Down to the nitty gritty…
For some players, spring training is too long. For others, they’d like to have just a little more time to make that lasting impression as rosters are cut down to 25 guys. But for all involved, the clock is ticking and clubs are looking to trim things down. For the Braves, despite a round cuts yesterday, there are still some wide open battles for roster spots.
Saturday’s big story was the apparent retirement of catcher Javy Lopez. Getting a chance to watch him work this spring, it was fun to watch from the nostalgia stand-point. But you could tell that, for Lopez, there was a sense of urgency to make the big league club. Going to the minors never seemed to be an option. Thus ended a valiant attempt to rejoin the club for which he became a 3-time All-Star.
With Lopez gone, Atlanta has to focus on which one of the three remaining candidates they will take north. My instinct tells me that Corky Miller may have the inside track on the job. Miller just seems to fit that classic Bobby Cox preference as a back-up. He’s not expected to wow with the bat, but to provide a steady presence defensively.
Mike Hampton commented on how much he enjoyed throwing the Miller on Sunday, even going as far as to say that he only shook him off once. With six innings of quality work, that goes a long way for the stock of Miller when it comes to familiarity with the staff. Jeff Bennett also praised Miller’s abilities earlier this week. Toss in a fellow named John Smoltz throwing a few good words his way, and you start to get the feeling that Miller may be hte guy. Either way, it doesn’t hurt to get good references from the guys who would be working with you.
That’s not to say that Brayan Pena or the younger but equally capable Clint Sammons don’t have a shot. Pena is out of options, so he could find himself dealt away or placed on waivers and claimed by another club. That club would have to keep Pena (or any player out of options for that matter) on the Major League roster though. So that could play out a number of different ways.
The injury to Omar Infante has opened the door on the infield front. Martin Prado has proven himself and seems to be a lock. Who else might make the squad will be interesting to see. Speedy middle infielder Brent Lillibridge has a chance, even playing a little third base to showcase his versatility.
You may have noticed that the real race for a roster spot has become the fourth outfielder role. It seemed at one time that Josh Anderson was a no-brainer, with Joe Borchard pushing to for a longer look. Coaches, teammates and fans alike raved about Jordan Schafer, but it seemed logical that he would be starting the season in the minors. Sure enough, Schafer was optioned to Mississippi, clearing up the candidates for the reserve outfield role. Right? Maybe not.
Seemingly out of no where comes Gregor Blanco. All he’s done this spring is pace the club with a .419 average (minimum 30 at-bats) and flash solid defense and above average speed. Blanco and Anderson could be one of the hardest choices that Bobby Cox has to make… or Blanco could continue on his current pace and make the decision easy.
There are more than a few pitchers who are also battling for a spot. Chris Resop was lighting up the radar gun against Houston on Sunday, hitting 98 mph multiple times. It seems as though Manny Acosta has worked himself into a spot in the pen, joining Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan as the only sure-things.
Tyler Yates, out of options, has struggled this spring (10.29 ERA and nine walks in seven innings) and would appear to be in some danger of not making the cut. He has been working on perfecting his split-finger fastball to keep hitters a little more off balance, but the results have not been particularly pretty thus far. Resop’s power arm should be enough to light a fire under Yates over the final week of spring.
Speaking of power arms, the Braves will have to take one long and possibly last look at Blaine Boyer, who is out of options as well. Noticing a theme here yet? Boyer has thrown consistently in the mid-90s with his fastball and has shown much of the promise that made him a bullpen regular as a rookie in 2005. In seven outings, Boyer has posted a 2.25 ERA and registered 11 punch-outs in 12 innings. He seems to have a strong chance to stick come March 29th.
On the southpaw front, Jeff Ridgway (acquired from the Rays for Willy Aybar) had a complete and total meltdown on Monday. Cleveland beat up Ridgway for six runs in the fifth inning, two coming on his own throwing error. Throw in a balk, four hits and two walks and you have all the things that make up a rough outing. That setback may have stamped a one-way ticket to Richmond.
Fellow lefty Royce Ring has been a touch on the wild side too from time time, walking roughly a batter per inning this spring. The presence of Will Ohman (2.25 ERA and no walks in eight appearances) could spell out how this battle will end. Ring has alot of upside, but has some strange righty/lefty splits – holding righties to a .182 average and lefties to a .205 mark. Ring is yet another out of options guy (couple that with the fact that Mike Gonzalez will not be back till late-May at the earliest) so he may just stick around as the second lefty option.
Taking a look at all the arms, I think the bullpen finalists should look something like this:
- Rafael Soriano
- Peter Moylan
- Manny Acosta
- Will Ohman
- Blaine Boyer
- Royce Ring
- Jeff Bennett
That makes seven arms… and simple math tells us that with five starters on the roster as well, then we have a grand total of 12 pitchers. Throw in four out fielders, two catchers and seven infielders and you have your 25-man roster.
That’s just my thoughts though. What are yours?
Till Next time,