The regular season is now in the books and the attention turns fully to the postseason for the Atlanta Braves. The first thing on the to do list for Atlanta will be setting their roster for the postseason. Major League Baseball had originally planned for rosters to be set at 26 players with a maximum of 13 pitchers. However, the pandemic and subsequent shutdown and restart led the league to expand rosters to 28 players and remove the limit on pitchers. Those rules will continue through the end of the postseason.
That will take a lot of the drama out of the Braves’ roster decisions. Atlanta has essentially carried 15 or 16 pitchers all season and has needed every single one of them given their struggles with the rotation. I don’t expect that to change much although the case can be made that fewer pitchers may be needed in a best-of-three series such as the Wild Card round. As we will look at below, Atlanta’s position player options are limited.
Atlanta’s postseason roster isn’t due until Wednesday morning and they are likely to wait until closer to the deadline before announcing.
Catchers (2): Travis d’Arnaud, Tyler Flowers
Infielders (5): Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, Adeiny Hechavarria
Outfielders (5): Ronald Acuña Jr., Adam Duvall, Ender Inciarte, Marcell Ozuna, Nick Markakis
There is not a lot of question marks among this group. d’Arnaud has proven to be one of the off-season’s best additions and he has teamed with Flowers to give the Braves one of the top catching tandems in the league. The infield group appears set as well. Freddie Freeman rebounded from a bout with COVID-19 but is the frontrunner for the NL MVP award. Ozzie Albies spent most of the regular season on the injured list with a sore wrist but has returned with a vengeance (163 wRC+ in 73 PAs entering the last game of the season). Austin Riley sat out the final two games of the regular season with a quad issue but is expected to be ready to go. Dansby Swanson battled his way through a late September slump but has enjoyed an overall solid season, setting a career high with a 116 wRC+. Hechavarria is the lock off the bench and has filled in around the infield.
The outfield group is led by Ronald Acuña Jr., who has put together another excellent season. Adam Duvall has come out of nowhere to become an essential piece of Atlanta’s lineup. Marcell Ozuna will see most of his playing time as the DH but could see some time in left, particularly against left-handed starters. Nick Markakis opted out and then back in to the 2020 season and immediately provided a lift at the plate. However, September has not been kind as Markakis has slumped hitting just .145/.203/.203 over his last 17 games. Ender Inciarte has struggled offensively and appeared to have lost a step in the outfield but will be around as a late-inning defensive replacement.
With the designated hitter, Atlanta could opt to stick with this group and would not need an additional bench player. However, given the struggles of Markakis and Inciarte, they could opt to add another right-handed option to the bench.
Other Candidates: Pablo Sandoval, Johan Camargo, Alex Jackson, William Contreras
The Braves signed Pablo Sandoval to a minor league contract on September 13 and he reported straight to the team’s alternative site. There hasn’t been any news regarding Sandoval since he was acquired, though he did make his debut in a Braves uniform on Sunday. Sandoval struggled with the Giants hitting .220/.278/.268 with a 55 wRC+. However, there are some underlying numbers, such as his 91.7 average exit velocity, that provide some hope. He produced a .266 BABIP and .244 wOBA with a .304 xwOBA for San Francisco, so if you’re looking for a sign he may not be completely done, there’s that. Still, the .304 xwOBA is far from useful.
Atlanta optioned Johan Camargo on September 9 when Ozzie Albies returned from a month-long stay on the injured list. Camargo entered the season in a competition for the third base job but struggled to contribute offensively, hitting .200/.244/.367 in 127 plate appearances. He is a career .286/.337/.506 hitter against left-handed pitching and brings defensive versatility but there has not been a lot of recent success.
The other available option for the Braves would be to carry a third catcher. Doing so would allow them to deploy d’Arnaud (or Flowers) more freely. Both Alex Jackson and William Contreras began the regular season on the active roster while the regular catchers were sidelined due to illness concerns. Jackson has more experience handling the pitching staff, but Contreras was the better offensive threat in a tiny sample.
Starting Pitchers (3): Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright
Atlanta’s rotation has been a sore spot since the start of the season, but it has performed better of late. Max Fried had an injury scare in his final start of the regular season but appears to be good to go for Game 1. Ian Anderson did not make his season debut until August 26 but is one of the Braves’ most reliable options and will start in Game 2. Kyle Wright began the season in the rotation but struggled and was sent back to the alternative training site. He has pitched better since returning, but remember that if we get to a Game 3 it will be all hands on deck.
Bullpen Locks (8): Mark Melancon, Will Smith, Shane Greene, Chris Martin, A.J. Minter, Darren O’Day, Tyler Matzek, Josh Tomlin
Atlanta’s bullpen has been one of the best in the league and the Braves picked a great time to strengthen it given the short season. Josh Tomlin may be the only one of this group that raises an eyebrow, but I cannot see a scenario where he would be left off. Chris Martin’s injury is unfortunate and his status is up in the air but the Braves are hoping that it isn’t serious and that he will be able to return in time to be included on the roster.
By my count, we have 12 position player locks plus at least one of the other candidates to add to the bench giving us 13. The three starting pitchers push that number up to 16. I see the 8 players listed above as bullpen locks bringing us to 24. That would leave four spots for the group below. If they did decide to carry more than 13 position players, then it would also come at the expense of the group below.
Other Candidates: Huascar Ynoa, Bryse Wilson, Grant Dayton, Jacob Webb, Luke Jackson
Of this group, I think Ynoa, Webb and Jackson have the inside track although Jackson’s struggles may put him on shaky ground. Wilson is a possibility if they advance and might need another starter. Dayton has shown an ability to get left-handed hitters out, but the three-batter minimum rule combined with the presence of Smith, Minter and Matzek make him redundant. There’s also the reality that the Braves probably don’t need 15 pitchers for a three-game series, which would essentially let them give most pitchers just two innings across all three games — but there aren’t appealing position player options to carry instead, either.