The position player battles are becoming clearer as we enter the final week of spring training, and the opening day lineup seems to be set.
First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):
Entering the locked position this week, and winning the second base job, is Jace Peterson. He’s been impressive this spring, and fun to watch. Let’s hope that continues into the season. (It would also be nice/neat to already have a major league product to show for the JUpton trade.) Also entering the locked position this week, and winning the center field job, is Eric Young, Jr. He’s been a productive player in the past, even leading the league in stolen bases in 2013. In recent years he hasn’t gotten on base at a good enough rate for a leadoff hitter, but he’s shown that he can do that in the past.
1. Eric Young, Jr., CF (S)
2. Jace Peterson, 2B (L)
3. Nick Markakis, RF (L)
4. Freddie Freeman, 1B (L)
5. Jonny Gomes, LF (R)
6. Chris Johnson, 3B (R)
7. Christian Bethancourt, C (R)
8. Andrelton Simmons, SS (R)
Bench locks (2 of 5): A.J. Pierzynski is a lock for the backup catcher job. Alberto Callaspo is probably a lock even though he’s hit terribly this spring. Remember that he’s got that guaranteed $3 million contract.
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 (3 spots): The last three spots on the bench are starting to come into focus. Kelly Johnson found his hitting shoes, and just like a wise veteran he’s putting it all together in the final weeks of spring training. He’s hit safely in his last seven games. He’ll be used off the bench, but will also start some games in left field and third base.
Zoilo Almonte has also hit better recently. He is out of options, so the odds were already in his favor, but the improved performance at the plate helps.
The last spot will hinge on whether the Braves want to carry an extra infielder or an extra outfielder. Keep in mind that the team is covered at backup shortstop with Peterson, and covered at second, third and first with Callaspo and Kelly Johnson. Eric Young can also play second. The infield appears to be covered from a backup perspective.
The outfield also appears to be covered with KJ and Almonte backing up or platooning. The only exception to this may be center field, where Almonte could play if pressed, but not for any length of time.
This leads me to believe that the final spot will come down to a competition between Eury Perez and Todd Cunningham, who can both play center field. Both are on the 40-man roster, so neither has an edge there. Neither player has much major league playing time, and they are putting up almost identical numbers at the plate this spring. Both guys can also play all three outfield positions with good defense. Perez offers more stolen base speed, while Cunningham offers more power, though neither tool is enough to give either player a definitive edge. This competition will come down to who is playing better in the final week. Or maybe Fredi will just flip a coin.
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 bench: This section gets a bit more crowded this week, as some players’ performances start to slip in the final days of spring. Phil Gosselin looked like a good pre-spring bet to be the super-utility man, but he hasn’t hit much this month. The positions he plays are also backed up by the guys who have already made the team, as mentioned above. Without the need to have a guy like Gosselin who can play everywhere, the final spot or spots will come down to guys who are hitting well, and he’s not one of them.
Joey Terdoslavich was on fire at the plate for a minute, but has cooled in recent weeks, and is now battling an injured wrist. Terdo’s main competition for a roster spot was Kelly Johnson, and with KJ getting hot at the plate he pushes Terdo from a spot.
Pedro Ciriaco has been consistently good at the plate this spring. He’s a utility infielder who can play everywhere, and has historically been a light hitter with a little bit of speed. His case for a roster spot is hurt because he’s not on the 40-man roster. With the Braves needing to create space on the 40-man for four or five other players, there probably isn’t enough wiggle room to add the fifth guy off the bench.