Who will Braves keep as backup outfielders?
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Eli White is hitting .435 with three homers and a 1.500 OPS through his first 26 plate appearances this spring. But when evaluating his bid to be on the Braves’ Opening Day roster, the most influential figure might be two, which is his number of remaining Minor League options.
“I always tell players, until you have no options, you have no power in this game,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s just the way it is. You’ve got to keep hammering through it until you’re out of options, and then you can force hands.”
Because Sam Hilliard is out of options, Atlanta would have to pass him through waivers in order to send him to the Minors to begin the season. With White having two remaining options, the Braves could send him to Triple-A Gwinnett to begin the season and call him up whenever he is needed.
Remaining options will not be the only variable used when the Braves decide who will begin the upcoming season as their backup outfielders, but it will certainly influence the decision.
Who are the backup outfielder candidates?
Kevin Pillar, Forrest Wall, Jordan Luplow, Hilliard and White are the five players battling for this spot, though Pillar is the only member of this group to have prolonged or sustained success at the big league level. The other four candidates are essentially Quadruple-A guys, who have succeeded at the Triple-A level and struggled in the Majors.
“Everything I’ve thought I would see, I’ve seen [from Pillar],” Snitker said. “He’s just a ballplayer. I’ve admired this guy when I managed against him in the Minor Leagues and played against him in the big leagues. He never takes a day for granted. I love what I’ve seen from him."
How many roster spots are available?
If the Braves carry Marcell Ozuna, those five aforementioned outfielders will likely be competing for two bench spots. Another spot would be created if the team opts to eat the $37 million Ozuna is owed over the final two years of his contract.
Ozuna, who went 2-for-3 with four RBIs in Tuesday's 15-5 win over the Phillies at BayCare Ballpark, is 9-for-28 with four doubles thus far. But his potential to bounce back will should come more into focus as he starts to face better and more-prepared pitching over the Grapefruit League season’s final weeks.
Who has remaining options?
Wall has three, White has two and Luplow has one. Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos has regularly showed the value of creating and protecting roster depth. Instead of focusing on creating the strongest possible Opening Day roster, he has proven the value of collecting depth that can be utilized at any point through the end of the postseason. In other words, instead of going with Pillar and White, it may make more sense to go with Pillar and Hilliard, if only to guard against a team claiming Hilliard.
If White were to have continued success at Triple-A, he could join Atlanta’s roster at any point. But when evaluating his roster candidacy, the .556 OPS he’s produced through 230 big league games will likely have more weight than this year’s strong spring numbers.
Luplow came to camp with a strained right oblique, so he didn’t start playing in games until this week. If he finishes strong, he could make things interesting. But if the Braves really want to protect Hilliard and carry Pillar, Luplow’s Opening Day roster bid may depend on Ozuna’s fate.
Who are the non-roster candidates?
Wall and Pillar. With Huascar Ynoa and Tyler Matzek set to start the season on the 60-day injured list, the Braves will have three vacancies on their 40-man roster. The non-roster invitees who would be most likely to fill these spots are veteran reliever Jesse Chavez and Pillar. Other NRIs who might gain roster consideration are backup infielders Ehire Adrianza and Adeiny Hechavarria.
What are the primary needs?
Spring Training stats can often be misleading. Such is the case with Eddie Rosario, who made a number of loud outs before heading to the World Baseball Classic, where he homered and doubled in Puerto Rico’s first three games. It looks like Rosario has distanced himself from last year’s vision woes. So the Braves might not use a strict platoon in left field, but they could still use one of their backup outfielders to regularly serve as a late-inning defensive replacement for Rosario.
Luplow is the only candidate who couldn’t be comfortably used in center field. This could influence some of the discussion as the Braves ensure they have ways to rest center fielder Michael Harris II or right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. whenever necessary.