Three Cuts: Braves continue search for first spring training win of 2018
The Atlanta Braves are still searching for their first Grapefruit League win after three games — for whatever spring training wins are worth to major-league teams playing a ramped-up February schedule. And as for spring training statistics? Two- and three-game sample sizes are tailor-made for unwarranted hand-wringing over top prospects and veterans alike. Still, major-leaguers are playing games, so here are three observations from some of the (extremely) early action.
Dansby Swanson sends a three-time Cy Young winner into the bleachers
For a player claiming a low power output through his first 182 MLB games, the Braves’ 24-year-old shortstop is collecting an impressive list of names he’s taken deep. His nine career regular-season homers include pitching names Gio Gonzalez (twice), Gerrit Cole, Jerad Eickhoff and Lucas Giolito. If spring training games are thrown into the mix — which is the reason this subject is being broached — Adam Wainwright and Max Scherzer and their nine top-five Cy Young finishes join the club.
The 2018 Braves roster looks fairly power-deficient. Atlanta’s active roster would have ranked 26th in the majors with 103 home runs during the 2017 season, and while that does not account for full-season contributions from the likes of Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies, it does factor in career highs for Ender Inciarte and Kurt Suzuki. Swanson is not going to singlehandedly push the franchise into baseball’s slugging upper echelon, but if he can rebound and out-pace his Steamer projections and reach double-digit homers it would be a start for an offense that will regardless rely more on extra-base hits than planting baseballs in the seats.
At any length, Swanson’s first spring hit was a loud one.
Cristian Pache’s bat could be the ticket to another meteoric prospect rise
Tyler Bashlor missed his location on a 92-mile-per-hour fastball and challenged Cristian Pache high and inside in the Braves’ spring opener. The 19-year-old roped the pitch down the left-field line, an RBI single for yet another promising outfield prospect in Atlanta’s system. He's 2 for 3 to start the Grapefruit League slate.
The scouting reports are consistent: Pache is a defensive wunderkind. The Dominican product boasts Gold Glove potential, and would likely provide a demonstrable defensive upgrade if manager Brian Snitker were to slot him in either corner outfield spot on Opening Day. (Yes, Opening Day 2018.) Aiding his defensive prowess is top-end athleticism packed into a 6-foot-2 frame; Pache was one of seven teenage prospects above rookie ball to log 30 or more stolen bases in 2017.
The Braves are on the wrong end of the swing-and-miss spectrum early on
Try not to get caught up in Atlanta’s 28 strikeouts through three spring games. Hitters just began facing live pitching when position players reported for full squads on Feb. 19 — a challenge multiple hitters acknowledged last week.
More concerning, albeit marginally considering many of Atlanta’s top arms have yet to throw a single inning, is the fact that opponents are not whiffing as frequently. Braves pitchers have struck out 13 batters in their first 24 innings of 2018. (It is worth repeating that names like Luiz Gohara, Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter have yet to take the mound.) Throw in the fact that the group has issued 20 walks, and it’s been a rocky start.
This would be less notable if Braves pitching had not been on the wrong end of the strikeout spectrum since the beginning of their rebuild. As the league’s strikeout numbers climbed to historic highs overall, the Braves have ranked in the bottom 10 in strikeout percentage in each of the past three seasons. Their whiff rate over this span ranked 27th overall, though that number climbed to the middle of the league’s pack last season as more and more high-ceiling arms arrive.
It’s a trend at least worth tracking throughout the spring and early season.