Sure, the Atlanta Braves' starting lineup and rotation are almost written in stone, but not all the spots on the 25-man Opening Day roster have been secured. As a result, the contests at some individual positions could prove to be more interesting than the spring training games themselves.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown.
Probable: Julio Teheran
Other contenders: David Hale, Cristhian Martinez
In all likelihood, there is no real battle here yet. The fifth spot is almost certainly Teheran’s to lose, since the Braves are very high on him and don’t want him to spend a fourth season at AAA Gwinnett.
Martinez has proven himself in long relief and some spot starts, though, and could be called upon in case of injury. Also, Brandon Beachy is due back around the All-Star break, which will no doubt push someone out of the rotation.
Probable: Luis Avilan, Cory Gearrin, Anthony Varvaro
Other contenders: David Carpenter, Cory Rasmus
There are really seven players looking for six spots here. The Braves have what many consider to be the best bullpen in baseball, and they show no signs of slowing down with the addition of Jordan Walden.
Avilan had a great 2012, and Gearrin and Varvaro have had several cups of coffee with the big club. Whether they make the opening roster is partially dependent on how many pitchers the Braves put on the 25-man squad. Usually, there are only 11, which would leave at least one of the three probables back in Gwinnett for now.
Locked-in: Gerald Laird
Probable: Brian McCann
Other contenders: Christian Bethancourt, Evan Gattis, Matt Pagnozzi
It looks strange to see Brian McCann’s name under “probable,” but he’s rehabbing his shoulder and may not be available for Opening Day.
Laird was signed to replace David Ross, who joined the Red Sox, and if McCann is not ready, Laird will be the Opening Day starter. That, however, would leave a spot open for someone else, even if only for a short time.
Gattis was at one time seen as McCann’s eventual successor at catcher, but last season he played left field almost exclusively. Pagnozzi has more high-level experience than Bethancourt, including some MLB time, which might give him an edge if another catcher is needed.
Locked-in: Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson, Andrelton Simmons, Dan Uggla
Probable: Juan Francisco
Freeman, Uggla, and Simmons are givens, especially since Simmons was the deal-breaker in so many offseason moves that didn’t happen.
Johnson was added to the Justin Upton trade to help replace Martin Prado, and he is expected to split time with Francisco at the hot corner. Francisco will have to maintain his momentum from winter ball to secure a platooning spot, but is likely to make the roster. That does, however, leave one spot open for the remaining four off the bench.
Pastornicky has been less-than-impressive with his bat, and Janish even retired briefly before re-signing with the Braves, following an injury toward the end of the season. Mejia and Pena have plenty of AAA experience, and have hit well there. Any of these four could take that last spot.
Probable: Reed Johnson
Other contenders: Jose Constanza, Jordan Parraz, Jordan Schafer
Nothing more needs to be said about the locks here. Reed Johnson was re-upped to a major league deal, so barring an injury, he’ll almost certainly make the team. Often, the Braves will go with five outfielders, however, to provide depth off the bench, so a spot will be open.
Constanza is the best hitter of the three contenders shown and provides a lot of spark to the lineup. However, he’s 29, and the Braves have not yet been willing to give him a full-time roster spot.
Parraz is about the same age as Constanza—with less MLB experience—so that makes Jordan Schafer the wild card. He’s back with Atlanta after going to Houston in the Michael Bourn trade. Since leaving the Braves, Schafer has had issues at the plate, off the field and dealing with injuries. If he shows up motivated to play, the team could get a nice surprise from Schafer, who is certainly talented but hasn’t yet put it all together.