Latest Predictions for the Winner of Each Key Atlanta Braves' Position Battle
Spring training is underway with the Atlanta Braves off to an 0-3 start.
While it would be nice to be 3-0, the more important issue to consider is the individual performances of key players.
Like virtually all teams, the Braves have several position battles that need to be ironed out throughout spring training.
The final winner in some of these battles will be the difference in making the Opening Day roster or beginning in Triple-A.
With that being said, here's the latest predictions on those key battles early into spring training.
1. Third Base
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The competition at third base became much more interesting with the departure of Martin Prado.
That left Juan Francisco and recently acquired Chris Johnson as the two men fighting for the role as everyday starter.
Neither have started ablaze in the first three games. Francisco is 0-5 with a strikeout while Johnson is 0-4 but has produced an RBI off a groundout.
Johnson made the biggest miscue on defense so far as he botched a pop-up that led to a big inning off reliever Jordan Walden.
The Braves cannot afford to have those defensive lapses during the regular season, so Johnson has to shore that up the rest of spring training.
Ultimately, this competition will likely continue into the season with each getting a chance in certain situations.
Here's a more extensive look at the competition, but I predict that Johnson will "win" this by gaining more playing time in 2013.
2. Fifth Starter
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Brandon Beachy's injury as well as the departure of Randall Delgado has opened the door for Julio Teheran to enter the Braves rotation to begin 2013.
Teheran made his first appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday and struck out two men in two scoreless innings.
The only blemishes on his line were a walk a hit batsmen.
His main competition of the No. 5 starter, Sean Gilmartin, came on in relief in the third inning and also looked sharp.
Gilmartin also tossed two scoreless innings, striking out two and allowing just one base-runner on a single.
Teammates have raved about how polished Gilmartin is for a young pitcher - working both sides of the plate with all his pitches.
However, this is Teheran's job to lose, and I don't see him losing it the second time around in spring training.
3. Final Bullpen Spot
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Manager Fredi Gonzalez will likely begin the season with seven pitchers in his bullpen.
Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty, Jordan Walden, Christian Martinez and Luis Avilan all look to be in good shape.
Cory Gearrin leads for the final spot as a right-handed specialist with his sidearm delivery. He was very effective in his one inning of work this spring training as he struck out two and didn't allow a base-runner.
The other two in competition are right-handers David Hale and David Carpenter. Hale pitched a perfect inning while Carpenter allowed five runs and couldn't get through an inning of work.
This will likely be a formality competition, and barring anything catastrophic from Gearrin, he will be on the roster to begin the season.
4. Backup Catcher
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With Brian McCann injured to begin the season, the Braves backup catcher plan becomes much more complicated.
The veteran Gerald Laird will serve as the primary catcher for the time being, but who backs him up?
The wildcard is Evan Gattis since he has the ability to play multiple positions (albeit below average). He has slugged his way through the minors and already has a double and home run in five plate appearances in spring training.
I see the Braves somehow finding a way to get him on the roster. However, will it be as the backup catcher or pinch-hitter/backup outfielder?
Other candidates to back up Laird include highly-touted prospect Christian Bethancourt and Matt Pagnozzi.
Bethancourt has a double in two plate appearances while Pagnozzi struck out in his lone appearance. Bethancourt also has a passed ball but his defense is not the concern as to his readiness at the next level.
I can see the Braves going in all three directions in this competition. In the end, I think they'll want Bethancourt to start in the minors to get more at-bats and roll the dice on Gattis as the lone backup catcher before McCann returns.
5. Outfield/Speed Role
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This spot on the roster could also depend on whether or not the Braves use Gattis as a backup outfielder/pinch-hitter.
In my scenario, there is room for one more outfielder on the roster, which will go to either Jordan Schafer or Jose Constanza.
Schafer has been active so far in spring training which helps his cause. Schafer has two hits in six at-bats including a double and a run. He also has a stolen base in two attempts.
The important things to watch regarding Schafer are his strikeouts, stolen bases and runs. Putting the ball in play and creating havoc will be his role if he makes the team.
Constanza has fallen behind in spring training after he had some visa issues. Therefore, he hasn't seen any spring training action so far.
The Braves deciding to bring Schafer back this offseason leads me to believe he holds the edge to make the team. And Constanza falling behind certainly doesn't help his attempt.
Early prediction is that Schafer makes the roster. However, this could all depend on what direction the Braves take with Gattis.