Grading the Chances for the Spring Training Invitees

Grading the Chances for the Spring Training Invitees

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
Kyle Wright | Jeff Morris – @JeffMorrisAB

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
Austin Riley prepares to swing during the 2016 fall instructional league.
Austin Riley | Jeff Morris @JeffMorrisAB

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.


I’m more interested in seeing how The Bullpen develops/works itself out during Spring Training. The Braves have a lot of arms (especially young arms…and that’s not including the high ceiling starting pitching prospects I’ve touched on time and time again, lol) that they’ve acquired in the past couple of years. Bullpen arms are such a crapshot (teams go through them even more than they go through starting pitchers). It’s tough to predict who can stay effective/healthy long term.

Of the non-roster invitees, I think that Josh Graham (along with non-invitees Corbin Clouse and Devan Watts) have the best chance of being impact bullpen pieces towards the last part of 2018/beginning of 2019.

No Danny Santana, please!!! I can’t believe that neither Tucker nor Peterson would be better on the bench. I’ve got to believe that Peterson will be fully recovered from the hamate and will be on a mission to prove last year was a fluke. I’d also be horrified if Socolovich gets a roster spot… shudder…..

I don’t think Socolovich has much of a shot, but I have this feeling about Santana. It’s the same one I had about Bonifacio last winter. It’s just too easy. He can play all over and it’s a short bench. Keeping a player like Santana is not the worst thing – if you have some hitters to go to.

I wouldn’t mind Peterson if he’s back to raking. Just see the team valuing versatility over performance. Sadly enough.

Tommy…did you ever find out why The Braves released Matt Custred? Dude had some good numbers in 2017 at Rome. In 38 2/3rd innings..he only gave up 19 hits, struck out 48, walked 15 with an ERA of 1.16.

WTF, lol? I know that he’s 24, but why not promote him to Double A and try and fast track him a little in 2018? I dont get it!

Not a clue. Also don’t know why they just released Landon Hughes after one summer. I will say because minor leaguers get paid so little, maybe he had a better job lined up. That’s why I assume Troy Conyers, another recent draftee, was released. Guy has a marketing degree. Why make peanuts for half of the year?

Tommy….I understand that these guys dont make shit in The Minors. However I also know that most of them dream of making The Majors. Unless he was having arm problems…I dont understand why he would quit after putting up the numbers he did last year.

I just checked out Conyers numbers. Only 14 innings..but pretty impressive numbers too.

That’s two live arms with swing and miss potential. It wasnt like they were 29-30 years old, stuck in Class A ball! Only 2 years since drafted for Custred, while only 1 year for Conyers.

Little confusing here.

Regarding Conyers. His minor league player profile says he’s of “Voluntarily Retired List” status.

As for Custred, it says he signed with the Angels a couple of days ago. Obviously Custred still has the desire to keep playing, so family reasons or steady career is kind of out of it. He’s from Texas, so it’s clearly not location either. Perhaps the injuries plus some other unforeseen variable was taken into consideration in his release. Although you’d normally hate to assume something of someone you don’t know, perhaps there were personality issues at play. Could’ve been hard to coach, or a bad teammate or just simply had issues with attendance and was made an example out of. The lack of details certainly does not stop one from drawing a conclusion on their own.

Yeah, I misspoke about Conyers. His retirement is why I brought up his marketing degree.

In regards to Custred, it reminds me to some degree of Jorge Zavala. He dominated the opposition from 2014-15. The Braves surprisingly released him at the end of camp and he lands with the Brewers. Presumably, he gets hurt because he spends a few months with them and is released in the summer of 2016. He has not pitched since. It was shocking to see Zavala released because he was beginning to look like a good prospect. A few years later, no one even remembers him. It’s also surprising to see Custred and Hughes get released. Chances are we won’t remember them in a couple of years either.

I fear you’re probably right about Santana, Tommy. And here comes my mini tangent…

I don’t understand the Braves’ love affair with these Bonifacio/Santana types, or the eight man bullpen. If you’re going to build your team around pitching, trust it, and condition these guys to pitch more than five innings. Furthermore, as a club you can’t cheat yourself out of opportunities to win games late by having so little in the way of PH options.

I hate, hate, hate, hate this team building style that’s so prevalent in the game today with all of the analytics- and I see it’s markings on this roster. I’m not saying there’s not a place for that type of thing in the game, but there’s also something to be said for the old way, too.


If I may inquire, regarding Bonifacio/Santana and their “type”–which I assume is light-hitting utility types whose only legitimate value is versatility–and also your comment about how you dislike the new style of roster building including analytics, etc. wishing how things were done in the old school way.

What exactly about Bonifacio/Santana do you feel is analytics driven? If anything, I feel those types of players are old school more so than analytics choices. The old school frame of thinking is “Boy, we need one of them versatile types who can play anywhere in a tight spot.” I’d think the analytics view of this wouldn’t care so much that Player A can play everywhere except catcher. Analytics, at least my view of it, would care more that Player A is a capable positive contributor both off the bench and potentially in a short-term extended/expanded role until a longerterm replacement is installed.

