LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Johan Camargo came to Spring Training last year as a middle-tier prospect who might eventually get a chance to be a utility player at the Major League level. He greatly exceeded expectations over the months that followed, and now stands as the strong favorite to open the upcoming season as Atlanta's starting third baseman.
Camargo strengthened his candidacy with a towering game-tying homer during the seventh inning of Tuesday's 3-3 tie with the Pirates at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex. The home run off right-handed reliever Brett McKinney stands as his only hit through his first five at-bats of the Grapefruit League season.
"The kid just keeps getting better," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He keeps getting bigger, stronger and more mature. I really like that, man."
Camargo hit his solo shot from the left side of the plate, a good sign considering the switch-hitter only managed a .254/.287/.349 line, and just one homer in 180 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers last year. He hit .403/.434/.694 with three homers in 76 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers.
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Camargo established himself as a mainstay on Atlanta's roster by early June last year, and supplanted Dansby Swanson as the starting shortstop about a month later. A right knee bone bruise sustained in early August sidelined him for a month. But he now seems healthy, and determined to seize the opportunity to open this season as the primary third baseman.
Charlie Culberson, who has notched two hits through his first six at-bats, could see some time at third base, but it looks like he'll likely open the season as the Braves' primary backup infielder. Rio Ruiz, who has struck out in five of his first eight at-bats, is another internal third-base candidate.
"I told them all there are opportunities here," Snitker said. "[The young players] don't have a whole lot of history like the veterans, who are coming in to just get in shape for Spring Training. They're coming in to compete. [Camargo] is getting after it pretty good. It's good to see."
Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox, Freddie Freeman and Swanson were among the members of the Braves organization who spent time during Tuesday's batting practice with Steve and Heather Winfree, who were invited by the club to be special guests for the day.
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The Winfrees gained national notice in July, when Heather used a personalized baseball card to inform Steve she was a match to provide him a kidney and essentially save his life. The Knoxville, Tenn., residents are ardent Braves fans, but they weren't able to attend games over the past few years because Steve could not be exposed to the sun and humidity for any extended period of time.
"Being here is a blessing," Steve Winfree said. "The biggest thing we hope from our story is people can see what can happen if you choose to donate. I went from being a happy-go-lucky athlete to being depressed and not myself all day. She brought life back to me."
Dustin Peterson and Preston Tucker are no strangers to adversity. Both have struggled with injuries, and each of the outfielders have a legitimate chance to break camp with the team.
Peterson endured a frustrating season with Triple-A Gwinnett last year. He felt he may have returned too early from the broken left hamate bone that ended his bid to gain a spot on Atlanta's Opening Day roster.
Tucker tallied 23 homers during his rookie season in 2015 with the Astros, but faded from the team's plans as he attempted to play through discomfort that led him to undergo right shoulder surgery near the end of the 2016 season. He spent all of 2017 attempting to regain strength while playing at the Triple-A level, and was traded to the Braves in December.
Until Ronald Acuna Jr. arrives at the Major League level, the Braves will likely utilize a platoon in left field. Tucker seems to have the advantage as he could serve as the left-handed complement to Lane Adams.
But with a strong camp, Peterson could at least make a bid to overtake Adams in the battle for what would be the right-handed portion of that platoon.
Tucker has two hits, including a double, through his first five at-bats this spring. Peterson has gone hitless with a pair of strikeouts through his first four at-bats.
A svelte Aaron Blair will make his spring debut on Wednesday and attempt to prove he has recovered from the strained right lat he sustained while making his final start for Triple-A Gwinnett last year.
Blair lost 38 pounds over the past year and has not felt any discomfort while making his normal preparations during camp. Once considered one of the club's top pitching prospects, he stands as a potential candidate to open the season with Atlanta as a long reliever.
Brandon McCarthy will make his spring debut when the Braves host the Mets on Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. ET. McCarthy, acquired from the Dodgers in December, is projected to open the season as Atlanta's No. 3 starter. Swanson is also expected to be in the lineup. Listen to the game on Gameday Audio.