Saturday, December 10, 2016

Where Does the Braves Roster Sit Right Now?

After a number of moves, it might be confusing to know where the Braves stand right now with two months to go before pitchers-and-catchers report to camp. Let's take a look at how the roster is shaping up.

Rotation (in no particular order)
Julio Teheran
Bartolo Colon
Jaime Garcia
R.A. Dickey

In the mix: One might think Mike Foltynewicz has the fifth starter job fairly locked up after posting a 4.24 FIP/4.18 xFIP/4.13 SIERA with improved groundball rates and control lover 22 starts last season. I know I felt that way - right up until I read this article in which Braves GM John Coppolella lays down the gauntlet and says "pitch better" if you feel you are owed a chance to join the rotation.

Still, Folty has to be in the favorite to reclaim a spot in the rotation. But, if not him, who else? Well, the recent trades of John Gant, Robert Whalen, Tyrell Jenkins, and the release of Williams Perez have cleared up things to an extent. Folty's main competition looks to be Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair for the time being. Wisler was one of the guys Coppy talked about being handed a chance after a decent September 2015 finish was parlayed into him getting a rotation spot to open 2016. Over 156.2 innings, Wisler had a 4.85 FIP and 4.71 xFIP. Atlanta needs to see more and quickly. Blair was lit up over 15 starts in the majors last year. He's carried a good deal of hype as he climbed the minor league ladder, but never posted overwhelming stats to match the praise.

Other options include Josh Collmenter, who the Braves brought back on a one-year deal, and Jesse Biddle, a former top prospect for the Phillies who missed all of last year with injury. The next two star starting prospects on the cusp of joining the fray are Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims, though it would take an amazing spring for them to leapfrog into the fifth starter role.

By Keith Allison on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational
(Crop) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The Bullpen (assuming seven are kept)
Jim Johnson
Ian Krol
Arodys Vizcaino
Mauricio Cabrera

In the mix: With middle relievers getting paid handsomely this winter, the Braves have shied away from a crazy market in order to put together a collection of legitimate options along with shedding others from the mix like Chris Withrow and Ryan Weber.

Assuming, again, that there are seven total bullpen spots - right now I would include openings for three relievers - including at least one lefty. We'll get to them in a second, but there are plenty of right-handers available and one, the previously mentioned Collmenter, might already have his name in pen even if I don't do the same here. Jose Ramirez and Chaz Roe are a pair of holdovers who both struck out a small village and carry their own questions.

And then, there are the two Rule 5 guys. Recently selected Armando Rivero definitely has his foot in the door and has the pedigree. Still, the Braves want to be better than just a rebuilding team in 2017 so stashing him just to keep him is a no-go. The same applies for Daniel Winkler. It's impossible not to root for the guy after he made it all the way back from Tommy John only to have his elbow shatter during a game last April. He was looking nasty before the injury. I have not seen many updates, but the belief is he'll be ready to compete.

Luke Jackson was just acquired and has the stuff to be a high-leverage reliever in the majors. My gut says the Braves would like to work with Jackson in the minors for a little while, but he could force their hand with a big spring performance.

Shae Simmons returned for seven games last summer and will get his first chance to break camp with the Braves after being a midseason callup in 2014. At that point, he was immediately compared to Craig Kimbrel. He's not Kimbrel elite, but could be an x-factor for the 2017 bullpen. Other righties competing for a spot will be Jason Hursh, Akeel Morris, and Jordan Walden. The last name is very familiar, of course, and will try to make the roster after missing much of the last two seasons with injuries.

The left-handed side of the equation is just as crowded. Paco Rodriguez can be dominating when on the mound (2.98 FIP, 3.00 xFIP), but has thrown just 24.1 major league frames since the end of 2013. Atlanta has no idea what they have with Rodriguez at this point, but they also don't want to block him from claiming a spot. His main competition comes from Matt Marksberry and a pair of minor league signings - Eric O'Flaherty and Sam Freeman. Marksberry had a well-publicized health scare in November, but is progressing and seems like a good bet to be ready to compete this February. While his overall numbers in the majors aren't good, he has dominated lefties both in the majors and minors and if Krol continues to flash full-inning ability rather than be a LOOGY, there is room for Marksberry.

O'Flaherty was a surprise signing recently after looking terrible over 39 times last year for the Braves. To be fair, he was hurt. To be equally as fair, he hasn't been healthy since 2012. Freeman has a 4.32 FIP over 116.1 major league innings since 2012 and lefties have hurt him much more than righties.

I just mentioned 14 names battling for three spots. I could go on, too. Steve Janas, Caleb Dirks, Kyle Kinman, A.J. Minter, Bradley Roney, Adam Kolarek...

Suffice it to say, some of these guys are going to be spending time logging time with the minor league clubs this spring just to get some innings.

Catcher (assuming two)
Tyler Flowers

In the mix: To this point, the Braves have been shut out of the catcher market. Sure, they acquired Tuffy Gosewisch off waivers, but Jason Castro and Wilson Ramos have found new homes and neither are coming to Atlanta. While the market is still an option and the Braves may try to wait it out, there remains a significant chance that Gosewisch and Anthony Recker will battle it out to join Flowers on the active roster in April. At this point, there doesn't really seem to be another player in this battle.

