Welcome to week 3 of the Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM), your source for all the spring training roster battles. This edition will cover the pitching battles in camp, with the hitters’ edition getting posted in the next day or so.
Last week’s pitchers MTM can be found here. There are quite a few changes from last week to this week, as the potential makeup of the 25-man roster to start the season is in constant flux. This year, more than any Braves’ spring camp in recent memory, there are more spots available and more of an uncertainty of who will occupy those spots. Buckle up for a a lot of movement from week to week, as a player’s performance may matter this year more than most. That’s true because many of the veterans in camp, who are generally assured spots despite spring performance, are non-roster players who are not assured of a spot to start the season.
First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):
Rotation locks (3 of 5): Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller and Alex Wood are all still locks for the opening day rotation. Unfortunately the rotation locks got trimmed by one this week with Mike Minor experiencing shoulder discomfort, and currently scheduled to visit Dr. James Andrews. Nothing good usually comes from that.
Bullpen locks (4 of 7): Craig Kimbrel, Jim Johnson, Jason Grilli and James Russell are still be in the bullpen locked position.
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 (2 spots): The rotation competition changed radically this week with Minor likely missing the start of the season (again). With that new spot opening up I’ll move veteran starter Eric Stults up here from the trending down section. Stults is a no-frills starter along the lines of Aaron Harang, and that worked out pretty well for Atlanta last year. Stults can also opt-out of his deal with the Braves if he doesn’t make the opening day roster. When Atlanta signed him he was likely insurance, though he came here in part to be reunited with pitching coach Roger McDowell, who worked with him when they were both in the Dodgers organization. Those two things are working greatly in his favor to make the team.
Though it has not been reported, Wandy Rodriguez can also likely opt-out of his deal with the Braves if he doesn’t make the team (a common clause built into the contracts of veterans who sign minor league deals in the offseason). Largely for that reason I’m leaning towards the two veterans being the leading candidates for the final two rotation spots.
That being said, I’m leaving Mike Foltynewicz up here for now. In watching his start on Saturday, he needs to get his fastball under control, as it seemed to waffle between a straight dart and a frisbee with some arm-side run. Those two fastballs can be successful, coupled with what looked like a great slurve, but only if he can spot them with more consistency. He’s right there on the cusp of figuring it all out.
Trending up for the bullpen (3 spots): Leading the pack, and likely heading towards a lock position, is lefty Josh Outman. He is out of minor league options, he’s already on the 40-man roster, and he’s looked good so far this spring.
Michael Kohn has also looked good, and still sounds like he has a good shot at a middle relief role. Arodys Vizcaino got banged around some, but he still seems to be a good bet to make the team.
Two other veteran relievers who were among this group last week got moved down.
However, moving up this week is lefty Luis Avilan. He seemed to fall out of favor late last year, but he’s had a good spring so far and he’s on a mission to make it back to Atlanta (and he’s got enough left in his arm to do it).
The next group of players are trending down. These players are less likely to make the team for a variety of reasons.
Trending down for the rotation: While Stults and Wandy can opt-out of their contracts if they don’t make the team to start the season, Chien-Ming Wang cannot opt-out of any minor league assignment until July 1. That works against Wang, even if he has a good spring, as Atlanta will probably want to keep some veteran rotation insurance stashed in the minors.
I’ll keep Manny Banuelos here for now, though wherever he starts the season it will likely be in a bullpen role, as the organization looks to keep a close eye on his innings in just his second year back from Tommy John surgery.
I’m going to move a couple of guys up here from the axed position, the first one being Tyrell Jenkins. He’s been impressive early in camp, pitched well in his first spring outing, and with the springboard of a strong Arizona Fall League campaign this past offseason, he enters into the conversation for a rotation spot.
The other guy moving up was the guy who filled in for Minor in the spring rotation. Even Fredi Gonzalez said that Cody Martin is in the mix for a rotation spot. I’m a little less optimistic right now, but Martin has proven about all he can in one-and-a-half seasons at triple-A. Still, major league scouts may look on him with a little skepticism, as he went un-selected in the Rule 5 draft. If enough baseball people thought he could join a major league rotation this year (heck, if just one other team did), then why didn’t another team draft him?
Because of his potential injury, Mike Minor drops down here. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for Minor that he’s just experiencing some spring soreness, and nothing serious.
Trending down for the bullpen: While Avilan moved to the trending up section, veteran relievers Jose Veras and Matt Capps got moved down. Both pitchers have struggled in early spring action. Veras, who has a history of wildness, has lived up to his reputation by walking multiple batters in each of his two spring appearances. His velocity is also lagging behind, though there’s still time for that to heat up.
When Matt Capps was closing games for Minnesota his velocity was 91-95, but so far this spring he hasn’t tickled 90. Consequently he’s not missing many bats. If he doesn’t get his velocity back I don’t see how he regains his effectiveness and makes the roster. [UPDATE: Not more than an hour after posting this the Braves reassigned Capps to minor league camp. Consider him moved down to the axed category.]
Juan Jaime ran into all sorts of control problems, and though he is out of options, without a quick turnaround he likely won’t make the team. If his next few outings also go poorly, we could see the Braves send Jaime out to minor league camp quickly to stash him away for when they have to pass him through waivers to the minors at the end of spring.
Lefty Donnie Veal hasn’t separated himself from the other lefties in camp. Veteran Todd Coffey had a good outing, but still seems on the outside of this competition for now.
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 bullpen consideration for now: Moving down here this week is David Carpenter, who someone pointed out to me may not even be in big league camp. I guess I had seen it incorrectly somewhere, or else I imagined it. Among the other axed players it’s worth continuing to keep an eye on lefty Brady Feigl, who has had two great outings so far. For a good synopsis of who he is and where he came from, head on over to the blog Walk-Off Walk.
Mauricio Cabrera opened some eyes when he hit triple-digits in his first inning of work. Brandon Cunniff may also be worth keeping an extra eye on. No one else who has previously been axed is worth noting.