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Braves Roster Watch: Third base battle, rotation spots and more

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Is Austin Riley now the favorite for the third base job?

Atlanta Braves Workout Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

We are now halfway through the Grapefruit League schedule and the Opening Day roster for the Atlanta Braves is starting to take shape. The Braves made their first roster cuts of the spring this past Friday but there are still a few questions that need to be answered.

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.

Changes: - NONE

One question that has been answered involved the health of Freddie Freeman. Freeman returned to the lineup last week after sitting out a few days with discomfort in his elbow. Freeman played in back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday and appears to be good to go.

Third base Competition - Johan Camargo, Austin Riley

The battle for Atlanta’s third base job continued this week between Austin Riley and Johan Camargo. Riley homered twice and is 7-for-23 at the plate through nine games this spring. Perhaps more importantly, Riley has struck out just five times this spring and looks capable of playing adequate defense at third. Camargo went 0-for-3 in Sunday’s loss to the Yankees dropping him to an identical-to-Riley 7-for-23.

My thinking was that when Grapefruit League play began that Riley would likely open the season at Gwinnett with Camargo getting the third base job for opening day. Now it seems that the Braves are at least entertaining the thought of him opening the season at third. The question then would be: what would happen to Camargo?

The Outfield - Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis, Adam Duvall

There has also been little clarity in the outfield situation when it comes to how playing time with be distributed between Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall. Still, at this point at least, they all seem likely to be on the Opening Day roster. Duvall has gone 8-for-25 at the plate with three doubles in ten games. Inciarte has appeared in eight games and is 3-for-15 but appears to be healthy and moving well. Markakis has gotten into six games and is 3-for-11.

Bench

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

Changes - NONE

No changes again for the bench projection with just one spot available at this point. Adeiny Hechavarria returned to action this week after he tweaked an oblique muscle. He played second base on Sunday and still looks like a safe bet to begin the season with a bench spot.

Competition - Camargo, Charlie Culberson

I dropped both Riley and Yonder Alonso from the bench discussion for this week. Essentially, if Camargo wins the third base job to start then Riley will be back at Gwinnett where he will have the opportunity to play every day. Alonso has seen a ton of action so far with Freddie Freeman not playing in every game, but is just 1-for-20 at the plate.

Here is where things could get interesting. If Riley wins the job, then the original thinking was that Camargo would take the final bench spot. However, Brian Snitker’s earlier comments suggested that the loser of the Riley/Camargo competition would head back to Gwinnett to play every day. As someone who thinks that Camargo’s best role for this team would be as a utility player, that statement by Snitker seems strange. Camargo’s versatility, combined with the fact that he switch-hits, makes him a prime candidate for the bench. However, if Riley wins the job and Camargo returns to Gwinnett, then the final bench spot would most likely go to Charlie Culberson.

Starting Rotation

  1. Mike Soroka
  2. Max Fried
  3. Mike Foltynewicz
  4. Felix Hernandez

Changes - NONE

It sure seems like the Braves really want to give Felix Hernandez the opportunity to begin the season in the rotation. Hernandez is off to a good start this spring allowing seven hits and two runs over 8 23 innings. I still have him penciled in as the team’s number four starter for now, provided he can make it through the rest of the spring healthy.

Fifth starter competition - Sean Newcomb, Kyle Wright

If you pencil in Hernandez for the fourth spot, that leaves Sean Newcomb and Kyle Wright competing for the final spot. Newcomb looked good again on Sunday, firing four more scoreless innings. He has allowed eight hits and two runs over over nine frames. Perhaps more impressively, he has struck out 11 and walked just two. Wright has been equally impressive, allowing five hits and striking out 12 in 8 13 innings.

Giving Newcomb the final spot would allow the Braves to have Wright begin the season at Gwinnett, where he could get some final seasoning before returning to the majors. Giving the spot to Wright would allow the Braves to return Newcomb to a bullpen role where he would be a left-handed multi-inning option.

As of this writing, it seems that Newcomb has the edge but the situation will still have to play out. The team has to feel good about where this situation stands from a depth standpoint, because it felt thin just a few weeks ago when we learned that Cole Hamels would begin the season on the injured list.

Bryse Wilson was also a part of this competition but he was reassigned to minor league camp with the first roster cuts. Wilson allowed eight hits and five runs in 5 13 innings in three appearances this spring.

Bullpen

  1. Will Smith (L)
  2. Mark Melancon (R)
  3. Shane Greene (R)
  4. Luke Jackson (R)
  5. Chris Martin (R)
  6. Darren O’Day (R)
  7. Philip Pfeifer (L)
  8. Josh Tomlin (R)

Changes - NONE

The top six of the Braves bullpen remains set but it is at least worth mentioning the recent struggles of Shane Greene. Greene has allowed seven hits and five earned runs in just 4 23 innings this spring. Since he is playing on a non-guaranteed deal, that has led many to wonder if Atlanta would consider cutting bait before the start of the season. I don’t think Greene’s roster spot is in jeopardy nor do I think it should be at this juncture. Still, it is something to watch over the final couple of weeks.

Competition - Josh Tomlin, Grant Dayton, A.J. Minter, Chad Sobotka, Patrick Weigel, Touki Toussaint, Philip Pfeifer, Jeremy Walker, Chris Rusin, Tyler Matzek

Jacob Webb and Huascar Ynoa were both in the first round of roster cuts, removing them from the bullpen competition. Webb is still working his way back from last season’s elbow injury and should be a factor in the bullpen at some point this season. Chris Nunn wasn’t necessarily in the running, but was also cut after his most recent appearance. I also added both Chris Rusin and Tyler Matzek to the competition because both have made a good impression thus far. Matzek is a great story and has been surprisingly effective allowing one hit while striking out seven over 3 2/3 innings. Rusin has gotten into five games, allowing six hits and two runs to go along with 11 strikeouts in 7 23 innings. Both are significant given that there is a shortage of left-handed options for Atlanta’s bullpen.

I am sticking with Philip Pfeifer and Josh Tomlin for the final two relief spots but I think it is at least reasonable to question whether or not Tomlin can successfully hang on. Grant Dayton finally had a good appearance on Saturday but has otherwise struggled. A.J. Minter made his spring debut earlier this week but will likely begin the season at Gwinnett.

One name to watch could be Patrick Weigel, who has pitched well allowing just two hits over 6 13 scoreless innings this spring. Weigel’s fastball has looked good and he looks ready for an opportunity.

Wrapping up

The biggest change for me this week was the feeling that Riley might actually win the third base job. That has always felt like the best case scenario to me and now I want to see whether or not they would actually demote Camargo. I think the rotation battle is also one that should be watched. Hernandez has done everything asked of him so far, but will he be able to finish camp on a good note?