Ronald Acuña Jr. leads the Braves outfield in 2021. (Photo cred: John Bazemore, AP)
The 2021 season is right around the corner and with it, the quest will begin for the Atlanta Braves to avenge their 2020 NLCS loss and seek to win their first World Series since 1995. With players such as the reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman, as well as returning All Star pitcher Mike Soroka, the Braves have the weapons on offense and defense to make a run to the Fall Classic (not to mention the return of fans to Truist Park, which I personally am excited for).
A big storyline for the season will be who we see in the outfield for the Braves this year. Nick Markakis, who has been a staple of the Braves for the past five years, is currently a free agent, and it appears Atlanta might not re-sign him. Adam Duvall, another 2020 outfielder, recently signed with the Miami Marlins, the team he helped the Braves score 29 runs against last year. A guy that was re-signed, however, was Marcell Ozuna, who played much of 2020 as the designated hitter for the Braves thanks to last year’s universal DH rule, but whose primary position is left field. This year, we could see several players starting in left, center, and right field. Some will be proven names, and some will be rising stars for the Atlanta Braves.
Ronald Acuña Jr.
Not much of a surprise here. Acuña has established himself as one of the game’s top young stars. At just 23 years old, he has 81 career home runs and a career .281 batting average. He can also line up just about anywhere in outfield. Don’t be surprised if his name is in consideration for N.L. MVP throughout the year. The key for Acuña will be how much he stays healthy. Like fellow teammate Ozzie Albies, Ronald spent a lot of the 2020 season battling various injuries. Despite this, he managed to finish third on the team with 14 home runs. We all know how dangerous he can be, both on offense and defense. Expect a big 2021 for Ronnie.
As was mentioned earlier, the Braves re-signed the man who nearly won the first National League Triple Crown since Joe Medwick of the St. Louis Cardinals did it back in 1937. Ozuna was able to focus on primarily hitting last season due to MLB’s universal DH rule, but he did spend a few games in the outfield. Many have questioned Ozuna’s defense over the years, with some saying he is a liability. Ozuna does however have a Gold Glove award to his name. Sure, he may not be an Andruw Jones or Andrelton Simmons type of player with the glove, but to say he is a below average outfielder would be wrong. The major appeal to Marcell is his bat. We all saw the damage he could do last season, from producing a three home run game at Fenway park, to also helping elevate Freddie Freeman’s hitting numbers. Ozuna is an excellent team player as well. He loves Atlanta, his teammates love him, and the fans love him, selfie skills and all.
Did somebody say defense? Inciarte is arguably the best defensive outfielder the Braves have. Since being acquired in 2015 alongside Dansby Swanson from the Arizona Diamondbacks, he has won three straight Gold Glove awards from 2016-2018, and was an All Star in 2017. Since his lone All Star year however, his hitting numbers have started to dip. Last year, he hit just .190 in 116 at-bats. Ender is only 30 years old, but with several young outfielders coming up, he might be the odd man out in the starting lineup. This doesn’t mean, however, that the Braves should limit Ender’s playing time. He is still an excellent defender in the outfield, and can provide Atlanta with a great player off the bench in a pinch hitting or running situation. He is someone Brian Snitker can use in any given situation.
One of the top outfield prospects for the Braves, Cristian Pache helped establish himself last year during the NLCS when he had to assume an everyday role in the outfield after the injury to Adam Duvall. Pache did not disappoint, as he came up with some timely hits, and had a gem of a play where he robbed Max Muncy of a home run. Many predict Pache will be an everyday outfielder at some point, whether that will be later this season or by the beginning of 2022. I think there is major potential for Pache. He seems to have all the tools necessary to be a great MLB player, and I expect him to have a breakout 2021.
Waters is the one guy on this list that Braves fans have not seen play yet, but that will likely change in 2021. A 2nd round pick back in 2017 and a native of Woodstock, GA, Waters has had a great career in the minors so far. In 2019, between both AA and AAA, Waters hit .309 with 7 home runs and 52 RBIs in 134 games. He is definitely a guy that can hit at the top of the lineup, and could be a great player to have for the Braves come October. It is unknown for sure when Waters will be called up, but I would be shocked if it were not before September.
The future is bright for the Braves outfield. With a great blend of power and contact hitting, as well as great defense, these men will be nightmares to both pitchers and hitters next season. Let’s hope everyone stays healthy as we make our push to the 2021 World Series.