Early look at position battles
It’s still far too early to make firm guesses about who might fill the final spots on this year’s roster. But it’s already apparent that in comparison to recent years manager Bobby Cox has enhanced depth in the relief department and an increased number of versatile position players.
My early evaluation is that it’s currently much easier to project who will fill the final available spots in the bullpen. With the projection that Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, Peter Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty and Kris Medlen will fill five of the bullpen spots, it appears a group of relievers will be fighting for the final two spots.
ADDITION: When I initially posted this, I should have mentioned that I’m assuming Scott Proctor won’t be ready for Opening Day. He’s ahead of schedule. But I think it’s safer to assume he won’t return until we’re at least a couple weeks into the season.
As he continues to impress Cox with his mix of above-average fastballs and changeups, Jesse Chavez could soon be considered a heavy favorite to claim one of the seven spots. .
With this in mind, the final spot could prove to be a battle between left-handers Mariano Gomez and Mike Dunn. Although Dunn is the candidate who is currently on the 40-man roster, he will need to show better control than he produced last year, when he issued 46 walks and recorded 99 strikeouts in 73 1/3 Minor League innings.
Gomez posted a 1.99 ERA in 47 appearances with Triple-A Gwinnett last year. But while registering 36 strikeouts and issuing 29 walks in 72 1/3 innings, he didn’t exactly display the “wow” factor that Dunn has the potential to produce with his power arm.
Of course if Jair Jurrjens’ shoulder proves to be a lingering problem, Medlen may begin the season as a starter and open a bullpen spot for somebody like Manny Acosta or Chris Resop. Whatever the case, I think you can expect Craig Kimbrel to at least begin the season at the Minor League level to refine his control.
With the assumption that Jason Heyward will begin the season in the Majors, it appears there might be just one available roster spot for position players. The versatility of Melky Cabrera (can play all three OF positions) and Eric Hinske (can play both corner positions in the outfield and infield), it’s not easy to pinpoint exactly what the Braves might need.
Joe Thurston would provide further versatility with his ability to serve as both an infielder and outfielder. But his offensive capabilities off the bench are seemingly trumped by what the likes of Mitch Jones (can play first base and corner OF positions) or infielder Brooks Conrad (limited defensive versatility) could provide.
Right now, it’s seems to early to guess which direction the Braves might go when deciding how to fill out their cast of position players. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if they continue to look for an affordable player who has the capability to be the offensive bench threat that the Phillies possess with Greg Dobbs.
This is the kind of acquisition that could be made at the end of Spring Training or during the early weeks of the regular season after clubs have released veteran players who don’t fit on their 25-man rosters.