Early Projections for Atlanta Braves' Final 25-Man Roster
With the ability to write about spring training in the present tense inevitably comes a slew predictions, their varieties encompassing everything from the obvious to the reckless and irrational.
But while these predictions may all be speculative and inherently flawed, let them come as they may, for they signify that there is baseball to be written about.
That's something worth celebrating all on its own.
The Braves may not have played a single spring training game yet, but here is a purely speculation-based slideshow predicting the lucky 25 men to break camp with Atlanta.
1. Tim Hudson, RHP
2. Kris Medlen, RHP
3. Mike Minor, LHP
4. Paul Maholm, LHP
5. Julio Teheran, RHP
With Medlen and Minor emerging in grand fashion last season, Hudson still around and Maholm getting shipped over at the 2012 trade deadline, only one rotation spot is even undecided in the slightest.
Teheran, Atlanta's top prospect, drew early comparisons to Pedro Martinez with his ability to hit the upper 90s on the radar gun in spite of his diminutive stature. With the way he blew through the minor leagues, he seemed well on his way to earning the comparison.
2012, though, was a major setback for the minor league superstar, as his delivery was apparently tinkered with, then fixed just before his domination of the winter league.
Skipper Fredi Gonzalez has instituted a rotation battle between Teheran and another prospect, southpaw Sean Gilmartin, which should bring out the best in Teheran and push him to come out of the gate strong.
Expect Gilmartin to pitch well but Teheran to show flashes of brilliance and earn the fifth spot out of spring training.
Craig Kimbrel, RHP
Jonny Venters, LHP
Eric O'Flaherty, LHP
Jordan Walden, RHP
Christhian Martinez, RHP
Luis Avilan, LHP
Cory Gearrin, RHP
Much like the starting rotation, the Braves bullpen doesn't exactly have a lot of moving parts to it.
This tends to be the case when a bullpen owns the league's most dominant closer, two elite setup men (Venters and O'Flaherty), a former closer with incredible upside and equally incredible potential for Henry David Thoreau references (Walden) and one of the best long men in the game (Martinez).
Avilan turned in an incredible 2012 season and is an absolute lock to earn a spot in the bullpen.
That leaves one spot open for a spring training competition; with all crucial roles taken care of by the first six men on this list, the competitor with the most impressive spring will likely come into the regular season with the final spot.
With his track record at Triple-A and the big league club, expect Cory Gearrin to be the final piece to the pitching staff's puzzle. He is worthless against lefties but simply dominant against righties.
Without Australian sidewinder Peter Moylan on the squad (and he will be missed), the Braves will likely prefer someone in the pen to carry on the sidearming tradition. Of the competitors, Gearrin has the best combination of stuff and success and should finally crack the 25-man roster for good.
1. Andrelton Simmons (R) SS
2. Jason Heyward (L) RF
3. Justin Upton (R) LF
4. B.J. Upton (R) CF
5. Freddie Freeman (L) 1B
6. Dan Uggla (R) 2B
7. Juan Francisco (L)/Chris Johnson (R) 3B*
8. Gerald Laird (R) C
*Francisco will likely be in the lineup against right handed pitching while Johnson will handle left handers.
Three slides in, still no surprises. The order of this lineup could very well be dramatically different than the one envisioned here, but the composition remains very much the same.
Laird will open up the season as the starting catcher and will likely get the bulk of the at-bats until Brian McCann returns from injury, but this isn't exactly news.
The major question with regard to the starting lineup is whether or not Francisco hits enough to secure at-bats against right handed pitchers. Francisco is a better defender than Johnson, and if his winter-league success is an indication of progress, he will likely form one half of a brilliant platoon at third base.
While his 2011 campaign was in a word, horrid, Johnson's 2010 and 2012 seasons have proven him to be relatively above average at hitting baseballs, which is more than Francisco's big-league track record can say.
Third base will be the most fascinating of the Braves' position battles, as Francisco's upside and Johnson's consistency will be pitted against each other all month. In the end, expect a compromise between the two in a platoon that will maximize the utilization of both players.
Lastly, the lineup order will be fun to play with. Logistically, it makes sense to bat Freeman cleanup, but the fantasy of hitting the Upton brothers back-to-back is just too fun to pass up.
Also, if Johnson takes a step forward offensively and suddenly starts getting on base at a .335 clip or so, Heyward could hit third and move everyone else down one spot.
Of course, this all changes once McCann comes back to the lineup.
Juan Francisco (L)/Chris Johnson (R) 3B*
Reed Johnson (R) OF
Evan Gattis (R) C/OF
Tyler Pastornicky (R) IF
Jordan Schafer (L) OF
The bench may be the one place in spring training where 25-man roster spots are won and lost.
Right now, they're completely up in the air.
Obviously Francisco and the Johnsons are safe, but spots for the fifth outfielder, utility infielder and backup catcher are up for grabs.
Pastornicky will be battling Ramiro Peña for the infield job, and while neither is an especially attractive option, Pastornicky has a little more upside at his younger age and still possesses the skills that won him the shortstop job out of spring training last season. With some experience under his belt, he should be able to take a step forward this year.
The last two spots are where things get very intriguing. Atlanta signed Matt Pagnozzi to be Gerald Laird's backup catcher until Brian McCann returned, but Gattis has turned heads not only during the winter league but spring training as well.
While he hasn't played above Double-A, Gattis is forcing a spot onto the roster, one way or another. Atlanta may very well use Gattis' ability to play catcher to its advantage and use him as Gerald Laird's backup as an excuse to give Gattis major league at-bats.
If Gattis makes the 25-man roster, Atlanta can either use its final roster spot on Pagnozzi (a defensively sound catcher) or a pinch runner (Schafer or Jose Constanza). Currently, Atlanta's bench would be barren of speedsters, so it makes sense to allocate the spot to someone who could make pitchers antsy late in games.
With Constanza, what you see is what you get. He can slap the ball around, steal a base and track down fly balls.
Schafer, though, presents a little bit of upside. A reclamation project, Schafer is a toolsy player with lots of speed and two strikes on him. If he is not on his best behavior this season, Atlanta will have no trouble cutting ties with him for the last time and giving Constanza the final roster spot.
But the waiver claim that gave Schafer one last chance in Atlanta may very well be the one that wins him the final roster spot in 2013. The man is on a mission to prove his doubters wrong, and if his head is truly in the right place, expect Schafer to have a strong spring and break camp with the club.
Brian McCann wanted to return to action by Opening Day, but in order to ensure that the Braves get their catcher back at full strength, he will miss the first two weeks to a month. When he returns, there is likely to be a lot of roster movement.
Paul Janish also won't quite be ready to return by Opening Day, which allows for the competition between Tyler Pastornicky and Ramiro Peña. Unless one of the prior mentioned players simply dazzles in the first couple weeks of the season, though, Janish should regain his job as backup infielder upon his return.
It's been well documented, but Brandon Beachy is in the process of recovering from successful Tommy John surgery and is expected to be back by August. Depending on the success of Teheran (or Gilmartin), Beachy will either push the rookie starter to the bullpen or Triple-A or force the trade of Paul Maholm.