March Madness in Atlanta Braves’ Camp
Bracket busters, Cinderella stories, favorites, contenders, sleepers, Final Four and Sweet Sixteen – a few of the many terms associated with the NCAA Tournament. If you are remotely interested in sports, you fill out a bracket. Even many people with no interest in basketball fill out a bracket (and somehow win the office pool). While the single elimination format to end the year truly brings madness in college basketball, players in Atlanta Braves‘ camp are vying for a few spots as manager Fredi Gonzalez will eliminate players from the competition. The Braves have favorites, sleepers and potential Cinderellas to make the team out of spring training. Here’s a look at those players among the guys who are considered questionable to make the team (Jason Heyward or Justin Upton do not qualify for example) on this Selection Sunday.
Favorite: Evan Gattis has been one of the most talked about players of spring training despite never playing in the MLB or being a highly touted prospect. He does have a well-known story and continues to hit everything in sight. In 18 games this spring, Gattis has hit .378 with two home runs, 10 RBI and a 1.076 OPS. He has struck out 11 times (fifth most on the team), which is a little high but respectable for the trade-off in power and production. The only thing that doesn’t make him a lock at this point is his lack of experience and position. There is no opening in the starting lineup for him, but the way he’s hitting he should be considered a favorite to make the 25-man roster to pinch-hit and provide situational starts.
Sleeper: A guy that is flying under the radar who seems to be positioning himself nicely is shortstop Ramiro Pena. The Braves signed Pena to a one-year deal in the offseason to provide middle of the infield depth as Paul Janish remains injured. What gives him a clear edge over Tyler Pastornicky is his defense as he can play some second base and third base in addition to shortstop. However, his offense has improved this spring (.273 average, .385 on-base) and may be enough for Gonzalez to give him the nod. Pena missed some time this spring as he played with Mexico in the World Baseball Classic and has flown under the radar. I have thought all along Pastornicky would get the nod, but Pena appears to be emerging in Gonzalez’s eyes as a player to make the 25-man roster.
Cinderella: The true underdog story. How about Jose Constanza? The guy just made it to camp a couple days ago and has just two at-bats this spring training. Not the best strategy to make the team. However, Gonzalez really likes what Constanza can do on the basepaths and the different things he can do with the bat. He even managed to impact the Braves’ playoff game last season with a triple and run scored in his only at-bat. His main competition in the outfield, Jordan Schafer, has enjoyed a solid spring training and has the advantage. However, Constanza’s gritty, workmanlike approach could provide a boost in the last few weeks to make a run at a roster spot.