The Atlanta Braves finished 2017 with a 72-90 record , 15 games out of the second wild card spot. The Braves improved by 29 wins from 1990 to 1991, the last time they had this good a farm system that was ready to come up. While that kind of improvement is completely unrealistic, a smaller jump is not entirely out of the question. They could easily jump 15 wins if they can get improvement from young players, a hot streak, and a couple of nice midseason trades.

By at least the start of May, the Braves lineup will feature Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, and Ronald Acuna. All three were top 20 prospects at some point within the last years, with Acuna beating out Shohei Ohtani as Baseball America’s number one prospect in baseball. They will be in a lineup that includes superstar Freddie Freeman, upcoming star Ender Inciarte and a catcher tandem of Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers who led the Braves to having the highest wRC+ last season at the catching position (per FanGraphs). Those six spots in the lineup can be lethal if they all live up to their potential. Past that, third base will still be a problem and Nick Markakis is average at best in right field. With this lineup, the Braves could realistically be a top ten team in runs scored, with Acuna and Freeman battling for Rookie of the year and MVP respectively.

The offense will be the strength of the team, but it’s the pitching rotation that will determine whether the Braves can contend this season. The rotation will likely start out with something like Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Brandon McCarthy, Luiz Gohora, and Sean Newcomb. Teheran is still the ace of the staff, despite a below average 2017, and he will need to step up. Foltynewicz showed flashes of success in 2017, but still looked shaky and could eventually be turned into a closer. McCarthy isn’t expected to be anything special, but he should be able to eat some quality innings and put the team in position to win a good amount of his starts. Gohora had fantastic peripherals in five starts in 2017 and is ranked as Baseball America’s 23rd rated prospect. Finally, Newcomb was up and down in 2017, but the big lefty seems like he could only need to control his walk rate to be a solid starter. The Braves may end up relying on a late call-up for top prospects Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka to sure up the pitching.

Last season, the Rockies surprised everyone by making the playoffs on a combination of great offense and rookies and no-names in the rotation that did just enough. The Braves could be the next team to follow that formula before the pitching prospects start coming up and the real fun begins.

 

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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