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Top 10 Atlanta Braves stories of 2016

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Wrapping up 2016 with a look back at the top storylines from what was an eventful season for the Atlanta Braves

Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Before we close the book on 2016, lets take a look back at what was an eventful year for the Atlanta Braves. Below are my rankings of the Top 10 stories for the Braves this season. This is a totally subjective endeavor, so please share your list in the comments below.

10. Braves take part in Fort Bragg Game

Major League Baseball announced in early March that the Atlanta Braves and the Miami Marlins would take part in the first ever Fort Bragg Game to celebrate the nation’s troops stationed around the world. The game took place in a 12,500 seat park that was constructed by the MLB and MLBPA.

The Marlins won the game 5-2 with Matt Wisler taking the loss after allowing 10 hits and three runs over six innings of work. Freddie Freeman and Erick Aybar finished with two hits each for the Braves.

While the result wasn’t what Atlanta was looking for, it was a one of a kind experience and a historic moment for baseball.

9. Andruw Jones, John Schuerholz inducted into Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame

Andruw Jones finally made his retirement official in 2016 and the Braves followed suit by inducting Jones and longtime General Manager John Schuerholz into the team’s Hall of Fame. Jones is the best center fielder to ever wear a Braves uniform and has a compelling Hall of Fame case. The Braves hired him as a special assistant to baseball operations so that he can help have an impact on future Atlanta players.

Schuerholz enshrinement in the Braves Hall of Fame was a precursor to future events. Earlier this month, Schuerholz was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Today’s Game Era committee. He was a unanimous selection and will be joined by former baseball commissioner Bud Selig who was also selected for enshrinement later this summer.

8. Braves fire Fredi Gonzalez after dismal start

Fredi Gonzalez entered the 2016 season as one of the favorites to be the first manager fired of the new season. A 9-28 start proved to be more than he could overcome as the Braves officially parted ways with him on May 17.

Gonzalez began his tenure as Braves manager in 2011 and led them to the postseason in 2012 and 2013. However, he became a lightening rod for criticism for his in-game decisions and how he handled some young players. With Atlanta headed into a rebuilding situation and a new stadium, it became a not if but when situation for Gonzalez.

The team replaced Gonzalez with Gwinnett manager Brian Snitker on an interim basis. The team also fired Gonzalez’s bench coach Carlos Tosca and replaced him with Terry Pendleton in a shake up of the coaching staff.

7. Braves make splash in international free agency signing Kevin Maitan

The key to the Atlanta Braves rebuilding plan was restocking the minor league system with an abundance of talent. Atlanta entered 2016 looking to make a huge splash in the international free agent market with their eyes set on 16-year old free agent out of Venezuela in Kevin Maitan.

Maitan is a switch-hitting infield prospect who has drawn comparisons to a young Chipper Jones. The Braves officially landed him on July 2 with a record signing bonus of $4.25 million. He was among a loaded group of players to take part in the team’s instructional league this past September and will have a number of eyeballs on him when he begins his first professional season next year.

6. Ender Inciarte wins National League Gold Glove award

When the Atlanta Braves traded Shelby Miller to Arizona, most of the focus was on the acquisition of former No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson. The Braves also acquired Ender Inciarte in that deal and that move paid dividends right away as Inciarte turned in a spectacular season thanks to gold glove level defense in center combined with a second half surge at the plate.

Inciarte’s season got off to a slow start as he suffered a groin injury in just his third game which cost him a month on the disabled list. It took him a while to find his groove at the plate but by the time the second half rolled around, Inciarte was a fixture at the top of the Braves lineup slashing .341/.396/.440 after the All-Star break.

Inciarte provided what might have been the play of the year for Atlanta on September 22 when he climbed the wall at Citi Field in New York to take a home run away from Yoenis Cespedes securing a Braves win in the process.

