The Braves did something today. That is – quite frankly – shocking in this offseason that is currently known as, “Well, we traded Matt Kemp. That’s something.” While Atlanta didn’t make a move for Christian Yelich or sign Lorenzo Cain, they did announce their non-roster invitees for spring training. The 21 players represent a variety of the top minor league signings this winter, top prospects, and Danny Santana.
Before we get to those players, let’s take another look at the roster as it stands right now. The starting rotation appears to be fairly set. Veterans Brandon McCarthy and Julio Teheran will be joined by Mike Foltynewicz. Lefties Luiz Gohara and Sean Newcomb have the inside track for the other two spots with another lefty, Scott Kazmir, a darkhorse if he can prove to the Braves he has anything left. When he was acquired, Chase Whitley was also a name that entered the discussion as a possibility. Fresh off their 2017 debuts, Max Fried and Lucas Sims, are also in the game. Especially Fried, who impressed a lot of onlookers in the Arizona Fall League.
The bullpen is, well, a bit hectic. It could be very good. It could be the opposite of good. As in, bad. I prefer the former. We do know that, if healthy, Arodys Vizcaino will likely be the closer. He’ll be joined by A.J. Minter, Jose Ramirez, Dan Winkler, and Sam Freeman. Rex Brothers, Josh Ravin, and Whitley seem like good bets right now to provide innings even if they aren’t quality ones. On the other hand, Jacob Lindgren is an x-factor if healthy. Rule 5 pick, Anyelo Gomez, could also be a big force. Starting pitchers like Fried, Sims, and Kazmir could find themselves in the bullpen where guys like Shane Carle will also try to impress the Braves.
Behind the plate, the Braves are set with Flowzuki (Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki). I also think they are okay at first base. Freddie Freeman is a decent option. There exist just two reasons that Ozzie Albies won’t be at second base when the season opens. I refuse to visit the idea of an injury, but of course, things happen. The other reason – he’s at shortstop, where he will likely get some looks this spring while Dansby Swanson also plays some second. However they are arranged, they will be the opening day double play duo short of one of them being hurt. Third base is up for grabs, but right now, Johan Camargo has the inside track.
We know the players for the outfield – Ronald Acuna, Ender Inciarte, and Nick Markakis. We just don’t know if the Braves will play the service time game with Acuna. I hate it, but it’s the most logical option.
As for the bench, joining the non-starting half of Flowzuki will be Charlie Culberson. That’s about all we know for sure. The Braves seem convinced that an eight-man bullpen is necessary. That leaves room for just a four-man bench. One of those names will likely be either Lane Adams or Preston Tucker. The only other option on the 40-man roster is Rio Ruiz, who doesn’t provide much defensive flexibility.
Now that we are up to speed, let’s look at the non-roster guys position-by-position and try to judge their chances to make the roster. I classified those chances into three categories. First, we have the “Not Bloody Likely.” These are players who are around either for just the experience or because they are a catcher who gives the Braves pitchers someone to throw the ball to. Second, there are some players who are “Meh, Maybe.” Players in this section have a chance, but not a very good one. Finally, we have the “Get Them A Respectable Number.” These are the guys who have a real good shot at making the roster should they produce when others don’t.
Also, I’ll include some notable omissions. Not every player who lands on the 25-man roster that opens the year even get invited to camp. With that in mind, don’t be surprised if someone impresses the Braves too much to send him down.
Not Bloody Likely: Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, and Kyle Wright
Notable Omissions: Manny Barreda, Wes Parsons, Touki Toussaint
For the trio of Allard, Soroka, and Wright, the 2018 Spring Camp is more about the experience and less about making their mark. Don’t get me wrong – these are important innings for them. Each time they set down the opposition, they’ll take one more step closer to the majors. It’s about making Brian Snitker and Alex Anthopoulos excited by the prospect of seeing them pitch at Suntrust Park rather than continue to hone their craft against Toledo or Pensacola. Toussaint, who was omitted, would have been in a similar position. I doubt Barreda or Parsons would have climbed above the “Not Bloody Likely” area, but I was a little surprised they didn’t receive an invite simply because I consider them a bit more than just Triple-A arms.
Meh, Maybe: Luke Jackson, Phil Pfeifer, Miguel Socolovich
Not Bloody Likely: Josh Graham
Notable Omissions: Corbin Clouse, Caleb Dirks, Devan Watts, Jacob Webb
With a wealth of options already on the 40-man roster – including many of those after a rotation spot – it’s not too surprising to see just a few options receive non-roster invites. Jackson was on the 40-man roster when the offseason began and was recently designated for assignment. Though he possesses a big-time fastball, his strikeout numbers were abysmal last year and saddled with his always questionable control, that was not good for anyone. He’ll look to bounce back with some adjustments in 2018.
Speaking of control issues, Pfeifer’s got ’em. He also has a career strikeout rate of 29%. He’s going to have to throw enough strikes this spring and the left-hand side of the bullpen is deep, but Pfeifer’s a name to watch. Socolovich has 70 games in the majors with only a little success. He has control, but does he have an out pitch? Finally, former Oregon Duck Josh Graham has some good numbers since he was picked in the fourth round in 2015. He also has upper-90’s heat and a good slider that is often swung over or weakly hit into the ground. I like him, but not for the opening day roster this season.
