The Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) returns for its 11th season as your one-stop shop* for all the team’s spring training roster battles (*initially divided up between pitchers and hitters).
With so much turnover this offseason, much like the last offseason, the MTM is more vital now than ever, and the pitching side of the ball has the most uncertainty. Which 12 hurlers will break camp with the team is a complete mystery at this point.
Every weekly MTM this spring I’ll present the locks for each area of the team, then the guys trending up and down. Those guys trending up and down (listed in red text) are the ones to keep an eye on, and should constitute the bulk of the players competing for open roster spots. The rest of the guys in camp are listed next to the ax, because, well, they will (more than likely) eventually be axed from the spring roster.
First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):
Rotation locks (3 of 5): Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, and Matt Wisler should all be locks for the rotation at this point in the spring. Norris is coming off a horrible season, so he’s got a lot to prove, and at just a $2.5 million contract, he’s not above being cut if he continues to be horrible. Wisler also needs to have a decent spring to stay among the locks.
Bullpen locks (3 of 7): Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, and Arodys Vizcaino are all bullpen locks, as they were at this time last year. These three relievers represent a strong core of the back of the bullpen, and a strong cadre of trade bait.
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): It’s hard to say who has the inside track on one of the final two rotation spots — it’s likely that no one does at this point. Non-roster starter Kyle Kendrick is coming off a season of Colorado shell shock, but he would represent another veteran arm in the rotation, which seems to be what the Braves want. That extra veteran arm allows them to give their young pitchers more time. As a pitcher who mainly relies on sinkers and splitters, Kendrick also seems like a guy who would benefit from the tutelage of Roger McDowell.
Jhoulys Chacin is a non-roster veteran guy who bounced around last year after major shoulder problems in 2014. He’s had some impressive years in the rotation even while pitching in Colorado. If his injury woes are behind him, he could be a nice reclamation project in advance of the trade deadline.
My gut tells me Aaron Blair is ready for a rotation spot, and that he’s the prospect among the next wave of Braves starting pitching prospects who is the most prepared to break camp with Atlanta. He’ll still need to have a good spring, but he too should benefit from McDowell’s area of expertise.
Trending up for either the rotation or the bullpen: Manny Banuelos and Mike Foltynewicz both fall into a tweener category I’m creating this year. They figure to make the team, it’s just a matter of where they fit on the team. Folty is delayed by a couple of weeks because of offseason rib surgery, and ManBan is coming off a year in which he was plagued by elbow soreness and diminished velocity. The Braves would love for both pitchers to step into rotation spots, but questions about their ability to remain starters in the majors have been pervasive for the past couple of years.
Trending up for the bullpen (4 spots): The health of Chris Withrow will be a hot topic this spring. He’s an immensely talented reliever, but he missed all or part of the last three seasons, first with Tommy John and then back surgery.
Evan Rutckyj and Daniel Winkler are both Rule 5 picks who must break camp with the Braves or be returned to their original teams. With decent springs they should make the club. Jose Ramirez is in a similar situation, as he is out of options. It will be interesting to see if the Braves can find spots in the bullpen for all three of these guys, with Rutckyj being the biggest risk, having only thrown 18 innings above A-ball.
Ian Krol was acquired in the Maybin trade from Detroit, and is still pretty young (he won’t turn 25 until May). Atlanta is likely looking to him to be a LOOGY, with an eye towards continuing his development so he can handle full inning relief stints. His reverse platoon split last season should be an aberration.
Just a year after trading him to the Yankees, OG David Carpenter returns to Atlanta as a non-roster invitee. Not to be confused with the other David Carpenter who was with Atlanta last year. We’ll see if OGDC can once again thrive under McDowell… if he makes the team he’ll just need to sit out the series with the Indians at the end of June, when Juan Uribe will be in town.
The next group of players are trending down. For one of these guys to make the team they would have to have an amazing spring, or there would have to be an injury to a player above.
Trending down for the rotation: Tyrell Jenkins might get an extended look, and he should be competitive for a spot. He’s listed down here because he’s just a tad behind some of the others… though he has the ability to suddenly put it all together and leap into contention.
Certainly Williams Perez and Ryan Weber will be talked up by many as rotation options, but I believe the two sinkerballers are pitchers of last resort, owing that opinion mainly to their lack of ceiling and their available minor league options, as well as the crowding out from the other candidates.
Casey Kelly is an interesting option, and one who bears watching this spring. He’s still coming back from his long history of injuries. He’s got options left, so that’s another reason he’s trending down.
Chris Volstad is a non-roster veteran guy who will most likely be ticketed for rotation depth at triple-A. David Holmberg is a non-roster southpaw with starting experience in the majors, though it’s mostly unimpressive. He’s also more than likely minor league depth.
Trending down for the bullpen: Danny Burawa pitched well for Atlanta after they plucked him off the waiver wire from the Yankees last year. He has some good upside, but will need to have a lights-out spring to rise above the crowded field.
Matt Marksberry and Andrew McKirahan are both strong left-handers with minor league options left, and non-roster lefty Alex Torres isn’t as effective against left-handed batters as he is against right-handers. They should represent good depth in the minors, with McKirahan probably having the best shot of the three to make the opening day roster. SLEEPER ALERT: Hunter Cervenka is another non-roster lefty whom the Braves signed out of Indy ball in the middle of last year. He put up terrific numbers at Gwinnett after he signed, and if that dominance continues this spring he could finally get a chance in the majors.
Alexi Ogando is another non-roster reliever, and one we should watch very closely. He’s a former All-Star who was dominant in both the rotation and bullpen for a few years with Texas until shoulder problems derailed him in 2013. His velocity crept back up last year with Boston.
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.
Madison Younginer is a non-roster invitee who just last year reached double-A, then triple-A, but in doing so had better results than he had ever had. He’s likely triple-A depth, but could be a nice find by the Braves.
Axed from bullpen consideration for now: Shae Simmons is a year removed from Tommy John surgery, but the Braves will likely bring him along slowly and give him some innings in the minors before putting him into a bullpen role in Atlanta.
Mauricio Cabrera and his 100 mph heat will get talked about this spring, but ultimately his control is not yet ready for prime time.
Ryan Kelly was very impressive at triple-A last year, but couldn’t translate that success to the majors. I don’t see him as an option to start the season in Atlanta right now.
The hitters MTM will be up at the end of the week.