Thursday, March 24, 2016

My Braves Roster and Opening Day Starters

It's that time. We're almost done with Spring Training, the Braves have been cutting young talent left and right, and we're nearing the completion of the 25 man roster for the Braves. So of course I have to take a stab at what my roster would look like for this upcoming season, and who would be starting on opening day. Here it is:

Opening Day Starters:

P - Julio Teheran
C - AJ Pierzynski
1B - Freddie Freeman
2B - Jace Peterson
3B - Adonis Garcia
SS - Eric Aybar
LF - Hector Olivera
CF - Ender Inciarte
RF - Nick Markakis

Pitchers: (this is way tougher to predict)

SP - Mike Foltynewicz
SP - Bud Norris
SP - Matt Wisler
P - Williams Perez
P - Jhoulys Chacin
P - Jose Ramirez
P - John Gant
P - Jason Grilli
P - Arodys Vizcaino
P - Dan Winkler
P - Alex Torres


Jeff Francoeur
Tyler Flowers
Gordon Beckham
Nick Swisher
Emilio Bonifacio

I'd cut Michael Bourn simply because we have too many good options for CF right now. I'd also cut Kelly Johnson because he costs next to nothing and Emilio Bonifacio is a switch hitter in the lineup while Kelly is just a lefty stick, of which we have a ton. Nick is also a switch and you have to keep at least one bloated contract between Bourn and Swisher, so I'll keep the positive guy for the clubhouse.

Will this actually happen? No of course not. Some of these guys cost too much to cut, and some are too young to put on the MLB roster just yet. But if I was running things, I'd want to start this way based on what I've seen in training.

I also tend to favor bench vets over younger guys to start the season. You want to see the pitching staff get some support it needs on offense, and more veteran position players can hopefully provide that spark. Hopefully, we're not seeing a ton of games where the Braves have to hold on to a diminishing 6 run lead, or suddenly find themselves in a 6 run hole.

Most people are concerned about Bud Norris in the rotation, but you have to let him ply his trade when it matters and not in spring training. He's a vet and he's earned that shot for the first month. Folty and Wisler I think are ready to go right now as starters along with Teheran. The only question I have is the 5th spot, which will go either Perez or Chacin in my mind. I don't trust Banuelos right now and don't want him on the roster until he figures it out.

Hopefully whatever roster the Braves decide to go with can score a ton of runs, and the bullpen doesn't spontaneous burst into flames with a huge lead.


Monday, March 21, 2016

The Case for Jace Peterson at Second Base

Jace Peterson is in a weird spot this spring. He's been shuffled around to every possible position short of filling in for the battery, and I'm wondering if he's even going to make the squad this year let alone start at second base like he did in 2015. The Braves seem to be wondering the same thing.

The problem for Jace is that he wasn't hitting well in spring training. He's recorded his 9th hit in 36 ABs, which only scores out as a .250 average, but the upside for Jace is that he's had two multi-hit games in a row this week. After starting slow at the plate, it looks like Peterson is finding his stroke with the lumber which puts some pressure on the Braves when it comes to 2B decisions.

After all, there's no such thing as a set position unless your name is Markakis or Freeman. Everything about the Braves is in flux, and Jace is caught in that whirlwind. As I see it, there are three semi-viable options to play second for the Braves his year: Jace Peterson, Kelly Johnson, and Emilio Bonafacio. Right now, here are their spring slash lines (AVG,OBP,SLG,OPS):

Peterson - .250/.372/.389/.761
Johnson - .240/.406/.360/.766
Bonafacio - .297/.350/.486/.836

Simply looking at spring numbers, you'd put Emilio Bonafacio into the starting spot. He's a veteran, he's hitting well right now, and he's able to field the position adequately. And the Braves might end up doing just that. Bonafacio may see some time as the starter early, and that's why Jace is being moved around to provide utility. Let's also just assume that Kelly Johnson really isn't in the discussion other than as a bench guy, because that's all he's been for the last few seasons with some outlier streaks and his hitting is meh in training.

However, I don't think Emilio is the second baseman starter for all of this season. Jace Peterson should be that guy in my mind and here's why. Emilio is 30 years old and in his past 3 full years he posted an OPS in the .600s. Last year in his disastrous season with the White Sox that got him cut, he had an OPS in the .300s. That's not even Dan Uggla bad, that's guy you pulled out of the minors and told him to lean into pitches bad. Defensively, Bonafacio is a guy. He's the standard second baseman who can make the average plays and not much more.

