For the last three seasons, right field has been manned by Nick Markakis, Professional Hitter. Despite the expectations of many, Markakis is one again likely to be the primary right fielder. Last season Braves right fielders provided the 21st-most value at the position according to fWAR.
STARTER: Nick Markakis
This season is the fourth and final year of Markakis’s four-year contract. At this point I am surprised by two things: that he’s played this far into the contract without having been traded and that he’s maintained his health this far. At this point, barring an injury, the Braves know what they’re going to get with the 34-year old. He will hit at roughly a league average level with little over-the-fence power and a declining on-base percentage, and will provide below average but not team-debilitating defense in right field. There is some thought that the Braves should shift Markakis to left field to make room for Ronald Acuna in right field, but I would be surprised if manager Brian Snitker moved the veteran Markakis out of his customary position (and I discussed in the Left Field post, there’s an argument that the outfielder with more range should play left in SunTrust Park anyway).
BACK-UP (Promotion): Preston Tucker
Tucker was acquired from the Astros shortly after the Matt Kemp trade after Houston has designated the powerful left-handed outfielder for assignment. Tucker played in parts of two major league seasons with Houston to mixed results, and spent all of 2017 at the AAA level. Tucker owns a .274/.344/.479 AAA slash line with 50 home runs. The smart money is on Tucker and Lane Adams platooning in left field until the team calls up Ronald Acuna. After that, Tucker could be sent to Gwinnett, or could stay in Atlanta as the primary left-handed power hitter on the bench.
GWINNETT STRIPERS (CLASS AAA)
STARTER: Xavier Avery
Avery had a strong 2017 season with Gwinnett, and the Braves quickly re-signed him to another minor league deal after he declared free agency. He has a solid speed/power combination and can play all over the outfield, but is probably now best suited for a corner. If there’s a need in 2018 for an outfield-playing bench bat, the Braves could do worse (and over the past three years, they certainly have) than calling up Xavier Avery.
BACK-UP: Michael Reed
Between Michael Reed, Danny Santana, Xavier Avery, Jaff Decker, and Dustin Peterson, the Stripers have a good veteran corp of outfielders. Of all of the Braves minor league affiliates, it would be least surprising if Gwinnett made a strong postseason push.
MISSISSIPPI BRAVES (CLASS AA)
**TOP 50 PROSPECT** STARTER (Promotion): Ray-Patrick Didder
As mentioned in the centerfield write-up, Didder will likely pay all over the diamond, but he could end up getting most of his time in right field. Didder has arguably the best outfield arm in the organization, good range, and the speed of a centerfielder.
BACK-UP: Connor Lien
Up above I said Didder has arguably the best outfield arm in the organization. One of the guys who may argue with that is Connor Lien, who has a cannon arm. Unfortunately Lien has not been able to follow up on his breakout 2015 season at high-A where he looked like a potential power/speed threat. He missed most of 2016 with an injury, but Lien was healthy in 2017 and hit very poorly, striking out an unsustainable 38.9% of the time. Organizatinal outfielder Stephen Gaylor could also fill in here, or any other outfield spot pretty much anywhere in the organization. That’s why he’s an organizational outfielder.
FLORIDA FIRE FROGS (CLASS A+)
**TOP 50 PROSPECT** STARTER: Brett Cumberland
This is maybe the biggest leap of faith on projecting where players will go. Drafted as a catcher, Cumberland always showed good athleticism and a strong arm. With a log-jam at catcher and his work in the outfield in the Australian Baseball League, signs point to him transitioning at least partially to the outfield for the Braves. This is not to say he won’t continue to get some work behind the plate. If Cumberland gets of to a good start, he could move up rapidly in 2018.
**TOP 50 PROSPECT** BACK-UP (Promotion): Leudys Baez
Baez can play any outfield position, and could end up playing right field if Cumberland remains behind the plate or plays left field. Matt Gonzalez or Stephen Gaylor may also be in play here.
ROME BRAVES (CLASS A)
**TOP 50 PROSPECT** STARTER: Izzy Wilson
Wilson made significant progress last season getting his considerable tools into games. If he can improve his pitch recognition, he has the approach and the power to really make a push into consideration with the top position players in the organization. If he doesn’t, he’ll still be an entertaining player with his quality defense giving him a possible 5th-outfielder floor.
BACK-UP (Promotion): Shean Michel
One of the more overlooked prospects in the system, Michel started making some hard contact while with Danville last season. There’s not a lot of projection left in his frame and he is unlikely to have significant over-the-fence power, but being able to play all three outfield spots and becoming a tough out can get him far.
DANVILLE BRAVES (Rookie League)
STARTER (Promotion): Yoeli Lopez
Lopez could stand more instruction at the GCL level, but a good showing in extended spring training and/or lack of other options could put him in Danville to start the 2018 season. Lopez has good speed and defense tools, and possesses a very strong arm, but needs to work on making more and better contact.
BACK-UP (Promotion): Jackson Pokorney
Pokorney has a wide range of potential outcomes in front of him after an injury cost him all of 2017. He has the physical qualities to be a powerful batter, but he will have to fight for playing time, either in the GCL or in Danville.
FINAL THOUGHTS: While the Braves were successful in shedding themselves of Matt Kemp in order to make way for more productive players, Nick Markakis is still around. This may mostly be due to there being only one top outfield prospect in the high minors rather than two. The Braves were known to have at least toyed with the possibility of acquiring another outfielder, presumably to replace Markakis, but no deal was struck. That said, as friend of the blog Ken Hendrix says, if Nick Markakis is the weakest link on the Braves, the team is going to have a good year.
OFR TOP 5 RIGHT FIELD PROSPECT RANKINGS:
- Ronald Acuna
- Brett Cumberland
- Izzy Wilson
- Ray-Patrick Didder
- Leudys Baez