The Braves will surprise people

Through his Age 29 season, Jones seemed like a surefire Hall of Famer. He introduced himself to the baseball world by hitting two homers in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series as a 19-year-old, in Yankee Stadium and spent his first decade as a home run-hitting defensive marvel in center field for the Braves. Through that Age 29 season (2006), Jones compiled 57.9 WAR and won nine Gold Gloves. In his final year in Atlanta, 2007, though, he struggled at the plate, batting just .222 with a .311 on-base percentage. He would never again be an everyday impact player. In the final five seasons of his career, he bounced around the majors (he played for the Dodgers, Rangers, White Sox and Yankees) and produced a combined 1.8 WAR.

The Braves will surprise people. Don’t laugh. Atlanta will be a compelling on-field story in 2017. The Braves won 20 of their final 30 games in 2016, giving hope that the team’s rebuild would be complete faster than expected. They’ve got a legit ROY candidate in Swanson, a legit MVP candidate in Freeman, an elite center fielder in Ender Inciarte, plus a potentially solid starting rotation. While most pre-season projections peg the Braves somewhere around 72 wins (a four-win improvement over 2016), a total that’s closer to 80 is possible. If everything breaks just right and I mean just right Atlanta could even finish the season above .500.

Bring it on, 2017. Prove me right or prove me wrong. It doesn’t really matter. Just entertain us along the way.

The Red Sox Andrew Benintendi will win AL Rookie of the Year. Benintendi had a similar pre-rookie debut as Swanson, so this is another safe prediction. He showed impressive skills at the plate (.295/.359/.476), as well as his own highlight-reel defense. Expect him to take another step forward in 2017 and put everything together to become the American League’s top rookie.

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