Jace on the other hand is young at age 25 and under Braves control until 2021. He also hit in the .600s of OPS in his true full rookie season, but his defensive ability is much better than Bonafacio's in my opinion, and it's improving as he gets more time at the MLB level. His hitting stats are similar if not better than Bonafacio's in several categories like stolen bases and walks, plus he's got more gap to gap power than Emilio. The downside for Jace is that he had a metric ton of strikeouts, and he needs to cut down on those with high walk rates to raise his OBP, which will give him more value in a lineup. Jace on base means more runs scored for the Braves with his speed.

Given similar stats, I think Jace has the better upside and I hope the Braves would develop him for that 2B and possibly what I will call the "Martin Prado" utility role. That's going to be a key role for the Braves over the next 3 seasons as we figure out what in the world we have on the field. Being able to shift a guy who can hit and run into daily positions of need is a manager's best friend. And the Braves needs all the friends they can get in 2016.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Braves Demotions and Service Time in the MLB

For those of you looking for Mallex Smith to make the major league roster this year, you're going to have to wait a little while. He was optioned down to AAA Gwinnett today along with Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Lucas Sims, and Aaron Blair.

Now this shouldn't shock anybody who understands the service rules in MLB. Let me explain a bit. A player in the major leagues gets 6 years of control when it comes to service time, and a year of service time is 172 days for some reason. The major league season is roughly 183 days. So by holding guys in the minors for part of a year, a team can gain an extra year of contract control on a player that may be in high demand.

Obviously with a player like Mallex, and a team that's really not expected to win anything, bringing him up for a full year of service time would be stupid for the Braves. They'd be ceding a full year of control over a matter of a few weeks. From a business standpoint, that's insane. From a player standpoint, it's eating into their chances to make real free agent money.

The most famous issue of this coming up was Kris Bryant on the Cubs, where Chicago wanted to hold him for about two weeks until after the season started to gain another year under the collective bargaining agreement. This is also inevitably really stupid when you think about. It's manipulation by the teams to gain what essentially was a full year of time, but not really a full year under the CBA rules. Granted, it's a loophole, but it's a really dumb one from a player perspective.

That's why Kris Bryant filed a grievance. And to be honest, I agree with him. But the rules you agreed to as players are the rules, and it's probably going to take a change in the CBA to deal with the issue. And guess what? That CBA expires at the end of this season on Dec. 1, 2016. And guess what again? I think we're in for a hum-dinger of a fight.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Position Battle: Braves Shortstop

Over the next couple of weeks I'm going to take a look at a few position battles on the field and how I think they will shake out at the end of spring training. The first one I'll start with is SS because I believe it's probably one of the more set positions worth writing about, but there's still an outside chance of a platoon later down the road. As opposed to say, 1B or RF were I think we have entrenched players like Freddie and Markakis.

Four different players have had some time at SS during spring training or claim it as their natural position. Those players are Eric Aybar, Daniel Castro, Ozzie Albies, and Dansby Swanson.

Dansby is nowhere near ready for prime-time yet, and he's only hitting .217 in spring with an OPS of less than .600. That's not good enough to even post a sheet no the board and say MAYBE. There's no maybe about Swanson since he's 22 and spent no real time in the minors. However, he is a college player so that does mean the #1 overall pick from 2015 does have a leg up on the rest of the younger competition in the minor leagues. Still, he's not going to be our SS this year. Maybe in 2017, but 2018 is more realistic.

Ozzie Albies is really young at just 19 years old, but he's already hitting better than most of the players at spring training. With a .320 average in 25 ABs, he's making a name for himself, but he's also never played above A-Ball and he's extremely young to put into a major league role. I think he's a 2018 prospect at best, and he's likely not even a SS candidate when he gets here. He might find himself at 2B given the turmoil we have at that slot.

Daniel Castro is an outlier that got some MLB experience last season with the Braves when crap hit the fan, but he's an average hitter at best right now, and maybe for all time. Nothing about Castro really wowed me when he got a chance in 2015 to see the show for almost 100 ABs, but he can hit for a decent .240 average and come off the bench as a utility player. He may make the club again in that role, but not as a starter.

