ATLANTA -- Coming off an offseason during which they added Charlie Morton and re-signed Marcell Ozuna, the Braves have started Spring Training with reason to believe they can win a fourth consecutive National League East title.
This latest projection of their 26-man Opening Day roster provides a look at some of the key battles that will unfold during Spring Training.
Catcher (2): Travis d’Arnaud, Alex Jackson
There’s still reason to wonder if the Braves might eventually bring Tyler Flowers back with an economical, one-year deal. But for now, it appears the backup duties might go to Alex Jackson, whose high strikeout rate comes with the power he used to hit 28 homers for Triple-A Gwinnett in 2019. William Contreras has the brighter future, but needs more time as an everyday player in the Minors.
First base (1): Freddie Freeman
The only question is whether Freeman will enter 2021 with his current contract or the extension that would keep him in Atlanta for a significant part of this decade.
Second base (2): Ozzie Albies, Jason Kipnis
Albies will make $3 million as he goes through the third season of his seven-year, $35 million contract. Kipnis can play second base and outfield if necessary. More important, he is one of the few potentially capable pinch-hit options the Braves currently possess.
Shortstop (2): Dansby Swanson, TBD
Camargo’s defensive decline necessitates the Braves finding somebody capable of serving as a backup shortstop. Jack Mayfield gives the Braves an option on the 40-man roster and Ehire Adrianza will be in camp as a non-roster option. But it seems more likely this spot will be filled by somebody who becomes available after other teams make their Opening Day roster decisions.
Outfield (4): Ronald Acuña Jr., Cristian Pache, Marcell Ozuna, Ender Inciarte
Pache will battle Inciarte for the starting center field job. If the rookie wins it, Inciarte will become a fourth outfielder, whose primary role will be to serve as a late-inning defensive replacement for Ozuna. The fact Camargo or Kipnis could play the outfield if necessary likely leads the team to open the season with just four true outfielders.
Starting pitchers (5): Charlie Morton, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Drew Smyly, Kyle Wright
With the additions of Morton and Smyly, the Braves have a pair of experienced veterans capable of anchoring an otherwise talented young rotation. Mike Soroka should return at some point during the early part of the season. But with the expectation he’ll be given extra time to recover from a torn Achilles, we’ll predict Wright to get the final spot ahead of Bryse Wilson.
With a couple early off-days, the Braves could opt to begin the season with just four starters. But the desire to give starters extra rest throughout the season may lead to them opening with a full rotation.
With half of these projected relievers being left-handed, there’s reason to keep an eye on non-roster invitee Carl Edwards Jr., who has declined while battling injuries the past couple seasons. Jackson struggled mightily last year. But he was effective during parts of the 2019 season and like Dayton, is out of options. Sean Newcomb will vie for a bullpen spot. But the fact he has an option remaining might lead the Braves to have him start the year at Triple-A.