As the Braves prepare to make final roster decisions and enter the first year of the SunTrust Park era, this latest edition of the Inbox provides answers to some questions as Opening Day draws closer. Who do you think will have a breakout season this year?
-- @jasonalandent This will
As the Braves prepare to make final roster decisions and enter the first year of the SunTrust Park era, this latest edition of the Inbox provides answers to some questions as Opening Day draws closer.
Who do you think will have a breakout season this year?
This will be the season when Mike Foltynewicz puts it together and proves that he has both the stuff and mentality to become a frontline starting pitcher. Over the past two seasons, we've seen the potential possessed by the young hurler, who possesses both a high-octane fastball and the capability to miss bats with his breaking stuff. The difference this season will come courtesy of the maturity you'll see as he handles adversity in a much more efficient manner.
Sure, you'll still occasionally see Foltynewicz shake his head or kick at the dirt when he objects to an umpire's call on a borderline pitch. And there will be moments when he might allow the previous pitch to affect the next. But the past few weeks have provided indication we'll see less of that from this talented hurler, who is the one member of the current rotation who has the potential to eventually become a legitimate ace.
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Is it more likely the Braves keep three lefties for an an eight-man bullpen or opt to go with a five-man bench?
While the Braves are still debating how to structure their roster, it seems like they are leaning toward sticking with an eight-man 'pen, which certainly could include three left-handers -- Ian Krol, Eric O'Flaherty and Kevin Chapman.
The Braves recognize carrying eight relievers weakens an already offensively-challenged bench, but unless they can sign or trade for a quality pinch-hit option, they don't think lengthening the bench trumps the benefits of the extended bullpen.
Given that they added three veterans to the rotation to eat innings, I think the Braves might be taking too cautious of an approach by sticking with the eight-man bullpen plan, which made more sense when they were accounting for how Sean Rodriguez's versatility could impact their bench. The Braves have spent the past couple of years having to alter fatigued bullpens by shuttling guys back and forth from Triple-A Gwinnett to Atlanta. They won't have the desirable option to do so as frequently this year because many of their relievers are out of options. But at the same time, if the starters pan out, they might also have the need to consider this a potential concern.
Who might be the main relief setup guy for Jim Johnson out of the bullpen?
It didn't take long for Arodys Vizcaino to create a buzz during the early days of camp, and the Braves have continued to like what they've seen from the now-healthy reliever throughout the exhibition season. As his fastball has sat in the upper 90s and his slider has that same life it had before his shoulder became a problem last year, he has provided strong indication he's once again capable of being the club's primary setup man -- and the closer when necessary.
Whether it's brought on by trade or injury, which prospect is next in line to step into the rotation -- Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair or Sean Newcomb?
If the Braves need a starting pitcher within the season's first two months, Blair and Wisler would be the primary options. Newcomb's development will determine when he might be deemed Major League-ready, but I wouldn't expect to see this occurring before the Braves could avoid potential Super 2 status, likely at some point in early June.
We've seen Newcomb's tremendous potential, but until he proves he can be consistent from game to game or inning to inning, he'll continue to make necessary adjustments at the Minor League level.
The rising prospect with the greatest upside is Max Fried, who spent last season with Class A Rome and now at least has a chance to reach Atlanta at some point this season. I wouldn't necessarily begin assuming we'll see Fried at some point this year, but at the same time, I won't be shocked if we're at least talking about a potential late-season promotion to the big leagues.
With the "future" so near, who is the next young Brave to get an extension?
The obvious candidate is Dansby Swanson, who will be considered the favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award during his first full Major League season. Swanson has everything you'd want in terms of talent and personality from a player who could be a franchise cornerstone for many years to come. It only makes sense to assume the Atlanta native might soon gain a deal that would provide him some financial security beyond his arbitration-eligible seasons.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.