Inbox: Soroka takes a step toward return

March 19th, 2021

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- With a little less than two weeks to go until Opening Day, the Braves still have some key decisions to make regarding their roster. Here are a few of the top questions fans are asking:

How has Soroka looked pitching?
-- @GarciaDMan
Good timing with your question. I was able to watch throw for the first time this year while he completed a simulated game on Friday afternoon. Quite honestly, he looked normal while pitching and really didn’t show any hesitance when he needed to cover first base.

Really, his only real struggle was solving rising prospect Michael Harris. The Braves' No. 11 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, crushed a couple balls against the 2019 All-Star pitcher. But we’ll get back to Harris-mania later.

Exactly when Soroka, recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, will be cleared to pitch in a game remains to be seen. He has steadily increased his effort level while running and hasn’t had any setbacks. The Braves haven’t set a timetable for his return. But it still looks like he could join Atlanta’s rotation near the end of April or during the early part of May.

When Spring Training concludes, Soroka will be lined up to start every five days at the team’s alternate training site, which will be Triple-A Gwinnett’s Coolray Field.

Do you think the Braves’ bench will be a weakness?
-- @benmarstar
It’s amazing what one move can do for a bullpen or bench. The bench seemed like a problem entering camp, but the addition of has lessened my concerns. It remains to be seen how much time Lamb sees at third base. But one way or another, he or will be available to provide some much-needed power to the bench.

I think has gotten back to the point where he could be counted on to play shortstop when necessary. If he’s not, I’ve come to be more appreciative of what could offer. If Adrianza makes the team, it will be more difficult to find a spot for or . But I’m not sure either Kipnis or Sandoval offers enough offensively to compensate for their defensive limitations.

As for backup catcher, I’ve been ’s harshest critic. Going back to when he hit all those homers in the Arizona Fall League, I’ve trusted my scout sources who said he’d never hit at the big league level. While that is true, you’ve got to give him a lot of credit for becoming a pretty good defensive catcher. You could live with him as a backup.

With that being said, I’d give the job to for the first month and then let Contreras play every day when the Triple-A season begins in May.

Who is the projected Opening Day starter?
-- @whoiscodycann
My assumption through the first few weeks of camp was they would give the honor to . I personally would give the honor to the veteran who had signed on to become the leader of a young rotation. But while that could still happen, looking at the dates leads me to think the honor will go to .

If Morton stays on regular rest over the next couple weeks, he would line up perfectly to start the April 1 opener in Philadelphia. Fried would line up to have an extra day of rest before that season opener.

So my guess is Morton will be pushed back a day next week and also make his first regular-season start with an extra day of rest.

That was a long way around for me to say, I’m now thinking they give the start to Fried, who certainly is worthy of being rewarded for all he contributed last year.

How is Drew Waters measuring up with Michael Harris on his heels?
-- @JGaddy4
When I initially read this question, my plan was to say, “It’s time to pump the brakes on Harris.” But then I watched him lace a couple Soroka pitches and show above-average plate discipline Friday against one of the game’s top young pitchers.

We need to remember Harris has played just 53 games above the high school level. At the same time, when we see his tremendous talent, it’s important to remember he is at this level, despite having played just 53 pro games.

However you cut it, Harris needs to be given a chance to experience some natural development by working his way up through the Minor Leagues. He has the potential to be one of the game’s fastest-rising prospects this year. And if he does continue to impress, then maybe the Braves can begin to think seriously about how he might fit in their plans in 2022 or ’23.

How does this affect ? Well, additional outfield depth could create the comfort needed to make a trade. I’m not sure if now is the time to think along those lines.

Waters, the organization’s No. 3 prospect, has tremendous potential. Until he produces more power and is more consistent from the right side of the plate, I’m not sure the Braves would get the value they would seek in a trade. He totaled just 16 stolen bases and homered once every 75.3 at-bats while playing at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2019.