Odds of Atlanta Braves' Top 5 Non-Roster Invitees Making the 2014 Roster
The Atlanta Braves begin spring training games three weeks from Wednesday.
At this time last year, Evan Gattis was a non-roster invitee in spring training who made his way onto the 25-man roster on Opening Day.
Other non-roster invitees who made it to Atlanta at some point during the season included Todd Cunningham, Joey Terdoslavich and Alex Wood.
While the odds are stacked against these players, they undoubtedly have an opportunity to make strides toward the MLB level.
You can find the entire list of the Braves' non-roster invitees here, as this will take a look at just five of those players and their chances to make the Opening Day roster.
1. Jason Hursh
The Braves' first-round pick in the 2013 MLB draft will get a chance to showcase his stuff in spring training.
Jason Hursh has thrown just 27 professional innings but has been impressive in limited action. After being drafted last season, Hursh posted a 0.67 ERA and 15 strikeouts for Single-A Rome.
The 22-year-old out of Oklahoma State features a lively fastball (mid-90s), with a slider and changeup as his secondary pitches.
Hursh is an athletic pitcher who likes to work his fastball to get ground-ball outs.
It is unclear whether the Braves project Hursh as a starter or reliever, but relief pitcher could be his fastest track to the MLB.
However, the Braves are pretty deep from a pitching standpoint, especially from the right side, making Hursh's chances of making the roster slim to none.
Chances: 1 percent
2. Tommy La Stella
It's unfortunate for Tommy La Stella that Dan Uggla hasn't been traded this offseason. The 25-year-old appears ready to give a full run at the starting second base job, but his path appears blocked.
What makes La Stella such an intriguing prospect is his continued production with the bat. The past three seasons, he has posted a .328, .299 and .356 average with on-base percentages of .401, .389 and .444. He's also managed to walk more times than he's struck out the past two seasons.
As I mentioned, the problem for La Stella is Uggla, Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky all looking to take a roster spot.
La Stella has a great opportunity to put his hitting on display for the coaches. This would allow him to be promoted to Atlanta if Uggla struggles mightily again in 2014 or the injury bug hits the infield.
I think La Stella makes the roster at some point in 2014, but it doesn't look likely out of spring training.
Chances: 10 percent
3. J.R. Graham
J.R. Graham was right with Alex Wood out of spring training last season. While Wood quickly ascended to the MLB level, Graham suffered a shoulder injury that essentially made 2013 a lost season.
Healthy again, Graham looks to once again display why he's rated one of the top pitchers in the Braves' system (No. 2, according to MLB.com).
Graham resembles Tim Hudson in stature (5'10", 195 pounds) as well as stuff. He relies on a sinking fastball that can touch 97-98 mph as well as a slider and changeup to produce a high number of ground-ball outs.
Many project Graham as a reliever, but I still like his potential as a starter.
As I previously mentioned, the Braves have good right-handed pitching depth, so Graham is fighting an uphill battle to make the roster.
However, I'd expect to see Graham reach Atlanta at some point in 2014 barring another health setback.
Chances: 15 percent
4. Ian Thomas
The Braves recently saw Eric O'Flaherty sign elsewhere, and Jonny Venters won't be available for the first few months of the season. This leaves an opening for a left-handed reliever in the bullpen, and a sleeper to win a spot is Ian Thomas.
Thomas is not the typical prospect, as he was signed out of the independent league and is already 26 years old.
However, Thomas posted solid numbers for Double-A Mississippi this past season with a 2.76 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 104.1 innings. The .192 opponent batting average also works in his favor as a relief pitcher.
Ryan Buchter and Alex Wood (if the Braves use him out of the bullpen) will likely start ahead of Thomas.
However, don't sleep on Thomas if he excels and others flop in spring training.
Chances: 20 percent
5. Mat Gamel
The Braves signed Mat Gamel to a minor league deal this offseason in a move that could prove beneficial.
There is little financial risk, but the former Milwaukee Brewers prospect offers a high ceiling with his power potential. In his last healthy season in 2011 with the Triple-A Nashville Sounders, Gamel mashed 28 home runs.
The Braves look to have a solid bench, but do lack left-handed power. This is where Gamel could prove valuable.
I see the last bench spot coming down to Gamel and Tyler Pastornicky, and I'd give the edge to Pastornicky, as he's more versatile.
Gamel will be an intriguing player to monitor in 2014.
Chances: 30 percent
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