Clouse is a bit of a surprise since he was in the Arizona Fall League. He’s in a similar boat as Pfeifer, but with less experience. Durable until last season, Dirks may still be working through whatever injuries set him back in 2017. Watts was superb last season with Florida and Mississippi and despite just 82.1 innings of professional experience, he could definitely pitch his way onto the Braves with his mix of hard stuff that he throws low in the zone with excellent control. Oh, yeah, that control nugget again. Webb’s control is suspect, but he’s another guy who strikes out a small village.
Meh, Maybe: Rob Brantly
Not Bloody Likely: William Contreras, Alex Jackson, Tyler Marlette, Kade Scivicque
Notable Omissions: Brett Cumberland, Lucas Herbert
Brantly likely enters camp #3 on the depth chart and could be on the major league roster should a spot open up because of injury. He hit .290 in a limited sample in the majors last year with a .905 OPS but has just a .628 OPS in 428 PA in the bigs during his career. Despite that, with his experience, I imagine he is hanging behind Flowzuki as the next in line.
If everything goes to plan, he’ll be in Triple-A with Scivicque. The former Tigers farmhand didn’t look so good in 2017, but the Braves don’t have a lot of playing time available in Double-A for Scivicque to figure out things there. That playing time will probably go to Jackson, who the Braves hope to see a lot of advancement from defensively in the second year since returning to the position. You’ll probably see Marlette with him. A regular in the Southern League before Seattle moved their Double-A franchise, Marlette can pop a few homers and has a decent glove.
As for Contreras, love the fact he received an invite after the season he had. He’ll get a chance to impress the Braves before heading to the minor league camp and Rome to begin the season. Herbert and Cumberland likely will be in Florida, though Cumberland’s star will fall some if he is indeed an outfielder as expected. However, he’ll have a chance to progress quicker in the system if he is an outfielder. I’m surprised Herbert didn’t get an invite simply because he’s a great handler for pitchers.
Meh, Maybe: Christian Colon
Not Bloody Likely: Ray-Patrick Didder, Sean Kazmar, Austin Riley
Notable Omissions: Travis Demeritte
Christian Colon hasn’t had much of a major league career to speak of – .252/.315/.315 in 386 PA – but can play some fairly solid defense around the infield. Unfortunately for him, the Braves acquired Culberson. Short of an injury to Culberson or some out-of-his-mind play from Colon, his chances aren’t great. However, they are better than Didder, Kazmar, and Riley.
Didder is a surprise considering the .316 wOBA he put up for Florida last season. After nearly two years of playing the outfield only, Didder got some games at second and short last year as the Braves seek to push a utility player title on him. Kazmar…I mean…he’s around and stuff. He did break double digits in homers last year for the first time in over a decade. He’s likely ticketed for a sixth year in Gwinnett. Riley is a rising prospect and he took some great strides last year, but he won’t be able to rely on a .393 BABIP for very long. However, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him in the majors by August.
Surprisingly omitted from the 40-man roster earlier this winter, Demeritte didn’t even receive an invite. He had a tough year, but there exists some hope that if his power stroke returns, he could be in the mix during 2018.
Get Them A Respectable Number: Ronald Acuna, Danny Santana
Meh, maybe: Jaff Decker, Dustin Peterson
Not Bloody Likely: Cristian Pache
You know the story with Acuna – best prospect in baseball, Keith Law invoked the name “Mike Trout” when talking about him, and he’s potential franchise cornerstone in the making. You also may know that the Braves have to be considering the Kris Bryant treatment. In 2015, after crushing Double-A and Triple-A the previous season, Bryant started the season back in Triple-A as the Cubs played the service time game. A couple weeks later, he was brought up after missing just a few games. Three years and 21.6 fWAR later, the Cubs still have four years of team control. It only makes too much sense to do the same with Acuna, but if Atlanta doesn’t, the only way he’s not on the opening day roster is if something unthinkable happens (injury, woeful production).
And yes, I think Danny Santana has a great shot to make this roster. I base that on two things. First, if Acuna DOES start the year in Gwinnett, Santana has the utility player function nailed down. Second, even if Acuna is in Atlanta, are the Braves going to go with a bench of Culberson, Adams, Tucker, and half of Flowzuki? I don’t see it. Santana has more flexibility and seems like a more likely fit. I’m not advocating for it, though.
By the way, what kind of name is Jaff? In 191 PA, Decker has a .238 wOBA. He’s got enough speed and with any BABIP luck, could find a role in the majors with his plate discipline. However, I’m not counting on it. Peterson had a horrendous season after a broken hamate injury in camp, but the Braves appear willing to give him a chance to impress. In 2016, Peterson broke out with a .356 wOBA. With Markakis in the fold, Peterson could learn on the job as a platoon player/pinch hitter. However, again, on a short bench, that might be too taxing on the rest of the bench to be flexible.
Finally, there’s Pache. He’s great. He’s also not ready for prime time. This gives him a chance to work out with the big boys and learn from them before heading down.
Of course, the roster will go through changes before opening day. Players will be acquired that will help shape this team beyond what we are looking at today. That said, I can only grade what I see. What do you think? Believe I’m underestimating one of the guys who received an invite? Let me know below.