Braves Breakout Candidates

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Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, Michael Harris II, Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright, William Contreras (rip), Vaughn Grissom. The Braves received some expected and very unexpected breakouts in 2022 (27.6 fWAR of breakouts) to catapult them to be the NL East champions for the 5th straight year. Due to all the breakouts from last year, there aren’t near as many candidates for the 2023 team, but there’s still a few to discuss that could do great things for this team.

Breakout Candidate 1: Sean Murphy

How can a dude that tallied a 5.1 fWAR season have a breakout year? Easy. He left Oakland and while other catcher’s defensive stats are going to plummet due to the new rules, Murphy’s will shoot through the roof. He’s the best catcher in the game at controlling baserunners and his power will play in Atlanta much better than it did in Oakland. If I were predicting end of season fWAR totals, I think Sean Murphy would be number 2 on my list.

Breakout Candidate 2: Matt Olson

I’m sure Olson felt the pressure of filling Freddie Freeman‘s presence in his first year and that might have been part of the reason his numbers were down. However, the biggest reason they were down was due to the shift. Now that infielders have to actually be in the dirt until contact, Olson’s gappers are going to find grass, not short fielders.

Breakout Candidate 3: Ian Anderson

Ian’s season last year was the one I was expecting in 2021. With very little movement and lack of elite velo, the league picked him apart and was able to just sit on the fastball. This offseason, Ian has put a ton of time in to tighten up his game and rumor has it there’s a new pitch in development. If Ian can find another plus pitch to go with his changeup, look out.

Breakout Candidate 4: Sam Hilliard

It seems so odd to go to a Statcast page of a dude with a ton of red in power, speed, range, and arm strength playing in Colorado carrying a .544 OPS, but that has been the story of Sam Hilliard since his rookie season. It sounds like Sam has a swing plane problem, and while Kevin Seitzer hasn’t been able to fix everyone (see Marcell Ozuna), I’m really excited to see if Seitzer can work his magic on a player that is too talented to be this bad.

Breakout Candidate 5: Michael Tonkin

Before he battled injuries, Chris Martin was one of my favorite relievers to watch down the stretch in 2019. A 6’7 dude that carried a 13K/BB ratio? What’s not to like. And while the Braves don’t have Martin around, they do have what looks to be a Martin clone in Michael Tonkin. Tonkin is 33 so he’s no spring chicken, but he’s been limiting walks, striking out sides, and is hungry to get his first chance in the bigs since 2017.

Breakout Candidate 6: Dennis Santana

Dennis Santana had a 10 game stretch last year where he carried a near 20 ERA. Simply put, he lost the strike zone. Outside of that, he was great and his Statcast page for the year looks promising. His advanced metrics show a lot of promise and I expect to see him start out in innings 5&6 and end in 7 or 8.

Do you have a player you think explodes in 2023 that isn’t listed? Let’s hear about it in the comments.

Author: Ryan Cothran

Ryan is the site editor and manager of Braves Journal. Follow him on Twitter.

34 thoughts on “Braves Breakout Candidates”

  1. Re: Ian Anderson. They sat on the fastball, not the changeup.
    xWOBA against fastball: .382
    xWOBA against changeup: .278

  2. Ryan, can you expand a bit more on what you see in Hilliard? What I see from scouting the stat line is a guy who can rake in the PCL but who struggles everywhere else, including the Dominican Winter League a year ago and in Double-A before the Rockies promoted him (in my view, prematurely). I get from the Max EV that he’s a guy with some light-tower batting practice power. But there’s an incredibly long road from BP power to game power.

    Reading this piece, for example, gives some context — he struggled in the PCL partly due to a stomach bug. And he lost his father last year, which had to have been a brutal weight to play through.

    But the issue with his swing, according to his own manager, is that it’s too long and he strikes out too much. It reminds me a lot of another Rockies power/speed guy, Raimel Tapia, who I’m sure would be available if we wanted him, whose very loud tools and very low skills turned him into a journeyman replacement player. (Tapia is just 17 days older than Hilliard, and his .277/.318/.392 slash is actually a bit better than Hilliard’s .212/.294/.423. The BoSox just signed Tapia to a minor league deal.)

    What gives you confidence that Hilliard’s swing can be shortened and his game power can be unlocked?

