Sean Newcomb delivers a pitch during a 2019 Gwinnett Stripers game with the Charlotte Knights at Coolray Field.

Since reopening practices in early July, the Atlanta Braves have seen many players opt out of the 2020 MLB season or be sidelined by COVID-19. Most recently, Atlanta was finalizing a free agent deal with outfielder Yasiel Puig before he tested positive for the virus and negotiations were dropped.

Because of that, Fox Sports South Broadcaster Jeff Francoeur believes the depth of a franchise is more important this season than ever before. For Francoeur, Atlanta’s biggest obstacle isn’t a Jacob DeGrom fastball or a Max Scherzer slider.

In fact, their biggest challenge isn’t on the field at all.

“You know, it’s crazy to sit here and say this, but No. 1 is going to be to stay healthy, keeping your guys on the field. Not from an injury standpoint more than just from testing positive for the coronavirus,” said Francoeur, now forced to miss broadcasts because of his own positive coronavirus test. “Every team has already dealt with it in some way, but when the season actually starts, some star players are probably going to test positive and have to sit out for a while, so how can you cover for them?”

Atlanta’s pitching staff has taken more hits than any other position all summer. Veteran starter Felix Hernandez opted out of the season back in June due to concerns about the coronavirus. Cole Hamels, who had been nursing a shoulder injury since the original spring training in March, has been declared not ready for opening day on Friday against the Mets. Star reliever Will Smith tested positive for COVID-19 over two weeks ago and is yet to be cleared to return to team practices.

With so much leadership suddenly no longer on the table, Francoeur believes some of Atlanta’s younger arms will need to take a step forward this year.

“I’m looking forward to Ian Anderson eventually. He doesn’t get fazed too much… I think that’s going to play well,” Francouer said. “I think that’s a guy I want to see really take that next step and the guy that we’ve all seen is Sean Newcomb. He’s got a lot of confidence now, something he didn’t have two years ago when he started. I’d like to see him ride high and continue to ride that out and become the pitcher that we all thought he could be.”

With more young pitchers looking to prove themselves on a big league stage, it will be paramount for some of the older position players to lead on the field. To prevent any further roster damage due to the coronavirus, players are taking all cautions necessary to keep each other safe.

“I was happy when I talked to a couple of guys and it was good to hear these guys taking it seriously,” Francoeur said. “They’re wearing masks inside the clubhouse making sure that they take care of each other. I think Snit did a good job talking to the players saying just live a boring life for the next two and a half months. That’s not much to ask. Just play ball, go home, and come to the field. I think if they do that, this team will stay healthy and I truly believe they have a chance to be playing in late October.”

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