That leaves Eric Aybar. As part of the trade for Andrelton Simmons trade to the Angels, Aybar is an older veteran at age 32, but he's also crushing it in spring with a .417 average and an OPS over 1.000. Barring any kind of injury, he's the Braves opening day SS, and likely the starter for the majority of the games this season. That is unless the Braves see another trade chance, and if he plays REALLY well he's going to be on the first thing smoking while the Braves will get back some more magic beans to plant in the minors.

This is your life now as a Braves fan in a rebuilding mode. Nothing is sacred until we get to Cobb County and start making some of that sweet sweet OTP money.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Braves Spring Training Roundup Week 2

Alright folks, we're two weeks done with Spring Training, and man have there been some changes here in the rosters. Granted we invited a small country to camp, so you knew there would be some cuts, but I'm honestly sort of flummoxed at a few of them. Let's take a look at the list:

David Carpenter - released
Ryan Kelly - released
Kyle Kendrick - released
Chris Volstad - released
Danny Burawa - optioned to AAA
Tyrell Jenkins - optioned to AAA
Casey Kelly - optioned to AAA
Daniel Castro - optioned to AAA
Mauricio Cabrera - optioned to AAA
Matt Marksberry - optioned to AAA
Chris Withrow - optioned to AAA

That's the damage. I'm surprised we released Carpenter when we need more arms, but I guess that means the Braves front office feels set in that category. And I'm also shocked we optioned Marksberry given how much time he had at the MLB level last year for better or worse. The rest are just pitchers we don't think are ready yet. I believe Sean Newcomb has also been optioned down, but he's not on the official transaction feed as of now. He just never really got his feet under him as he was walking the ballpark.

If you're watching the young hitters I think you're likely noticed how Hector Olivera is swinging the bat. The 30 year old Cuban we traded Alex Wood for is really raking with a 13/30 (.433 average) and two doubles. He's really hitting for average, which is a good thing for a guy in the middle of the lineup looking to drive in runs. We'll need those RISP hits when they really matter.

Eric Aybar is really impressing me as well with his 10/24, 4 doubles, and an OPS of 1.023 in the short season. In a battle for a starting slot with the other SS's, his hitting would absolutely be the difference along with his veteran presence.

After coming out of the gate really strong, the Braves have backed off letting Mallex Smith hit a ton, giving him only 11 ABs in the last week. Still, in the one game he started, he went 2/4 against the Mets, so he's still a strong choice for the starting CF spot. Don't sleep on Ender Inciarte though as another OF choice as he's really making great contact as well 10/25 on the spring.

Also, I have to address the fact that Freddie hurt his hand again in a game. He says it's not the wrist and it's actually some scar tissue on top of his hand, but I'm not exactly thrilled that he's already having issues with his hands. You need those hands to play, or so I'm told. Especially to swing a bat. I'm starting to believe that no matter what he says, it's always going to be day to day with Freddie until he gets used to the pain or has surgery. That's the hard truth.

Most of the cuts you saw above were pitchers, so it stands to reason that if you're a pitcher and you're not having a good spring, your days are numbered. Right now if I'm going to highlight one guy I like going in to the season as part of the rotation, it's Matt Wisler. Wisler is a 23 year old righty who has started 2 spring games with a 1.93 ERA in 4.2 innings and a WHIP of 1.07 which is very respectable. I'd expect him to get the starting slot nod if this continues.

And that's pretty much it for right now. I'd continue to expect more cuts in the pitching staff as we go along and the roster continues to shape up. In the meantime, just enjoy the nice spring weather and keep trying to learn all these guys names.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Braves to play July 3rd at Fort Bragg

The story from both the Braves and MLB came today that the Braves will play the Marlins on July 3rd in Fort Bragg. Here is the link to the press release:

Apparently MLB will build a stadium for the event that will eventually remain as a softball field and mixed use facility on the base proper. That's interesting because usually stadiums cost a ton of money to produce, but I have a feeling this one will be a bit smaller and more spartan in scope.

Now for my thoughts about all this. On the one hand, I think it's great that we are doing something to promote baseball in a military installation. I think it's a neat gimmick that will be fun for the military and their families to get to watch an MLB game in person right in their backyard. I also think that baseball wants to maintain their image as pro-American given the recent semi-scandal that occurred when we found out teams were on the take for promoting "Hometown Heroes" in the military at MLB games. The Braves were no different in this regard. In fact they were the worst offender according to an article on CBS Atlanta.