  3. Arraez to Miami for SP Lopez + prospects. Apparently Miami is gonna play Arraez at 1b? I am a little confused I guess; Arraez might legit be the best hitter for average in MLB these days, certainly up there with Freddie, but offensively that’s really his only skill. .315/.360/.400 does not strike me as a really good 1b line. I think Lopez is pretty good, too!

  4. I always really liked Lopez. I guess this is what it costs to get two years of cost control for a good but not great starting pitcher. Arraez has an additional year of team control, and per Fangraphs, Jose Salas is also a top-100 prospect.

    Seems like a good trade for the playoff-bubble Twins to get another really good piece. For the Marlins, they’re getting a good major league player for once as well as a couple of prospects, one of whom has a certain amount of status already and another of whom is regarded by BA as a “lottery ticket.”

    It seems kinda not bad for either team?

  5. I got to watch Hilliard a lot during his season here in Asheville (low A at the time). What I saw was a guy with incredible tools that needed to be turned into skills – and he was in perhaps the worst organization in baseball at the time to help him with that task. His success at the level was entirely due to being the best athlete on the field and never because he was learning.

    Now, don’t get the idea that he isn’t reasonably smart or wasn’t trying as he most assuredly was: it’s just that the Colorado system at the time was fixated on results, and playing in the bandbox that is McCormick Field a big strong guy like Sam was always going to get enough hits/homers/doubles to impress the most retrograde management and development team in the game.

    So, he moved up the system and his development has stagnated to the point where he can no longer hit at altitude! This is damning! I hope we start him at AAA and actually work on swing plane and contact and spin recognition because the guy I saw on TV last year was exactly the same skillswise as the guy I saw 6 years ago.

    Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my prospects piece, the Braves minor league developmental staff and coaches have largely failed at swing changes and cutting down on strikeouts. Perhaps because Hilliard already has good plate discipline he can be the exception but I have my doubts.

  6. Not sure why the Braves wouldn’t sign Johan Camargo to a minor league deal. Seems like pretty decent guy to sign considering our needs. I wish the Braves were playing harder with minor league signings. I still expect a signing or trade when Ynoa and Matzek are moved to the 60day IL.

  7. @12 yes. I suspect the Braves will sign either Profar or Andrus if they’re still on the market when they have 40-man slots open up. Unless they agree to a MiLB contract or a split contract.

  8. I don’t think a 40 man roster spot would be in consideration when signing a guy who would be a starter, would it?

  9. Profar is not a shortstop. It’s questionable whether he’s even still an infielder. When the Padres had second base open up, they gave the corpse of Robinson Cano a look rather than play Profar there. (And this was after the Braves had already done the same.)

    If AA signs an Andrus/Iglesias-type player, it’s a pretty clear signal that shortstop is going to be a problem for a while. It’s a concession that they don’t think Grissom is the answer, and external options are going to be thin on the ground for the next several years unless something changes radically. So I hope they don’t do it — their offseason doesn’t make any sense if they don’t think Grissom can play short.

  10. Before last year, Andrus hadn’t been good since 2017. I wouldn’t sign Andrus for free since I’d rather see what Grissom has.

  11. I’m not advocating for Andrus or Profar as starters, but more as depth. I am sure we’ll see Grissom starting at SS, Rosario (and a platoon partner) in LF and Ozuna at DH. Ether or both of Andrus and Profar would be better insurance against injury than anything at AAA right now. I think Andrus is at least as good as Simmons at this point – certainly a better hitter. On the other hand, if you want to send Grissom to AAA then some combination of Andrus/Arcia is not a bad replacement. I am on the side that we have, potentially, the 4th best team in all of baseball already and don’t require a “lot” of improvement. What we really need is for someone we already have to outperform expectations (ala the core of this article).

    @14 Since I don’t think there are any starters left on the market, yes, I think a 40-man spot will need to be opened before AA does anything more. And any further signings will be for depth unless we somehow trade Ozuna.

    @15 I don’t really care if Profar is a good infielder or not. He can cover an OF spot or an IF spot as depth or injury replacement. Signing Andrus might be a good idea regardless of the situation, but signing Profar might depend on what you think you have in our OF mix. Is Profar better than Hilliard, Luplow, White, Rosario, or Ozuna? Certainly if the Braves were willing to try Cano over Arcia last year then giving Profar a shot to shine is not much of a stretch.

