Projecting Atlanta's '23 Opening Day roster
NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Braden Shewmake is in the thick of the shortstop battle and top prospect Jared Shuster has positioned himself to begin the season in Atlanta’s rotation. Add a couple of interesting bullpen decisions and you find plenty of intrigue surrounding the Braves’ final full week of Spring Training.
Vaughn Grissom entered camp as the public favorite to win the shortstop job and Ian Anderson seemed destined for the fifth starter’s job, especially after Michael Soroka came to camp with a hamstring strain. Anderson’s demotion to Triple-A Gwinnett opened the door for Shuster and fellow prospect Dylan Dodd.
The shortstop battle got interesting as Shewmake spent the past couple of weeks looking like the organization’s most improved player.
With these battles heating up, here is my third and final Opening Day roster projection:
Catcher (2): Travis d'Arnaud and Sean Murphy
d’Arnaud has been an invaluable leader since arriving in 2020 and he has continued to show his unselfishness while preparing to team with Murphy to arguably be the game’s best catching duo.
First baseman (1): Matt Olson
Somebody might have once had a better Spring Training than Olson, but I doubt it. But seriously, he looks comfortable and ready to enjoy his second season with his hometown team.
Second baseman (1): Ozzie Albies
It looks like Albies needs to regain some arm strength after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to clean particles from his right shoulder in October. But he’s swinging the bat fine and making expected progress in preparation for Opening Day.
Shortstop (1): Braden Shewmake
Choosing between Shewmake and Grissom feels like picking a No. 8 vs. No. 9 game in the NCAA tourney. Shewmake is the better defensive option. He might benefit from another month or two of at-bats at the Triple-A level. But with Grissom not playing shortstop for a fourth straight day on Saturday, I’ll follow the clues and trust my gut.
Third baseman (1): Austin Riley
Riley and Olson account for two of the game’s eight players who have hit 70-plus homers and produced a 137 OPS+ or higher since the start of 2021.
Outfielders (3): Ronald Acuña Jr., Michael Harris II, Eddie Rosario
Rosario’s vision issues appear to be a thing of the past as he has been consistently making solid contact at the plate. Acuña and Harris give the Braves two Gold Glove-caliber outfielders.
Designated hitter (1): Marcell Ozuna
The Braves have been unsuccessful with attempts to trade Ozuna for Patrick Corbin and Madison Bumgarner. There might not be any other choice but to hope there is some return on the $37 million the veteran is owed over the next two years.
Bench/Utility (3): Orlando Arcia, Kevin Pillar, Sam Hilliard
With the assumption Grissom or Shewmake gets the starting shortstop job, Arcia will be the backup infielder. Pillar seems like the perfect fit as the primary backup outfielder and Hilliard has shown he can help with both his glove and legs. Hilliard gets the nod over Eli White and Jordan Luplow because he is the only member of this trio without an option remaining.
Starting pitchers (4): Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright, Charlie Morton
Shuster or Dodd will likely be the fifth starter, but with both being non-roster players, the Braves could add them to the active roster after Opening Day. This would allow them to carry an additional reliever for a couple of days.
Relief pitchers (9): Raisel Iglesias, A.J. Minter, Joe Jiménez, Collin McHugh, Dylan Lee, Kirby Yates, Jesse Chavez, Lucas Luetge, Nick Anderson
Once Shuster or Dodd are needed, the Braves may have to make a tough decision. But by going with a nine-man 'pen for the season’s first few days, they could delay some tough decisions. Jiménez has struggled after having offseason spine surgery. If he’s not effective over the next couple of weeks, he could go on the injured list. Lee and Anderson have options, but both look like they could be among the top late-inning options at the start of the season. Chavez is the team’s leader and could again be invaluable as a long reliever.