With Opening Day still a little more than three weeks away, here are some of the top questions surrounding the Braves, who are bidding to win a fourth consecutive National League East title.
With Mark Melancon and Shane Greene not on this year’s roster, who is the top closing option?
Will Smith might end up drawing a majority of the save opportunities, but Chris Martin could find himself being used as the Braves' closer in certain situations this season. Martin was very good against right-handers last year, and Smith has dominated left-handed hitters each of the past four seasons.
While the Braves haven’t defined anybody has their closer, Smith was successful in 34 of 38 save opportunities for the Giants in 2019. Martin might be also be capable of getting those final three outs, but I’d bank on manager Brian Snitker leaning much more heavily on the guy who has successfully handled the role in the past.
If the designated hitter comes back next year, who do you see filling the projected opening in left field?
This certainly depends on what this season has in store for Drew Waters, who is likely going to need to spend at least a few months at the Triple-A level. If Waters starts to show a little more power and consistency from the right side of the plate, he could put himself in position to be the favorite to begin the 2022 season as Atlanta’s left fielder.
If Waters takes the next step to join Cristian Pache and Ronald Acuña Jr. in Atlanta’s outfield, the Braves would gain some much-welcomed financial flexibility in a year during which Acuña’s salary will jump to $15 million and both Max Fried and Mike Soroka could gain sizeable raises via arbitration.
Is there any possibility we will see Mike Soroka during Spring Training?
It sounds like Soroka could be ready to make at least one start before the Braves head north for the start of the regular season. But whether he pitches in a Grapefruit League game or in an intrasquad game on one of the back fields remains to be seen.
Snitker said Soroka will throw at least one more live batting practice session before he is cleared to pitch in a game. The 23-year-old hurler’s surgically repaired right Achilles appears to be structurally sound, but there are concerns that he could sustain other leg injuries if he pushes himself too hard, too fast.
Who leaves camp as the backup catcher?
As Snitker recently said, “Trey Harris’ bat will get him to the big leagues.”
The 25-year-old also improved enough defensively to make one think he could become a valuable utility player for many years to come.
Given that Michael Harris has played just 53 games as a professional, it’s harder to project his career path. But the 19-year-old has shown he has the tools to be something special. He drew the attention of Nick Markakis while at the team’s alternate training site last season and has continued to impress the big league coaches, many of whom hadn’t seen him before a few weeks ago.
When it comes to prospects, higher upside is usually going to garner more attention. But the love being shown Michael Harris shouldn’t take away from the fact Trey Harris could too have a successful big league career.
Do you think Cristian Pache will switch to No. 25?
I know you are just messing around. But if you didn’t see it, here is the story I wrote last year about why the Braves should retire Andruw Jones’ number.
What is your favorite Spring Training meal/place to eat?
It’s going to be hard to find a better place than Celebration Town Tavern was while the Braves trained at Disney. But the early favorites in the North Port, Fla., area are Lock 'N Key (seafood) and Nicola’s Italian Kitchen.