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These are the Braves' biggest roster decisions

When the time comes, Atlanta must decide on Riley, Félix, 26th man
@mlbbowman
March 17, 2020

ATLANTA -- Over the past few months, there has been a debate about whether it would be in the Braves’ best interest to have Austin Riley begin the season in Triple-A, even if he made a strong impression during Spring Training. Well, Riley made a strong impression before the coronavirus

ATLANTA -- Over the past few months, there has been a debate about whether it would be in the Braves’ best interest to have Austin Riley begin the season in Triple-A, even if he made a strong impression during Spring Training.

Well, Riley made a strong impression before the coronavirus pandemic abruptly ended the Grapefruit League season and delayed Opening Day last week. And it would have been interesting to see what decision the Braves would have taken regarding Riley’s immediate future. But it might not have been the same as the one they could make when it’s eventually determined how 2020’s regular season will be structured.

The same could prove true regarding the decisions to round out the Atlanta rotation and the team’s 26-man roster. But here is a look at where three key roster battles stood when play ended last week.

Third base
It seemed easy to project Johan Camargo would start the season as Atlanta’s third baseman and possibly lose that role to Riley within the season’s first few weeks. The thinking was that, instead of possibly being fooled by what was seen in Spring Training, the Braves would allow Riley to prove himself at Triple-A Gwinnett before making the decision that could significantly improve both the middle of the lineup and the bench.

But knowing how tight the National League East race might be, the Braves might not be as comfortable going through any portion of a potentially shortened season with their roster at less than optimal strength.

So, when baseball resumes, if Riley were to continue to impress like he did while using improved balance and plate discipline to construct a 1.080 OPS in 32 Grapefruit League plate appearances this year, there would seemingly be less reason to hesitate putting him in the middle of the order and moving Camargo to a backup role right away.

Remember when Braves manager Brian Snitker said Riley and Camargo needed to be playing every day, even if that meant one would be doing so at Triple-A? Well, that was just something most managers would say a week into what would have been a four-week position battle. He saw the value Camargo could bring as a bench player in 2017, and he also saw the versatile switch-hitter prove quite capable of being the everyday third baseman in 2018.

Camargo came to camp leaner and with a better frame of mind than he had last year, when he admittedly struggled with being replaced by Josh Donaldson. Camargo would be the superior defensive option. But if Riley’s spring was an indication of what he’s capable of when play resumes, there’s no doubt his power potential could be exactly what the Braves need to be one of the best offenses in the National League.

Rotation battle
Félix Hernández positioned himself for a roster spot as he posted a 1.98 ERA in four Grapefruit League starts. But his future was going to be determined based on how he fared in his next two starts, when he was scheduled to face better lineups. King Félix did enough to show he might be a bargain if the Braves committed to giving him the $1 million salary attached to his Minor League deal, even if he simply served as a short-term solution while Cole Hamels was sidelined.

With the start of the regular season pushed back, the Braves will seemingly spend less of their schedule without the services of Hamels, who has not been cleared to throw since he developed left shoulder inflammation in late January. If Hamels is ready when play resumes, there might still be an argument that Hernández should be in the fifth spot.

The other candidates would be Sean Newcomb and Kyle Wright, Atlanta’s No. 4 prospect. Newcomb generated some enthusiasm as he issued just two walks while recording 11 strikeouts and allowing only two runs over nine Grapefruit League innings. But the southpaw might be a safer bet in the bullpen, which currently counts Will Smith as its only left-hander.

Wright impressed the Braves, much as he did during Spring Training last year. It could be argued that he’s better prepared both physically and mentally for the Major Leagues this year. But until there is significant confidence he’s ready to possibly stick in Atlanta’s rotation, there’s still reason to guard against rushing him to the big leagues.

26th man
Even when Charlie Culberson was being projected as the favorite to be the final position player on the Braves’ roster, it was thought that he’d likely be the odd man out if Camargo eventually moved to the bench. Now, when weighing whether Culberson, Yangervis Solarte or another candidate might get the last roster spot, you have to weigh the possibility that Riley could immediately become the starting third baseman.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.