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Braves Hope To Ride All-Latin Outfield Right Into Postseason

Yasiel Puig celebrates

Yasiel Puig, who finished last year with Cleveland, is now with the Braves [Latino Sports].

When the Atlanta Braves come to New York next week to open the 2020 baseball season, they’ll bring the Latin Quarter with them.

In the vernacular, that’s a nickname for an outfield that has more top-tier Latinos than any other in the major leagues.

In addition to holdovers Ronald Acuña, Jr., a popular pre-season choice for MVP, and Ender Inciarte, who owns three Gold Gloves, the Braves figure to give plenty of outfield playing time to Marcell Ozuna and Yasiel Puig, both of whom signed one-year contracts with an eye toward bigger deals in this winter’s free-agent market.

That’s four front-line starters to share three positions, though all four could play simultaneously now that the National League has adopted the designated hitter rule.

The team’s embarrassment of riches doesn’t stop there. Veteran slugger Adam Duvall, who hit 42 homers between the majors and minors last year, is first in line at both corners and could also fill in at first base if All-Star Freddie Freeman is slow to return from a bout with coronavirus.

Then there are rookies Cristian Pache, yet another Latino, and Drew Waters, a switch-hitter whose swing reminds some of former Braves stud Chipper Jones.

Versatile Charlie Culberson, who plays everything but the base fiddle, is also in the outfield mix, along with Austin Riley, who hit 18 homers in 80 games as a rookie last year but is more likely to man an infield corner.

The Atlanta outfield can almost have its own World Baseball Classic. Acuña and Inciarte are from Venezuela, Ozuna and Pache hail from the Dominican Republic, Puig is from Cuba, and Duvall, Riley, Waters, and Culberson are American.

Puig, signed earlier this week after father-of-three Nick Markakis opted to sit out with pandemic raging, was the best of the free agents who failed to find teams last winter. He had several suitors but was waiting for better offers. Now that the season has been truncated, his clock has run out.

Manager Brian Snitker is not yet sure how his outfield will look. Inciarte, always a slow starter with the bat, is the best defender in the group, though scouts say the untested Pache is even better.

Ronald Acuna Topps card

Ronald Acuña Jr. was NL Rookie of the Year in 2018. Credit: the Topps Company

Since Puig has a cannon for a throwing arm, he’s been a rightfielder for his whole career, while Acuña has speed to burn – his 37 stolen bases led the National League last year.

At 22, Acuña is going to be the youngest starter in the Atlanta lineup. Before baseball shut down in March, he boasted that he’d become the first player in baseball history to hit 50 home runs and steal 50 bases in a season. Considering he just missed 40/40 last year, there might be some credence to that suggestion.

Acuña bats first in the 2020 Atlanta lineup after leading the National League in runs scored. Close friend Ozzie Albies, who plays second and bats second, led in base-hits.

But who occupies the critical No. 3 spot?

Had he not contracted COVID-19 during the early days of Spring Training 2.0, Freeman would be the hands-down favorite.

Until he tests negative twice, however, and proves he’s strong enough to play, the 6’5″ first baseman could be sidelined.

Potential subs include Duvall, Riley, Culberson, slugging prospect Brad Ball, and minor-league signees Pete O’Brien and Yonder Alonso. The Braves would love to have an Alonso at first base but were thinking of a different one.

With the DH in the Senior Circuit for the first time, there should be plenty of at-bats to go around. Ozuna, a defensive liability in left field, is the leading candidate but Duvall and Riley should get some swings as a DH too.

The Braves are counting on two Latinos to replace the power lost when Josh Donaldson left for Minnesota as a free agent. Donaldson had 37 homers in his single year with Atlanta but Ozuna and Puig combined should have no trouble dwarfing that figure.

Markakis, in a rare part-time role last year, had only nine – the same number Johan Camargo contributed while splitting the year between Atlanta and Gwinnett. The Braves are confident that Camargo, a switch-hitter from Panama, will revert to his 2018 form, when he had 19 homers as the team’s regular third baseman.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Julio Pabón

    July 20, 2020 at 12:04 am

    Interesting article # of Latino talent in the Braves.

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