The Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) enters its tenth season as your one-stop shop for all the team’s spring training roster battles.* Since this offseason has been mostly uneventful, the MTM should be pretty cut-and-dry, right?
Wrong-y-wrong-wrong. This past offseason has been the most eventful and tumultuous winter in Braves history. The team broke ground on a new stadium in the suburbs, fired its GM, traded their most popular player, and then traded another dozen players, remaking their major league team and minor league system to the point of being unrecognizable. It was exhausting… and yet, it was still kind of exciting.
Now, more than ever, we all need a place to keep up with the spring training roster battles. Each week this spring I’ll present the locks for each area of the team, then the guys trending up or down. Those guys trending up or down (listed in red text) are the ones to keep an eye on, and should constitute the bulk of the players competing for open roster spots. The rest of the guys in camp are listed next to the ax, because, well, they will (more than likely) eventually be axed from the spring roster.
*Because there are so many players competing for the team, it will be necessary at the beginning of the spring to separate the MTM into a pitchers and a hitters post. So it will actually be a two-stop shop for all the spring training roster battles.
First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):
Rotation locks (4 of 5): Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller, Mike Minor and Alex Wood are all locks for the opening day rotation… that is, unless that stupid ligament monster strikes again, like it did to two rotation locks last year. Stay healthy please.
Bullpen locks (5 of 7): Craig Kimbrel, Jim Johnson, Jason Grilli, James Russell and Arodys Vizcaino. Among this group of relievers, only Kimbrel started last season with Atlanta. The only guy among these locks that some might question is Vizcaino, but he is out of options and should be considered a lock.
Catching locks (1 of 2): The catching lock is not the guy one would think. A.J. Pierzynski is the only catcher I consider a lock to start the spring. I’ll explain further below.
Next up are the players trending up to make the team. There may be more players listed than spots available, but as spring training goes on I’ll whittle these players down.
Trending up for the rotation (1 spot): Mike Foltynewicz and Manny Banuelos are the two prospects, each acquired this offseason, who will compete for the fifth starter spot. Folty is still pretty raw, despite a stint in the Houston bullpen last year, and Manny may need more time in his second year returning to the mound after TJ surgery.
The kids will have competition from some veterans who were signed to minor league contracts this offseason. 36-year-old Wandy Rodriguez will try to be the Aaron Harang of 2015. Wandy has some motivation, after the Phillies nixed a deal they had with him earlier in the offseason when he failed a physical. While some in Atlanta would probably like to get the youth movement started with either Folty or Manny, they may prefer to watch their innings early in the year in the minors, while Wandy gobbles up innings in league-average fashion. He’ll still need to have a decent spring to make the team, as there’s more competition (below).
Trending up for the bullpen (2 spots): The pre-spring favorite, and early-offseason favorite for a bullpen spot was Michael Kohn, a minor league free agent from the Angels. He has a good MLB track record and should win one of the two open spots.
Josh Outman is a lefty with plenty of MLB experience over six seasons. His presence on the 40-man roster means he has the inside track for the LOOGY role, as the other lefty, Russell, assumes more of a long-reliever role.
Of the non-roster invitees with the best chance (after Kohn) of making the team is veteran reliever Jose Veras. He was the Houston closer a few years ago for a minute, and has put together some decent relief seasons in recent years.
Trending up for catching (1 spot): Christian Bethancourt is the presumptive starting catcher, and he will be given plenty of rope, but he’s still a rookie, and the jury is still out about his ability to hit at the MLB level. A terrible spring and he could wind up back at triple-A, especially with other veteran options looming.
The next group of players are trending down. For one of these guys to make the team they would have to have an amazing spring, or there would have to be an injury to a player above.
Trending down for the rotation: At 35-years-old, Eric Stults is another veteran competing for a Braves rotation spot. He’s been a replacement-level innings eater for San Diego the past two years, and there’s no reason to think he would be anything but that for Atlanta. He’s a warm body, with experience, if one is needed.
Another warm body, and another 35-year-old, is sinkerballer Chien-Ming Wang. Once considered a crucial member of the Yankees’ rotation, he has not been the same pitcher since he suffered a foot injury running the bases in 2008.
Trending down for the bullpen: Two guys on the 40-man roster with prior bullpen experience who are probably on the outside looking in this spring are Luis Avilan and Juan Jaime. With a good spring either guy could be traded rather than added to the 25-man roster. Non-roster lefty Donnie Veal brings some LOOGY experience with him from the ChiSox.
With a name like David Carpenter, you’ve got a good chance to be an underdog candidate for the bullpen. It would also be super-hilarious to watch the average fair-weather fan try and reconcile this David Carpenter with the David Carpenter from last year.
The team recently signed a couple of veterans who have been out of baseball for a while, Todd Coffee and Matt Capps, who is another former closer.
Trending down for catching: It should not be overlooked as a sign that the Braves lack confidence in Bethancourt that they signed two veteran catchers to minor league deals. John Buck is a season removed from a big contract, and Jesus Flores had some decent years with Washington. If Bethancourt can’t break camp with the team, then one of these guys could split time or back-up Pierzynski.
Below are the rest of the guys in camp, and while there is some talent in this group, they are not likely to be around the Major League camp in the final weeks of spring. That being said, I may move one or two of these guys up if they have a great spring or there is some buzz about them in the press.
Axed for rotation consideration for now: Tyrell Jenkins will get his shot eventually, but not this spring. Other starters who will likely be among the first cuts of the spring are Yean Carlos Gil, Williams Perez, Jason Hursh, Sugar Ray Marimon and Cody Martin.
Axed for bullpen consideration for now: Mauricio Cabrera, Brandon Cunniff, Brady Feigl and Leyson Septimo are a year or so away. Ian Thomas will probably get lost in the shuffle. Shae Simmons and Daniel Winkler are out after surgery.
Axed from catching consideration for now: Yenier Bello might pique some interest. Matt Kennelly had a good winter ball campaign in Australia. Jose Yepez, Chris O’Dowd and Tanner Murphy are just around to catch all the extra pitchers in camp. As is Braeden Schlehuber, who will have his own bobblehead night this year in Mississippi.
The hitters’ edition of the MTM will be posted early next week.