The reason I feel this way is because guys like Boner and DanSan have been on Braves rosters for ages. Their common links are that they all provide versatility in a pinch off the bench–mostly including middle infield experience. Chris Woodward, Brandon Hicks/Diory Hernandez, Ramiro Pena, Jack Wilson, Paul Janish. Remember Jesse Garcia? Heck, even Rafael Belliard was kept around simply because he played shortstop. Sure, we can further discuss this strategy leading to Omar Infante…but one can certainly look at Infante and ponder if he just needed a change of scenery, some time and the right opportunity.

My opinion is that analytics will find you a hitter from a pool of players capable of playing a certain position. It’ll find you a Greg Norton. Or a Brooks Conrad. Perhaps even a Matt Diaz. Guys who can pinch-hit, play a game here or there, but shouldn’t be overly exposed in starting roles. Then once in a while, analytics will find you a Martin Prado–a guy not everyone was very high on. A guy who just kept hitting. A guy who has impeccable work-ethic and turned himself into an adequate defender at 2B, a solid defender at 3B and an oustanding defender in LF. A guy who even managed to play an almost adequate shortstop for a time as well. All while still hitting the damned cover off the ball.

Anyway….as I said, I’m just curious what it is about the Bonifacio’s and Danny Santana’s of the world that you feel is an analytics-driven decision and exactly what it is that you consider an old school sort of choice for the bench.

I have to agree with Bryce here. I look at the game with an analytics point-of-view and my thinking of why Santana will be on the team comes from the belief that Snitker – a non-analytics guy – would want that. Personally, I want offense first, versatility second. My thinking is that you are automatically going to lose offensively (most of the time) when you start a bench player over a regular. After all, they are bench players for a reason. I want the more offensively-talented player so I can attempt to negate that loss as much as possible. I don’t see Santana as a reasonable option from an analytics perspective.

I also want a five-man bench and have yet to understand why the organization seems fixated on a bigger bullpen especially when, in a pinch, their manager will use the same three or four pitchers in medium-to-high leverage situations.

My fault for the way I worded that post, but I was actually speaking to two different things.

You’re correct, my reference to the Santana/Bonifacio type was in regard to the light hitting, versatility driven player type. I know that’s not specifically an analytically driven thing, as many teams do it, and have done it. On an AL squad, I can actually see the value in it. I feel like it’s crippling for an NL squad though, especially with a short bench.

So, hypothetically, let’s say our bench is Adams, Santana, Culberson and one of Flowzuki. Santana can’t hit, which puts us a PH short. You probably also don’t want to burn the second catcher, in case of emergency. That puts us two PH down. It also leaves the team with two RH PH options off the bench, and no lefty to go to.

Now the short bench, with the eight man pen is where I have a HUGE issue with analytics. I feel like the emphasis on bullpens and match ups is too great now. Push the load back to the starters, and let pitchers face multiple batters. If the club was going with a 5 man bench, carrying a Danny Santana type isn’t as crippling.

Something to ponder is if Braves are truly going to a 4-man bench, Culberson, Lane, and Zook already make up 3 of the spots. IMO, there’s no one on the current list of invites/internal options that fits as the 4th spot. Braves really need a good versatile bench hitter off the bench.

It should be Markakis (and Camargo). Trade for Brett Phillips (and hopefully Travis Shaw) and put Markakis (and Camargo) on the bench as a versatile Util/PH (Culberson can be on standby at Gwinnett).

Plus that leaves us free to start Markakis as long as we need to to manage Acuna’s service time. Markakis is a LH and Adams is a RH and Camargo is a SW. It’s perfect.

For those of you who get HELLA ANNOYED with me constantly REPEATING that ‘The Braves simply have TOO MANY QUESTIONS going into 2018 that need answering…to be serious contenders for a playoff spot/that if a number of things happen, that it will make sense to make the kind of moves I’ve been proposing during The 2018 Free Agent Offseason’…….I suggest that you read AA’s comments from yesterday’s Fan Fest:

“We’re the Atlanta Braves[.] The major league team is what runs this whole place. Let’s be real. We’re not here to be ranked No. 1 in Baseball America.”

“It’s tough sometimes because the offseason is so long and you want to improve your team. You keep looking at the same list of the same players.

You can talk yourself into things and make a mistake. Being able to stay disciplined and not be rash or impulsive is challenging.”

“We’re young, and there’s no way of getting around that[.] We need a lot of things to break right. But there an upside to the roster, too. A year from now you can pin me down a little better about the season.”

NOTICE that AA stated “We need a lot of things to break right”….AND……”A year from now, you can pin me down a little better about the season”.

I’ve been harping on those two things all winter! As much as many of you CRAVE seeing a winner in 2018 (it is like I ‘get pleasure’ on seeing The Braves probably losing for a 5th consecutive year). However a huge mistake would be denying reality!

AA is ABSOLUTELY RIGHT…we simply have TOO MANY QUESTIONS that need answering…that a number of things need to break right. However, he’s also correct that one year from now, he will know what he needs to know…when it comes to what he needs to do once The 2018 Season ends!

