Young Outfield Duo Gives Braves Options
After placing eight players inside the Top 100 Prospects ranking in both 2018 and 2019, the Braves this year have just four. But the quartet is instrumental to the organization's immediate and distant future.
While the Braves’ depth in the upper minors has been depleted by graduations, they still boast two elite outfield talents—Cristian Pache and Drew Waters—who are expected to debut in Atlanta this season. Righthanders Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright, meanwhile, will vie for big league innings.
Both Pache and Waters will open the season at Triple-A Gwinnett, where they finished 2019, but the Braves are preparing for their arrivals. Atlanta has declined to invest in the big league outfield because of the duo's presence, though it recently signed free agent Marcell Ozuna as a one-year bridge.
Only Ronald Acuña Jr., who ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball heading into 2018, has cemented an outfield spot at Truist Park over the long haul. It might not be long until the same is said of Pache in center field.
The 21-year-old Pache, who ranks as the No. 12 prospect in baseball, possesses a high floor because of his stellar defense. He is growing at the plate, as well as physically, and there are plentiful reasons to be encouraged of by his offensive upside.
That leaves Waters as the Braves' potential left fielder of the future. A switch-hitting prep hailing from Georgia, Waters is a well-rounded player who some believe could wind up superior to Pache. He’s also capable of manning center; he just isn’t Pache defensively.
The duo will continue playing together until one gets the call, but that could require circumstances outside their control. Two of the three outfield spots belong to Acuña and Ozuna, with three-time Gold Glover Ender Inciarte currently set to play center.
It’s fair to wonder if the Braves will commit to a Waters-Pache-Acuña outfield—from left to right—or instead use one of the youngsters as a trade chip while the team is contending. It’s undoubtedly in the organization’s best interest to see both Pache and Waters in the majors before making a decision.
— The Braves signed former Mariners ace and 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez to a minor league contract in January. The 34-year-old will compete for the last spot in the big league rotation. The Braves don't consider him to be an option in long relief at this time.
However Hernandez’s brilliant career finally ends, the Braves saw positives in their young pitchers learning fro him in camp. Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright and the like can only benefit from working with Hernandez and former World Series MVP Cole Hamels.
— As another winter wanes, the Braves still had not invested their prospect capital in a big trade. They instead made a flurry of free agent signings, capped by the late-January addition of outfielder Marcell Ozuna on a one-year deal. They declined to match Josh Donaldson’s highest offer, which tied him to the Twins for at least the next four seasons.
Rumors still swirled around Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant and Mookie Betts. The Braves were popularly connected to each, but the team has decided against a splashy move. While that decision has frustrated fans, the organization's patient approach has paid off in National League East division titles in 2018 and 2019. Plus, if the Braves seemed primed for a postseason run in July, they will still have the ammo to bolster the roster.