ATLANTA -- Arodys Vizcaino will likely remain the Braves' closer at the beginning of the season, but it might not be long before he relinquishes the role to A.J. Minter, the young southpaw who spent the final two months of this past season showing his potential to anchor Atlanta's bullpen for many years to come.
With the start of Spring Training just a month away, the Braves have continued to look for ways to add experience to their relief corps, which currently features Vizcaino, Minter and Jose Ramirez as its best late-inning options. Sam Freeman and Dan Winkler would provide quality depth if they can extend last season's success. But history has shown it's unwise to bank on the consistency of unproven relievers.
Below is a look at how the bullpen might be structured on Opening Day and over the course of the season.
BULLPEN IF THE SEASON STARTED TODAY
Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
Jose Ramirez, RHP
A.J. Minter, LHP
Sam Freeman, LHP
Dan Winkler, RHP
Chase Whitley, RHP
Lucas Sims, RHP
Josh Ravin, RHP
Minter didn't make his Major League debut until Aug. 23, but somewhere in the process of striking out 17 of the final 31 batters faced and inducing a 19.35 percent swing-and-miss rate per Statcast™ (MLB's fourth-best mark with a 200-pitch minimum), the talented left-hander provided a glimpse of how dominant he can be when healthy. Bolstered by an improved walk rate, Vizcaino converted 12 of 13 save opportunities after regaining the closer's role late last season. Ramirez notched a respectable 3.19 ERA over 62 innings, but those numbers would have been better had he not seemingly fatigued as he surrendered nine earned runs and four homers in his final 12 2/3 innings.
As the Braves attempt to compensate for inexperience in their rotation, they seem to be leaning toward an eight-man bullpen. Their depth will improve if Mauricio Cabrera and Jacob Lindgren can prove themselves. Whitley and Sims can serve as the multiple-inning options manager Brian Snitker might need. While Freeman had previously enjoyed successful seasons with the Cardinals and the Rangers, Winkler still must prove himself; he posted a 2.51 while making 16 of his 21 career appearances last year.
WHAT COULD CHANGE
While the Braves were likely wise to avoid spending big on a free-agent reliever thus far, they may be able to add some valuable experience to their bullpen as the costs drop with Spring Training nearing. A couple of familiar faces who could fill the need include Peter Moylan, who had a 3.49 ERA over an MLB-high 79 appearances last year, and Matt Belisle, the former Braves prospect who fashioned a 1.41 ERA over the final 36 appearances (38 1/3 innings) he made for the Twins in 2017.
Along with Cabrera and Lindgren, Rex Brothers, Jason Hursh, Akeel Morris and Jesse Biddle will come to Spring Training vying for one of the final available bullpen spots. Ravin joined the competition in November, when general manager Alex Anthopoulos acquired him from the Dodgers for cash considerations.