The Atlanta Braves began their spring schedule on Saturday. Atlanta made a splash early this offseason with the addition of Josh Donaldson but there hasn’t been much since. Additional moves are still possible but for now we are going to focus on what the Braves have in camp.
There doesn’t appear to be a lot of intrigue or position battles as the spring gets underway. There is a question as to who will get the first crack at the fifth starter spot and there will be a competition for the final few bullpen spots. The only real question on the position player side of things is whether or not Adam Duvall can nail down the fourth outfielder spot and if he can’t, who might be the next man in line.
Below is where I see things as Grapefruit League play begins. We will update this every Sunday until the final roster is in place. For this exercise I am operating under the assumption that the Braves will carry 13 pitchers on the Opening Day roster.
Rotation Locks: Mike Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman, Sean Newcomb, Julio Teheran
Many thought the Braves would add another starting pitcher to the mix this offseason but that never came to pass. Mike Foltynewicz is coming off of a strong showing in 2018 and looks like the odds-on favorite to be the Opening Day starter in 2018. Kevin Gausman and Sean Newcomb will likely follow Folty in some order. Julio Teheran will be looking to bounce back after an up-and-down 2018. As long as Teheran is on the roster, the assumption is he a rotation spot will be his to lose.
5th Starter Competition: Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Luiz Gohara
The Braves may break camp with only four starters on the roster thanks to some early off days but one of the real competitions the team will have this spring is for the fifth starter spot. Brian Snitker indicated earlier this offseason that the team may use multiple players in that role in a de facto six-man rotation.
Touki Toussaint got the start in the Spring opener and looks like he could be one of the favorites. Luiz Gohara endured a lost 2018 but appears poised for a bounceback. He reported to camp some 35-40 pounds lighter this year and is focused on recapturing the promise he showed at the end of the 2017 season. It is unclear what Max Fried’s role will be at this point but I am going to list him among the starters for now.
Injured: Mike Soroka
Mike Soroka would have been in the above group if not for Friday’s news that he had again experienced soreness in his throwing shoulder earlier this week. The Braves are saying that they don’t think it is anything serious with Soroka’s shoulder but it has to be concerning and for now it puts his status in question.
Others: Kolby Allard, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson, Kyle Muller, Joey Wentz
There are several other pitchers who will be in camp that could work their way into the fifth starter competition. Kolby Allard, Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright all saw time in the majors in 2018. All three may be slated to begin the season at Gwinnett but will likely see time in Atlanta at some point in 2019. Prospects Ian Anderson, Kyle Muller and Joey Wentz will all be getting their first taste of big league camp.
The biggest competition of the spring will likely come in the bullpen. The Braves could add to this mix at some point which could significantly change the outlook but for now this how things stand.
Bullpen Locks: A.J. Minter, Arodys Vizcaino, Darren O’Day, Jonny Venters
As was mentioned in the intro, I am operating under the assumption that the Braves will carry a 13-man pitching staff with eight relievers. That could easily be nine if they choose to open the season with just four starters. Right now it looks like A.J. Minter, Arodys Vizcaino, Darren O’Day and Jonny Venters have the inside track for bullpen spots.
Vizcaino’s situation is interesting. He handled closer duties for the Braves in 2018 but was hampered by a shoulder problems during the second half. He avoided arbitration agreeing to a $4.8 million deal that is non-guaranteed until he makes the Opening Day roster. If those shoulder issues return during the spring, Atlanta could elect to move on from Vizcaino although it would leave a hole at the back end of the pen.
Competition: Jesse Biddle, Shane Carle, Sam Freeman, Chad Sobotka, Dan Winkler, Luke Jackson
That leaves at least six players vying for four spots. Among this group, only Jesse Biddle and Sam Freeman are out of options. Sobotka was impressive late in 2018 while Shane Carle and Dan Winkler were impressive before wearing down late.
Others: Grant Dayton, Wes Parsons, Jacob Webb, Patrick Weigel, Huascar Ynoa, Thomas Burrows, Corbin Clouse, Tucker Davidson
The Braves acquired Dayton off of waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers last offseason but he sat out all of 2018 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. If all goes well, he could be a dark horse candidate for the pen. Jacob Webb and Patrick Weigel are two players who will likely see opportunities at some point in 2019 if it isn’t on Opening Day. Huascar Ynoa was added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule-5 Draft. He is an intriguing option who could move quickly through the system.
