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Austin Riley Jersey

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ATLANTA — Third baseman Pablo Sandoval has signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves.

Sandoval would receive a $1 million, one-year contract if he is added to the team’s 40-man roster under a deal the Braves confirmed Monday.

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Sandoval, 34, hit .214 in 84 at-bats with the Braves and San Francisco Giants in 2020. He had no hits in two at-bats with Atlanta but was kept on the team’s postseason roster, and he had no hits in four plate appearances.

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Sandoval, whose nickname is Kung Fu Panda, will try to prove he can return to the form he showed in 2019, when he hit .268 with 14 homers with the Giants. The 2012 World Series MVP with San Francisco signed with the Braves late last season following his release by the Giants on Sept. 10, ending his second stint with the team.

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Austin Riley will enter spring training as the favorite to start at third base for the Braves. Riley also is an option in left field.

The switch-hitting Sandoval has a career .279 batting average with 149 home runs in 13 seasons with the Giants, Boston and Atlanta. He hit .330 with 25 homers and 90 RBIs for San Francisco in 2009, his second season.

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It’s no secret… third base was a weakness for the Braves last season. With Austin Riley as the primary starter there (45 starts at 3B), followed by Johan Camargo (10 starts) and a one-time appearance at the end of the year from Pablo Sandoval, Atlanta collectively managed -0.5 fWAR from their third base group — the lowest total in the majors. No one stood out, and the position suffered, evident by the group’s .228 AVG overall to end the 2020 season.

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As of right now, nothing appears to be changing anytime soon. Sandoval will most likely latch on somewhere eventually or retire as his services are no longer needed in Atlanta; Camargo still sits on the Braves 40-man; and thus far, Riley remains the team’s projected starter for the 2021 season. Is that really the best the Braves can do? Well, of course not.

In 131 total games over the last two seasons, Riley has been worth exactly 0.1 WAR for the Braves. Of course, that’s still a rather small sample size, and at 23-years-old there’s plenty of time for Riley to figure things out. But so far, in 503 PA, the kid has hit just .232 and tallied an 87 wRC+ as a big-league player. Objectively speaking, Riley is a below-average major league hitter… and in 2020, he was even worse than that.

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Although with the bullpen strong and coming off a 2020 campaign in which it was one of the best in the majors, and the starting rotation looking much more formidable than just 2-3 months ago (with the additions of Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly), it seems unnecessary to just blindly trust Riley as Atlanta’s everyday third baseman in 2021.

Another option?
As of right now, the FA market’s third base position group has mostly been left untouched. Justin Turner, Eric Sogard, Todd Frazier, and Marwin Gonzalez are just a few available names that currently stick out, and each of those four players could make for solid competition at third base this spring. Then there are the lower-tiered options such as Brock Holt, Maikel Franco, Jake Lamb, and Zack Cozart, who are also still unsigned — players that, sort of like what Camargo was originally set to do in 2020, could share time with Riley at the hot corner or provide the Braves with a solid bench bat.

All-in-all, thanks to a prolific offense, a stingy bullpen, and a pieced-together starting rotation, the Braves were able to overcome their glaring weakness at third base and still win the NL East title. But just because the 2020 campaign concluded with a third-straight division championship and an NLCS appearance doesn’t mean obvious holes shouldn’t be filled. Riley should get his hacks in 2021 and continue his development as a big-league player, but there’s also plenty of available talent if Atlanta decides to go in a different direction.

Ozzie Albies Jersey

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As we all look to turn the page from 2020, we take a look at why the 2021 season will be a special one for the Atlanta Braves and their fans.
There is always hope and optimism with a new year just like a new baseball season. But there are plenty of reasons to believe this will be the year for the Atlanta Braves.

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It’s been over 25 years since the Braves last won a World Series — there only one in Atlanta — and that’s despite reaching the postseason in 16 of those 25 seasons.

There have certainly been some opportunities for this team to take home the crown again, but I’d argue that they’re now setup more than ever to win the World Series.

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Those teams in the early 2000s were just hanging on to the magic and weren’t really a threat to win a World Series.

Some of those 2010-2013 teams I thought were good enough to make a run, but they didn’t seem like World Series favorites to me.

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It’s very different with this current Braves’ team, especially after coming within one game of reaching the 2020 World Series — where I think they would have beaten the Rays just as easily as the Dodgers did.

7. Ozzie Albies’ K/9 and BB/9
A right wrist bone bruise limited Albies to just 29 games last season, but when he was on the field — whether he was pressing to make up for lost time or not — the second baseman struggled. His strikeout rate climbed from 16 percent to ‘19 to 24.2 percent and his walk rate dropped to a career-low four percent. He was simply swinging more and missing more, with the swing rate at his highest yet (58.2 percent), while producing more swinging strikes (13.3 percent). It all resulted in a paltry 13.8 line drive rate for a player that has averaged 22.1 in his career and was at 25.5 in 2019’s Silver Slugger campaign.

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8. Luke Jackson’s xFIP
He shed the punching bag label in 2019 when he was a 1.3 fWAR player and was fanning 13.13 per nine, but Jackson regressed in ‘20, and was again the fodder of Braves Twitter. The man once dubbed Your Friendly Neighborhood Slider Man saw that pitch go from a dominant 12.0 WSL in ‘19 to minus-4.6 and his ERA ballooned from 3.84 to 6.84. But most alarming was an awful 4.70 xFIP, a jump of 2.00 year over year as Jackson had a 38.1 hard-hit ball rate, his worst in a Braves uniform. With little movement so far in adding to a bullpen that’s without Darren O’Day, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon and the Braves tending him a $1.9 million deal, it appears he’s going be counted on to get back to his ‘19 ways.

