Constanza arrives in Braves camp

Jose Constanza’s speed has allowed him to spend portions on the past two seasons at the big league level.  Thus it is somewhat ironic that his attempt to obtain a visa proved to be one of the slowest involving a Braves player in recent memory.

Constanza finally received his visa and was permitted to exit his native Dominican Republic this week.  He arrived at Braves camp on Friday, exactly one month after the team staged its first full squad workout.

“I was the last on the list,” Constanza said. “I had to wait for my name to come up.”

Constanza was certainly not the only Dominican player affected by the stricter policies that were put in place for them to obtain their visas.  This delay might have cost him his attempt to win his battle with Jordan Schafer to win one of the last available roster spots on Atlanta’s Opening Day roster.

Schafer has hit .250 (11-for-44) with three doubles and a .318 on-base percentage through his first 16 games of the Grapefruit League season.  After getting off to a promising start, he has hit .200 (6-for-30) with 10 strikeouts during the month of March.

After playing in the Dominican Winter League and the Caribbean World Series, which concluded in early February, Constanza spent the past month working with a personal trainer and personal coach in Santo Domingo, D.R.

The fact that Constanza played throughout the winter might help him as he jumps back into action with Opening Day a little more than two weeks away.  But Schafer’s bid to win an Opening Day roster spot is strengthened by the fact that he is out of options and Constanza is not.

In other words, the Braves can send Constanza to Triple-A Gwinnett without having to pass him through waivers.  Schafer would have to pass through waivers.  Despite the fact that he is coming off a miserable and ugly season with the Astros, he would almost assuredly be claimed by an outfield-starved club like the Mets.

Atlanta’s final two roster spots for position players will likely go to Evan Gattis and either Schafer or Constanza.  As expected, Gattis has had his way with pitchers during the exhibition season, hitting .438 (14-for-32) with five doubles, two home runs and a 1.238 OPS.  But the fact that he is now a likely inclusion on the Opening Day roster is a product of his ability to prove that he would prove serviceable as a catcher.

As mentioned in earlier posts, the Braves could carry Gattis as the backup catcher until Brian McCann makes his expected return during the final two weeks of April.

To maximize Gattis’ value on the bench, manager Fredi Gonzalez could put him in the lineup more frequently than the average backup catcher.  In other words, Gerald Laird could serve as the catcher for three out of every five games and Gattis could assume the role in the other two games.

In other news, Jordan Walden’s back has been relatively pain free since he received an epidural injection in Atlanta last week.  Walden will throw a live batting practice session on Saturday.  If all goes well, the right-handed setup man could pitch in an exhibition game within the next four or five days.

Walden’s only appearance in an exhibition game came on Feb. 23, when he allowed four runs —  one earned  — and three hits in one inning against the Yankees.  If he returns to action early next week, there is a chance he could make five or six appearances before Opening Day.

This might be enough for the Braves to deem Walden ready to begin the season in their bullpen.  If he needs additional time, the last bullpen spot will likely go to Anthony Varvaro, who is out of options.   Varvaro, has allowed one hit and worked four scoreless innings since allowing the Tigers five runs and seven hits in one inning on March 10.

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