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Braves spring training questions: How improved is the bullpen?

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One of the league's worst units last year could be one of the NL's best in 2016. Here's a preview and look ahead to this spring's roster battles.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves' bullpen was atrocious last season. Part of it was due to injuries and trades, but the unit was severely lacking in depth and talent. John Coppolella made it a point of emphasis to improve the 'pen this winter, and there's a chance for it to be one of the better units in the National League.

Jason Grilli, Arodys Vizcaino and Jim Johnson will be slotted for the late innings. Grilli said he will be ready for opening day. Vizcaino has seemingly spent more time on the DL than on the mound in his early career; the good news is that he was downright filthy in 2015 – 37 strikeouts in 33.2 innings with a 1.60 ERA and 2.48 FIP – and will be a big piece for Atlanta. Johnson was horrible with Los Angeles after being dealt for Hector Olivera, but being back with Roger McDowell should help his cause.

If those three can stay healthy, the bullpen will be a top-8 unit in the NL.

Where the upside comes in is with a couple of high-powered arms making their way back from injury.

Shae Simmons will hopefully be back by early June after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. It's easy to forget that Simmons drew Craig Kimbrel comparisons in the minors and struck out more than a batter an inning throughout his minor league and brief big league career.

Chris Withrow wasn't seen as a big piece in the Juan Uribe trade last May, but he could have a major impact in 2016. Here's his career big league line over 56 innings: 11.41 K/9, 4.98 BB/9, 2.73 ERA, 3.65 FIP. He will need to get his walks under control, but there's quite a bit of upside here.

Read more: Chris Withrow could be a key piece for Braves' revamped bullpen.

Danny Burawa was a relative nobody this time last year but he turned in some nice work down the stretch after coming over from the Yankees. He'll fight for a job this spring.

The Braves brought a handful of veteran relievers to camp on minor league deals to see if they can find some cheap magic. Alexei Ogando hasn't been good in four years but can still bring a mid-90s fastball and has plenty of experience. David Carpenter is back and clearly did something right with McDowell. Kyle Kendrick, Jhoulys Chacin and Williams Perez will battle for spots in the starting rotation, but they could be relief options, too.

Where the real question mark with the bullpen sits is with the southpaws. There will be four or five battling for one or two spots. The primary candidates: Ian Krol, Matt Marksberry, Andrew McKirahan, Evan Rutckyj and Alex Torres. This will be one of the closer roster battles this spring. Rutckyj was a Rule 5 selection and has to begin the year in Atlanta or else they risk losing him.

There's plenty of upside here, but not without risk. If guys like Grilli, Vizcaino and Withrow can stay healthy and one of the lefties emerge, this could be one of the NL's better bullpens ... assuming they don't all get traded by August 1.