D/ Swanson By Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken,
NJ, USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Infield (assuming seven)
Freddie Freeman
Jace Peterson
Dansby Swanson
Adonis Garcia
Sean Rodriguez

In the mix: Chase d'Arnaud had his best major league showing last year, but still on-based just .317. The bad news for him is that the Braves added Rodriguez, who essentially does everything d'Arnaud does, but better. Even with in mind, d'Arnaud has a good shot to remain if the season were to open tomorrow as one of the two backup options behind Rodriguez because he's a bit of a better option at shortstop.

Emilio Bonifacio just returned on a minor league pack, but should be avoided because Brian Snitker can't help but use him if he's around. Also in the mix is Colin Walsh, a switch-hitter who has played a lot of second base, third, and the corner outfield slots in the minors with a career .813 OPS. He only went 4-for-47 last year in his first taste of the majors, but still walked 15 times. Kyle Kubitza has 19 games of experience in The Show and a career .366 OBP in the minors, but has limited experience on the infield beyond third base.

The only other two infielders on the 40-man are Johan Camargo and Rio Ruiz. The former on-based .304 in Double-A last year and has not played above that level so let's just focus on Ruiz. The Braves would love a big spring where he pushes Garcia for playing time. Speaking of big springs, what about Ozzie Albies? The conventional wisdom is that Albies is ticketed for at least a few more months at Triple-A, but if he pushes Peterson this spring, it'll be hard not to bring him north. I don't find that likely, but it could happen.

My gut says that d'Arnaud and Ruiz are penciled in, but I also could see the Braves adding a veteran to take up one of the spots. Possibly Kelly Johnson? Well, at least until the Braves ship him off to the Mets to live with his other parents for the summer.

By Keith Allison on Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
Outfield (assuming four)
Matt Kemp
Ender Inciarte
Nick Markakis

In the mix: There are a few schools of thought on keeping Mallex Smith as a fourth outfielder. You don't want to stunt his growth and Smith has just 72 games at Triple-A over the last two years. To be fair, he has looked pretty good in those 72 games (.344 OBP). I personally like the option of keeping him on the roster. He'll get plenty of playing time spelling the aging Kemp and Markakis, you can develop him against select pitchers, he can study pitchers and their tendencies on the mound, and he gives you elite speed in a high leverage situation as a pinch runner.

The Braves' positional flexibility does mean that they don't have to carry a CF behind Inciarte. Peterson can move to center field and in a pinch, Rodriguez and d'Arnaud can as well. If they go for a non-Mallex option that's already in-house, Mel Rojas Jr. could be a surprise. After pedestrian numbers in Double-A, the son of the former Expos reliever excelled at Gwinnett over 64 games, hitting .270/.349/.491 with 10 HR and 9 steals. He had never looked that good before so don't buy in completely yet. Rojas is also a switch-hitter.

On the minor league free agent front, I mentioned Bonifacio and Walsh already. Another option is Lane Adams, a right-handed hitter, has played a lot of center field over his eight-year career. Last year, while playing for two stops in both Double-A and Triple-A, Adams hit .266/.342/.388 with 44 steals.

The veteran I mentioned above that I believe the Braves will sign to take up a bench spot might be an outfielder. Ideally, I believe the Braves would love a guy capable of playing CF even with options like Peterson around. One guy who would have to take a big pay cut is Coco Crisp, but he could make sense. Other CF-capable players include Austin Jackson and Desmond Jennings, who are both still young enough (30) to believe they could have a big year in their careers.

In summery...

The Braves positional battles look both wide open and underwhelming while the pitching battles could have too many players involved. Of course, two months give John Coppolella and the Braves' front office a lot of time to tweak and improve the roster.

What say you? Should the Braves spend big on a catcher? Should they go full-bore after a starter and take away the impression of a competition for a rotation spot? Does the bullpen need another established arm? How about the bench?

3 comments:

  1. Fifth starter: Folty+Wisler+Blair = one fifth starter; if one is succeeding, a second is learning in ATL and the third is in Gwinnett.

    Sixth starter: Collmenter who in 2017 is only 31 with a lifetime 3.50 ERA.

    Bullpen: Johnson+Vizcaino+Cabrera+Simmons = one closer with three alts, two of them learning. The other three spots may rotate ten guys, not one of them embarrassing, a few of them soon very good.

    Fourth OF: In his first year, Mallex looks a lot like Jarrod Dyson did in his first two years in KC, he'll grow in ATL.

    3B: Braves need a third big RBI bat, otherwise they die when Freeman or Kemp goes down, so Frazier would be a boon even if he hits as poorly as he did in the AL, but he likely will be better.

    2B: Sean Rodriguez 80 games at least till Ozzie is ready.

    C: Dead zone till Coppy can swing a trade of seventeen pitching prospects for one good catcher.

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  2. One factor in the bullpen discussion worth mentioning is the fact that Krol, Ramirez, and Roe are out of options, which would give them a slightly edge.

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    1. That's true. I'd say that Krol has his spot pretty much assured, but Ramirez and Roe might be kept if all things are equal because of their options situation.

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