March 29, 2010 at 4:35 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
The Braves have basically filled 22 roster spots with their 5 starting pitchers (Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens, Lowe, Kawakami), 5 relievers (Wagner, Saito, Moylan, O’Flaherty, Medlen), 8 starting position players (McCann, Glaus, Prado, Yunel, Chipper, Heyward, Melky/Diaz, McLouth), and 4 bench players (Ross, Diaz/Melky, Hinske, Infante). In keeping with the traditional Braves’ roster construction, the final three roster spots will probably go to two relievers and an infielder. Hinske, Diaz/Melky, and Infante provide the Braves all the OF bench depth they need, but the only guy on the bench that can play middle infield is Infante, they usually like to carry two bench guys that can play middle infield. Right now, Wagner and O’Flaherty are the only left handers in the bullpen. The Braves have gone with a 2-lefty (one being the closer) scheme before, but I think they’d prefer to have a third lefty in there.
There are two remaining candidates for the left handed reliever spot–Jo-Jo Reyes and Jonny Venters. Personally, I’d prefer Reyes to Venters, given he’s probably a better pitcher at this point, but I can see why the thought of Jo-Jo Reyes on the active roster would give some people (including some in the organization) nightmares. It could go either way. Reyes probably has the advantage at this point.
The fourth right hander in the bullpen will be one of Scott Proctor, Craig Kimbrel, Jesse Chavez, and Luis Valdez. I’ve detailed why it’s ill-advised to break camp with Proctor on the active roster, though the Braves don’t seem to share the sentiment. Craig Kimbrel is not ready, but given Luis Valdez’s Visa issues and Jesse Chavez’s horrific spring thus far, if Proctor isn’t healthy the Braves may opt to give Kimbrel the job. Like Proctor, Kimbrel isn’t on the active roster. I really liked Valdez to win the job going into camp, but as I alluded to, he missed a large portion of camp while stuck in the Dominican Republic trying to sort out his Visa issues. Even if he’s ready to go, I don’t see him making the roster, though I do believe we’ll see him in 2010. Right now I’m guessing the order of % chance they make the team (descending) is Proctor, Chavez, Kimbrel, Valdez, but I really don’t have much of an idea.
The stage has been set for a Joe Thurston vs. Brooks Conrad showdown all Spring. It was basically thought that the pair would do battle for the final bench spot, but, quietly, Brandon Hicks is still in camp. This could mean absolutely nothing, but Hicks is by far the best defender of the three and my personal preference. I looked at spring training stats for like the third time all year today. Brandon Hicks is 7-for-34 (.206 AVG) with 3 extra base hits (2 2B, 1 HR, .353 SLG%, .147 ISO) and five walks (.308 on base average, .294 secondary average) against eight strikeouts (.240 BABIP). I’ve only watched one spring game, but during it Hicks made an extremely rangy play to his right and delivered a solid throw to first on a grounder that would’ve gotten through the 5-6 hole even against some of the better MLB SS’s. The tools seem to be there, and he’s probably good enough to contribute on the bench of a big league team right now. I’ll even go so far as to say that right now, he’s more useful to the Braves than Joe Thurston or Brooks Conrad.
There’s two sides to this coin, though, and Brandon Hicks’ path to the big leagues this spring comes with two significant obstacles. One, Hicks is still (at least nominally) a prospect. There’s at least a chance he develops into an average regular. Until he proves he can’t do that, the Braves have plenty of incentive to keep him off the MLB team’s bench and in the minor leagues–where he can get regular playing time as opposed to a spot start here and there and a pinch running appearance a week. It’s better for his development, and if Brandon Hicks does turn into the player we want him to, we’ll be happy the Braves went with one of the older guys. Obstacle number two is the fact that Brandon Hicks isn’t on the 40-man roster. Then again, neither is Joe Thurston, and I can’t really decide which of Joe Thurston and Brooks Conrad is the better player (I lean towards Conrad), so I’d say fan favorite and picture of grission Brooks Conrad is probably the favorite to win that job, by merit of already being on the 40-man rather than competence. I’m really not too familiar with the organization’s thinking on this or any of the final roster spots, though. Don’t really care.
There has been some chatter about who will lead off. Seeing as I don’t expect the Braves to take my line up optimization piece to heart, the basic formula for the batting order will be something like:
1. Nate McLouth* – CF
2. Martin Prado – 2B
3. Chipper Jones# – 3B
4. Troy Glaus – 1B
5. Brian McCann* – C
6. Yunel Escobar – SS
7. Jason Heyward* – RF
8. Malky Caiz(#) – LF
Personally, I really don’t care if Heyward or Diaz or Melky or Escobar or Prado or McLouth leads off, I really don’t. In the long term, that spot belongs to Jordan Schafer and I’m anxious to see him, not one of the guys that’s going to make the team out of camp, lead off. In the mean time, I don’t really care. It’s an over rated role anyway, all six guys I mentioned seem more or less equally qualified, and line up optimization can only have so much impact (little). What I don’t like is when the organization sticks a below average hitter or two at the top of the order and stashes above-average ones at the bottom of the order. As long as the theme of better hitters hitting higher in the order is loosely adhered to (within reason, no .300 ISO guy leading off, obviously), I really couldn’t care less how they choose to arrange it. It’s a silly thing to get worked up over when you have eight presumably at least average hitters in your line up.
Apart from sorting out those issues, the only thing the Braves have left to do this week is get everyone healthy. Yunel Escobar has missed a few games and Jason Heyward has been resting with shin splints. The line up looks a lot worse with Omar Infante and both Melky Cabrera and Matt Diaz playing every day (exposing their weak halves), so getting those guys healthy is probably the most important thing that will happen this week.
It’s been a long spring, everyone is tired, and opening day is less than a week away. The only people more anxious for the players to head north than us fans are the players themselves. It won’t be long before the runs count and the games mean something, and the Braves seem really well positioned to succeed all things considered. Here’s to a healthy and productive roster and another shot at a world championship.