Atlanta Braves 2015 Making the Team Meter: Pitchers, Week 4

wrodriguezWelcome to week 4 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. The competition for the last spots in the rotation and bullpen are still up in the air. While some competitors are faltering, there are other scenarios which make predicting the opening day roster a complicated process.

First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):

icon-lockRotation locks (3 of 5): Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller and Alex Wood are all still locks for the opening day rotation.

Bullpen locks (4 of 7): Craig Kimbrel, Jim Johnson, Jason Grilli and James Russell are still in the bullpen locked position. Russell got into his first game this past week, and is still going to try and stretch out to compete for the rotation. This is just one of the factors which could complicate opening day roster prognostication–more on this 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.

icon-thumbs-upTrending up for the rotation (2 spots): Veterans Eric Stults and Wandy Rodriguez have done better than the kids so far. Neither pitcher is dazzling on the mound, but that’s not their game. They are no-frills inning-eaters.

It will be interesting to see which direction the Braves end up going, but right now I have to believe that Wandy and Stults will round out the rotation, and the rest of the rookie contenders will keep working on their game in the minors.

However, there is an interesting scenario at work with Wandy. With a big payday of $2 million, plus incentives, due him if he makes the team, there could be a hesitancy on the part of Atlanta to give him that roster spot due to his injury history. This was explained by Mark Bowman earlier in the week, and it mostly hinges on whether Mike Minor can return to the rotation a few weeks into the season.

If it looks like Minor can return some time in April or early May, then the Braves may not want to pay Rodriguez $2 million for a half-dozen starts. They may instead prefer to hand a temporary rotation assignment to someone like Cody Martin, who moves up to the trending-up section this week. Martin has allowed just one hit in five innings this spring.

jrussellThough keep in mind that the Braves balked at an idea like this–using an untested rookie–last year, when they went out and signed Aaron Harang instead of giving a temporary rotation spot to Gus Schlosser.

James Russell could also get himself stretched out in time to make a handful of spot starts, then move to the bullpen once Minor returns. Russell’s ability to start the season in the rotation may be more of a factor in determining Wandy’s opening day roster fate than anything else.

Trending up for the bullpen (3 spots): Still looking good for a bullpen spot is lefty Josh Outman, especially if Russell shifts to the rotation to start the season. Luis Avilan hit his first rough patch of the spring, but seems like a strong contender for a spot. Keep in mind that the Braves may also try to trade Avilan before the season starts.

Michael Kohn still seems like the strongest contender for a bullpen spot among the non-roster invitees.

I still tend to think that Arodys Vizcaino will get a spot, though I wonder if he may be a victim of having minor league options available to use.

I just listed four strong candidates for three spots, so even among these four something has got to give. With plenty of spring left to win or lose a job, the guys in the trending-down section could also be serious roster contenders by the time April nears. The last couple of spots in the bullpen are going to be hard to predict… and again, it could also come down to whether Russell joins the rotation or not.

The next group of players are trending down. These players are less likely to make the team for a variety of reasons.

icon-thumbs-downTrending down for the rotation: Dropping down here this week is youngster Mike Foltynewicz. He’s had flashes of brilliance this spring, but overall he hasn’t consistently controlled his pitches. The Braves want to keep him in the rotation, so a spot in the Atlanta pen is not likely at this point. He looks destined for Gwinnett’s rotation.

Like Folty, Manny Banuelos has had a rough spring, and with the Braves wanting to be cautious nursing him back to full strength after surgery in 2012, he is almost certainly ticketed for Gwinnett.

Chien-Ming Wang continues to be an option, though he doesn’t seem like an option the Braves really want to use.

Trending down for the bullpen: The 11.57 spring ERA may look ugly for Jose Veras, but most of that damage came in his first appearance of the spring. Since then he’s been mostly okay, though he’s not showing much dominance and is still walking people. There’s plenty of time for him to turn it around and earn a spot, but right now he’s probably without a spot.

Juan Jaime hasn’t been too impressive this spring. Perhaps he just needs more time than most to get his pitches under control, but he’ll need to string together several good outings to make the team, even though he’s out of options. The immediate hope with him is that the rest of his spring is either really great or really terrible. If it’s great, then the decision is an easy one and he makes the team. If it’s terrible, then he can likely pass through waivers unclaimed. But if the rest of his spring is so-so, then Atlanta may be forced to put him on the opening day roster, or lose him on waivers. It’s hard to lose a guy who throws 100 mph.

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.

icon-axAxed for rotation consideration: Tyrell Jenkins moves down here after impressing the coaches throughout camp. Mike Minor also drops down here, as it now seems certain that he will not make the opening day roster.

Axed for bullpen consideration: Moving down here this week are Todd Coffey and Donnie Veal. Neither seem like they’re favored by the organization to make the team.

Brandon Cunniff, Brady Feigl and Sugar Ray Marimon have gotten a lot of looks this spring, and have all performed well. While they are extreme long-shots for the opening day roster, their good work bodes well for an opportunity down the road.

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