ATLANTA -- The Braves hope Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia will pitch deeper into games more consistently than the lesser experienced pitchers who will be in their rotation this season. But even with the addition of these three veterans, Atlanta still plans to utilize an eight-man bullpen and a four-man bench.
Given that backup catcher Kurt Suzuki will fill one of those four spots, Braves manager Brian Snitker will be essentially working with a three-man bench. Jace Peterson will likely primarily serve as a reserve, as Sean Rodriguez is expected to get a majority of the time at second base, at least until Ozzie Albies reaches the Major League level. But it remains to be seen how Atlanta will fill the other two bench spots.
Third baseman Adonis Garcia stands as the only projected starting infielder or outfielder who might be out of the lineup at least once or twice a week to create more favorable matchups. Snitker will likely not feel the need to pinch-hit for any of his projected starters on a regular basis.
That being said, the reality is that ailments and injuries are inevitable, and as a National League club, the Braves will utilize a pinch-hitter in the pitcher's spot nearly every game.
The challenge of having a shorter bench should be mitigated by the fact that Atlanta's roster boasts defensive versatility. Rodriguez and Peterson are both super-utility-type players who have the capability to play all of the infield and outfield positions. Chase d'Arnaud, Micah Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio can also be utilized in both infield and outfield roles.
d'Arnaud, Johnson and Bonifacio stand as the top three internal candidates who will battle for the final two bench spots. But instead of entering the season with Peterson or any of these three other candidates as the only options to regularly pinch-hit for pitchers, the Braves will continue to evaluate the possibility of adding Jeff Francoeur, Kelly Johnson or another more proven hitter into the mix.
While there might be some intrigue about the possibility of Francoeur or Johnson returning, the Braves don't seem to be willing to provide either of them the Major League contract that they are seeking.
d'Arnaud made a start at six positions for the Braves last year and showed some offensive promise, until he produced a .547 OPS over his final 133 plate appearances. Some of his decline could have been a product of a plantar wart that became more painful and cumbersome as the summer progressed.
Bonifacio and Johnson would both be capable of playing center field if necessary, but the value of their versatility is marred by the offensive struggles they have experienced at the big league level over the past two seasons. Both spent most of 2016 at the Triple-A level.