Once again the Atlanta Braves bullpen should be one of the team’s biggest strengths in 2023. It’s not surprising, but good grief is this team’s relief core loaded, and understandably FanGraphs has Atlanta projected as easily the best bullpen in baseball, ahead of the Padres.
Atlanta’s bullpen will once again lean on AJ Minter and Collin McHugh this coming season. Both were very much responsible for the team’s second-place finish in reliever WAR in 2022.
The question will be who else will help carry much of the load?
Viable candidates to assist the Minter/McHugh-led Braves bullpen is returning reliever Dylan Lee, who did a helluva job doing just that in 2022, tallying 50.2 major league innings last season while posting a stingy 2.13 ERA. I know, I know… Spring Training doesn’t matter… but Lee has been lights out in camp this year, pitching 8.2 shutout innings so far.
Joe Jimenez, acquired this off-season in a trade with the Tigers, is also a promising candidate, and who FanGraphs projects to finish behind Minter and McHugh in WAR for 2023. Jimenez has averaged 11.8 strikeouts per nine in 102 total innings across his last two seasons with Detroit, so I could definitely see him fitting right in as one of the Braves top-three shutdown relievers.
Even after that there’s a plethora of options for Atlanta. Raisel Iglesias will eventually return from shoulder inflammation and should rack up the punchouts; Kirby Yates is finally healthy, reportedly back to his pre-injury marks in terms of fastball velocity; recently acquired Nick Anderson is a consistent arm; Mike Soroka will need to work his way back, and the bullpen is the perfect place to build himself back up; we know Kolby Allard has the goods, as he once was a top-10 prospect for the Braves; and even at 39-years-old, Jesse Chavez can still get the job done.
Plus there are some interesting options from both the pool of arms that didn’t make the starting rotation to open the regular season, as well as a few of the team’s prospects. Bryce Elder, Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright are currently outside the Braves starting staff and could eventually provide relief innings if needed. Prospects Victor Vodnik and Roddery Munoz will likely get a chance to appear for Atlanta as well. As of right now, there definitely isn’t a shortage in arms.
During the Braves current competitive window (since 2018), the team’s bullpen has steadily improved, with last season going down as its best in that department. That trend appears to continue for the 2023 campaign. Hopefully it’s success translates to a ton of wins.