Battles abound for roles on Braves' bench

March 15th, 2021

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- As the Braves prepare to return to a world that includes 162 games and is devoid of the designated hitter, their success will once again be greatly influenced by their bench strength.

With the addition of Jake Lamb on Feb. 23, the Braves addressed the need to add left-handed power to their reserves. They have also been encouraged to see a leaner create confidence in his ability to capably handle each of the infield positions.

But with Opening Day a little more than two weeks away, the Braves still have some interesting decisions to make before finalizing construction of their bench. Here are some of the top questions they must answer:

How many bench players should be carried?
While an off-day early in the regular season gives Atlanta the option to carry an extra position player through the first five games, remember that manager Brian Snitker has always favored pitching depth. So for now, we’ll project that his 26-man Opening Day roster will include a 13-man staff and a five-man bench.

Who is a near-lock for those five spots?
Lamb, Camargo and a backup catcher (likely ).

fits the category if does indeed begin the season as Atlanta’s starting center fielder. If Pache doesn’t get that job, he’ll need to be playing everyday somewhere, even if that is at the team’s alternate training site until the Triple-A season begins in May.

Who could fill the final spot?
Maintaining the assumption that Pache will win the center-field job and Inciarte will begin as a backup outfielder, there is seemingly a need to add another backup infielder.

Camargo is once again showing the lateral movement he lost when he gained some weight in 2019. His ability to once again handle the shortstop position gives the Braves some options. But, however you look at it, ’s versatility might be the best option.

Adrianza and former All-Star are a pair of non-roster invitees who stand as the best options to serve as the club’s second backup infielder.

Pablo Sandoval remains a candidate. But even if the Braves were suddenly confident he can still catch up with fastballs, you have to question filling a valuable roster spot with a guy who provides next to nothing defensively, especially on a club that already possesses three third basemen (Austin Riley, Lamb and Camargo)

Who is Adrianza?
Those Braves fans previously unaware of Adrianza might have at least become a little more familiar when he hit a walk-off homer against the Rays on Sunday. The 31-year-old utility player spent the past four seasons with the Twins. The veteran switch-hitter should prove even more valuable in the DH-less National League.

Adrianza and Kipnis have both seen some time in the outfield, but Adrianza is the better option there -- and more importantly, he provides more versatility across the infield.

What if Pache isn’t on the Opening Day roster?
If the Braves decide Pache needs a little more Minor League seasoning, they could use Ronald Acuña Jr. or Inciarte as their starting center fielder. Either way, the decision would require the club to add another outfielder.

Phillip Ervin, Guillermo Heredia and Abraham Almonte have all been brought to camp to fight for that job, but Ervin would seemingly have the edge out of the trio.

Why might they carry only one true backup outfielder?
Acuña’s ability to play center when necessary and Inciarte’s ability to play each of the outfield positions provides the Braves some enviable flexibility. They also know they could use Riley, Camargo and possibly either Adrianza or Kipnis there, if necessary.

Who will be the backup catcher?
William Contreras has made tremendous strides over the past year and might be ready to be Atlanta’s starting catcher by the start of 2022. Shea Langeliers, who has yet to play a full season at the pro level, might not be far behind.

While Jackson has been touted as the favorite to begin this season as the Braves' backup, the thought has been that Contreras needs to play every day. While that’s true, the delayed Triple-A season might lead the team to value the opportunity for him to spend an additional month learning from veteran catcher Travis d’Arnaud and catching coach Sal Fasano.