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There is no question there is still some work to be done on the offensive side, but the core is still there for this team to be very special.

Freddie Freeman is coming off an MVP season and finally looks healthy. Before the 2020 season, he said he’d pretty much been dealing with elbow discomfort for nine years. I don’t see him slowing down any time soon.

Ronald Acuna Jr. might quickly become the best player in all of baseball, and 2021 seems like a great time to make that claim.

On a side note, I find it kind of irritating that Fernando Tatis Jr. is getting so much hype when Acuna is better and just as exciting. And I love Tatis, but I wish Acuna would get the same amount love he’s getting.

Ozzie Albies was never right during that short 2020 season. Hopefully he’s had an offseason to heal and will be back to his All-Star caliber self in 2021.

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Dansby Swanson has proven he can play Gold Glove-caliber defense and be a threat at the plate.

That’s really what I consider to be our core four position players. And again, it would be a shock if Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t add a big middle-of-the-order bat to join them making this lineup extremely deep.

On the pitching side, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Soroka and Max Fried are competing for NL Cy Young votes in the 2021 season.

As with all pitching, you just hope they can stay healthy for the entire season. I think that’s the hardest thing about winning a World Series is having your frontline starting pitchers healthy for the postseason.

Can you imagine how different things might have gone in the 2020 postseason with a healthy Mike Soroka?

And now they have a veteran in Charlie Morton to back them up, along with another young gun in Ian Anderson.

We all know how good the bullpen was in 2002. It will be had to duplicate that type of success, but they should still be one of the best in baseball.

NEXT: Is a Big Bat Needed?
This is what we’ve all been waiting for — an influx of young, controllable, cheap talent mixed in with some established veterans. This team has what it takes, after 2020 they know what it takes, and now they just have to get it done.

Patrick Weigel Jersey

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Patrick Weigel made Talking Chop’s 2019 top prospect list at No. 15, and the 2020 list at No. 11. He sports a mid-90s fastball, a really nice slider, and a good 12-6 curve. Patrick made it to the major leagues twice in 2019. He spent 6 glorious days enjoying the big league life, being the rookie in the bullpen, tasting the sunflower seeds. The one thing that he didn’t do was appear in a game, so I have no video of that.

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What went right in 2020?

Patrick Weigel was selected as the 29th man of the doubleheader versus the Nationals on September 4th. He was called on to pitch in the seventh and last inning of a one-run game.

He picked up two outs in the game. One was getting Victor Robles to hit a weak ground ball to Austin Riley.

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As is now the case in Major League Baseball, the Braves and Nationals both have the ability to add an extra player to their rosters due to a doubleheader on Friday. For Atlanta, they will call up a familiar name among Braves prospects that many have hoped would make his debut this season.

Weigel is currently ranked as the 16th prospect on the Braves top 30 prospect list via MLB.Com. He has been with Atlanta since being picked in the seventh round of the 2015 draft. Weigel has long been viewed as a starter, but recently gained more work out of the bullpen, with very encouraging results toward the end of last season.

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While today obviously will have little bearing on his long term future, if the Braves can establish a commanding lead in either game, seeing Weigel in action for the first time in Atlanta would be a fun development. With his talent now back to where it was before Tommy John surgery a few years back, Weigel could get his first chance to claim a spot with the big league club both in the present and future.

What went wrong in 2020?

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Behind one run in the last inning in the second game of the September 4th doubleheader, the Braves had 17.1% win expectancy. Tyler Matzek, Chris Martin, and even Mark Melancon were available form the bullpen. Facing slim odds, Brian Snitker chose the rookie for his debut. Weigel faced Kurt Suzuki, and on a full count, walked him. On a 2-1 count to Eric Thames, he gave up a double to center. The remaining win expectancy was cut in half. He battled Wilmer Difo to a 2-2 count (and really had him struck out except for a bad call), and this happened.

The sacrifice fly was his first out and provided decent damage control. But then Patrick walked Luis Garcia on four not-particularly-close pitches. The fourth ball was an inside wild pitch that chased Eric Thames to third. Then Michael Taylor put down a cute bunt to third to score Eric Thames.

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And well, that’s pretty much your game. But not for Weigel. After a 9-pitch walk, and a bases-loaded groundout, the bases were still loaded with two out for Trea Turner. He had a few calls that didn’t go his way, but he had no swinging strikes in the 36-pitch outing.

Per Ivan, it was the second worst outing for Braves pitchers with one inning pitched or less:

There have, so far, been 18 pitchers in Braves (not Bees, not Beaneaters, etc.) history with only one career game to their credit. Of those 18, Weigel has the second-worst ERA and FIP in his lone game. John Cornely, who had one relief appearance (four runs, including a three-run homer, one walk, one strikeout) in 2015, is the only guy with a worse one-game mark than Weigel so far.

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Outlook for 2021

Unfortunately, not much changed for Patrick Weigel this year. He probably needs three or so months in AAA. He is currently on the 40 man roster. That’s where he was in March, and hopefully in 2021 he will get it. Patrick fought through a year of rehab from Tommy John surgery, and lost a lot of momentum. Fangraphs downgraded him to a well-below-starter 35+ FV. It is tough to tell if the organization thinks of him as a starter or reliever at this point. They limited his innings in 2019, but mainly because he was returning from an injury, not as a reliever. Although, he does seem to profile closer to a reliever at this point.

Patrick has a great slider, good curve, and a little work to make the fastball a go-to pitch. With another half-year in AAA, he will be definitely prepared to contribute in 2021.