Predicting the Opening Day roster for the Braves was supposed to be a walk in the park this year, but the dreaded Tommy John surgery had to reveal its ugly head and make things difficult, didn't it?
Figuring out the starting eight is no problem. Hopefully, Evan Gattis can fill the void left by Brian McCann, and that his right knee doesn't give him any trouble following offseason knee surgery. Dan Uggla's been a solid contributor so far this spring, but if he reverts to old habits, expect Tommy LaStella to join the big club.
Next, let's look at the bench. Gerald Laird will be the primary backup catcher; Ryan Doumit also provides catching depth, but his defensive skills at the position leave much to be desired, so Doumit will serve as an extra corner outfielder and switch-hitter in a pinch-hitting situation and serve as catcher only as a last resort. Jordan Schafer will serve as a lefty bat off the bench as well as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-runner. Likewise for Ramiro Pena, except for the advantage of being a switch-hitter. Tyler Greene will make the team ahead of Joey Terdoslavich as an extra infield option. This was a difficult choice, but having Terdo on the team would leave the Braves with Pena as the only extra infielder in the event of an injury to any of the starting infielders.
The way the starting rotation looks like now looks nothing like we envisioned a month ago. Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were both slated to be in the rotation, but arm injuries to both of them necessitated a shakeup, so the Braves went and signed Ervin Santana even though he won't be ready to pitch until mid-April. Mike Minor will also be absent from the rotation until then, opening up the opportunity for David Hale to begin the season in the rotation until Minor is ready.
Determining the last two bullpen spots was tricky. I thought about Cory Gearrin, but last year and his performance this spring compelled me to say "no thanks". I expect Ryan Buchter to make the club as the team's second lefty reliever until Jonny Venters is healthy. The last spot I predict will go to Gus Schlosser, who has been a starter at Gwinnett. He's pitched well this spring (his four walks in a 2.1-inning appearance notwithstanding), and without knowing how well Garcia or Hale will fare early on, having a long relief option will be handy.
Injuries have left Atlanta's pitching staff a patchwork mess, but this team's gone through similar troubles in the past and been able to compete. I don't doubt 2014 will be any different.