Freddie Freeman: Who will protect him in middle of lineup?


Freddie Freeman will certainly bat third and play first base for the 2016 Atlanta Braves, but who will have his back in the heart of the Atlanta order?

It’s no secret that the 2016 Atlanta Braves are in the middle of their biggest rebuilding project in 25 years. While the club isn’t expected to contend for an NL East crown in 2016, this team should strive to improve on last season’s awful 95-loss campaign in 2015.

Three ways that the Atlanta Braves can improve in this season are as follows:

1.) Hope that the young crop of arm talent will grow and transform an exciting starting rotation behind ace Julio Teheran and presumed No. 2 starter Matt Wisler.

2.) Provide stability in all stages of the bullpen to help the young starting pitchers gain confidence as the progress as Major Leaguers. The Atlanta front office has supposedly made this priority No. 1 this offseason with creating the big league club.

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3.) Solidify the middle of the batting order, so that face of the franchise first baseman Freddie Freeman can continue to perform at an All-Star level at the plate. The biggest question is who will emerge as suitable protection in the heart of the Atlanta order for Freddie Freeman?

Entering 2016, there are conceivably three players on the Atlanta Braves’ roster that could provide Freddie Freeman with the necessary protection he needs in the middle of the Atlanta order. Those players are leftfielder/third baseman Hector Olivera, rightfielder Nick Markakis, and catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

Olivera is the guy most likely to hit fourth in the Atlanta Braves batting order. The Atlanta front office believes highly in the 30-year-old right-handed hitter from Cuba that he can provide the pop absent in the Braves’ lineup. Since he played sparingly in his rookie year in 2015, it’s still not entirely clear what Hector Olivera will give the Atlanta Braves in the middle of the Atlanta batting order.

Nick Markakis presents an interesting possibility, as he seems to hit for a high average wherever manager Fredi Gonzalez pencils him into the Atlanta lineup. While he could hit leadoff or in the two-hole, it seems that Braves are more likely to use centerfielder Ender Inciarte, second baseman Jace Peterson, or shortstop Erick Aybar in those spots in the order.

Markakis will have had a full offseason to hit the weight room, as he was unable to do that entering 2015 because of offseason neck surgery before leaving the Baltimore Orioles to join the Atlanta Braves last winter. He’ll likely gain more power than the three home runs he hit in 2015. Nick Markakis might thrive hitting fifth for the Atlanta Braves in a run-producing role.

Lastly, veteran backstop A.J. Pierzynski could again hit in the middle of the Atlanta Braves’ batting order in 2016. He has always hit for a high average and that could bode well for him in run-producing spots in the Braves’ batting order fourth through sixth. However, he’s not going to play everyday like he had to in 2015 out of necessity. He will platoon with former White Sox teammate in Tyler Flowers.

Overall, the 2016 Atlanta Braves aren’t going to tear the cover off the ball, but should stand as a more formidable lineup that it was in 2015. If Freddie Freeman is able to play at an All-Star level again in 2016 and not have to deal with nagging wrist injuries, then the Atlanta Braves could end up being a team capable of manufacturing runs and winning tight ball games with their supposedly improved pitching staff.

Next: Jason Grilli to close on Opening Day 2016?

While the Atlanta Braves are still rebuilding, that’s not to say that the club can’t surprise the MLB and play at a high level this upcoming season. Who thought that the Chicago Cubs were going to the NLCS or that the Houston Astros were going to win the AL West entering 2015? If those two organizations are any sign of what could inevitably be in store for the Atlanta Braves as soon as 2017, we might have ourselves a winner before we realize. Go Braves!