Atlanta Braves: 5 Potential Breakout Candidates to Watch in Spring Training
Players have slowly trickled into camp with spring training games set to begin in just one week.
Spring training allows veterans to get in game shape while young players are out to showcase their skills.
A year ago, Evan Gattis emerged as a breakout player by hitting .368 with six home runs and a robust 1.165 OPS.
He left no doubt about his spot on the 25-man roster with his performance in spring training.
Could there be another breakout player this time around?
Here's a look at five players who could have breakout spring training performances.
1. J.R. Graham
A year ago, J.R. Graham was considered to be closer to an MLB appearance than Alex Wood.
However, a shoulder injury derailed any chance of that happening in 2013.
Now, Graham will be out to prove to general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez that he is fully healthy and ready to go in 2014.
It will be interesting to see how many innings he works this spring.
He was impressive a year ago in nine innings of spring training work, allowing no runs while striking out five and walking three.
Still one of the top-rated prospects in the organization, I have a feeling Graham will have an impact at the major league level in 2014.
Spring training will offer the first look at his health for the upcoming season.
2. Tommy La Stella
If you've read some of my articles from this offseason, you know that I'm a fan of Tommy La Stella.
In fact, if the Braves had traded Dan Uggla this offseason, I think he would be the Opening Day starter at second base.
That's because La Stella can hit.
He's compiled some impressive stats in the minors which include a .327 batting average, .412 on-base percentage and more walks (111) than strikeouts (88).
The 25-year-old will be one to keep an eye on in his first spring training action.
If Uggla struggles again in 2014, La Stella's consistent production and steady approach could be a welcome addition to the lineup.
3. Tyler Pastornicky
Tyler Pastornicky has gone through some ups and downs over the past few seasons.
The 24-year-old began the 2012 season as the staring shortstop in Atlanta before being sent to the minors. After working his way back to the major league level last season, he suffered a season-ending ACL injury.
Pastornicky could have some limitations this spring training but enters camp with a chip on his shoulder.
He is fighting for a spot on the 25-man roster as well as earning playing time in a crowded infield.
However, Pastornicky has shown to be capable with the bat (he lost the starting shortstop job after fielding issues) as he hit .300 in limited action in 2013.
Pastornicky is an under-the-radar player to watch for as far as gaining playing time at the second base position.
I like a guy who enters camp with something to prove to have a productive spring training.
4. Luis Vasquez
Wren may have uncovered a hidden gem in right-hander Luis Vasquez.
The 27-year-old is a former Los Angeles Dodgers prospect who struggled with injuries and command.
That led Vasquez to experiment with a sidearm delivery which helped him post a 3-0 record and 1.56 ERA in the Dominican Winter League.
There's been a "buzz" about Vasquez after the Braves signed him this winter.
Joey Terdoslavich described his stuff as "nasty" to MLB.com's Mark Bowman.
Fans should definitely keep an eye on Vasquez this spring.
Relievers with a 95 mph fastball and a unique delivery are always welcome at the major league level.
5. Alex Wood
The Braves have not publicly stated what the plan is for Wood in 2014. At this point, the Braves may not be sure themselves.
If that's the case, you can bet Wood will be a determined player to win a spot in the starting rotation.
A talented and motivated player is usually a lethal combination.
Wood impressed last spring training (1.29 ERA) which helped him reach the major leagues quicker than many anticipated.
However, Wood has the talent and the potential to be a mainstay in the starting rotation.
The Braves will probably like to keep his inning count low and could do so by starting him in the bullpen.
But Wood could give the Braves no choice in using him as a starter with an impressive spring training, in a similar way to Gattis forcing his way onto the roster in 2013.