Taking a careful eye to the Atlanta Braves' major league roster, there are just a few noticeable holes. The reason Atlanta is 14-7 and in first place in the National League East with the best run differential in the National League is because its roster is skilled in many departments. However, the Braves are by no means perfect.
Areas that remain a concern are starting pitcher depth, bullpen arms, catching defense and second base.
Based on the early-season numbers, it would seem as though Atlanta may have the best starting pitching in the history of mankind. Although it is too soon to completely rule that out, most likely, these pitchers will come back to earth. And once that happens, it will be evident that the Braves have a slight need for starting pitching depth.
Regardless of whether Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd come back and reclaim their rotation spots, there will be spot-start opportunities on this club moving forward (as on any club). And since Atlanta's best minor league prospect is a starting pitcher, it stands to reason that Lucas Sims will be one of those spot starters.
However, Sims is just 19 years old, having been drafted in the first round by the Braves in 2012. He has also never pitched above A-Ball, making a 2014 call-up a bit of a pipe dream.
That doesn't mean the Braves are out of luck as far as bringing up pitching depth from the minors is concerned, though.
Two names to keep an eye out for are J.R. Graham and Jason Hursh. While either man may be used instead out of the bullpen, Graham and Hursh are all David Hale hopefuls (i.e. hoping to be awarded a start and pitch well enough in the role not to immediately be sent back down).
Of course, Hale may become the exception as a rookie garnering some starts this season. Where prospects can really help Atlanta is out of the pen. Mainstays Luis Avilan and David Carpenter have been anything but elite so far this season. Avilan is tied for the team lead in wins even though he's been the worst pitcher on the roster. Carpenter, meanwhile, has been just OK and is allowing far too many baserunners for the role he is in.
Rookies Ian Thomas and Gus Schlosser are already on the major league roster, and Ryan Buchter made it up before being optioned back down without seeing any action. Other than those three, the name to keep an eye out for is Juan Jaime.
Jaime is currently the closer at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he's collected four saves and 13 strikeouts in seven innings thus far. He has a live arm but struggles with control. Even though he has yet to allow a run, Jaime has walked six batters in those seven appearances. What plays in Jaime's favor in terms of a future call-up is the fact that he is already on the 40-man roster, whereas someone like Shae Simmons is not.
As for position players who may see some major league action this year, the two positions to focus on are catcher and second base, for two very different reasons.
Catcher may see some young blood infused before long because (a) incumbent catcher Evan Gattis is not a superb defender behind the plate, and (b) Atlanta's top position prospect happens to be an elite defensive catcher.
Christian Bethancourt, getting his first action in Triple-A this season, has already thrown out four of eight attempted base stealers. Of course, his bat is very far behind his mitt. In fact, that is likely the reason Bethancourt is not currently on the big club, in place of a veteran with limited upside like Gerald Laird or Ryan Doumit.
Over at second base, the situation is much more grim. Veteran Dan Uggla is approaching the end of his career, if it isn't already here. With 20 starts, Uggla has somehow already amassed seven errors, more than double any other second baseman in baseball. To make matters worse, he also isn't the power hitter or on-base man he has been in years past.
With just four walks and five extra-base hits in 75 at-bats, there is really nothing Uggla is doing well at this point. If the entire team didn't strike out so often, his 22 K's would also look demoralizing.
It seems like only a matter of time before Atlanta at least gives prospect Tommy La Stella a chance.
La Stella is hardly a burner, he is no Roberto Alomar with the glove and he has limited power. Break out the champagne! But La Stella has a great batting eye and can consistently get on base. Since it appears Uggla's days of sluggling .500 are over, there is no reason to keep him around if a .400 on-base replacement is waiting in the weeds.
La Stella may not pan out. He deserves a chance, though, since evidence seems to indicate Uggla is no longer deserving of a major league job.