Week 5 of the Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter, and the battles in the rotation and bullpen are getting complicated. This edition will cover the pitchers, with the hitters being covered tomorrow. To view last week’s pitchers edition, click here.
My reasoning below is just that, my own reasoning. It’s based on articles and tweets I’ve read throughout spring training, as well as my experience covering these roster battles for a decade. These are all best guesses of how I think the roster will shake out, and right now so much is still up in the air.
First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):
Bullpen locks (4 or 5 of 7): Craig Kimbrel, Jim Johnson, Jason Grilli and Josh Outman are bullpen locks. Outman moves up to the locked position this week, assuming the LOOGY role out of the pen (even though he hasn’t been sharp lately). James Russell is also a lock to make the team, though his spot in the rotation or bullpen is still unknown–see 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 (2 spots): Veteran Eric Stults seems to have the fourth spot locked down, though it’s not a sure thing. His last outing was a good one, and it was against the Nationals, which counts extra. That leaves three competitors for the fifth and final spot.
The five-inning no-hitter that Wandy Rodriguez tossed over the weekend certainly helps his cause for a rotation spot, especially since it came against the Marlins. Of course, that also helps his trade value as other teams search for one more pitcher.
James Russell is the other competitor for the rotation, and his presence is clouding the battles for the rotation and bullpen. He went four innings in his last start, and will be stretched out enough to be used in the rotation by the time the season starts. He has taken some licks this spring, with damage coming in clumps, but overall he’s pitched pretty well. His next start should be watched closely.
If Russell can enter the rotation to start the season, that allows the Braves to trade Wandy, start Folty in the minors, and add a reliever like Juan Jaime to the bullpen who is out of options. Should Russell struggle in the rotation, the team could then call-up Folty and push Russell to the pen. Russell moving to the pen will happen anyway when Mike Minor (hopefully) returns some time in May, and recent reports on Minor’s health seem to indicate that he’s about five or six weeks away from returning.
My inclination is that Atlanta will try and trade Wandy, both in order to continue to add prospects, but to also save the payroll from his $2 million salary. Russell would then start the season in the fifth starter role. The Braves would still be protected in the rotation by stashing Wang and Folty (and possibly Martin) in the minors (hence why they are in the trending down section).
Trending up for the bullpen (2 or 3 spots): Juan Jaime has had three scoreless appearances, though he has still been sporadically wild. Perhaps walks will always be a part of Jaime’s game. In watching his appearance from Monday, he’s inconsistent from batter to batter, but still has that fastball that can strike any batter out. He also mixed in his slurve effectively. That recent good work and the fact that he is out of options means he’s close to a lock to make the pen.
Luis Avilan seems to have pitched good enough to make the team, though he hasn’t appeared in a major league spring game in five days. It’s hard to tell whether or not the team thinks he fits into the bullpen picture. Based on spring performance he’s got a better chance than some of these other guys right now.
I’m also going to add Cody Martin into the bullpen trending up section. His candidacy is bolstered by the wildness of Kohn and Vizcaino. If Russell is a part of the rotation to start the season, I believe that increases the chances that Martin will be in the bullpen as the long reliever. He threw just one inning in Tuesday’s game, which may be another indication that the Braves are setting him up to be a reliever. Keep in mind that he was a closer in college, so he’s no stranger to a high-pressure relief role.
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: The control problems Mike Foltynewicz faced on Tuesday likely sealed his fate. The fact that Fredi pulled him in the third inning is an indication that they’re watching his pitch count closely, while punching his ticket to Gwinnett.
Manny Banuelos is in the same boat as Folty, with the team watching his pitch count even closer. I could see those two in a piggyback rotation slot at triple-A. In the minors, piggybacking is where one starts the game, throws to his prearranged pitch count, then the other pitcher enters the game in relief for the duration of his pitch count.
Chien-Ming Wang continues to be an option, though we don’t hear much about him.
Trending down for the bullpen: I’ve been thinking that Michael Kohn and Arodys Vizcaino were good bets to make the roster all spring, but I’m starting to waiver on that. They have both been issuing a walk per inning, and haven’t looked sharp in recent outings. If Russell doesn’t make the rotation, then there’s only room for one of these guys. Though the team may now prefer Cody Martin for that final bullpen spot.
Because of the wildness and walkability of some of the other bullpen candidates, I wonder if Brandon Cunniff and/or Brady Feigl have a chance at a spot. Cunniff especially has been sharp this spring, keep an eye on him.