    Whether Andrus or Profar are “good” depends upon what your expectations are.

  12. For anyone that hasn’t figured it out yet, our projected starters are set – Grissom at SS, Rosario (and platoon partner) in LF, and Ozuna at DH. Unless there’s some trade or flame out in Spring Training, this is a done deal. Ozuna might be the LF platoon partner with Murphy/D’Arnaud at DH but that’s just details. All that remains is how many ABs any of the above will share with Luplow/Hilliard/etc…

    We have a lot of guys that could potentially breakout or flame out (including pitchers), but the final pieces of a championship team are put together at the trade deadline not the off-season. In the off-season, you build a good or great team; at the deadline you build a championship team.

  13. In the offseason, you build a championship team. At the deadline, you make it better or fill holes that cropped up unexpectedly. This idea that it’s OK to knowingly leave a team incomplete in the offseason because we can just add stuff two-thirds of the way through the season (when it could already be too late, though that’s less likely now that a bajillion teams make the playoffs) drives me nuts.

  14. The reason I say Profar might not be an infielder anymore is because he’s developed a fairly serious case of the yips. It’s not that his range has declined and he’s merely subpar there; it’s that every other throw might go into the stands. You can’t play that at short even on a short-term or substitute basis.

  15. @23 Get used to it. Why waste a bunch of money trying to fill unfillable holes when you’re close to your max payroll when you’re just going to have to adjust again in July? Seems prudent to see where your holes really are in July. We’ll see if any trades happen but I don’t see any way to get better than what we are now, considering we are pegged to be the 4th best team in baseball. Time to roll with it. With only a small bit of luck, we won’t have to do anything at the deadline.

    @24 OK, fine. But at this point it’s either that or what we already have.

  16. Lineup vs RH – alternate rh and lh hitters.
    1. Acuna, rf
    2. Harris. Cf
    3. Riley. 3b
    4. Olson 1b
    5. D’arnaud. DH
    6. Albies, 2b
    7. Murphy, c
    8. Rosario, lf
    9. Grissom , ss

    Lineup vs LH pitcher

    Acuna, rf
    Albies ,2b
    Riley,3b
    4.Olson, 1b
    Murphy, c
    Ludlow, lf
    Harris , cf
    8..Ozuna, dh
    Grissom ,ss

    Thoughts on these lineups ?????

  17. Grissom and Arcia are going to compete for SS during spring training and only until neither impresses will a move be made.

    Personally I think Grissom – who hit .291 as a 21-year-old – will be fine as long as his glove is good enough.

    Trivia: Vaughn Grissom was born the year after Rafael Furcal made his Braves debut.

  18. @23 – you answered your own doubts. “A bajillion teams make the playoffs”, aka, the Crapshoot. The Phillies got to the WS after securing the sixth and final spot at the end of the season.

    @28-I don’t love Harris hitting second.

  19. I don’t think Grissom is ready with the glove or bat. He started off hot, but was pretty bad for most of September.

    He had 74 ABs in August and struck out 12 times with 6 XBHs
    In September he had 64 ABs with 20 strikeouts and 4XBHs

    After September 7th, he really fell off a cliff.

    The fielding metrics at second base were bad. The eye test was worse. Dansby was almost walking over to put him in position like a Little League dad.

    I know he is young an was rushed up. I know DOB and Bowman are prepping their feel good stories on the Voodoo Magic of Ron Washington over two weeks in New Orleans transformed this kid into Barry Larkin.

    The Braves know this too. I can’t see a team seriously competing for a World Series with a player in one of the most important positions who hits like Andrelton Simmons but fields like Jeff Blauser with a broken foot.

  20. Man, let the kid grow. Tennessee had a 37-year old QB but you don’t think this 22-year old has some offseason development in him? Dang, homie.

  21. I mean, he’d better. Otherwise the team is punting a third of its lineup most days as well as making everyone on the pitching staff that much worse due to bad defense at a core position. It’s just kind of iffy as Plan A, you know?

    Again, though, it’s too late and the alternatives are too bad to do anything except cross your fingers and hope Ron Washington is a magician.

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