Week 1 of the Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) continues with a look at the hitters in camp. There are a lot of new bats in camp, and too many bodies for the available spots, so I expect a lively and long competition.
One of the more interesting side stories will be the dual between non-roster veterans (KJ, EY) looking to make the team and younger players on the 40-man roster pushing hard to crack the 25-man roster (EP, TC). The safe money is on the veterans, as the team tries to stuff the roster with useful pieces they can move at the trade deadline. But what happens if the vets struggle and the kids shine?
The MTM for the pitchers was posted last week, and can be found here. While the catchers were included in that post, I’ve included them here as well to keep all the hitters in one place.
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.
First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):
Lineup locks (7 of 7): Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons and Nick Markakis. We can also assume that the following players will have a spot on the 25-man roster, while being in the lineup more than they aren’t: Chris Johnson, Jonny Gomes, Alberto Callaspo and B.J. Upton.
It is depressing to say that this group represents the players who are projected to receive the majority of the starts, barring any platoons that could develop, but remember that Fredi Gonzalez has shied away from platoons in the past. This different and less-powerful lineup will produce a different brand of Braves baseball than we’ve become accustomed to the last few years.
- Markakis, RF (L)
- Callaspo, 2B (S)
- Freeman, 1B (L)
- C. Johnson, 3B (R)
- Gomes, LF (R)
- Upton, CF (R)
- Simmons, SS (R)
Bench locks (0 of 4): None. This is where the competition will be…
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 bench (4 spots): These guys will not only be competing for a spot on the bench, but some regular playing time in any platoons that could emerge. Phil Gosselin seems like the best bet to become the team’s super-utility man, who can play all over the infield and outfield. The other infielder/outfielder who may have an inside edge is Kelly Johnson, though he’s not on the 40-man, so with a bad spring he may not get a chance.
In the outfield the talk all winter has been about Zoilo Almonte, a switch-hitter with some pop. He’s never cracked a major league lineup so it will be an uphill battle, but the team seems to believe in him. The other outfielder who has a good shot at a backup role is Eury Perez. Atlanta claimed him off waivers in late January, and probably see him as a late-innings speedster and defensive replacement.
Just before spring training Atlanta signed veteran Eric Young, Jr., a switch-hitting outfield speedster whose case for a roster spot is aided by his ability to play second base.
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 need to have an amazing spring, or there would have to be an injury to a player above.
Trending down for the bench: The most major-league-ready prospect acquired in the Justin Upton trade was Jace Peterson, a speedy infielder who could steal time at third and second. He’ll need to have a good spring, and his bat will need to separate him from his competition.
Todd Cunningham has been a favorite of people who follow the Braves minor league system, but with other outfielders entering the system this winter his spot in line has moved back.
There will be a lot of people watching Jose Peraza, and he probably has the ability to make the jump from double-A to the majors. But even with a good spring would the Braves feel confident in promoting their next young hitter that fast? I’d like to see Peraza have a good spring and force this tough decision.
Joey Terdoslavich seems like a forgotten player in the system. The switch-hitter would need to have a monster spring to crack the roster.
We don’t know what kind of player we have in Dian Toscano, but most early reports indicate that this Cuban outfielder will start his American professional career in the minors.
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 from bench consideration for now: Jose Constanza and Tyler Pastornicky are familiar names, but no team claimed them this offseason as they were waived off the 40-man roster. They will likely be in camp, but I don’t expect either player to compete for an opening day spot as other players are now favored over them.
Minor league free agent Pedro Ciriaco can play everywhere, but his good defense offers little offense.
Johan Camargo, Daniel Castro, Elmer Reyes and Rio Ruiz are infield prospects of varying degrees who will get a nice taste of major league camp. Castro and Reyes could get talked up some, but they’re swamped by veterans in front of them.
Cedric Hunter and Mallex Smith should be ticketed for the minors.
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.