Week 1 of the Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) continues with a look at the hitters in camp. While there is a slew of competition and uncertainty about who will ultimately make up the pitching staff, there only seems to be a decision or two regarding the lineup and bench.
This year’s lineup and bench construction lend themselves to a lot of platoons, especially in the lower half of the order. That might not be such a bad thing on a team like the Braves that will likely lose a lot of games. Allowing many of the veterans on the team to play in beneficial platoons in the first half of the year should maximize their output and make them more attractive trade targets at this year’s trade deadline.
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):
Lineup locks (5): Atlanta’s lineup is coming together quite nicely, and the top half of the order looks to be set. Newcomers CF Ender Inciarte and SS Erick Aybar will likely bat at the top of order, followed by lefties 1B Freddie Freeman and RF Nick Markakis. Now-left-fielder Hector Olivera will likely follow, and then it gets platoony…
Lineup platoon and bench locks (6 of 8): There will most likely be three platoons on the diamond for Atlanta. A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers will share the catching duties. Gordon Beckham is apparently trying to start at third base, though he was already considered part of a platoon at second base with Jace Peterson. Kelly Johnson could figure into parts of platoons at second, third and left field, and Emilio Bonifacio could see some starts in addition to being the super utility player.
That leaves just two spots from a slew of other candidates. In terms of positional need, there doesn’t seem to be any. Bonifacio can fill in everywhere on the diamond and Beckham can play all over the infield in a pinch. Johnson can cover the field as well. So there’s no need to carry a player just to backup shortstop or center field.
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 lineup or bench (2 spots): The questionable wrist of Freeman will probably have the Braves keeping first base backup Nick Swisher around, just in case. The team would no doubt still like to trade him if anyone came calling, but they’re probably less likely to cut him with Freeman questionable. If Swisher is indeed fully healthy again, as he claims, then keeping him on the team to build some value leading up to the trade deadline would fit with the Braves’ de facto intention to trade off most of their veterans leading up to July 31.
Adonis Garcia should be a heavy favorite to get a lot of playing time at third base, if not win the job outright. Though even with a strong ElOsoBlanco-esque showing in winter ball, Garcia still has questions about his bat and even bigger questions about his glove. Still, it sounds like Atlanta want’s to see what they have in Garcia, and intend on giving him playing time to let him show it.
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 bench: The other weighty outfield contract after Swisher, with seemingly nowhere to play is Michael Bourn. Before Atlanta acquired Inciarte it looked like Bourn had a definite spot to begin the year in a mentoring role for M. Smith, while starting about half the time. Inciarte pushed Bourn to the bench, but still with a definite spot. The arrival of Jeff Francoeur muddies the water. A hometown favorite like Frenchy might be tough to keep off the team when they’re desperate to sell a few extra tickets in Turner Field’s lame duck season with a 100-loss team.
Both Bourn and Francoeur’s roster chances are hurt by a roster that doesn’t seem to have any spot for them… right now. Injuries, ineffectiveness or trades can all create spots.
Daniel Castro and Mallex Smith are the only other position players on the 40-man, and each are worthy of a mention above the Axed section. Castro can play all over the infield, and could see time if Aybar or Bonifacio are injured. Smith likely has little shot this spring unless Inciarte is traded.
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.
Axed from roster consideration for now: None of the remaining Braves non-roster invitees are of too much interest. Reid Brignac is a former top prospect turned 30-years-old. Nate Freiman may have the right last name to be an Atlanta first baseman, but that’s it.
Ryan Lavarnway is a non-roster catcher, and probably the first one called if AJ or T-Flo get injured.