Final roster decisions expected to be made today
As many of the Braves pitchers are running and throwing in the bright green Turner Field outfield grass, manager Bobby Cox, general manager Frank Wren and the members of the coaching staff are discussing their final roster decisions.
It’s 3:15 p.m. ET and within the next hour or two we could learn who is going to fill the final two bullpen spots and whether the final spot for a position player will go to either Brooks Conrad or Joe Thurston.
While I am pretty confident that the final two bullpen spots will be given to Jesse Chavez and Jo-Jo Reyes, I’m not going to be shocked if the Braves select Conrad or Thurston to begin the season as an extra utility player.
The similarities between Conrad and Thurston extend far beyond the fact that their defensive abilities limit them to second base and third base. Conrad runs a little better and draws the benefit of being a switch-hitter.
Based solely on their offensive performances during the Grapefruit League season, Thurston would be the easy choice. While he has finished strong and improved his batting average to .319 through 47 at-bats, Conrad has slumped and enters today hitting just .229 in 48 at-bats.
But as you know, these decisions are never solely based on statistics compiled during Spring Training.
Despite the fact that Conrad has struggled with the bat recently, I still think his advantage comes from the fact that he was with the organization last year. In the process, the Braves came to appreciate the work ethic and no-nonsense approach that he brought to the park every day.
At the same time, Thurston must have been doing something right while appearing in 124 games last year for a Cardinals team that won the National League Central. In the 64 games that he started he hit .227 and in his 61 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, he hit .216 with a .344 on-base percentage.
Reyes and Chavez will likely earn the final roster spots solely based on their experience. Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters have much higher upsides and the need to spend a few more weeks or months nurturing their skills at the Minor League level.
The potential ramifications of having Reyes begin the year in the bullpen have been discussed. But with Kris Medlen available to serve as an emergency starter, the Braves seem willing to roll the dice through that they can escape the first 4-6 weeks of the season without having to deal with a rash of injuries in their starting rotation.
Medlen is certainly capable of making a few starts if necessary. And if the Braves were to lose two starters during the early portion of the season, they would have a problem that would trump the fact that one of their most glaring weaknesses entering the season is the fact that they don’t have any enviable depth beyond their first five starting pitchers.
Heading down to the clubhouse. I’ll be back shortly with the decisions.
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