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Can Austin Riley make the Opening Day roster?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers fans' questions
@mlbbowman
February 26, 2020

With Opening Day now a month away, there are still plenty of questions regarding how the Braves’ roster will look on March 26. We tackle some of those questions in this week’s Inbox.

With Opening Day now a month away, there are still plenty of questions regarding how the Braves’ roster will look on March 26. We tackle some of those questions in this week’s Inbox.

If Austin Riley shows he’s better than Johan Camargo, does he still get sent down to “fine tune”? That seems to be the general consensus.
-- @atlanta15braves

Recognizing how tight the National League East race might be, the Braves say Austin Riley, Kyle Wright or any of their other MLB-ready prospects will be placed on the Opening Day roster if they are clearly the better option at the conclusion of their respective camp battles.

With this approach, they would be willing to sacrifice what amounts to a few weeks of extra development if they felt the big league club would be better with the presence of the prospect during that stretch.

The counterargument would be, the Braves might be better off for a longer stretch of the season by allowing the prospect to complete his development before being thrown into an everyday role at the big league level.

My feeling remains the Braves will be at their best with Riley as their everyday third baseman and Johan Camargo adding versatility to the bench. But at the same time, we can’t put much stock in Spring Training statistics. So, I still believe it would be best for Riley to spend at least a few weeks with Triple-A Gwinnett before possibly becoming Atlanta’s permanent third baseman.

But for now, the Braves are saying the best man will get the job.

Is Sean Newcomb a lock for a rotation spot or could we still see him in the bullpen?
-- @GUYnamedPRES

Cole Hamels’ absence may benefit Sean Newcomb more than it will any of the other candidates for one of the two rotation vacancies. With or without Hamels, Félix Hernández’s bid was going to depend on whether or not he showed indications he can get back to where he was when healthy before the 2017 season.

A healthy and effective Hernández was most likely always going to be a better option than Newcomb in the rotation. Of course, if Hernández struggles over the next few weeks, then Newcomb might indeed become an essential lock to begin the season in Atlanta’s rotation.

Newcomb’s other primary competition consists of Wright, Bryse Wilson and Touki Toussaint. Wilson and Toussaint could be viewed as short-term fixes. Wright’s tremendous upside puts him in a position where you might want to further his development to the point where when you bring him up, the plan is for him to never return to the Minor League level.

Given what we’ve seen from Newcomb, his best fit might be in the bullpen, which could use another lefty. But there’s a chance he’ll get at least a few chances to prove himself as a starter during the early portion of this season.

What’s the current thought or concern level about Cole Hamels’ shoulder?
-- @jtimm684

We’ll likely learn more when Hamels is further evaluated next week. But I think there should be some level of concern when you consider the 36-year-old veteran battled left shoulder fatigue after rushing back from an oblique injury last year. He says his current discomfort was a product of being overaggressive with his preparations in late January.

However you look at it, the Braves are going to do whatever necessary to protect the potential value of this $18 million investment. This might mean Hamels won’t make his Atlanta debut until some point in May. Yeah, he’d miss a month. But that would be better than bringing him back too soon and increasing the possibility he might incur more problems over multiple months this year.

What is the ETA on Shea Langeliers? Who is in a better position to succeed, William Contreras or Langeliers??
-- @_AndyHawkins

Some point during the 2021 season seems to be the best potential ETA for both Contreras and Langeliers. Given they stand as the organization’s only legitimate catching prospects, the club will place significant importance on their respective developments this year.

Less than a year removed from college, Langeliers is entering his first full professional season intent on proving he has the offensive potential necessary to become a primary option at the Major League level. His arm will get him to the big leagues. His bat will determine his long-term future role.

Contreras stalled offensively last year, producing a .669 OPS with Class A Advanced Florida and Double-A Mississippi. The 22-year-old prospect is the much more athletic catcher and his offensive upside will be influenced by how he continues to physically mature.

So, while neither will likely reach the Majors this season, what they do this year will impact the club’s catching plans over the next few years. Alex Jackson could be used in an emergency, but look for the Braves to add a veteran catcher who is willing to start this season at Triple-A Gwinnett.

What are the chances of Mike Soroka getting the Opening Day nod?
-- @treveravery

Mike Soroka is expected to make his Grapefruit League season debut on Friday. This will allow him to make five starts before drawing what would be his first Opening Day assignment. Last week’s groin discomfort really only cost him one start. He’ll still have plenty of time to make normal preparations.

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