Thomas Burrows, Corbin Clouse and Tucker Davidson are all non-roster invitees who could be options at some point in 2019. Making the team out of Spring Training would require a corresponding 40-man roster move.
Catcher Locks: Tyler Flowers, Brian McCann
When it comes to the catcher position, there isn’t a lot of intrigue for camp. Barring an injury, Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann are locks to be on the Opening Day roster.
Others: Alex Jackson, Raffy Lopez, William Contreras, Carlos Martinez, Jonathan Morales
As far as the other catchers in camp go. Most everyone’s eyes will be on prospect William Contreras and former prospect Alex Jackson. Contreras is likely ticketed to start the season at High-A but is starting to get noticed around the industry and will likely be moving up many prospect lists this season. Jackson is a former prospect who struggled at the plate for the most part in 2018. He will be looking to show the Braves that he can be a depth option behind Flowers and McCann. Overall that is an area of concern where the Braves don’t have proven options beyond Raffy Lopez who has limited experience at the major league level. If Jackson shows that he isn’t ready then Atlanta may be forced to look outside the organization for more catcher depth to stash at Gwinnett in case of an injury to Flowers or McCann.
Infield Locks: Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Josh Donaldson, Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, Charlie Culberson
Like the catcher position, there is not a lot of intrigue with the infield group either and barring injury things are pretty much set. Perhaps the only question mark involves the health of Dansby Swanson who underwent wrist surgery this offseason. The Braves announced earlier this week that Swanson would be limited during the early part of the spring but the expectation is that he will be ready to go soon.
Others: CJ Alexander, Andres Blanco, Pedro Florimon, Sean Kazmar Jr, Luis Marte, Austin Riley
Austin Riley will likely see quite a bit of action this spring at third base for the Braves and maybe even in the outfield. Riley is still likely to begin the season at Gwinnett but we could see him at some point in 2019. CJ Alexander is the other big name among the other infielders. Alexander was a 20th round pick in 2018 who had an impressive debut ending the season at High-A Florida. In 52 games last season, Alexander hit .352/.429/.495 with eight doubles, seven triples and two home runs. It will be interesting to see how he performs this spring and he is a guy that could rocket through the system in 2019.
Outfield Locks: Ronald Acuna Jr, Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis
As things stand now there is no mystery who will be in the Braves outfield on Opening Day. Ronald Acuna Jr will be looking to build off of his Rookie of the Year debut, Ender Inciarte will be looking to build off of a good second half in 2018 while Markakis will be looking to show that there is still something left in the tank after putting together a career-best season in 2018.
4th Outfielder: Adam Duvall
The biggest question mark on the position player side entering camp centers on who will be the team’s fourth outfielder. Adam Duvall is going to get the first crack but will need to show much more than he did down the stretch in 2018. Duvall struggled in a bench role after being acquired by the Braves and his $2.875 million salary is non-guaranteed unless he makes the Opening Day roster. Expect Duvall to see a lot of early playing time during the spring as the Braves hope to determine where and if he fits in on their 2019 roster. While Spring Training stats are largely meaningless, some specific data on whether Duvall has fixed the specific things that ailed him in late 2018 (like making contact on pitches in the zone) can go a long way to answering the question of whether he’ll be of use to a major league team in 2019.
Others: Greyson Jenista, Ryan LaMarre, Rafael Ortega, Cristian Pache, Drew Waters
The interesting thing about the fourth outfielder situation is there really aren’t any other internal candidates unless you are counting the possibility of Johan Camargo seeing time out there. The Braves will bring outfield prospects Cristian Pache and Drew Waters to camp but neither are major league options yet. 2018 second round pick Greyson Jenista is also in camp. He is a college bat who finished the 2018 season at High-A Florida but is likely to return to the minors to start the season, although like Alexander, he could advance quickly.
That leaves Ryan LaMarre and Rafael Ortega as Atlanta’s other outfield options who are currently in camp. LaMarre has 105 games of major league experience where he has slashed .238/.283/.322 in 220 career plate appearances. Ortega spent last season with the Marlins where he appeared in 41 games while hitting .233/.281/.277.
Don’t be surprised if the Braves look to add to this mix during the spring or at the end as other teams start to pare down their rosters.