Mining the Braves Outfield

Two years ago the Braves were hoping to have the best outfield in baseball, with legitimate 20-20 options at left, center, and right field. This year, things are certainly different and much less intriguing from a fantasy perspective. There still may be some value for deeper leagues, despite the lackluster options the Braves are rolling out into the outfield this season.

Right Field:

Right field is the only certainty the Braves have. They signed Nick Markakis to a four year deal and is coming off of a 14 home run season. The likelihood is that Markakis bats either first or second, so he should score some runs and have a decent average and on base percentage due to his control of the strike zone. Other than that, Markakis is not much more than a deep league or NL only right fielder. The days of double digit steals are most likely long gone.

Center Field

Despite two awful seasons, I was actually interested in owning BJ Upton in standard leagues this year prior to his recent foot injury that will have him on the disabled list at the start of the year. Upton, with all of his issues, is still a candidate in 600 plate appearances for 15 homers and 20+ steals. That will obviously have to be pro-rated, but he’s still an interesting guy due to his power and speed.
With Upton out, the Braves have to figure out what to do in center at the start of the year. There is not really a “leader” in the group of Eric Young Jr., Todd Cunningham, Eury Perez, or Zoilo Almonte currently. I will break down each individually.

Young: He played exactly 100 games last year and was worth 1.2 wins, mostly due to his defense in left field. From my understanding, that same quality defense will not carry over to center. His offense was limited last year as he packed very little pop and an OBP of .299. He did manage to steal 30 bases which absolutely has value in all formats. If he gets the centerfield job out of the gate, he is a guy worthy of being on your roster.

Cunningham: This is actually my favorite choice for the position, as a Braves advocate. Cunningham finished his second full season of triple-A last year and is just about to be 26-years-old. He is on the verge of being a quad-A player without ever actually proving that the majors is too tough for him. Last year he hit .287/.347/.406 with eight homers and 19 steals. Throughout the minors he has shown pretty solid plate control and decent speed. I do not expect the speed to transition into the majors, but I do think he could be a solid fourth outfielder who would be useful to spell these types of injuries. However, he does not have much to offer from a fantasy perspective.

Perez: From a fantasy standpoint, Perez looks like a younger version of Eric Young Jr. He bats only right-handed, but ZiPS projects him at .271/.305/.350 with 30 steals if give 446 plate appearances. If you are in a batting average league, it is hard to see Perez not finding a spot on your roster if he is given the full time role for the opening months. The speed and decent enough average should make him valuable, and with the Braves lack of options at the top of the lineup it is likely that he would be utilizing his speed in front of Freddie Freeman – the Braves only real impact hitter.

Almonte: Almonte is the one guy I would like not to see win this position battle. I think he would be more useful in a platoon in left field with Jonny Gomes. From what I have read his defense would not suffice in center and that should be the priority for the Braves in finding their temporary center field replacement. Almonte has more power than any of the other Braves and he’s also the most likely of the bunch to have a spot on the roster this year as he signed a major league deal in the offseason. Even with a bit of power, Almonte is likely to have a sub-.300 OBP and lackluster speed. Unlike the others, if Almonte does win the center field role, it would be expected that he will be hitting at the bottom of the lineup.

Left Field:

The expectation so far is that Jonny Gomes will be in somewhat of a “soft platoon” in left field. He will start every game against left-handed pitching, but may also see a few starts against righties as well. Gomes only had a .095 ISO last year but has had an ISO above .150 every other year of his career. In daily leagues Gomes would be interesting due to his ability to hit well against lefties. I would not be willing to start him against righties, but in OBP leagues a .335 average with 11 home runs in 322 plate appearances could be useful in daily formats if you have enough roster spots.

The platoon partner will be likely a combination of Almonte, Kelly Johnson, or Eric Young Jr. As a platoon option, none of them are too appealing from a fantasy perspective.

Overall, the Braves outfield is lackluster but the fill in options in center field could be useful in the short term. We know what we have in Markakis but the rest of the outfield is full of variables. I do not hate the idea of stashing Upton if you feel someone else will do the same, though the likelihood is that you should be able to pick him up on the waiver wire as he rehabs from his foot injury. Most of these options are suitable only for the deepest leagues, but if Eury Perez wins the starting center field role out of the gate there is certainly standard league value for teams looking for a speed injection.

Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.

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Steve Stein
Steve Stein