After an extended search and several interviews, the Atlanta Braves front office settled on a new General Manager in Jacob Pontzer. In his introductory press conference on Monday, the 26 year-old Pennsylvania native talked about the team’s strengths and weaknesses entering the new decade.
“I’m excited about the opportunity, and even more excited about the team this year and beyond,” Pontzer said, donning the Braves cap for the first time officially. “The club is a good mix of young hopeful talent and experienced, reliable veterans.”
Among those young talented players are left fielder Raimel Tapia and catcher Tanner Norton. Tapia made his first All-Star team in 2019, his first full season in Atlanta. Raimel was acquired prior to the trade deadline in Summer 2018 from the Colorado Rockies. Raimel had a .303/.346/.505, which was good enough for a 120 OPS+ and a 123 WRC+.
Not to be outdone, Norton lit the NL East on fire in his rookie 2019 season from behind the plate; his .377 OBP was near the top of the leader board for big-league catchers, second only to former MVP Salvador Perez of the Reds. Tanner’s above-average defense was also able to supplement his big bat enough to total a 5.2 WAR (enough to make the NL All-Star team as well).
Tapia and Norton join veteran Freddie Freeman (still a relatively young man himself, entering his age 30 season), the speedy defensive-specialist Jose Peraza (25), and iron man Jake Lamb (29, who played in all but one of the Braves’ games last season) in the Braves promising lineup.
The starting rotation looks to be even a stronger asset for Atlanta, based on their performances in 2019. Lefty Tim Cooney, acquired last June from St. Louis, leads the staff. However, any of the 3 other mainstays in the rotation (Taylor Jordan, Matt Wisler, and Kendall Graveman) could sit near top of a lesser team’s staff as well. The fifth rotation spot is still up in the air, according to Pontzer, but he feels there are several hopeful options to consider.
Finally, while bullpen arms can fluctuate in reliability greatly from season to season, Atlanta’s relievers should be a strength as well. New-age thinking will continue rule this collection of arms; last season 9 of the pitchers on the Braves’ current 40-man roster recorded saves, with the most recorded by righty Shae Simmons (who only had 14 himself). New GM Jacob Pontzer revealed that the team will not name a traditional “closer” for the new season, favoring a committee approach.
“Last season, it was certainly encouraging to see the team finish above .500, which I would say is ahead of schedule for a team that’s only 2 seasons removed from a 5th place 2017 year. This season I see us staying the course, only getting better day each day as the club grows together. While we may add some supplementary pieces prior to Spring Training (we’re specifically looking into adding catching depth with experience above AA and utility infielders), the players we have right now are the players we want to win with. Last year the Braves were ahead of schedule, but we’ll fall behind if we don’t keep improving in 2020.
Stay tuned during Spring Training for a full season preview for the Braves and their farm system.