Braves Mailbag: Hot start, Acuña’s arrival, Gohara’s return

The Braves Mailbag is a weekly feature. You can submit your questions to Grant McAuley on Twitter (@grantmcauley).

Let’s dive into the inaugural edition of the mailbag to check the status of some young players, roster decisions that are looming and just what the Braves hot start means:

With the good start, do you think the Braves regret not doing a little more to fortify the bench and back end of the pen?

— Aaron (via Twitter)

I think every team would love to do more in both those areas. To that end, I would say the amount of arms brought in to compete for bullpen spots this spring was ample. They’ve been tremendous collectively over the first 12 games, posting a major-league-best 1.42 ERA across 50.2 innings. We can always quibble over the results, which can vary on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, but the core group of Arodys Vizcaino, Jose Ramirez, Sam Freeman, A.J. Minter, Peter Moylan and Dan Winkler is a pretty good one. There will be injuries and attrition throughout the year, so things could change in unforeseen ways. As for the bench, the three catchers experiment went out the window when Tyler Flowers was injured on opening day and I don’t see that being revisited any time soon. The impending arrival of Ronald Acuña Jr. along with the return of infielder Johan Camargo means that both Preston Tucker and Ryan Flaherty are likely ticketed for reserve roles. Early results would indicate those two may contribute more than initially expected.

How long before A.J. Minter and Arodys Vizcaino switch roles?

— Doc (via Twitter)

In my mind, this is more a question of when than if. A.J. Minter has long been viewed as a potential closer for Atlanta, but that job currently belongs to Arodys Vizcaino. Recency bias aside, Vizcaino has been an effective reliever when healthy and deserved the opportunity to operate as the Braves’ top late-inning option. That said, if he continues to struggle and the team feels it would be better served by making a change, then you may see Minter get the first crack at closing. Once installed, it’s a job he may not relinquish for a while.

The Braves will have a good amount of speed and youth up and down their lineup, especially when Acuna arrives. Will the Braves continue to show aggressiveness on the basepaths this season as they have early this season?

— Army Greene (via Twitter)

You know, that was one of the main talking points over the offseason and it began at the winter meetings when we spent our first extended time with general manager Alex Anthopoulos. He stressed defensive improvement and base running as two areas the club should focus on improving in 2018. Well, that’s exactly what they’ve done so far. With some dynamic base runners like Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies atop the order and Ronald Acuña Jr. on the way, Atlanta has three players who could steal 20-30 bases annually. I don’t know that I’d expect them to run wild necessarily, but going first to third and stealing bases with a high success rate are two things that can energize the lineup and help the Braves make the most of their opportunities to score runs. This is a club that will not live and die by the long ball, so that aggressiveness on the basepaths you speak of is a valuable component to the offense’s success.

When can we expect to see Luiz Gohara and Ronald Acuña in Atlanta?

— Marty (via Twitter)

I’ve been answering questions about Acuña’s eventual promotion since the offseason, but my answer continues to be, “sooner than later.” How soon? I’d say Monday, April 16, at home against the Phillies makes the most sense. Atlanta has declined to indicate any timetable whatsoever, but April 14 is the first day the Braves could summon him to the big leagues and gain that extra year of contractual control. A slow start by Acuña in Triple-A Gwinnett coupled with bad weather forecast in Chicago seems to rule out a weekend debut against the Cubs. The Braves would love to see Acuña shake off the early struggles and be in a groove when he gets the call, but a week’s worth of minor league at-bats won’t discourage them from calling up the top prospect in the game. As for Gohara, he had a pair of leg injuries (strained groin and ankle sprain) wipe out the entirety of his spring training. That means he’s starting from square one and needs to make up for lost time with a rehab assignment. Gohara has been throwing to live hitters and could be back in the next three weeks if he is able to avoid any further injuries or setbacks. Given that timetable, he should join the Braves rotation sometime in early May.

Whose spot does Acuña take when he gets the call?

— Josh (via Twitter)

Difficult to say right now, but there are a couple of different ways to answer this question. The 25-man roster decision could call for the Braves to designate a player for assignment. If that is the case, they may be able to sneak Lane Adams through waivers. Acuña is quite obviously being brought up to play every day, so Preston Tucker would most likely slide to a reserve role. The club is not going cede too many at-bats, but the occasional start against a tough righty matchup would provide Tucker some at-bats. The Braves could choose to option Tucker to Gwinnett so that he could play regularly, but I don’t expect that to be the case as he would provide a valuable power threat off the Atlanta bench. The fast start for Tucker was encouraging, but does little to change the big picture plan for left field this season. Some have suggested trading Nick Markakis in order to open both corner outfield spots for Acuña and Tucker, but it’s unlikely a move like that would happen anytime soon. Markakis is in the final season of the four-year deal he signed with Atlanta prior to 2015 and has been a durable and steady contributor.

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