Spring Training Battle: Braves Outfield Loaded

The Atlanta Braves enter 2021 with a couple prospects ready to make the jump. Even after a weird 2020 when the minor leagues didn’t go, there were still games in the back fields and leagues all winter that prospects were able to showcase. One would think, with a year off, they would be delayed another year, but teams found a way to get work in for their top prospects. For the Braves, players like Cristian Pache, Drew Waters, Ian Anderson, Braden Shewmake, Kyle Muller, William Contreras, Tucker Davidson, Jassell De La Cruz, Freddy Tarnok, Patrick Weigel, and Trey Harris are all projected to get some MLB time this year.

For Fantasy purposes, let’s examine the first two, centerfielders Cristian Pache and Drew Waters. I believe one will start the year out in CF for Atlanta. Currently, the outfield consists of LF Marcel Ozuna and Ronald Acuna will move to RF. Ender Inciarte is still on the roster, but with the Braves already siding with Pache in the playoffs over Inciarte, gives us a clear indication on what they are thinking.

Inciarte, Pache, and Waters are all clear GREAT defenders. Pache leads this group, Inciarte’s metrics over the past few years haven’t been as strong, but the Gold Glove can still get after it. Pache is considered an Andruw Jones talent, and Waters is no slouch either. MLB ranked both inside the top 10 for best defensive outfield prospects.

Both are invited to spring training camp, but given what we saw last year, the team is leaning with the outfield of Pache, Acuna, and Ozuna. A dream Braves fans have been waiting on. Unfortunately for Waters, the Braves never gave him an opportunity last year when prospects across the league were giving shots to showcase. For Waters, he struggled in AAA in 2019 offensively and the Braves feel he just needs more seasoning before seeing MLB pitching daily.

Let’s take a look at projections for 2021. Fangraphs isn’t too high on both this year. Fangraphs steamer, THE BAT, and depth charts all have Pache playing all year, with Waters grabbing only a handful of ABs. Meanwhile, ESPN has plus projections for both and loves Waters in a small sample size.

Fangraphs Projections (ZiPS):
Cristian Pache – 506 AB, 13 HR, .238 AVG, .285 OBP
Drew Waters – 578 AB, 11 HR, .235 AVG, .280 OBP

ESPN Projections:
Cristian Pache – 367 AB, 8 HR, .267 AVG, .328 OBP
Drew Waters – 93 AB, 1 HR, .290 AVG, .340 OBP

For the Braves to not let Waters play last year was a no brainer. He already struggled against MLB pitching early on. If they are set on Pache, Acuna, and Ozuna, why showcase Waters? If he’s called up and doesn’t produce, it will hurt his stock. It’s no secret, of the group, Waters is the one that has been talked about in trades.

I don’t think the Braves are ready to trade him just yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see his name in a trade for a power third basemen or ace pitcher. The Braves just signed Ozuna for four years. It’s not going to take four years for Waters to get ready and Pache/Acuna aren’t going anywhere. Only way Waters gets a taste is with injuries or if Pache struggles. After watching Pache last year, I don’t think the prolonged struggles will happen for Pache, he seems poised beyond his years.

I also don’t think the Braves call up Waters either for a small DL stint for any of the three above. Perhaps Waters will stay with the Braves through 2022 and the Braves let him season all year to get a good look at the new outfield and how Pache will do, but my gut has Waters patrolling CF in a different uniform.

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