Pitchers and Catchers report for Spring Training this Friday for the Atlanta Braves, with the full squad reporting to camp on February 23rd. The Braves use Champions Stadium for their spring training at Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, FL if you ever want to check out the Braves spring training in person. Here is a list of the Braves’ 25-man roster, and here is a list of their non-roster invitees for spring training. The Braves finished 67-95 last season, and as we all know, they are going through a rebuild and are not expected to really compete this year. The franchise is opening the new SunTrust Park in 2017, and they are hoping to be able to compete that season. They also claim that they will be big spenders in the international free agent market to help them compete in 2017. So in the meantime, what can the Braves look to improve on this spring training, and what should we as fans be looking out for?
Julio Teheran is pretty much the only lock for the rotation. Other than that, there is a rather wide-open competition for who could join him in the rotation. Those who already have MLB experience would certainly seem to be at an advantage, so pitchers like Mike Foltynewicz, Bud Norris, Williams Perez, Matt Wisler, Jhoulys Chacin, Ryan Weber, David Holmberg, Kyle Kendrick, Chris Volstad, Manny Banuelos, Casey Kelly and Alexi Ogando would seemingly be first in line to join Teheran in the rotation. But there are several rookies that might be able to compete for one of the four open spots as well. Pitchers such as Tyrell Jenkins, Aaron Blair, Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims would be the rookie pitchers to watch, as they may be able to crack the starting rotation.
Personally, I think a combination of the two would be the best outcome for the Braves this season. If the Braves kept an experienced pitcher with some previous success, like Ogando, Norris or Chacin, along with two of the younger pitchers with at least a little bit of experience, such as Folty, Perez, Banuelos or Wisler, and then one of the rookies, probably Jenkins, Blair or Newcomb, then that would be a good building block for the Braves into next season.
The Braves are likely to keep at least a couple of the veteran pitchers that don’t make the rotation in the bullpen. Then they can be used in long-relief or for spot-starts. Other than that, Jason Grilli will be the closer again as he should be back from his torn-Achilles injury suffered last season. The Braves will also have Jim Johnson, Matt Marksberry, Andrew McKirahan, Paco Rodriguez, Shae Simmons, Arodys Vizcaino, Chris Withrow, David Carpenter, Ryan Kelly and Alex Torres to compete for the setup roles and other bullpen spots.
I suspect that the Braves will keep two, maybe even three, of the veteran pitchers, Grilli, and then three or four of the others to fill out the rest of the bullpen.
The Braves resigned A.J. Pierzynski for another year after having a decent year in what was supposed to be a year of backing up the supposed catcher-of-the-future Christian Bethancourt, but Bethancourt did not really progress into what they were hoping and have now he has been traded away. The Braves have also signed former prospect Tyler Flowers to compete to be the starting catcher as well as signing seasoned veteran Ryan Lavarnway, presumably to be the catcher the Braves would bring up in case of an injury to Pierzynski or Flowers.
Well we all know that Freddie Freeman is the starting first baseman. Other than that, there is competition going on the other three positions. Shortstop would seem to be the next closest to lock-up position as it appears to be destined for Erick Aybar for this season while the Braves let arguably their #1 prospect in Dansby Swanson, continue to mature and hopefully be ready for the 2017 season. So that leaves us with second and third base.
There are a lot of players that will be competing for the other starting infield positions. Jace Peterson, Adonis Garcia and Hector Olivera are coming back from last season. The Braves also brought in former Braves Emilio Bonifacio, Kelly Johnson (his 3rd time with the Braves) and Gordon Beckham who was originally drafted by the Braves, as well as veteran Reid Brignac.
I believe that the Braves will keep five of those players on their active roster. Peterson was the starting second baseman for majority of last season with the Braves, so it would be a little surprising to see them not keep him up in the majors. I also suspect that the Braves will keep Garcia, Johnson and Beckham up in the majors with Beckham competing for the starting gig at second and Garcia and Johnson competing for the starting third baseman postion.
Ender Inciarte is expected to be the starting center fielder with Nick Markakis in right field. That leaves the starting left fielder, along with a couple of backups, as the spots up for grabs. Honestly, I believe that Olivera will end up being the starting left fielder. The Braves invested too much in him by trading away Alex Wood and Jose Peraza to keep him out of starting lineups.
Then, left to compete for the backup roles will be Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Matt Tuiasosopo and Mallex Smith. I expect Swisher and Bourn to be kept because I think the Braves will want to let the young Smith work through the minors a little more.
All of this being said, some of the young prospects could play incredibly well in spring training and force the Braves to alter any plans that they had to keep them back for a little longer. The Braves are considered to have the best minor league system in baseball (need to be an insider to read the full article) according to Kieth Law of ESPN, so it certainly looks as if the Braves should be able to compete in the relatively near future (hopefully in the near future).