This past weekend brought a slew of changes to the Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter. Several players who were thought to have spots may not, and some lesser known competitors have entered mix. Last week’s pitchers MTM can be found here, and the hitters MTM here.
This week I’ll take a look at each area of the team in one post. I will list the locks, then discuss which spots are still up in the air. The players listed in red are the ones who have not yet made the roster.
Lineup (8 of 8 spots are locks): This may be the only area of the team that seems set, and has been that way for about a week. We don’t know the exact lineup that will be used, but it will likely go something like this:
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 (3 of 5 spots are locks): Backup catcher A.J. Pierzynski and infielder Alberto Callaspo are in, and infielder/outfielder Kelly Johnson joins the locks this week. Callaspo and Johnson’s spots looked in jeopardy early this spring, but both have been surging the past couple of weeks.
Zoilo Almonte seems to have a spot on the bench, as he’s been hitting better in recent weeks, but his spot is not assured by any means. Even though he’s out of options, and has hit better lately, the Braves may not believe his limited skill set fits the roster.
With Eury Perez getting sent to minor league camp it was thought that Todd Cunningham‘s chances of a roster spot were greatly improved, but he hasn’t played in a spring game in almost a week and doesn’t seem to be favored by the team. Phil Gosselin, on the other hand, has not just been playing in a lot of games, he’s been playing all over the field in an effort to boost his super-utility-man bona fides. He’s also been hitting much better, and appears to be on a trajectory to secure a bench spot.
A surprise entry into roster consideration is outfielder Joe Benson, was was signed as a minor league free agent this offseason. Benson was a high draft pick for the Twins in 2006, and spent time at the back end of some top-100 prospect lists in 2011-12, but was never able to hit much above double-A. He’s said to have 5-tool potential, but that has only ever been potential, and not product on the field. His supposed entry into the roster competition could push Almonte and/or Cunningham from a spot, as the Braves seek more “energy and passion” to fill out the roster.
Another strong competitor for a spot is Pedro Ciriaco, who has also been playing all over the infield and outfield as the Braves evaluate his versatility. Ciriaco has the benefit of a decent amount of major league experience, and this spring he has been the most consistent hitter throughout camp.
It would be interesting to see both Ciriaco and Gosselin make the roster, giving Fredi Gonzalez a lot of versatility off the bench, though without a true center fielder, which seems to be a major concern (hence why Benson has entered the fray).
Joey Terdoslavich appears out of the competition with a nagging wrist injury that has kept him out of games for a week and a half.
Rotation (3 of 5 spots are locks): Opening day starter Julio Teheran will be followed by Shelby Miller and Alex Wood. The surprise this week was the release of James Russell. I had figured him to factor into a possible rotation spot, as had been stated since the end of last season. With his velocity down, and already less-than-effective against left-handers, the Braves cut him before they had to pay his full salary.
That opens the door for both of the veterans, Eric Stults and Wandy Rodriguez. While there may still be some competition from Mike Foltynewicz, it feels like he’ll begin the year at Gwinnett. If the Braves are worried about their budget, then the money saved by cutting Russell can now be used for Rodriguez.
Chien-Ming Wang still looms as an option, but not one who has been talked about seriously this spring. As expected, Manny Banuelos was removed to minor league camp.
The best guess right now is that both Stults and Wandy fill out the rotation.
Bullpen (3 of 7 spots are locks): The biggest area of flux right now is in the bullpen. The only three who are locks are Craig Kimbrel, Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli.
Josh Outman seemed like a lock early in spring, but he’s struggled the second half of April, and could follow Russell out the door. Luis Avilan has helped his case with a strong spring, but a strong camp from non-roster lefty Brady Feigl may put him in the LOOGY lead.
It was thought that Michael Kohn and Arodys Vizcaino still had a shot, despite their struggles with control this spring, but early this morning both pitchers were reassigned to minor league camp. Juan Jaime, though he is out of options, could also be out of favor due to his control problems.
Cody Martin has gotten some press this spring, and could be in line to be the long reliever candidate now that Russell is gone. Brandon Cunniff could also be in the mix.
Atlanta could also move Foltynewicz to the bullpen to begin the year, instead of in the rotation.
Which four relievers will ultimately fill out the bullpen seem to be a complete toss-up right now. None of those in red listed above have a secure spot. At this point, any of them have as good a chance as the rest, regardless of their 40-man roster status or lack of options.
For a relief corps that started the spring with too many qualified relievers for a limited number of spots, now there doesn’t seem to be enough guys pitching well enough to fill the available spots. If they take the four guys who appear to be pitching the best, then Feigl, Cunniff, Martin and Avilan would seemingly be those four, but with three rookies that’s a boat load of inexperience to carry all at once.
Jaime and Outman are out of options, and must be added to the 25-man roster or possibly lost on waivers. I can see the Braves making a spot for Jaime, but not Outman with the way he has pitched. For all of these guys the final week will go a long way towards helping or hurting their case.
For some of these vacancies, expect the Braves to start looking outside the organization, as alluded to by Braves beat writer Mark Bowman:
@gondeee no doubt about it. And there are not any good internal options to fill the final 2-3 pen spots or the last bench spot
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) March 30, 2015