LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After leading Atlanta United to a Major League Soccer championship in December, Josef Martinez told his good friend Ender Inciarte it was his turn to help the city claim another title.
"He always messes with me by saying he was the Venezuelan guy who got the ring," Inciarte said. "He's really happy to represent Atlanta and represent Venezuela. Hopefully, I'm going to be able to do it in baseball, too.":: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
It could be argued that Inciarte stands as the X-factor in regard to the Braves' bid to defend last year's National League East crown and experience a successful postseason. The three-time Gold Glove Award winner should once again provide regular assistance to the pitching staff. He has also proven to be an offensive asset, but last year's disappointing first half tempered the positive vibes created by his 200-hit season in 2017.
"Hopefully, I'm going to be more consistent this year," Inciarte said. "That's the most important part of this game. It's a tough game and it's a long season. Consistency is the biggest part."
When Inciarte slashed .241/.312/.337 during last season's first half, he was replaced by Ronald Acuña Jr. in the leadoff role. But the veteran center fielder bounced back to post a .302/.345/.448 line during the second half. That slash line was very similar to the one he produced over the course of the 2017 season, when he hit .304/.350/.409.
Braves manager Brian Snitker will spend the next few weeks evaluating whether it makes sense to keep Acuna in the leadoff role or put him in the cleanup spot. The latter would open the door for Inciarte to be given another chance to prove productive at the top of Atlanta's lineup.
"It's the manager's job to put the best lineup together to win games," Inciarte said. "Last year, it wasn't working, and he had to change. If it's working, then we'll continue with the same lineup. If it's not, we've got to make some changes. I'm only worrying about winning. I want to do my part. Wherever I'm at in the lineup, I'm going to be OK."
As the Braves plan to transition Johan Camargo to a super-utility role, Snitker is encouraged by what he saw when Camargo spent some time being introduced to the outfield during Spring Training in 2017.
"I liked what I saw when we worked him out [in the outfield]," Snitker said. "We had that same type of [super-utility] role in mind for him at that time."
When the Grapefruit League season opens, Camargo will draw starts at second base, shortstop, third base and in the corner outfield spots. The experience will prepare him for what he will encounter during the regular season, when he could draw 3-4 starts per week at various positions.
Austin Riley is one of the few position players who have not made an early arrival to Spring Training. But when the first full-squad workout takes place on Thursday, the promising young third baseman will also spend some time in the outfield.
With Josh Donaldson locked at the third-base position, the Braves simply want to have an option if Riley thrives during the season's first few months with Triple-A Gwinnett and provides indication he is ready to bring his power potential to the Major League level.
Ready to resume his climb
Three days after Sean Newcomb made his Major League debut on June 10, 2017, Patrick Weigel surrendered two hits over seven scoreless innings against Toledo. At the time, he had fashioned a 1.21 ERA over a five-start stretch for Triple-A Gwinnett. But thoughts of being promoted to Atlanta were clouded by the lingering discomfort that led him to undergo Tommy John surgery a couple weeks later.
While spending the past season and a half recovering and rehabbing at the team's Spring Training complex, Weigel enjoyed watching Max Fried, Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint and some of his other former Minor League teammates make their respective big league debuts.
Now healthy and looking to impress like he did in camp two years ago, Weigel is hoping he might experience his own debut at some point this year.
"It's a lot of fun watching all your boys make their debuts, but it does make you hungry," Weigel said. "You're happy for them, and I know having played with those guys in the past and seeing the success they've had, hopefully we can replicate that."