LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A refreshed and confident Ozzie Albies has returned to Braves camp thankful that he is no longer dealing with the concerns that surrounded him last year, when he entered Spring Training with some doubts about the fractured right elbow he'd sustained the previous September."I talked
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A refreshed and confident Ozzie Albies has returned to Braves camp thankful that he is no longer dealing with the concerns that surrounded him last year, when he entered Spring Training with some doubts about the fractured right elbow he'd sustained the previous September.
"I talked to him about how good he must feel about having a normal offseason because he rehabbed the whole [offseason] last year," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "Then when he got called up, you could see the adjustments he made and how well he played second base. He's come a long way in a year and a half."
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Albies stood as one of MLB Pipeline's top prospects and was bidding to possibly begin the 2017 season in the Majors before he fractured his elbow while attempting to check his swing during a Southern League playoff game in '16.
Instead of spending the ensuing offseason growing excited about his debut, he remained restricted for a period of time and had to arrive at the Spring Training complex in early January. Then, once the switch-hitting second baseman was cleared to swing during Spring Training, he began the long process of regaining the confidence that he would not re-injure the elbow while taking a swing from the left side of the plate.
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This past winter proved to be much more relaxing as Albies had an opportunity to decompress while being around friends and family members in his native Curacao. He arrived in camp last week buoyed by the confidence he gained as he hit .286 and produced an .810 OPS in the 244 plate appearances he tallied after being called up to the Majors in August 2017.
"Having a normal offseason was good," Albies said. "I got myself strong and got away from baseball. Now, my mind is all about baseball."
A more versatile Ruiz
Rio Ruiz certainly has more reason to be thankful for losing more than 30 pounds off of the 240-pound frame he carried at the end of the 2015 season. Ruiz still stands as a third-base candidate, but he could also see some time as a left fielder and first baseman during the Grapefruit League season.
Ruiz began taking some fly balls in left field during the latter portion of last season, but he has never been used as an outfielder during his professional career.
"In this day and age, that versatility is just so big for guys," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "You're crazy not to want to learn more positions if it's going to mean a stay in the Major Leagues."
With Johan Camargo standing as the favorite to open the season as Atlanta's third baseman, Ruiz's bid to earn a bench spot will be influenced by how versatile he shows he can be. The Braves will be prioritizing versatility if they follow through with the plan to utilize an eight-man bullpen and four-man bench.
Ruiz will likely serve as the Braves' first baseman in at least one of the Grapefruit League games the Braves will play this weekend. With each of the three contests being played at least two hours from Atlanta's Spring Training complex, Freddie Freeman and some other veterans will likely wait until Monday to begin playing in games.
Bullpen battle advantages
As things currently stand, closer Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter, Jose Ramirez, Sam Freeman and Daniel Winkler are projected to fill five of what will likely be eight bullpen spots. The recently-signed Peter Moylan now stands as a favorite for one of the open spots. But the 39-year-old reliever must prove himself in what will be a crowded and interesting battle.
Right-handed reliever Josh Ravin, who was acquired from the Dodgers in November, is out of options. This means if not placed on the Opening Day roster, he would have to be pass through waivers before being sent to the Minors.
Additionally, Rule 5 Draft selection Anyelo Gomez would have to be offered back to the Cubs if he doesn't remain on Atlanta's active roster throughout the season.
Winkler must remain on the active roster through the season's first 14 days before exhausting the Rule 5 Draft requirements he has carried since the start of the 2015 season. His time has been extended as he has rehabbed from two different elbow surgeries within the past three seasons.
Players who are out of options or still linked to Rule 5 Draft restrictions have somewhat of an advantage in close roster battles. But there certainly won't be any guarantees, as Rex Brothers and Jacob Lindgren are a pair of intriguing lefty candidates and the Braves have long relief options in Chase Whitley, Lucas Sims and Aaron Blair.