Plays like that helped Inciarte secure the 2016 National League Gold Glove award for centerfield. Pleased with what they saw during his first season in Atlanta, the Braves inked Inciarte to a 5-year contract extension in late December avoiding arbitration and ensuring that he will be roaming the outfield at SunTrust Park for the foreseeable future.

5. Braves add more talent in 2016 MLB Draft

The 2016 MLB Draft was a highly anticipated event for the Braves who once again used it an an opportunity to load up on pitching. The Braves drafted high school arms with each of their first three selections in Ian Anderson (3rd), Joey Wentz (40th) and Kyle Muller (44th). They rounded out Day 1 of the draft by selecting catcher Brett Cumberland.

While many were clamoring for a bat, Atlanta had a plan and executed it by garnering three upper first round talents in Anderson, Wentz and Muller.

4. Braves trade for Matt Kemp, surge in the second half

What was originally viewed as a swap of bad contracts turned out to be a pivotal moment for the Braves in the 2016 season. Atlanta was finally able to unload Hector Olivera in a trade with the San Diego Padres for Matt Kemp. The Braves were happy to move on from Olivera and had to be pleased with the production they received from Kemp following the trade considering that Olivera is still facing legal fallout from his domestic violence charges and conviction.

Kemp hit .280/.336/.519 in 56 games with Atlanta and cranked out 15 doubles and 12 homers over that span. He wasn’t solely responsible for Atlanta’s second half surge, but he did provide some level of protection for Freddie Freeman who put together a torrid stretch of his own.

Atlanta went 20-10 over their final 30 games of the season and were an above .500 club in the second half thanks to the resurgent offense and quality bullpen work. Now the Braves hope that momentum can carry over into 2017 in their first season at SunTrust Park.

3. Braves remove the interim label, hire Snitker as full-time manager

Brian Snitker ended up being the biggest beneficiary of the Braves’ strong finish. After a managerial search that included several members of Snitker’s coaching staff and external candidates in Bud Black and Ron Washington, Atlanta elected to remove the interim label from Snitker and make him the team’s full-time manager going forward.

It is hard to find too much fault with the decision. The team performed well under Snitker and he had the support of his players. The team did decide to revamp the coaching staff around Snitker most notably parting ways with long time pitching coach Roger McDowell and replacing him with Chuck Hernandez. Terry Pendleton, Eddie Perez and Kevin Seitzer will all return to their roles in 2017 with Washington taking over as the team’s third base coach.

2. Braves close out Turner Field era with 1-0 shutout over the Detroit Tigers

In a stadium that had saw a number of excellent pitching performances, it was quite fitting that the Braves closed out the Turner Field era with a dominant performance by Julio Teheran in a 1-0 win over the Detroit Tigers.

Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz tore down the final number of the team’s season long countdown while surrounded by many of their former players. Hank Aaron delivered the final pitch at Turner Field and then helped escort home plate to the Braves’ new home at SunTrust Park.

1. Dansby Swanson makes MLB debut

In many ways, Dansby Swanson has become the face of the Atlanta Braves rebuild. Atlanta has spent the better part of two seasons trading away established major league players in an effort to restock its minor league system. Swanson is the first of those players to reach the big leagues and he looks like he will be there for a long time coming.

Swanson began the season in spring training with the Braves. He advanced through High-A ball in Carolina and settled in at Double-A with Mississippi. He eventually paired with Ozzie Albies there to form what could be the Braves middle infield of the future.

Atlanta traded Erick Aybar to Detroit in August opening the door for Swanson to take over as the team’s everyday shortstop. He didn’t disappoint slashing .302/.361/.442 in 38 games with the Braves. He also showed a knack for keeping things exciting.

The Braves rebuild appears to be in good shape, and Swanson will be helping lead the charge.

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Again there were plenty of moments that narrowly missed the cut on this list. Do share your thoughts with us in the comments below. It was a banner year for us here at Talking Chop but we want to get even better so let us know what you would like to see from us in 2017 as well.