Predicting Braves' 2021 Opening Day roster

March 21st, 2021

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- With Opening Day less than two weeks away, the Braves still have some tough questions to answer regarding their roster reconstruction.

has made himself a strong candidate for a bench spot, and there remains reason to question whether it’s wise to carry relievers and if the reasoning is they are both out of options.

Here is a look at the latest projection of Atlanta's 26-man Opening Day roster, which provides a look at some of the key battles that will continue to unfold over the next 10 days.

Catcher (2): Travis d’Arnaud,
Each of my previous projections had beginning the season as the backup. But I’m now thinking the Braves might carry Contreras until he’d get a chance to play every day when the Triple-A season begins in May. An extra month hanging around d’Arnaud and Braves catching coach Sal Fasano could have great long-term benefits for Contreras, who could possibly be the club’s catcher of the future.

Jackson may fill the backup role for a majority of the season. But I like the idea of letting Contreras play a couple times a week throughout April. That could be more beneficial than just playing intrasquad games at the team’s alternate training site.

First base (1): Freddie Freeman
Freeman batted eighth when he made his first Opening Day start for the Braves on March 31, 2011. He went 0-for-3 in a 2-0 win over the Nationals.

Second base (1): Ozzie Albies
As Albies prepares to begin a fourth straight season as Atlanta’s second baseman, he appears to have distanced himself from the right wrist ailment that sidelined him for a month last year.

Third base (2): Austin Riley,
Riley won this past season’s position battle against and should once again begin the season as the starting third baseman. But to enhance Lamb’s value as a left-handed pinch-hitter, the Braves will need to get him regular at-bats. So, look to see him make starts at third base, especially against tough right-handed pitchers.

Shortstop (1): Dansby Swanson
Here’s where you can yell, “Make up your mind, Mark.” Last week, I allowed one great play behind second base to influence my belief that Camargo has regained the lateral movement necessary to be a reliable shortstop. While watching him play against the Orioles on Wednesday night, I felt like he was slow on a ball to his left and somewhat lackadaisical with a backhand attempt.

Anyhow, while I still believe Camargo can provide some value to this club, his decreased range adds to the multiple reasons I think the club should carry Adrianza.

And by the way, if you want to be reminded that time flies, this will be Swanson’s fifth season as Atlanta’s Opening Day shortstop.

Outfield (4): Ronald Acuña Jr., Cristian Pache, Marcell Ozuna, Ender Inciarte
Now that Inciarte’s thumb appears to be healthy, it’s time to once again project him as the primary backup outfielder. He’ll frequently serve as Ozuna’s late-inning defensive replacement and could spell Pache occasionally over the first couple months. Because Riley and Camargo could also play outfield if necessary, there is not a need to carry Phillip Ervin, who would get the nod if Inciarte’s thumb becomes an issue again.

Pache hasn’t been productive at the plate, but the Braves have given no reason to think he has hurt his bid to begin the season as their center fielder.

Bench (2): Adrianza and Camargo
Adrianza can play across the diamond, provide speed and contribute some value as a switch-hitting pinch-hitter. He should be even more valuable now that he is back in the National League in a utility role.

Camargo can also be a very versatile asset off the bench. He isn’t as fast as Adrianza, but he provides more power potential from both sides of the plate. His decline since moving to a backup role has understandably led some to question whether he should be given a roster spot.

The Braves have the option to carry either the switch-hitting Pablo Sandoval or left-handed-hitting Jason Kipnis. Sandoval would provide the club the right-handed pinch-hit option it would lack beyond the backup catcher. But he is even less versatile defensively than Kipnis.

So, I’ll continue to roll the dice on Camargo with the hope he finally gets a feel for what it takes to be a successful bench player.

Starting pitchers (5): Charlie Morton, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Drew Smyly,
While the Braves have an early off-day, the option to begin the season with a four-man rotation becomes more challenging when you account for the fact that any player optioned at the end of Spring Training wouldn’t be eligible to be activated until April 11. So, while there might be some ways to creatively get around this with an injured list transaction, we’ll go back to projecting the OD roster will include five starters. Wilson should fill one of the spots until Mike Soroka returns in late April.

Relievers (8): Will Smith, Chris Martin, Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, Jacob Webb, Luke Jackson, Josh Tomlin,
Newcomb has been impressive enough during his two appearances this week to warrant a spot. He was very valuable as a reliever in 2019, and he has the potential to be a top option again this year. His addition has led me to remove Dayton. Eventually, you have to risk having to part ways with guys who are out of options. They say you can never have enough pitching. But this bullpen has more than enough lefties. So, the decision would be to nix Dayton instead of Jackson.