2019 Atlanta Braves Season Preview: Success could be tough to repeat in revamped NL East

Editor’s note: Baseball is back and Yahoo Sports is previewing all 30 teams over the next month. This year’s previews will focus on fantasy and reality, as our MLB news staff and our fantasy baseball crew come together to assess each team before opening day. Next up, the Atlanta Braves.

Success came early for the Atlanta Braves, as their rebuild zoomed to fruition in 2018. It brought both short-term elation, in an NL East title, and long-term hope, in the arrival of Ronald Acuña Jr.

A year later, the Braves have watched the NL East surround them, becoming baseball’s most compelling division, where four of the five teams have a realistic chance to win.

Bryce Harper joined the Phillies. The New York Mets retooled their lineup to help that daunting rotation. And then the Washington Nationals signed Patrick Corbin, giving them a chance to be just as good (or better) without Harper.

The Braves didn’t sit idly by either. They added Josh Donaldson on a one-year deal, and if he bounces back, their lineup is even scarier.

In both real baseball and fantasy baseball, the Braves are exciting but not without question marks. Acuña and baseball BFF Ozzie Albies are one of the best young duos in the game, while Freddie Freeman is a trusty old veteran at first base. All of them can help you win. The question, really, is the pitching. The Braves excelled last year because of a break-out seasons from Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz.

Foltynewicz is already dealing with the injuries, and the Braves didn’t do much to bolster the rotation beyond what they already had, so that seems like a red flag entering 2019. Still, there’s a lot to like in Atlanta — and whether we’re talking the MLB standings or your fantasy league, it all starts with Acuña.

Braves’ offseason grade

The Braves started quick, adding Donaldson in November to a one-year deal worth a whopping $23 million. It made sense for both sides, as Donaldson tried to rebuild his value and the Braves tried to maximize their window as NL East champs without committing a ton of money or years to an aging player.

Around that time, they also brought back veteran catcher Brian McCann, who had been with the Houston Astros most recently but is still very much beloved in Atlanta. It seemed like the beginning of a bold offseason for the Braves, but after that all they really did was re-sign Nick Markakis.

It’s fair to wonder whether the Braves did enough to keep up in the NL East, especially with the pitching issues already showing. Of course, Dallas Keuchel is still out there.

Our grade: C- — Getting Donaldson was good, but after that, it feel incomplete when the rest of the division did so much.

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Atlanta’s projected lineup and pitching staff

The projected 2019 lineup for the Atlanta Braves. (Yahoo Sports)
The projected 2019 lineup for the Atlanta Braves. (Yahoo Sports)

Worth a reminder that Foltynewicz is injured and Julio Teheran is expected to get the opening day start. Foltynewicz is expected to rejoin the club in April, however.

Who is the Braves’ best fantasy value?

Johan Camargo can play almost any position on the diamond, and it makes him likely to get 450 or more at-bats despite his super-utility status on opening day. And we don’t have to take Camargo’s offensive chops on spec — he showed us a .272 average and 19 home runs last year, with an OPS+ of 116 (100 is average). When someone gets hurt or goes into a slump in Atlanta, fear not — Camargo is ready to swoop in. He’s a draft-day gift right now, settling in at a Yahoo ADP of 237. - Scott Pianowski

What is Atlanta’s biggest fantasy question?

Is Ozzie Albies worth a big ticket, coming off an All-Star season with category juice at age 21? What’s not to like here? Well, teams started to find holes in his swing during a .226 second half, and he might spend most of the year away from the top of the lineup, which could curb stolen-base opportunities. With an expectant Yahoo ADP in the low 50s, Albies could easily be the fantasy trap on this roster. - Scott Pianowski

[Positional Rankings: Top 300 Overall | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | P]

Braves prospect to watch

The future has already arrived in Atlanta. The extreme youth movement was a major reason the Braves surprisingly won the NL East. Along the way, fans got brief glimpses of Mike Soroka, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint and Bryse Wilson. All of those players should contribute again in 2019, and hopefully be good enough to stick around for good.

Third baseman Austin Riley — the team’s top prospect — is also ready for the majors, but the Josh Donaldson signing made his path to the majors a bit murky for now. If Donaldson gets hurt or struggles, Riley should get the call. - Chris Cwik

Things that MUST go right for Atlanta

1. Dansby Swanson breaks out: If there's a wild card on the Braves, it's shortstop Dansby Swanson. The former No. 1 overall pick still hasn't put it together offensively, posting a disappointing .243/.314/.369 batting line through his first three seasons. One good sign is that his power showed up a little more last season with 14 homers and 25 doubles. His defense was stellar too, which helped keep him in the lineup. But the Braves acquired Swanson to be a difference maker. That's what they'll need him to be in an increasingly competitive division.

2. Young starters continue progressing: The Braves surprised a lot of people with their division championship last season. One of the biggest reasons they pulled it off was the success of young starters Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz. They helped pace a rotation that finished fourth in MLB in ERA (3.50), while allowing the fewest hits (731) among teams that used a traditional rotation. Julio Teheran was a big part of that too, but Newcomb and Foltynewicz, who unfortunately is dealing with an elbow issue, hold the key to Atlanta's potential.

3. Success outside division: Atlanta finished with a 49-27 record within the division in 2018, which tied for the second best mark in MLB. Against everyone else, they were 41-45. You have to figure they won't repeat the division success, which means they'll need better results outside it to make another run. - Mark Townsend

If this team had a walk-up song, what would it be?

An important question: Does either Ozzie Albies or Ronald Acuña Jr. own a Cadillac? If so, they might be the two dopest boys in a Cadillac in the ATL since Big Boi and Andre 3K. And while the pitching questions persist for the Braves, having Albies and Acuña will certainly put the Braves in a good spot. - Mike Oz

More 2019 MLB Previews From Yahoo Sports

Baltimore | Miami | Kansas City | Detroit | Texas | Toronto | San Diego

Chicago (AL) | Minnesota | San Francisco | Pittsburgh | Arizona | Seattle

Cincinnati | Los Angeles (AL) | Oakland | Tampa Bay | Colorado | Cleveland

New York (NL) | St. Louis | Atlanta | Philadelphia | Milwaukee | Chicago

Washington | Los Angeles (NL) | Houston | New York (AL) | Boston