We’re now just over one week until opening day in Washington, and the Braves have been busy making changes to their spring training roster. Having started with 66 players in major league camp, they’re now down to 42, with a few surprising cuts. Here’s how spring training’s key battles are shaping out.
Who will begin the year as Atlanta’s fifth starter?
Before the start of spring training, it seemed like this spot would go to one of Ian Anderson, Bryce Elder or Michael Soroka, with the rest of the names making up the numbers in camp. As it happened, Soroka’s hamstring sidelined him until today (Wednesday), and both Anderson and Elder were recently sent to minor league camp after a deeply underwhelming spring, where they finished with ERAs of 6.14 and 6.17, respectively. Either might be reselected before the Braves’ fifth start on April 5, but for now, it looks like the Braves will run with the hot hand and call on either Jared Shuster or Dylan Dodd for the job.
Jared Shuster is the Braves’ number one prospect – albeit in a depleted farm system – and has performed brilliantly thus far. He’s pitched 12.2 innings over four games and has given up just two walks and one run on a solo dinger to Bryan Reynolds. He seems to be living up to his billing as a former first-round selection, as his fastball is up a tick from last year, and he’s showing excellent command of the strike zone.
Dylan Dodd seems to be the other starter with a shot at the roster. The Braves’ number 13 prospect has also only given up one run this spring, with 15 strikeouts and two walks over a total of 13 innings. This performance has come slightly earlier than most predicted, with Dodd having only pitched 53 innings in Double-A or Triple-A before this year. Still, his jumpy fastball has Braves brass talking, and depending on the outcome of his next couple of spring outings, he might end up taking the mound for the Atlanta team for the fifth start of the year in St Louis.
Who will start out in left field?
Spring has been a mixed bag for the left fielders so far, which might mean the front office will have some tough decisions to make. Two of the new recruits who I covered in my previous article, Sam Hilliard and Eli White, have had strong showings so far with OBPs of .429 and .500, respectively. It looks like White has the edge, though – he has displayed some pop that he hasn’t really shown before in his career, hitting two doubles, a triple and three home runs in just 28 at-bats, whereas Hilliard has displayed a troubling 36.6% strikeout rate. Kevin Pillar has also played admirably across all three outfield spots – and as a righty, he might be an attractive platoon option, as Rosario, Hilliard, and Michael Harris II are all lefties.
Marcell Ozuna also seems to have improved on last year, though maybe not to the extent needed to make the roster – he’s still a defensive black hole in left field, and at this point, the biggest thing tying him to the roster is his $32m of guaranteed money over the next two seasons. Unfortunately, the same (but with less money involved) might be said for Eddie Rosario – despite him saying that his vision was back to normal after his issues last year, he’s had 28 at-bats spread across spring training and the World Baseball Classic, amassing a paltry four hits and one walk for an OBP of .166. There were some early positive comments from the Braves’ camp about Rosario, but he might have a shorter leash than it seemed at the start of camp, given how well White and Hilliard have played.
If I had to guess, I think that fifth start spot will go to Jared Shuster, at least for the time being – and if we pencil in Rosario as the starter (albeit with a shorter leash than originally thought), both Hilliard and Pillar might have played well enough to bump Ozuna out of the team as the fourth outfielder and DH option. While Eli White has slightly outperformed all of them, he still has minors options left – and he might sit at Gwinnett for a while to give the front office a little more time to make their judgments.
BREAKING NEWS UPDATE:
The headline move in the latest round of reassignments is Vaughn Grissom’s surprise demotion to Triple-A. Most had him locked into the starting spot at shortstop, but it looks like he needs some more seasoning in the minors. While his glove was the main question mark in the majors, even at second base – it was thought he’d learn on the job under the tutelage of Ron Washington. As it is, it’s now Orlando Arcia’s job for the foreseeable future, with Ehire Adrianza as the utility infielder. Watch out for Grissom also getting time at left field in Gwinnett, where his path to the majors might be clearer.
Otherwise, all three pitchers fighting it out for the fifth spot are still in major league camp, while Eli White and Jordan Luplow have both been optioned to Triple-A. That seems to indicate that left field will be a Rosario/Pillar platoon, with Hilliard on the bench and with Ozuna as the DH. It’s a tough break for White, who has been fantastic in spring – but if he shows that his power has progressed over a larger sample size at Triple-A, it seems a given that he’ll be back up at some point this year when the need arises.
Featured image of Eddie Rosario by Getty Images.
Charlie Deeks is the Atlanta Braves correspondent on Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @Omashaft!