This photo was sent via twitter by the AJC’s David O’Brien. It is a shot of the supplies being loaded onto a large moving van for shipment from the Braves’ equipment offices to Florida – today. (Apparently if you drink something other than Red Bull, then you gotta bring your own!).
While the arms race will capture some interest this Spring, the rest of the roster is pretty much etched in stone. There is one ‘gotcha’ I’ll tease you with that might come up, but you’ll have to keep reading a bit to see what I mean.
So let’s get to the discussion:
Easy Calls: Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward, Jordan Schafer
Best Guesses for the Rest: there is no ‘rest’
The Competitors: none
Others getting a look: Jose Constanza, Todd Cunningham, Matt Lipka
What? Where’s Joey Terdoslavich? Calm down: I am going to list him as a bench bat rather than 5th outfielder. Either way, he’s gonna be on the roster unless there’s some sort of disaster.
Alanysis: There is no competition here. There is no drama. The only interesting question will be whether B.J. gets his swing in gear. And frankly, that will be a mystery until the regular season actually starts, for up through the middle of March last year, B.J. was actually hitting above .350.
But then Spring numbers don’t tell us much, do they?
Beyond that, Jason will be hitting leadoff, Justin probably backing him up in the 2nd slot (tough to find any 1-2 combination in baseball with more potential firepower, right?) and B.J…. somewhere around 7th for now. Jordan Schafer will be the first go-to guy when an outfielder needs to be swapped out, since he can very capably play all three positions. Joey T., when he does see the field, can handle LF or RF.
Easy Calls: Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla*, Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson, Ramiro Pena
Best Guesses for the Rest: see below
The Competitors: there really isn’t a battle here, either
Others getting a look: Tyler Pastornicky, Tommy La Stella, Philip Gosselin, Ernesto Mejia, Edward Salcedo, Tyler Greene
Alanysis: Please allow me to introduce you to the newly crowned “Most Blocked Player in Professional Baseball”. His name is Ernesto Mejia. In his last two years of AAA ball, Ernesto has hit .273 in 1003 AB, hit 52 home runs, and driven in 175 RBI. Awesome. Yet unless the 135-million-dollar man gets hit by a tram outside the Disney transportation pavilion, he has no shot whatsoever. How come? Because he has the defensive range of an oak tree. The Braves would probably do well to find a team needing a DH (though priority 1 is doing this for Dan Uggla) to give him a shot. That said, he is a reasonable backup candidate in case of an injury to Freddie.
* Dan Uggla. I will not regurgitate the points I made here, but the asterisk is there simply because while the job is still Dan’s to lose, he could lose it: either due to a great Spring (and a trade) or via a terrible Spring (and a benching).
If a trade happens, then Tommy La Stella could be the guy. I have seen opinions that the Braves prefer Pena in that ‘Omar Infante/Martin Prado‘ utility role. La Stella would definitely give the offense a boost in consistency without losing anything on defense. Pastornicky… still has ‘happy feet’ out there. His arm is more geared for 2nd base, but I don’t think he gets the first shot. Phil Gosselin could play a lot in Spring… starting in the 7th and 8th innings of road games.
If a benching happens, then Pena will be the guy. Why the difference? Because you still have to keep Dan on the roster (the Braves will not simply release him), and thus can’t add anyone to the 40-man sheet (La Stella). Pastornicky would be a possibility, but that’s another 25-man roster slot that you really need for other purposes.
Easy Calls: Evan Gattis, Gerald Laird, Ryan Doumit*
Best Guesses for the Rest:
The Competitors: move along, nothing to see here
Others getting a look: Christian Bethancourt and almost every minor league catcher above A ball
Alanysis: Nobody wants to wear out the primary catcher (that’s Evan Gattis now) so that he is good to go for the rigors of the regular season. It’s for that reason that Gattis will see a few innings here and there, plus a lot more DH work in Spring.
Bethancourt should actually see a bunch of work, perhaps showcasing him for later use during the season – especially if/when injuries crop up. Since he’s now of the 40-man roster, that’s any easy call, should the need arise. A bunch of catchers that I didn’t bother to list are always brought in via ‘Spring invites’, but that’s for purposes of spreading the burden – nothing further.
Fun fact: on the official Braves’ roster, Evan Gattis is still shown as an ‘outfielder’.
* I’m personally hoping that Ryan Doumit gets his catching ‘fix’ in during March so that we don’t have to see him donning the tools of ignorance once April begins. But then, he should not even be on my list of ‘catchers’: he should be on …
Alanysis: When we get to the bench, it’s time to count noses and see how close we are to ’25′ names for the active roster.
Starting Pitchers. 5 (let’s go with Minor/Medlen/Teheran/Beachy/Wood)
Relievers: 7 (Kimbrel, Walden, Carpenter, Varvaro, Avilan, Gearrin, Vasquez)
Outfield: 4 (2 Uptons, Heyward, Schafer)
Infield: 5 (the 4 regulars plus Pena)
Catchers: 2-1/2… okay, make it 2
So at this point we have 5+7+4+5+2= 23. That means we have two seats on the bench to fill. That pretty much sounds like Terdoslavich and Doumit to me. They are both switch hitters, so that will give opposing managers fits in late innings. They can both rake at times, too. I like that combination a lot.
“But wait a second… we signed a couple of guys off the street in the off-season… and there was that ‘gotcha’ thing you mentioned?…”
Yes. We did. Mat Gamel and Mark Hamilton. Of these two, the guy that could change Fredi’s mind is Mat Gamel. Gamel is very intriguing if his surgically-repaired knee can hold up since he was once a top-50 prospect in all of baseball. He’s got a big lefty power bat, he doesn’t strike out a lot, and he also happens to hit for average… when he’s healthy.
Gamel can play 1B (that won’t happen much) or 3B (that could happen… maybe after 2014??), but it will all be based on whether he can find his stroke after playing just 21 games in 2012 and none in 2013. He’s also not yet on the 40-man list. It would take a huge Spring to turn enough heads, but he does have the talent to do so. But note that if he were to somehow force his way onto the roster, then somebody else has to go: either a relief pitcher (likely) or maybe Joey T. A Spring injury could also bring this about.
I’m certainly not saying this is likely (much more likely that Gamel will have to re-prove himself at Gwinnett first after the long layoff), but it is possible.
So by now, the equipment truck is well on its way into Florida, and that wraps a look at the roster battles for the Braves that are coming up. Honestly not a lot of angst, drama, or question marks: and that’s a very good thing.