Acuna, Braves hope to repeat 2018 suc­cess

Dayton Daily News - - MLB PREVIEW - By Charles Odum

Ron­ald Acuna AT­LANTA —

Jr. helped the At­lanta Braves ac­cel­er­ate their re­build­ing sched­ule in 2018, when they were the sur­prise NL East cham­pi­ons.

As the Braves en­ter their last spring train­ing at their Dis­ney com­plex in Kis­sim­mee, Florida, the next chal­lenge is to move closer to their first World Series since 1999.

Acuna won the NL rookie of the year and placed 12th in the MVP vot­ing de­spite play­ing in only 111 games as a 20-year-old left fielder. The na­tive of Venezuela showed all the tools — power, speed and de­fense — that make him the next face of the fran­chise.

Fred­die Free­man, the cur­rent fran­chise player who was fourth in that MVP vote, said he can’t wait to see what Acuna can do in a full sea­son.

“I don’t know what that guy’s ceil­ing is,” Free­man said last month. “He is spe­cial . ... It’s go­ing to be fun to watch him play ev­ery sin­gle day. If he can stay healthy, it’s go­ing to be huge.”

The Braves bol­stered their lineup by sign­ing third base­man Josh Don­ald­son, the 2015 AL MVP, to a one-year, $23 mil­lion deal. They also added vet­eran catcher Brian McCann, bring­ing him back to where he launched his ca­reer, and re-signed right fielder Nick Markakis.

Here are some ar­eas to watch for dur­ing spring train­ing:

New look

A left calf strain spoiled Don­ald­son’s 2018 sea­son with Toronto and Cleve­land. The Braves are gam­bling Don­ald­son, 33, re­turns to his peak three-year level of 2015-17, when he av­er­aged 37 homers. “We weren’t look­ing at third base,” said gen­eral man­ager Alex An­thopou­los. “We just wanted a big bat with power.” McCann re­places Kurt Suzuki in shar­ing time with catcher Tyler Flow­ers. Don­ald­son pushes Jo­han Ca­margo out of third base and into a su­per util­ity role. Ca­margo and Char­lie Cul­ber­son pro­vide ex­cel­lent ver­sa­til­ity to the bench, a weak spot in 2018. Re­place­ment starters must be found for Ani­bal Sanchez and Bran­don McCarthy, who com­bined for 39 starts last sea­son.

Rook­ies to watch

Right-han­der Touki Tous­saint could win a ro­ta­tion spot this spring. His team­mates rave about his po­ten­tial, which is built around a curve­ball which prom­ises to be his sig­na­ture pitch. Left-han­ders Kolby Al­lard and Luiz Go­hara and righthanders Mike Soroka, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wil­son also will com­pete for start­ing jobs. Third base­man Austin Ri­ley may be the rea­son the Braves were in­ter­ested in only a oneyear deal with Don­ald­son. Out­fielder Cris­tian Pache, an out­stand­ing de­fen­sive player, is the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s other top po­si­tion prospect.

They’re set

De­fense re­mains a strong point. The out­field in­cludes 2018 Gold Glove win­ners Markakis and In­cia­rte. Acuna, who might even­tu­ally move to right field or cen­ter field, also is a strong de­fen­sive player. Free­man also won a Gold Glove while fin­ish­ing fourth in the MVP vot­ing. Ozzie Al­bies, a pos­si­ble fu­ture Gold Glove win­ner, showed sur­pris­ing power with 24 homers and is a lock at sec­ond base.

They’re not

Mike Foltynewicz emerged as an All-Star and No. 1 starter last sea­son, and mid­sea­son ad­di­tion Kevin Gaus­man helped so­lid­ify the mid­dle of the ro­ta­tion. Other­wise, many ques­tions re­main in the ro­ta­tion, es­pe­cially af­ter Julio Te­heran was sent to the bullpen for the playoffs. Young starters un­able to go deep into games could put a heavy drain on a bullpen which has its own ques­tions. Arodys Viz­caino’s sore shoul­der kept him from han­dling the full-time closer’s job, while A.J. Min­ter bat­tled con­trol is­sues at times.

On deck

Braves pitch­ers and catch­ers have their first work­out on Feb. 16, and the team’s first full-squad work­out is Feb. 21. They plan to move into a new spring train­ing fa­cil­ity in North Port, Florida, near Sara­sota, in 2020 and have sched­uled their fi­nal ex­hi­bi­tion game this spring at the new fa­cil­ity on March 24. The Braves open the sea­son on March 28 at Philadel­phia. At­lanta’s home opener is April 1 against the Cubs.

JOHN BAZEMORE / AP 2018

At­lanta Braves left fielder Ron­ald Acuna Jr. helped the At­lanta Braves ac­cel­er­ate their re­build­ing sched­ule in 2018, when they were the sur­prise win­ners of the NL East.

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