The Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) continues as your one-stop shop for all the team’s spring training roster battles. The roster got trimmed a couple of times this week, and the Braves are not wasting any time on pitchers who aren’t throwing well.
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 continue to be on track as the top three in the rotation.
Bullpen locks (3 of 7): Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, and Arodys Vizcaino are all still bullpen locks, though Grilli’s start to the season could be delayed by a few weeks. Relievers can get ready in a hurry, so I’ll keep him in the lock section until his status is clearer.
Lineup locks (5): Aside from a wrist scare, the five lineup locks stay the same. Ender Inciarte, Erick Aybar, Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, and Hector Olivera are all lineup locks.
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, Jace Peterson, Kelly Johnson, and Emilio Bonifacio should all share time between second and third base. There’s a chance that Peterson could be a victim of remaining minor league options left while the team tries to find spots for their high priced veterans (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 (1-2 spots): Jhoulys Chacin rockets to the top of the rotation competition as he continues to put together good starts. The release of Kendrick and the slower pace of Folty removes a large part of the competition. Chacin really is rising to the top in the battle for the fourth spot in the rotation. He could be a nice reclamation project and a good success story this season.
The Braves early season schedule with off days means they will not need a fifth starter until April 12, and even though Manny Banuelos had a rough start to his spring, it’s still early and he has plenty of extra time to catch up. It sounds like the team wants him in that fifth spot so they can see if he’s the real deal or not.
Trending up for the bullpen (4-5 spots): The bullpen competition continues to get refined by cuts and a separation in performances. Non-roster veteran reliever Alexi Ogando seems to still be a favorite to land a spot, especially now that Withrow has been optioned to the minors.
Lefty Ian Krol still looks to be in line for a spot as other LOOGYs get cut from the roster. Out of options reliever Jose Ramirez has looked good this spring, and sounds like he’s close to locking up a spot.
I’m moving Rule 5 lefty Evan Rutckyj to the trending up section this week, rejoining fellow Rule 5’er Daniel Winkler. We’re going to have to wait and see what the team is thinking on these two pitchers. But if Grilli is unable to start the season in Atlanta, that could open up another spot in the pen, and the team may want to use that time to audition these two Rule 5 guys.
I’m also moving lefty Alex Torres and righty Carlos Torres into the trending up category. Both of these non-roster veteran relievers have pitched great this spring, and with more relievers getting cut as the roster gets trimmed, their chances keep going up. I still believe there is a large temptation to stash them in Gwinnett as experienced depth, especially if finding 40-man roster spots becomes a problem (see bottom of article).
With today’s cuts taken into account, that leaves seven relievers competing for four spots that are definitely open, and what could be two more spots if Grilli is not ready to start the season and if they opt to carry an extra reliever instead of a fifth starter on opening day.
Trending up for the lineup or bench (2 spots): Adonis Garcia continues to be a favorite to pick up some playing time at third base in a very crowded field.
I’m moving both Michael Bourn and Jeff Francoeur to the trending up section this week, mainly to talk about them and Nick Swisher in the same breath. It will be interesting to see what happens with these three veterans — two of them (Swisher and Bourn) being very high priced. This decision doesn’t have to be made until the end of the spring. I still believe that Frenchy is the fly in the ointment, and the Braves will find a way to put him on the roster. That would be made easier if Swish and/or Bourn can be traded.
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 or bullpen: Williams Perez is being given every opportunity to win a spot in the rotation. Both he and Ryan Weber are having good springs. They’re still in the trending down section however, not because of their spring performance, but because Chacin seems preferred over either pitcher right now. ManBan also seems to be preferred by the team in the fifth spot, but because the team doesn’t need that spot filled until April 12, both Perez and Weber will likely join ManBan in the minors to start the season. If Banuelos falters, then that could open the door to either Perez or Weber. There’s also a chance that either Perez or Weber could open the season in Atlanta’s bullpen as the long reliever.
Mike Foltynewicz is behind schedule this spring, and it sounds like the team wants to take the slow approach with him while they stretch him out to join the rotation. That will likely happen in the minors to start the season.
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 rotation consideration for now: Kyle Kendrick was the biggest cut this week, as the team released him after he got blown up in his second start. It was a short leash to be sure, but with other options pitching better, there’s no reason to keep a non-roster guy around who is not making his pitches.
The team also moved most of the prospects to minor league camp, along with non-roster guys Madison Younginer and David Holmberg. Veteran Chris Volstad was released after producing similar results to Kendrick.
Casey Kelly and Tyrell Jenkins were also reassigned to minor league camp, as expected.
I’m moving Aaron Blair down here this week. While I was bullish on his chances at the beginning of spring, other candidates have risen above him, and it looks like he does need more time in the minors. John Gant is also still hanging around, but having not pitched above double-A, I can’t see him making the jump to the majors quite yet.
Axed from bullpen consideration for now: Chris Withrow was a surprise cut from the spring roster this week, as he was optioned to Gwinnett. This is likely just to give him more time to regain his form after missing last year because of surgery.
Left Matt Marksberry was given no quarter after a rough outing, as the team sent him packing to the minors. He was looking like a strong LOOGY candidate, but it sounds like the team prefers the veterans Krol and A. Torres.
Hunter Cervenka also encountered some rough waters this week, and didn’t survive the latest round of cuts.
Danny Burawa was sent to minor league camp, and is someone I still believe is a candidate to be slipped off the 40-man roster.
Axed from roster consideration for now: Daniel Castro and Chase d’Arnaud were reassigned to minor league camp this week. We may need to keep a closer eye on Reid Brignac, who is hitting pretty well right now. But with such a crowded infield picture already, even a hot hitting Brignac is a longshot.
40-man roster picture: The Braves 40-man roster is at 40 players right now. Here is one way that the team could find spots for the players that seem to be winning them.
Needing spots (5): Chacin, Ogando, Frenchy, Torres and Torres.
Vacating spots (5): Paco Rodriguez (60-day DL), Andrew McKirahan (60-day DL), Burawa (candidate to be waived), Swisher and Bourn (candidates to be traded).