We go from one of the worst teams in baseball in Arizona to the team that just won the 2021 World Series, the Atlanta Braves. After losing Ronald Acuña Jr in mid-July, not many expect Atlanta to make a deep postseason run or even to make the postseason at all. But great mid-season acquisitions like Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, and Eddie Rosario helped this Atlanta squad defy all offs and grab their first World Series title since 1995. This Atlanta team is chalked full of talent on the mound and at the plate with three potential top-15 picks in 2022 drafts. That is, if longtime face of the franchise, Freddie Freeman returns via free agency.
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Atlanta Braves 2022 Outlook, Top Prospects, & Dynasty Report
Where To Draft Ronald Acuña Jr in 2022
This is a major question at the top of 2022 draft boards. A fully healthy Ronald Acuña Jr is a top-5 pick without question and likely top-3. However, after suffering a season-ending torn ACL on July 10th. This now leaves his availability for the start of the season in doubt, and in turn, makes him a risky first-round selection. I asked our injury expect, Nic Civale, when he thought Acuña would make his 2022 season debut.
If they get a DH in the NL? Probably mid April or season opener possible. If not? I’d predict mid-late may.
So when should Acuña be drafted in 2022 drafts? I’ve seen him go anywhere from 4th to 15 in drafts so far. For me, Acuña is still a no-doubt first-round pick. We’re talking about a 50/30 talent that could still fo 35/25 if he debuted on May 1st. And don’t forget, for those leagues with IL spots, you can stash him there and still get production from someone off the waiver wire while you’re waiting for Acuña to debut. I’m no doctor, but Acuña seems like the kind of athlete that could return sooner than most too.
Ronald Acuna Jr. has made great progress from the terrible injury he suffered on July 10, when he suffered a complete ACL tear in his right knee after attempting a leaping catch in right field.@Braves pic.twitter.com/E6aiwqk8xW
— Héctor Gómez (@hgomez27) November 14, 2021
Is Austin Riley’s 2021 Performance Legit?
Austin Riley turned into a whole new hitter in 2021. The new and improved Riley still displayed big-time power production, but with an improved approach and contact skills to go with it. The improved approach actually began in the shortened 2020 season, but his .239/.301/.415 slash line overshadowed the gains he made at the plate. Then, in 2021, Riley’s slash line skyrocketed to a robust .303/.367/.531 with a 7.9% walk rate and 25.4% strikeout rare. Despite the wide range in those two batting averages, there was only a 17 point difference in Riley’s xBA from 2020 to 2021. The breakout was quietly looming entering 2021 and Riley came through in a big way.
Moving forward, I’m not quite expecting Riley to remain above .300 annually, but he’s proven that settling into the .270-.280 range is certainly attainable. Riley’s xBA in 2021 sat at .279 and he has continued to improve at the plate each season. Riley’s whiff, chase, and SwStr rates have improved in each of the last two seasons, as has his chase contact and overall contact rates. All of this while incrementally improving his quality of contact metrics as well, such as his barrel rate, Max EV, hard-hit rate, xSLG, and xwOBACON.
Take away around 20-25 points from his 2021 average and that’s where I believe Riley’s baseline for production will be moving forward, with maybe even a bit more power. He’s a rock-solid four-category fantasy contributor that should be considered around a top-50 player in 2022 and dynasty leagues as well.
Is Jorge Soler Back?
Back to his 2019 levels? Not quite. However, I’m definitely in the camp of Soler being closer to the Atlanta version than the Kansas City version that we saw earlier in 2021. After a paltry .192/.288/.370 slash line in 94 games with Kansas City to start the season, Soler exploded after being dealt to Atlanta. In 55 games, Soler swatted 13 home runs with a much more appealing .269/.358/.524 line. He even cut his strikeout rate drastically down to 18.6% while maintaining his 12% walk rate and elite power metrics.
For 2022 drafts, I’m buying the Soler we saw in Atlanta. Well, at least 95% of it. His long track record of higher strikeout rates (career 27.7%) lead me to think that the 18.6% mark won’t stick moving forward, but at the same time, Soler’s zone contact and whiff rates were career-best marks in 2021. Even as a .250-.260 hitter, Soler’s elite power could have him pushing top-100 value in 2022 if he lands in a good offense, whether that’s back in Atlanta or elsewhere. Wherever he ends up, I’ll be looking forward to more mammoth blasts like the one below which I’m pretty sure traveled 3.6 miles with an exit velocity of 462 mph.
