Roster battles still being waged
Welcome to the final full week of Grapefruit League action. Or as those who came to camp hoping to win a roster spot might say, welcome to the one week that truly matters during Spring Training.
The past month has certainly been important to both Chipper Jones, who has gained confidence in his knee, and Nate McLouth who has simply proven that he does once again have confidence in himself.
The early weeks of the exhibition season have also proven beneficial to Wilkin Ramirez, the extremely athletic 25-year-old outfielder who went from being a respected prospect in the Tigers organization to a player that they were willing to part with for a little cash.
Those who have only had a chance to evaluate Ramirez based on what they’ve seen in the box scores this year are understandably excited about the 25-year-old outfielder. But is there really any reason to put much difference in the .310 batting average he’s compiled and the .207 mark Matt Young has recorded.
Both players have compiled 29 at-bats. Ramirez has just been fortunate to tally three more hits during this short span.
Most of you were already well aware of the fact that there is no reason to put stock in exhibition season stats. With this being said, I do recognize that the Braves would have certainly liked to have have seen Joe Mather tally more than the four hits he has compiled in his first 36 at-bats.
But because he’s already on the 40-man roster and out of options, I still feel it’s a foregone conclusion that he will be on the roster.
In the exhibition season-setting, you have little control over which pitchers the batters face. Once the regular season begins, Mather will be in a position to draw most of his at-bats against the left-handed pitchers that have been much friendlier to him than right-handed pitchers in the past.
I’m also still thinking Brooks Conrad will get one of the final available bench spots. The Braves need his bat off the bench and they can get by with using Mather in center field if necessary.
Conrad is beloved in the clubhouse and respected by members of upper management. If there was legitimately a better alternative, it would be much easier to send Conrad to Gwinnett to begin the season.
But even with Ramirez impressing with his great athleticism and having the ability to serve as legit backup option in center, I still expect Conrad to get the nod simply based on the fact he proved productive in the role last year.
Meanwhile Ramirez combined to hit .234 for three different Minor League clubs last year. This is not to say he doesn’t have tremendous upside and could possibly be in the Majors within the first couple of months.
But Ramriez seems to be in a position where he could benefit from a little more time in the Minors. When the Braves acquired him last year, scouts labeled him as an extremely talented player who has had trouble hitting the breaking ball.
While I’m still thinking Conrad will get one of the two final bench spots, I really don’t know whether it will be Ed Lucas or Diory Hernandez who gets the other one.
Last week, I thought they might go with Lucas and I will stick with that belief because he could be used in the outfield if necessary. This becomes even more important with the assumption that Conrad will be on the roster instead of Ramirez or Matt Young.
I’ll take a closer look at the final available pitching spots over the next couple of days. But if pressed for a guess right now, I’ll stick with Brandon Beachy winning the fifth spot.
My reasoning for Beachy hasn’t changed. The Braves paid Mike Minor a big bonus and his upside is tremendous. Thus with just 134 career Minor League innings under his belt, the Braves need to maximize their investment by giving Minor another month or two in the Minors to work on his secondary pitches.
Some of you will say the Braves need a left-hander in their rotation to start the season. That’s fine, but I think it’s more important to do whatever necessary to increase the odds that you will get the most you can from Minor.
As for that final bullpen spot, I think Cristhian Martinez is the clear favorite. Scott Proctor struggled Thursday night and simply isn’t able to provide as much as Martinez, whose value rests in his ability to serve as both a middle man and long reliever.
The Braves will likely trade to Proctor over the next week. If they are unable to move him, they could release him by March 28 and only have to pay a fraction of his one-year, $750,000 contract.