When the Atlanta Braves traded right-handed pitcher Shelby Miller to Arizona this offseason, the front office was praised endlessly for the incredible package they got in return. Most of the excitement from a Braves perspective centered around the inclusion of 2015 first overall draft selection Dansby Swanson, but the Braves also received pitching prospect Aaron Blair and outfielder Ender Inciarte. All three show a great deal of promise moving forward, but only Inciarte has proven it at the major league level to this point. With this in mind, let’s take a look at what the Braves could potentially have to look forward to as Inciarte takes over as the team’s everyday center fielder.
Maybe the most important thing that Inciarte has the potential bring to Atlanta is continuity. For much of the Braves’ historic division title streak in the late-90’s and early-2000’s, Andruw Jones ensured that center field was a position of strength in Atlanta. Since Jones’ departure in 2008, center field has been a revolving door for the Braves that has seen the likes of Mark Kotsay, Gregor Blanco, Nate McLouth, Michael Bourn, and most recently Cameron Maybin man the position. With Inciarte in tow the Braves have to be hopeful that the position will be in good hands for the foreseeable future.
After the trade to Atlanta was announced, much of the hype around Inciarte was a product of his elite defensive abilities. Last season, Inciarte posted a Defensive WAR of 2.6, which ranked third among all major league outfielders and sixth overall. While splitting time between the three outfield spots in Arizona, Inciarte proved that he was not only gifted, but versatile as an outfielder. With a quick first step, excellent tracking ability, and a strong throwing arm, Inciarte is the total package defensively. From an entertainment perspective, it is possible that Inciarte could be some measure of consolation for Braves fans who fell in love with the defensive heroics of shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who was traded to the Los Angeles Angels this offseason. It should be interesting to see how much the Braves pitching staff benefits from having an elite center fielder roaming the gaps this season.
In addition to his fine defensive ability, Inciarte possesses the potential to be a dynamic leadoff hitter at the top of the Atlanta order. An on-base percentage of .338 in 2015 suggests that the 25-year old has the ability to be effective as a table-setter, even with his very low walk rate of 4.6%. Offensively Inciarte reminds me of another former Diamondback outfielder in Adam Eaton, who burst onto the scene as one of the premier leadoff hitters in baseball in 2015. If Inciarte can close the gap between their respective on-base percentages from a season ago when Eaton posted a .361 mark to Inciarte’s .338, the Braves could see similar overall offensive production to that of Eaton. Freddie Freeman could stand to gain as much as anyone on the roster from the infusion of a talented leadoff hitter like Inciarte. If the young Venezuelan native has the desired effect on the lineup as a whole, Freeman would have a greatly increased number of RBI opportunities, especially given Inciarte’s speed and baserunning ability.
With everything that Inciarte brings to the team on the field the Braves have to be ecstatic about what he brings off the field, which is five remaining years of team control. To acquire a player with Inciarte’s contractual situation who can bring such an impact to the major league team is truly a testament to the bargaining power of the Braves newly appointed GM John Coppolella. The front office should be praised for the deal overall, but especially for negotiating the inclusion of a player who could be starting in center field for at least the team’s first four years in Cobb County. The Braves may not have the means to compete this season, but when they inevitably begin to assemble a roster that is once again worthy of postseason contention, the organization should feel fortunate to see Ender Inciarte penciled into the lineup every day.