And so begins Phase 2 of the rebuild.
After spending the last couple years wrangling every pitching prospect their collection of castoffs and holdovers could lasso them, the Braves have turned their attention back to the major-league roster.
The Braves haven't stopped stockpiling, as the Mariners can attest after sending Luiz Gohara and Alex Jackson to Atlanta. But the acquisition of Matt Kemp late last season represented a turning point, a willingness to trade off minor-league excess for help in the here and now. And Kemp certainly provided that, taking the Braves offense from 30th in the first half to sixth in the second.
The focus this offseason was the starting rotation, with a goal of bridging the gap to high-end but far-out prospects like Kolby Allard, Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka and Touki Toussaint. And though the Braves set their sights on would-be aces like Chris Sale and Chris Archer, they've to this point settled for innings eaters who'll keep them competitive without obliterating the progress they've made.
Bartolo Colon never gets much attention on Draft Day but is a popular midseason pickup given his knack for piling up quality, if unflashy, starts, and Jaime Garcia and R.A. Dickey aren't far removed from being mixed-league relevant. Like with Kemp, their arrival could have a compound effect by allowing the Braves to zero in on their best seven or eight relievers and not continually swap them out for fresher arms.
Kemp doesn't deserve all the credit for the offensive turnaround, of course. Freddie Freeman is the Braves' best hitter, and his second half was the stuff of legends. A .323 batting average and 1.067 OPS was probably too good to be true, but his line-drive oriented swing gives him a high ceiling for batting average and his power spike was hardly unprecedented for a 26-year-old. After a slow start, Ender Inciarte verified he's a good source of batting average, along with modest speed, and Nick Markakis, Adonis Garcia and Tyler Flowers could all be surprisingly useful in NL-only leagues.
But the biggest development of the second half was the introduction of the rebuilding effort's crown jewel and the new heart of the franchise, Dansby Swanson.
Is Dansby Swanson all he's cracked up to be?
He's one of those prospects who's difficult to quantify because his profile is built on intangibles like makeup and professionalism. But he's only two years removed from being the first overall pick in the amateur draft, and despite lackluster numbers in the minor leagues, the praises haven't stopped pouring in.
His first major-league returns, for what it's worth, were considerably more than lackluster. Any player who can hit over .300 in his first 129 at-bats against major-league pitching is doing something right, and he also offered a hint of his power and speed with three home runs and three stolen bases batting out of the eight hole
And that's exactly the type of player Swanson projects to be -- one who isn't going to have eye-popping totals in any one measurement but who provides enough across the board to stand out among his peers. By how much? Well, that all depends if he indeed settles in as a .300 hitter, because if he does, his year-to-year outlook is much like that of Francisco Lindor.
How soon can we expect to see Ozzie Albies?
The Braves' pursuit, even if a halfhearted one, of Brian Dozier this offseason certainly calls Albies' timetable into question, as does his fractured elbow late last season. But the truth is the 20-year-old looked overmatched even in his stint at Triple-A last year, getting sent back to Double-A in July.
He's kind of like Swanson in that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, leaving little wiggle room in his development.
He can clearly hit, having batted .310 over his minor-league career so far, but will he provide enough power or speed to really move the needle in Fantasy? It's hard to say right now, but seeing as second base suffers from no shortage of depth at the major-league level, devoting a roster spot to a guy who could maybe measure up two or three years down the road seems downright wasteful.
In long-term keeper leagues, Albies is clearly a prospect to covet and one with an earlier graduation date than most, but in single-season leagues -- outside of NL-only formats, of course -- you're better off taking a wait-and-see approach.
Will Julio Teheran be the only starting pitcher who matters?
Mike Foltynewicz is a card-carrying member of the rebuilding effort, having come over from the Astros in the Evan Gattis trade, and put the control issues that plagued him in the minors to bed last year. Now, if he can convert that 98-mph fastball into swings and misses, something he did sporadically last season, there's a chance he's the Braves' second-best starting pitcher this year, and of course, Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia and R.A. Dickey will all be streamable in mixed leagues.
But those last three are intended to be just placeholders, and as such, there's no guarantee they're the ones eating innings all season long. The elite Allard, Anderson, Soroka and Toussaint class won't get the call this year, but the Braves' bounty of pitching prospects doesn't begin there.
Max Fried, a former seventh overall pick, came back from Tommy John surgery and began piling up strikeouts late in the year. Lucas Sims can be erratic but has shown plenty of strikeout potential in the upper levels of the minors. Patrick Weigel came out of nowhere to put together a 2.47 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings between high Class A and Double-A last year. And Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair aren't exactly lost causes, residing in the same purgatory Foltynewicz called home a year ago.
No one of those pitchers has a clear enough path or a clean enough pedigree to stash from the get-go, but chances are at least one will become a viable contributor this year.