With the young players having one more year of development/advancement…along with the HELLA payroll flexibility that we’ll have once The 2018 Season ends….the smart thing to do is simply WAIT!

AA must be reading my posts on here! He didnt put TD, DP nor Tyler Pike on The Rule 5 Draft…he got rid of Kemp without adding ANY of our prospects to entice a team to acquire Kemp (ironically, it looks like The Dodgers are going to have to attach some prospects IF they want to trade Kemp….if they dont, they will end up releasing him outright)….now AA’s words yesterday seem to MIMIC what i’ve been saying on here!

I’ll be waiting for my props! I’m going to play a poker tournament in about an hour…I hope I’ll run good and wont be able to come on here until LATER TONIGHT. I ‘expect’ to have lots of ‘pats on the back’ in the comment section here by then! Have a nice day guys!

It’s pretty damn easy to say “do nothing” and then say you’re right. Everyone in the world wanted to move Kemp without giving up prospects only we didn’t think it was possible. You have done nothing to prove your prognostication capability. Moves like the one I suggested sacrifice NOTHING. You are looking at getting two young, controllable players just like any prospects we have now (Phillps/Shaw) who would not detract from the youth or potential of the team or farm. Trading an equal value for these makes the Braves better by distributing the prospect capabilities better. You have no idea that AA is not just spouting platitudes until he finds the right deal to make. Any GM other than AA would likely not have been able to make the Kemp deal – he had inside info which makes dealing a lot easier. The worst part is that you don’t realize that we all know the same information you do and know the capabilities of both the ML roster and the farm and still believe that the Braves should try to win this year with the least impact possible to the future. If the Brewers would take Teheran, Sims, Blair/Wisler, Ruiz (and maybe a higher level prospect like Muller, if that’s what it takes) for Phillips/Shaw then it would make the Braves and the Brewers more competitive (especially if Ruiz gets better). Now the Brewers might not take that deal but there is a deal out there that they would make that would not damage the Braves farm at all. Just like the Marlins wanted too much for Yelich and the deal rightfully was not made, the Brewers might be willing to accept something reasonable. They are currently hoping to get an overpay on Santana but may not be able to get it.

I just read about that interview, too, and there was also this tidbit…

“Anthopoulos still is deciding whether to go into the season with Johan Camargo as the starting third baseman, and he would like to improve the bullpen. ”

There are very likely moves to be made so any one of our ideas may be a useful proposal. If they pull off a Markakis trade then an additional OF may be necessary.

Roger…I dont think that either Phillips or Shaw really does anything for The Braves. I’ve done a little research on both, I’m not really impressed with either. I feel that trading Teheran right now would be a ‘getting pennies on the dollars’ kind of trade (because of his year last year). Teheran is only 26 years old. It isnt like 1. he’s never had success…2. that he’s ‘too old’ to make improvement. I feel that while Teheran is a likely rebound candidate this season….he should be traded IF the right offer presents itself by The Trade Deadline (NOT for the likes of Phillips and/or Shaw).

Nor do I want to see Kyle Muller moved for either. Phillips and Shaw BOTH strike out a lot and have done little to suggest that either can sustain a long term productive MLB career.

I totally understand about AA not being ‘thrilled’ with our 2018 3rd base options. However, unless Frazier or Moustakis are willing to take a 1 year deal to sign with Atlanta…I do not see AA making any kind of signing beyond that! AA is either going to go with Riley in 2019 OR make a push to sign Machado (we’ll have the payroll flexibility to do that)!

Machado is a shortstop now so don’t even consider it. Striking out is not a major concern. Phillips brings outstanding defense as does Shaw. Phillips has 20/20 potential while Shaw is more a 30/100 guy which the Braves need badly. You can’t really be serious thinking that they do not improve the Braves even long term. Both have many years of control and are cheap and, after all, that’s your first priority. Teheran is a good pit her and that’s why he has enough value to headline this trade but he is basically expendable with all the other talent coming up. Further, the best player to shoot for in next year’s market is Kershaw so trading Teheran opens up that possibility. Phillips (at #12 on the Brewers prospects) is likely equivalent to Muller, but, since the Brwers want ML pitching Teheran is needed and they would have to sacrifice Shaw. Some of the others are ML ready relief/swing candidates and could be enticing for that purpose and Ruiz is a replacement 3B candidate. This would be a win/win for both teams with the Braves giving up only one prospect of minor significance. Maybe the Brewers don’t go for it and the Braves don’t make the trade but I presume AA will try to do something along these lines. Remember, none of us wants to make a bad deal and none of us wants to decimate the farm. The Braves have a lot of possibilities to improve the roster THIS year and they have a responsibility to the fan base to do. By the way, Frazier or Moustakas on a 2-year deal with a team option for a third would be just fine, too. By the way, did you see that Duensing took $3M less to stay with the Cubs rather than sign with the A’s? Like I’ve been saying, you have to win first to be attractive to the good FAs.

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