Champs' roster looks set, with some surprises

Contreras, Strider, Davidson all appear locks to make Braves' Opening Day roster

April 3rd, 2022

NORTH PORT LUCIE, Fla. -- Barring any additions over the next few days, William Contreras,  and  will all be on the Braves’ Opening Day roster.

“You never know, but as of right now it is,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said when asked if his roster was essentially set for Thursday’s season opener against the Reds at Truist Park.

Before Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Red Sox at CoolToday Park, Snitker also told veteran reliever Darren O’Day he had made the team. This wasn’t necessarily a surprise. The assumption coming into Spring Training was that O’Day would be in the Braves' bullpen as long he remained healthy.

As for Davidson, Contreras and Strider, they were never considered favorites or locks to begin the season at the big league level. But it appears they will be part of the Braves' active roster, which will consist of 28 players until it is reduced to 26 on May 2.

Davidson had established himself as the likely sixth starter over the past week. But before Snitker explained the reasoning, Contreras and Strider didn’t necessarily seem to be fits for the roster.

How does Contreras fit?
Contreras’ candidacy didn’t really gain steam until Saturday, when the Braves reassigned infielders Ryan Goins, Phil Gosselin and Pat Valaika to Minor League camp. Suddenly, Contreras was the only internal option to fill the final bench spot.

Yes, the Braves already have two primary catchers in Travis d’Arnaud and Manny Piña. And Contreras has never been used in a game as anything other than a catcher. But he spent some time as a right fielder this spring, and he’ll prepare to be an emergency infielder by taking some grounders at third base over the next few weeks.

Still, while Contreras' value increases with defensive versatility, the Braves are more intrigued by what he could do while serving as their right-handed designated hitter, at least until Ronald Acuña Jr. returns from the injured list during May’s first week.

Once Acuña returns, Marcell Ozuna will likely become the everyday DH, and Contreras will likely return to Triple-A Gwinnett to continue his development as a catcher.

“Catching is his main thing,” Snitker said. “We still view him as a catcher. But with his athleticism, you could potentially move him around the diamond.”

How do Davidson and Strider both fit?
As the Braves prepare to play on each of the regular season’s first 14 days, they have made it clear they plan to open with a six-man rotation. Davidson became the favorite for this spot as he separated himself from Kyle Muller, who was optioned to Gwinnett on Sunday.

Strider's bid took a hit when he allowed five runs -- four earned -- and seven hits, including two homers, over 2 1/3 innings against the Yankees on Saturday. But it looks like Strider will still experience the thrill of being with the defending World Series champs on Opening Day.

Strider, whose fastball has been clocked at 101 mph, went from Class A to the Majors during his first professional season last year. He needs to further develop his changeup and curveball. But the Braves believe he’s ready to provide value as a starter, an opener or a long reliever.

When the sixth spot in the rotation comes up over the season’s first couple of weeks, the Braves will look at matchups and availability before determining whether to use Davidson or Strider.

“I like the progress [Strider] has made,” Snitker said. “Like [Saturday], every time he goes out there will be a learning experience because he’s going to face competition he’s never faced before. He’s got weapons, and I’ve seen a lot of improvement in his secondary stuff.”

What can O’Day bring?
O’Day was the leader of the Braves' bullpen in 2020, and he likely would have been back last year had Atlanta not slashed payroll. The right-handed reliever needed a second surgery on his left hamstring while playing for the Yankees last year. But he is healthy and can be utilized in a variety of middle- or late-inning roles.

The Braves purchased O’Day’s contract and created a 40-man spot by putting reliever Luke Jackson on the 60-day injured list. Jackson will likely need season-ending Tommy John surgery.

“When I told [O’Day] today he was going to make the club, he was like, ‘I feel great,’” Snitker said. “With his experience and being right-handed, he provides a good piece for you. I like where he’s at right now.”