not been the case thus far, however. Atlanta is suprisingly the highest scoring team in baseball at the moment, averaging over eight runs per game in the early going.

It’s a small sample size, but it certainly qualifies as a pleasant surprise.

The Braves are making this magic happen with contributions up and down the lineup. They’ve won back-to-back series to open the season and scored a major league-best 48 runs through the first six games. Atlanta is also leading MLB with a .297 team batting average. Those numbers are buoyed by two big-time, blow-out wins against the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals, but this lineup has shown the ability not only to string the hits together, but to get them when they count.

Atlanta is batting .450 in 60 at-bats with runners in scoring position as a team on the young season. No one has been more destructive to opposing pitchers than Freddie Freeman.

He’s taking his walks and also making the most of his chances to drive in runs. Freeman set a franchise record by walking 10 times through the season’s first five games, a total that leads the majors and a trend that may not change any time soon.

When he’s not busy walking, Freeman is 6-for-7 with RISP with a pair of home runs. That fine work has helped him compile a National League-best nine RBI through his team’s first half a dozen games.

Freeman’s name appears all over the NL leaderboard. In addition to leading the league in RBI and walks, he’s tops with a .621 on-base percentage and eight runs scored as well. After having an MVP-caliber season derailed by a wrist injury in 2017, it appears that Freeman is picking up right where he left off.

Unsung heroes

The Braves made a handful of moves before setting their 25-man roster for Opening Day, among those was adding veteran infielder Ryan Flaherty. He was cast off by the Phillies despite a strong spring, but his good play in March was a sign of things to come.

Flaherty, 31, is batting .435 (10-for-23) with six runs scored while serving as Atlanta’s primary third baseman thus far. Though he was added more so for his versatility, Flaherty is enjoying his first time in the NL. He began his big league career with the Orioles in 2012 and has played every position but catcher in his six years in Baltimore.

Preston Tucker came over in a December trade with the Houston Astros, had a great spring for Atlanta and parlayed that perfromance into regular playing time in left field. Much of the media and fan focus down in Orlando was on top prospect Ronald Acuña Jr., but when he was reassigned to the minors, left field became a place for Tucker to find regular at-bats for at least a couple of weeks.

He’s run with that opportunity thus far. Tucker is batting .421 (8-for-19) with a home run and five RBI. His three-run blast on Tuesday helped the Braves launch a comeback against the Nationals. Then he did it again against Max Scherzer on Wednesday, clocking a three-run homer that sent the Braves to an eventual 7-1 victory. Tucker also contributed a pair of game-tying RBI-singles against Philadelphia.

Up and down the lineup

The Braves would love to see the speedy duo of Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies get on track ahead of Freeman. They have the potential to be a dynamic force at the top of the order.

Albies broke out with a three-hit performance on Tuesday, snapping out of a 2-for-20 start to his season. Inciarte is 6-for-26 to open the year and has already collected five RBI in the first six games. He’s looking to follow up a 200-hit season in which he captured his second consecutive gold glove award.

Veteran outfielder Nick Markakis will be counted on to pick up some of the RBI chances that may quite literally be taken out of Freeman’s hands when and if opposing teams decide to pitch around the Atlanta first baseman. Markakis belted a game-winning home run on Opening Day to beat the Phillies, the first of what the club hopes will be many big hits from the 13-year pro. Markakis logged a team-high 270 at-bats with runners on-base last season. That may very well be the case if he is entrenched in the middle of the order again in 2018. Acuña’s arrival could and should change the lineup dynamic in a number of ways, however.

Further down the order, Dansby Swanson is working to erase the memories of a challenging rookie season. He stumbled out of the gate a year ago, but is hitting .318 (7-for-22) with three RBI and three runs scored through five games. Swanson collected three hits against Philadelphia on Friday and already has a trio of multi-hit performances. For comparison, he did not have a multi-hit game until April 29, 2017. That was 22 games into the season.

The early returns from the Atlanta offense are providing reasons to be encouraged from a depth perspective as well. The Braves are getting contributions from several players as they wait for Acuña’s inevitable promotion, the return of both Johan Camargo and Tyler Flowers from injury. Put it all together, and the Braves may just find a way to score runs at a greater frequency than even they’d expected.