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2022 Braves position evaluations: Left field

NORTH PORT, FL- FEBRUARY 25: Marcell Ozuna #20 of the Atlanta Braves looks on during a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins on February 25, 2020 at CoolToday Park in North Port, Florida. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

I’ve completed the Braves infield, so now it’s time to look at the team’s group of outfielders, starting with left field. Be sure to check out where Atlanta’s left field stands among the rest of MLB, as FanGraphs put out its left field positional power rankings on Thursday. Also, in case you’ve missed this series up to this point, take a look at the positions I’ve covered so far…

Left field

Last season’s results

Marcell Ozuna’s legal troubles had a direct impact on the Braves left field position last season, and after posting MVP-like numbers in 2020 (.338 AVG / 18 HR / 178 wRC+), the right-handed slugger played in only 48 games, long enough to struggle to the tune of a .218 AVG and just seven homers. It could’ve been much worse, though. Thankfully, Atlanta received some notable production from the likes of Adam Duvall (16 HR / 106 wRC+), Eddie Rosario (.271 AVG / 173 wRC+), Abraham Almonte (97 wRC+) and even Orlando Arcia (63 wRC+) – enough, at least, to finish the 2021 campaign outside of the bottom-30 in the sport, in terms of collective WAR from its left fielders. That’s not too bad given the Braves lost its go-to power-hitter from its lineup.

Braves left fielders in 2021: .225 AVG / 37 HR / 119 RBI / 95 wRC+ / -5.4 Def / 1 WAR

However, it would’ve been nice to have retained Ozuna’s bat all season. The 31-year-old was certainly trending in the right direction, numbers-wise, having increased his walk-rate to a personal best (14.2%) during 2022, not to mention a career-high in both his barrel and hard hit rates (15.4% / 53.8%). As magical as the Braves World Series season was in 2021, could you imagine if Ozuna had been a consistent regular within that championship-caliber offense?

Changes and outlook for 2022

As we’re plenty aware, the Braves made plenty additions this offseason, and of those, four players are at the very least capable of manning an outfield position. Surprisingly, Brock Holt was set to be optioned to the minors recently (though instead he asked to be released), while guys like Phil Gosselin, Pat Valaika and Alex Dickerson still remain on the spring roster. Carry-overs from last season include Guillermo Heredia, Orlando Arcia, and of course the team’s regulars feature Ozuna and Eddie Rosario. The point is: although Ronald Acuna Jr. is expected to be absent during the first month of the 2022 season, the Braves still have numerous options to cover its outfield.

Braves 2022 Left Field Projections

Table comes from FanGraphs left field MLB positional rankings

The projections above may look like a bit of a mess, as Atlanta has seven players listed as possible contributors at left field this coming season. However, I think it’s safe to assume that it’ll be Ozuna who’ll receive the majority of the reps there. Unfortunately, given his small sample of regression in 2021, ZiPS doesn’t seem too confident in a rebound for him, though, and as a result, the Braves left field position ranks 13th in all baseball, according to FanGraphs positional rankings. A bit unfair if you ask me, given how dangerous Ozuna was with the bat just two seasons ago.

Although, the outfield could get mixed up a bit once Acuna returns. I expect RAJ to DH a good bit at first, as the Braves ease him back into game action, though once he’s 100% ready we could see Acuna and Rosario handling the corners with Adam Duvall in center, pushing Ozuna into a more appropriate role as the team’s regular DH. In that scenario, it would mean Rosario in left and RAJ in right, hence the 119 PA given to the former in the table above. Of course, if that in fact is the outcome of the outfield once Acuna returns, you can count on a lot more than 119 PA in left for the former NLCS MVP. And honestly, I think I’d like that setup better.

Heredia will get some run in left as well, but I expect him in center more often, leaving Dickerson and possibly Gosselin as the traditional back-ups at the corners (though much more for the former, instead of the latter). Dickerson, set to soon turn 32-years-old, signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Braves and is coming off a rather productive 2021 campaign with the Giants, hitting .233 with 13 home runs in 111 games – good for a 97 wRC+ and 0.2 WAR. I think Atlanta was more impressed with his 2020 performance, though, in which he started 52 of 60 games for San Francisco and slugged 10 homers to go with a .298 AVG and a 151 wRC+. With an above average 115 wRC+ over his last three seasons combined (spanning 672 PA), Dickerson should become an important piece of the Braves bench in 2022, even if he’s considered a rather poor defender (-11 OAA for his career in LF).

Then of course there’s Heredia, who’s currently banged up a bit from a hit-by-pitch in Thursday’s spring game versus the Red Sox. What he did for the Braves last year – filling in admirably for a banged up outfield – has no doubt earned him a role on the team in 2022. He’s also having a strong spring so far, having gone 4 for 12 (.333 AVG) with a double coming into Friday. Heredia’s career 79 wRC+ is nothing to get excited about, but his glove is his strong suit, and over his career he has 3 OAA in left (to go with 4 OAA in CF last season).

Here’s what FanGraphs had to say on Thursday about the Braves left field situation for the 2022 season…

“Ozuna, an MVP candidate during his first season with the Braves in 2020, should help boost a lineup that will likely be without Ronald Acuña Jr. until early May. Once Acuña is healthy enough to return to the outfield, the 31-year-old Ozuna could get a decent share of his at-bats as the designated hitter with Rosario, the MVP of the NLCS, getting starts in left. While both Ozuna and Rosario have been above-average major league hitters for several years, it’s important to note that Ozuna was off to a terrible start (73 wRC+, 7 HR in 208 PA) before he was injured last season — and subsequently placed on administrative leave as the league investigated domestic violence allegations against him — and Rosario was having his worst season as a big leaguer (86 wRC+, 7 HR in 306 PA) when the Braves acquired him from Cleveland in late July.”

My Braves left field grade: B+

I believe in Ozuna’s bat, and even more than that, I believe the Braves have enough possible options for its outfield that one or two of them is bound to stick. As I alluded to above, I think once Acuna returns this team will be setup nicely in the outfield, and in turn, can push the defensively-challenged Ozuna to the DH spot, allowing for an even stronger group that gives each player a chance to flourish in its respective role. Plus, to me, the lefty-batting Dickerson could be the X factor in all of this, for if used correctly, he can provide plenty of production versus the tough right-handed pitchers, while spelling Rosario or Acuna every now and then.

It’s a nice rotation of players: Duvall and Heredia can man center, as can Acuna in a pinch, giving the Braves a rather versatile group in the outfield. This is definitely an above-average position, and once RAJ is back on the field, I wouldn’t be surprised if it exceeds even my expectations by season’s end.

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