Manager Fredi Gonzalez will have some tough decisions to make as spring training winds down and the 2013 regular season approaches. Even though the Atlanta Braves are just a few games into spring training, Gonzalez and general manager Frank Wren are already playing out the different ways the MLB roster will look on Opening Day. Here’s an early prediction as to how the roster will look when Opening Day rolls around.
Starting Pitchers (5): Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran
The only way this could change is an injury or if Teheran struggles mightily in spring training. The Braves want to see what he can do, and he got off to a good start with two scoreless innings in his first spring training action. Other starters trying to bid for that No. 5 spot are Sean Gilmartin and J.R. Graham. Gilmartin is the more ready of the two and will likely serve as insurance if anything happens to the Braves’ starters before Brandon Beachy returns, who will begin the season on the disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Relief Pitchers (7): Luis Avilan, Cory Gearrin, Craig Kimbrel, Christian Martinez, Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, Jordan Walden
Kimbrel, O’Flaherty and Venters are all locks to make the roster as they will once again anchor the Braves’ bullpen in 2013. Martinez, Avilan and Walden are also near locks. Martinez excels in a long relief role, Walden brings closer experience and adds right-handed power and Avilan finished 2012 with a 2.00 ERA while holding left-handed hitters to a .180 batting average in 31 games with the Braves. While Gearrin isn’t a lock, he does hold inside position on the last spot. Like Avilan, Gearrin finished 2012 in successful fashion (1.80 ERA in 20 innings). He offers Gonzalez a right-handed specialist with his sidearm delivery. Right-handers David Carpenter and David Hale will have to be spectacular in order to beat out Gearrin or give Gonzalez a reason to carry eight relievers.
Catchers (2): Gerald Laird, Evan Gattis
The wildcard that will affect the entire roster is what the Braves decide to do about their backup catcher position. Laird will serve as the starter until Brian McCann return’s from injury and will then assume backup duties to him. Until then, the Braves could carry Gattis as their only backup catcher or use Matt Pagnozzi or Christian Bethancourt. The Braves will find Gattis a roster spot as he continues to mash everything he sees. If they use him as the backup catcher that would give Gonzalez more flexibility with the rest of his roster. That would also allow Bethancourt to have a full normal year in the minors to develop his hitting and get him ready to take over the starting catcher job in 2014. In the end, this is the direction I see the Braves going.
Infielders (6): Juan Francisco, Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson, Tyler Pastornicky, Andrelton Simmons, Dan Uggla
We know the starting infield will consist of Freeman, Uggla, Simmons and a platoon between Francisco and Johnson. That leaves one more infield spot on the roster open to back up the middle infield spots. One that I think will go to Pastornicky because he has a stronger bat and more upside than Ramiro Pena, who the Braves signed to a one-year deal in the offseason. The Braves don’t view Pastornicky as a long-term solution in the infield, so they don’t need to worry about getting him more at-bats in the minors. In other terms, use his athleticism while you still can. Paul Janish will begin the year on the disabled list.
Outfielders (5): Jason Heyward, Reed Johnson, Jordan Schafer, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton
A fifth oufielder spot will likely depend on if the Braves use Gattis as the lone backup catcher or not. If they do, that frees one spot for Gonzalez to use on speed in late-game situations. Two guys that fit that mold are Schafer and Jose Constanza. Unfortunately for Constanza, he has had visa issues and has fallen behind this spring training. Meanwhile, Schafer has been active in getting a couple hits and making some noise on the bases with a run and stolen base. The fact the Braves brought Schafer back indicates to me that he holds an edge in the competition for the last outfield spot.