LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Their only front-line starter will likely miss at least the first two weeks of the regular season, and their most impressive pitcher during Spring Training has been a highly-touted prospect who has never made a Major League start.
Given Anibal Sanchez wasn’t even factoring into the plan at this point of last year’s Spring Training, it doesn’t seem wise to determine the Braves rotation is doomed. Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson and Max Fried are capable of combining to compensate for the unexpected value Sanchez created last year.
More importantly some combination of these prospects are going to need to pick up the slack while Mike Foltynewicz spends the season’s first couple weeks on the disabled list and Kevin Gausman attempts to prove the ugly results generated in his first two spring starts aren’t related to the shoulder discomfort he brought to camp.
Wright, the rising star who has yet to make a Major League start, appears to be the most likely prospect to fill Foltynewicz’s rotation void. The 23-year-old right-hander made another strong impression as he struck out five and allowed two runs over four innings in Saturday’s 6-1 loss to the Red Sox.
Here’s a look at five hot topics as the Braves prep for their final week in Florida:
Opening Day starter
Given the nature of the social media world, the reaction to Julio Teheran being lined up to make his sixth consecutive Opening Day start was not unexpected. But the question is who else were the Braves going to plan to send to the mound to face the Phillies on March 28?
Gausman has surrendered six runs while retiring just six of the 14 batters faced over two starts. You’re not going to give Wright the start, and Sean Newcomb has only enhanced concerns about his erratic command as he’s surrendered 12 hits, issued 10 walks and struck out just seven over 12 innings this spring. The only option was Teheran, who has at least created some hope he might provide more consistent value this year.
The Braves won the National League East last year because their rotation depth grew to the point where Teheran fittingly existed as their No. 4 starter. There will not be a repeat if he’s their No. 1 starter at the end of this season. But for one day at the start of what will likely be his final season with Atlanta, he’ll have a chance to feel and possibly pitch like one.
Ender Inciarte will almost certainly be at the top of the lineup whenever the Braves face a right-handed starter at the start of the regular season. But when facing a left-handed starter, it appears the Braves may use Ozzie Albies as their leadoff hitter. In other words, we’ll have plenty of time to debate what may be lost via the fewer plate appearances Ronald Acuna Jr. will draw in the cleanup spot. But while plate discipline is a concern, it’s hard to argue against the alternative of Albies, who slashed .335/.357/.548 against lefties last year.
Manager Brian Snitker has said he does not plan to evenly split the playing time between his two veteran catchers Brian McCann and Tyler Flowers. He has indicated matchups and recent workload will influence who is in the lineup on a nightly basis. McCann seems like a good fit with Teheran and there’s reason to play Flowers against as many left-handed starters as possible.
Neither catcher is going to start 100-plus games and it may end up being more of a 50-50 mix than Snitker currently envisions. For now, it seems like he’s still getting a feel for how he might split the time between these two catchers.
After his left shoulder posed no problems when he played catch for a third straight day on Friday, A.J. Minter said he still believes he has enough time to be ready for Opening Day. But given he still has to throw at least one side session and a live batting practice before being cleared to be in an exhibition game, it seems unlikely he’ll be deemed ready to be in the Braves bullpen on Opening Day. The same can be said even more confidently about Darren O’Day, who hasn’t even been cleared to throw since feeling right forearm discomfort following his March 1 spring debut.
While it appears Minter might not have to miss more than a handful of games, the Braves may have to fill a couple bullpen voids on the Opening Day roster. This strengthens the case for Luke Jackson, who is out of options, and possibly creates an opportunity for Wes Parsons, who might end up being the camp’s most significant surprise. There’s also a chance the Braves could opt to use one of their starting pitching prospects (Fried, Toussaint or Wilson) to serve as a long relief option on a short-term basis.
Will Duvall make it?
Since snapping a 0-for-10 start with the two-homer game experienced a few hours after spending time with Chipper Jones in the indoor batting cages on March 3, Adam Duvall has gone 3-for-22 with no extra-base hits. The lack of internal big league ready outfield depth provides the Braves reason to hope Duvall creates confidence he could be a valuable bench asset. But as some outfielders come available during the final week of the exhibition season, the team certainly also has reason to contemplate a potential external option.