ATLANTA -- As the Braves prepare to open Spring Training next week, their most intriguing roster battles center around who will fill the final spots in the rotation and bullpen. There's also that lingering question about how early Ronald Acuna Jr. might be promoted to the Major Leagues.Plenty could change
ATLANTA -- As the Braves prepare to open Spring Training next week, their most intriguing roster battles center around who will fill the final spots in the rotation and bullpen. There's also that lingering question about how early Ronald Acuna Jr. might be promoted to the Major Leagues.
Plenty could change before the Braves open the regular season with a March 29 game against the Phillies at SunTrust Park. Based on the current conditions, here is a look at how the Opening Day roster might look.
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Catcher (2): Tyler Flowers, Kurt Suzuki
With Flowers and Suzuki sharing the position last year, Braves catchers led MLB in wRC+ and fWAR. It remains to be seen how they will split time this year. But barring the possibility either is included in a trade, it's safe to assume they will once again open the season as Atlanta's catchers.
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First base (1): Freddie Freeman
Freeman underwent LASIK surgery this winter, and more importantly, he regained strength in his left wrist, which he fractured in May. If there is a need to rest the potential National League Most Valuable Player Award candidate, the Braves may turn to one of the versatile options available on what will likely be a short bench.
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Second base (1): Ozzie Albies
Albies had a 112 wRC+ in the 244 plate appearances he compiled after debuting in August. MLB.com's Mike Petriello pointed out the only other players 20 years old or younger to do so within the past 30 years were Michael Trout, Bryce Harper (twice), Carlos Correa, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Jason Heyward and Rafael Devers.
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Shortstop (1): Dansby Swanson
Swanson showed better plate coverage and discipline over last season's final two months, and the Braves are holding out hope he'll prove much more productive with both the bat and glove this year. If a change is needed at some point, Johan Camargo would likely serve as the team's shortstop.
Third Base (1): Camargo
The Braves have toyed with the idea of adding a third baseman. But with Todd Frazier now with the Mets, there's seemingly even more reason to give Camargo a chance to prove what he could do as an everyday player over the course of an entire season. He's been the organization's top defensive infielder since Andrelton Simmons' departure, and as he has physically matured, he has enhanced his offensive potential.
Utility (3): Preston Tucker, Charlie Culberson, Danny Santana
The Braves have two off-days in the first eight days of the season, so they might opt to carry one less pitcher during this stretch. But for a majority of the season, they'll likely go with an eight-man bullpen and four-man bench.
One of those bench spots will go to the backup catcher and another will likely be given to one member of the left-field platoon, which will probably be filled by right-handed-hitting Lane Adams and the left-handed-hitting Tucker. Culberson is out of options and seems to be a better choice than Christian Colon to serve as the primary backup infielder. Santana will come to camp as a non-roster invitee, but his versatility and switch-hitting power potential seemingly make him a favorite for a bench spot.
Outfielders (3): Adams, Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis
While Acuna will do all he can to make the decision difficult, barring the provision of a contract that would extend beyond his arbitration-eligible seasons, it seems like a no-brainer to keep the highly touted outfielder in the Minors for a couple weeks to gain an extra year of control. Once Acuna arrives, he'll likely serve as a left fielder; left field is much more cavernous than right at SunTrust Park. The 20-year-old phenom could move to right if the Braves opt to trade Markakis at some point this season.
Rotation (5): Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Brandon McCarthy, Luiz Gohara, Sean Newcomb
Teheran, Foltynewicz and McCarthy have been mentioned as the only essential locks for a rotation spot. Gohara has just five starts under his belt, but the impression he left makes him a favorite to be on the Opening Day roster. Newcomb won't be provided any guarantees as he attempts to show he has improved his command, but he has an edge over Max Fried, who could seemingly benefit from the development time he lost after being called up to the Majors in August.
Bullpen (8): Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter, Jose Ramirez, Sam Freeman, Dan Winkler, Lucas Sims, Rex Brothers, Aaron Blair
Vizcaino, Minter and Ramirez will once again serve as the primary late-inning options. Freeman struggled in 2016, but last year's numbers were similar enough to what he did in '14 and '15 to believe he's capable of extending his success. Winkler has impressed during his brief time at the big league level, and Brothers' numbers against lefties were promising enough that he could be used as a specialist. Sims seems to be a favorite to be used as a long option. The final spot could go to a number of different candidates, including Chase Whitley, who would be another long relief option. But I'll give the nod to Blair, who lost about 30 pounds this offseason and seems primed to prove he can still live up to his once-promising potential.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.