OH MY 😳
Jorge Soler hits a 3-run BOMB OVER THE TRAIN TRACKS!!! pic.twitter.com/pOAZfLRUYz
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) November 3, 2021
Any Value Left In Waters and Pache?
There’s always some value in every prospect, but in dynasty leagues, I’m avoiding Drew Waters and Cristian Pache right now. Pache still possesses somewhat of a floor longterm as his gold-glove caliber defense in center field will give him every opportunity to secure the starting gig. However, I’m not projecting him to be more than a .270/15/15 type at the plate. His raw power hasn’t consistently translated to game power as a professional and let’s just say he’s been less than efficient as a base stealer throughout his career. All of that plus a projected low spot in the order makes Pache a low-end fantasy asset at best in my eyes.
As for Waters, I’m not interested in the slightest. There’s still above-average speed here which has some intrigue, but I just don’t believe Waters will hit enough to be a serviceable Major League starting outfielder. As a switch-hitter, Waters has always struggled as a RHB vs southpaws and stopped hitting well from the left side in 2021 as well. On top of that, his power hasn’t progressed as expected and has plateaued or even regressed slightly in the last 18-24 months or so. He’s still hanging on as a top-200 prospect for me, but I’m not going to have any shares of him any time soon unless someone gives him to me for free.
Huascar Ynoa Risky?
One of the bright spots in the Atlanta pitching staff this past season was Huascar Ynoa. The 23-year-old right-hander finished the season with a 4.05 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 6.7 BB%, and 26.9 K%. However, he was much better in the 1st half of the season with a 3.02 ERA and 1.05 WHIP compared to 5.05 and 1.17 respectively in the 2nd half. While Ynoa had an above-average walk rate, strikeout rate, whiff rate, and chase rate, he was well below-average in barrels allowed, avg exit velocity, and hard-hit rate.
On top of getting hit hard, Ynoa is mostly a two-pitch pitcher. He combined to throw his four-seamer and slider 88.7% of the time and 93.2% of the time against right-handed batters. His slider has proven to be a solid offering, but the four-seamer registered a .305 xBA, .571 xSLG, and .399 xwOBA in 2021 with an average exit velocity of 92.6 mph. With this profile and his late-season struggles, Ynoa is a player I will have little to no shares of in 2022 drafts.
Top-15 Dynasty Prospects
Five Prospects To Target In Dynasty
Vaughn Grisson, SS
The 2019 11th round pick has quietly excelled as a professional, slashing .308/.399/.442 in 564 PA with 10 HR and 19 SB. He’s displayed above-average contact skills and a strong plate approach with a 10.8% walk rate and 14.4% strikeout rate thus far. There’s above-average speed and the potential for average power as well, giving Grissom a sneaky all-around profile that should have him rising further up prospect lists in 2022.
Luke Waddell, SS
It was a small sample size, but 2021 5th rounder Luke Waddell excelled in Hi-A with six homers in 21 games and a .304/.378/.580 slash before a late-season slide in AA tarnished his overall line. Waddell doesn’t stand out in any one area, but he can do everything well and should continue rising through Atlanta’s system quickle.
Jesse Franklin V, OF
Franklin’s power/speed blend was on display in 2021 with 24 home runs and 19 steals in just 406 PA, but that came with a .244 AVG and 28.3% K rate. While Franklin does have above-average power and speed, but there are hit tool and approach questions here that need to improve moving forward.
Bryce Elder, RHP
While Spencer Strider was the biggest breakout arm in this Atlanta system in 2021, both Bryce Elder and Joey Estes find themselves rising as well. Elder pitched to the tune of a 2.75 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 27.7% strikeout rate. Elder doesn’t possess elite velocity, but he’s shown a decent feel for all three of his secondaries and all four offerings could be 50s or better longterm. Would love to see him trim his 10.2% walk rate a bit though.
Joey Estes, RHP
A few levels below Elder, Joey Estes enjoyed a promising first full professional season. In 99 Lo-A innings, Estes excelled with a 2.91 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 7.3% walk rate, and a 32.1% strikeout rate. As a 19-year-old, Estes can really pound the zone with above-average control already. If he can continue increasing his velocity and refining his slider and changeup, Estes could really begin to fly up prospect rankings.
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Media Credit: Baseball Savant, Fox Sports: MLB, Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire, Héctor Gómez
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