Alex Wood. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Spring Battles: The Pitching Match-ups

The Braves currently have 39 names appearing on their 40-man roster.  Two players on that list – Gavin Floyd and Jonny Venters – will begin the year on the Disabled List.  It is also very likely that one of them will be assigned to the 60-day (long-term) DL.  That will permit the Braves to add a “free” name to the 40-man list without penalty.  They’ll need that slot, too… whether for the bullpen or the bench.

That sets us up for What Happens Next:  for in one week(!!), Pitchers and Catchers will report to Disney World for Spring Training!  (and there was much rejoicing…yaaaayyyyy)

Let’s take a look at the roster battles shaping up.

 

Pitching – The Rotation

Easy Calls:  Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran
Best Guesses for the rest:  Brandon Beachy, Alex Wood
The Competitors (in order):  Freddy Garcia, David Hale, J.R. Graham
Others getting a look:  Cody Martin, Aaron Northcraft, Gus Schlosser, Jason Hursh

The Third Freddy. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Alanysis: (yes, that’s spelled right :)  All things being equal, Garcia has the only real shot at unseating Beachy or Wood.  The slots are theirs to lose.  If Garcia comes out and throws too well to ignore, then the Braves could move Wood to the bullpen to make space for Garcia.  Do note that Freddy Garcia is not currently on the 40-man roster, and will have to earn his way onto it.

The challenge for the Braves during this season will be in replacing the innings lost from Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm‘s departures (284 innings in 2013).  Only Minor has crossed the 200 inning plateau (though Medlen could spit on that line from where he stands).  Minor/Meds/Teheran are all ready to go 200; it’s the durability of the others is in question.

It is because of the need for innings that:  (a) I can’t rule out Garcia getting a nod if he’s close; and (b) Gavin Floyd was signed.  Don’t forget, Bobby Cox liked that Veteran Presence thing, and Fredi Gonzalez learned at the feet of that master.  But my guess is that Wood wins (being a lefty won’t hurt, either) and Garcia will be allowed to knock on doors all over Florida and Arizona.

One note:  If what Freddie Freeman said recently about Wood’s results  (“wait ’til you see him!”) via a new conditioning program are even close to being true, then that could be interesting:  pitchers probably shouldn’t change their bodies too much – it can throw them off.

 

Pitching – The Bullpen

Easy Calls:  Craig Kimbrel, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter
Best Guesses for the restAnthony Varvaro, Luis Avilan
The CompetitorsAlex Wood, Freddy Garcia, Luis Vasquez, Cory Gearrin, Ryan Buchter (assumes 2 slots available)
Others getting a lookShae Simmons, Juan Jaime, Mark Lamm, Atahualpa Severino, Yunesky Maya, Ian Thomas, Carlos Perez, Daniel Rodriguez, Wirfin Obispo, Lay Batista

AlanysisThis will be the most interesting battle.  To make it easier, I’ll first say that the guys on the ‘getting a look’ list have virtually no shot unless a bunch of injuries occur.  There are indeed up to 5 guys that will be competing for two bullpen spots… though 2 of them would rather be in the rotation.  Here’s the pros and cons.

Cory Gearrin.  Probably has the inside track since he is out of minor league options.  In other words, if the Braves can’t find a place to use him on the major league roster, then they will likely lose him to another team via DFA waivers (that’s how we got Eric O’Flaherty, remember?).  But he’s clearly going to have to earn the right to stick around, because of….

Luis Vasquez.  He’s the newcomer, plucked from the Dodgers in the off-season.  Said to be ‘Peter Moylan-like’… with much more giddy-up on his fastball.  He could very well surprise some people and win the last spot.  I believe he has options, so even if he isn’t ready now… stay tuned:  he could be in the majors quickly.  He is on the 40-man list, though, so that certainly keeps him in the conversation.

Alex Wood.  This one’s tough.  He ought to be in the rotation, but could end up being the odd man out since he has options available.  First, Garcia will have to out-pitch him.  Next, either Gearrin or Vasquez would have to out-pitch him.  Given the track record from 2013, I still believe Alex ends up in the rotation and this discussion proves moot.

Freddy Garcia.  My best guess is that Garcia is either traded to another club or the Braves decline to bring him on board – which would make him a free agent (note:  a token trade would be possible for a team to be able to assume control of his cheap contract).  He’s now 37 years old and it will be hard for him to show the kind of stuff that will force the Braves’ hand to put him into the rotation… or the bullpen, for that matter.  Nonetheless, he performed well for us in 2013, and he apparently thinks he’s got something to prove.  So don’t rule him out.

Ryan Buchter from Spring 2013. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Buchter from Spring 2013. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Buchter (pictured).  When Eric O’Flaherty signed with Oakland, it was said that the guy most likely to help him pack was Ryan.  Not so fast.  First, he’s gotta earn it.  Second, he’s got options.  Third, he has no major league experience.  What he does bring is a AAA resume of 62 innings, 4-0, 5 saves, a Kimbrel-esque 15 K per 9 innings and a 2.75 ERA… inflated with the help of a ton of walks.  If he can somehow harness that wildness, he could barge into the forefront.  Most likely, he’ll be waiting in the wings at Gwinnett.

My guess?  This is really wide open.  Above, I took Wood and Garcia out because I think Alex gets the rotation spot.  Varvaro is the designated “long guy” in the bullpen, so there’s no need to keep Garcia for that role either.  Buchter will likely lose out due to wildness or just being unable to outpitch both Gearrin and Vasquez.  Therefore, the order I list them above is the order I see it shaking out.

If there’s any ‘dark horse’ bullpen candidate out there, I expect it’s Shae Simmons.  He’ll need some time to learn to be a major league closer… much like Kimbrel did in watching Billy Wagner.

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With pitchers, you always have to hold your breath as Spring begins:  injuries are an all-too-common bedfellow.  All of the above could change in an instant.

I’ll save discussion on the position players for my next post.

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Tags: Atlanta Braves Pitching

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