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Position battles to watch for the Braves as Grapefruit League play begins

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Atlanta’s roster is largely set but a few lingering questions remain.

Atlanta Braves Workout Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Grapefruit League play officially begins for the Atlanta Braves on Saturday and so will the competition for the remaining roster spots on the team’s Opening Day roster. While Atlanta entered camp with things largely set, there are a few remaining question marks at third base, in the rotation and the bullpen. We will be tracking who is trending up and down throughout the spring but below is a look at where things stand heading into Grapefruit League play.

Lineup

C - Travis d’Arnaud
1B - Freddie Freeman
2B - Ozzie Albies
SS - Dansby Swanson
3B -
LF - Marcell Ozuna
CF - Ender Inciarte
RF - Ronald Acuña Jr.

Third base Competition - Johan Camargo, Austin Riley

The one big question for Atlanta’s starting lineup is who will ultimately win out at third base. Brian Snitker told reporters earlier this week that he is planning to play Johan Camargo and Austin Riley on an every-other-day basis through the early part of the Grapefruit League schedule, which should give us some insight. The expectation is that Riley will get an opportunity at some point in the 2020 season, but the question remains as to whether or not he can win the job outright in Spring Training. Camargo comes into the spring with his own question marks after a rough 2019 campaign in a utility role. He came into camp in better shape and looking to reestablish himself.

The Outfield - Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis, Adam Duvall

While I penciled in Ender Inciarte into the lineup above, the outfield situation is far from settled. Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna are guaranteed starting positions, which leaves Inciarte, Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall competing for playing time in the final outfield spot. At this point, Inciarte appears to be the best choice given his defensive ability in center, but must put an injury-plagued 2019 season behind him. Markakis could spell Ozuna or Inciarte at times but at this stage looks like a bench player. It would be beneficial for Duvall to secure his spot on the Opening Day roster with a strong Spring Training performance as he would be an appealing option to start in right with Acuña shifting to center against left-handed pitching. Expect this situation to play out throughout all of camp.

Bench

  1. Tyler Flowers - C
  2. Nick Markakis - OF
  3. Adam Duvall - OF
  4. Adeiny Hechavarria - SS

Competition - Riley/Camargo, Charlie Culberson

How the Braves fill out their bench will depend on what happens with the third base competition and whether or not they elect to enter the season with five outfielders on the roster. As the Grapefruit League season opens there appears to be one bench spot up for grabs. Tyler Flowers will pair with Travis d’Arnaud in some sort of timeshare at catcher. The Braves brought back Adeiny Hechavarria back late in the offseason to give them some insurance at shortstop behind Dansby Swanson.

If Riley wins the third base job, then Camargo would slot in the final bench slot. However, if Riley is unsuccessful then it seems likely that he would begin the season at Gwinnett where he could play third and see regular playing time. That would open the door for Charlie Culberson who is in camp as a non-roster invitee, though he would have to be put on the 40-man roster should he make the team.

Starting Rotation

  1. Mike Soroka
  2. Max Fried
  3. Mike Foltynewicz

4th/5th starter competition - Sean Newcomb, Felix Hernandez, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright

The expectation coming into Spring Training was that the Braves would have one spot to fill in the rotation. However, an injury to Cole Hamels has opened up a second spot. That is good news for Felix Hernandez and Sean Newcomb, who will enter the spring as the frontrunners. Hernandez is looking to bounce back after a poor 2019 season with the Mariners. He reported to camp in good shape and is hoping to show that he has something left to offer. Newcomb began last season in Atlanta’s rotation but struggled early and was demoted to Gwinnett before returning as a reliever. Newcomb pitched reasonably well after his switch to the bullpen but the Braves have allowed him the opportunity to return to the rotation. Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright are also expected to get a look and would likely be the alternatives should Hernandez or Newcomb falter. Both Wilson and Wright began the 2019 season in the Braves’ rotation but they struggled and were shipped back to Gwinnett.

Bullpen

  1. Will Smith
  2. Mark Melancon
  3. Shane Greene
  4. Luke Jackson
  5. Chris Martin
  6. Darren O’Day

Competition - Jacob Webb, Josh Tomlin, Grant Dayton, A.J. Minter, Chad Sobotka, Patrick Weigel, Huascar Ynoa, Touki Toussaint, Philip Pfeifer, Jeremy Walker

There aren’t a lot of question marks remaining for the Braves bullpen as things are largely set provided everyone remains healthy. The addition of Will Smith and the return of Chris Martin and Darren O’Day have given Brian Snitker a deep pen that has plenty of flexibility. There appears to be two spots up for grabs entering the spring. Jacob Webb saw his 2019 season cut short due to an elbow injury but is in camp and throwing without restriction. A.J. Minter’s 2019 season was a total catastrophe and he is looking to bounce back. Smith is the only left-hander assured of a spot so that may give guys like Minter, Grant Dayton and Philip Pfeifer an inside track if they pitch well. The Braves also signed Josh Tomlin to a minor-league deal at the start of spring camp. Tomlin served as a long-relief and mop-up option last season and could find himself in a similar role this season.