Which leads me to my second hand, I think the MLB picked the Braves for two reasons. One, because they have one of the largest state-to-state fan footprints in the South, which happens to include the footprint of North Carolina's Fort Bragg. And two, the Braves needed a little better PR after the pay-for-patriotism issue of last year, as did the MLB. Like many things, a good idea is a good idea no matter where it comes from, but I think it's a dual purpose here for the league to save a little face after these issues came to light primarily with NFL teams.

But that won't affect our enjoyment of the game one bit. Well, other than the fact that there's a solid chance with the Braves in rebuilding mode and the Marlins...being the Marlins, both these teams could horrible suck by July 3rd and you'll be wondering why MLB didn't send the Cubs and Cardinals down there to play in front of packed crowds. But then again, maybe they know something I don't know.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Braves Spring Training Week One Roundup

So the Braves completed their first week of spring training as of Sunday, and we have a few things that caught my eye. Obviously Mallex Smith did well, and I wrote about that in my last blog post. Freddie Freeman also seems to have power in that wrist we were all worried about. The Braves released David Carpenter early in the process suggesting they believe they have plenty of right-handed bullpen options to work with.

Also, there were stats. Now, spring training stats aren't that important outside of a few. I like to see how younger players are hitting the ball, and I like to see how many walks the pitching staff is issuing. Basically it's a matter of contact and control for me early in the training schedule to get a feel for which guys are likely to see some time at the MLB level.

So who is impressing me at the plate so far?

Ozzie Albies has been pretty solid in his first 5 games. He's been able to play every day so far which means the Braves are seriously looking at him as an option up the middle. He plays SS, which we obviously lost during the Simmons trade to the Angels, so the spot there is open for him and possible Eric Aybar. However, Albies has been raking early with a 6-10 (.600 average) a homer, 4 RBIs, 2 walks, and no strikeouts. It's not like Aybar is a slouch though hitting 4-9 (.444 average) in a small sample, and he's the obvious choice for the SS over the 19-year old Albies. Still, you never know if Aybar could end up as further trade bait and Albies can get the callup for the future.

Emilio Bonafacio is 5-10 so far in training, and while he's not a young player he's a fringe guy in this Braves system that's likely fighting for a spot on the team. Emilio is a decent 2B option with steady hitting in his career, and he's battling Jace Peterson for the full-time job there and possible Kelly Johnson. Still, Bonifacio has to prove something to the Braves coming off an shortened 2015 season where he hit under .200 for the year, and was released by the White Sox. Will he make the club? Only if he can prove he can still hit in spring training and beyond.

Hector Olivera is 6-13 and I'm guessing as we move along he'll be getting tons of time in LF to sort out the obvious issues he'll have switching to an outfield position from the infield. So far he's mostly been at 2B, but that's unlikely to be his every day position given the number of players we have in that slot. Still, Hector is hitting, and that's the reason we brought him here. As long as he doesn't butcher it in LF, he could play every day if he produces at the plate. Because we really have no LFer on this team right now.

What about the pitching?

It's WAY too early to tell, but I can give you a few concerns. First is Sean Newcomb who was really nervous in his debut, couldn't find the plate, walked 4 guys, and gave up 3 runs in one inning. It'll get better but he just needs to relax. Lucas Sims also got rocked in his first outing giving up 3 walks, 5 runs, and 3 hits in 1.2 innings. Again, he's young and I want to see how he looks in his next start. A small surprise for me so far is Daniel Winkler, a 26 year old righty who's appeared in 2 games of relief with 2 innings and 4 Ks. If he can keep up the swing-and-miss marks for the majority of training, he's a candidate for a bullpen slot given how little success the Braves had last year.

So that's the round-up. Keep it posted on your radios from 1-4PM EST every day if you're in the Atlanta area to hear the games. They're on 1230 the FAN2 during the weekdays, and 680 the FAN on the weekends.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Mallex Smith is faster than you

I can tell already based on the games the Braves have played what the story lines will be surrounding spring training. Here they are in my ascending order of importance/hype:
  1. What are we doing with Jace Peterson? Why is he playing all these positions?
  2. Will Frenchy make this team?
  3. Will we cut Nick Swisher and/or Bourn and just eat their ridiculous contracts?
  4. Is the bullpen any better at all?
  5. What are we doing with Hector Olivera?
  6. How is Freddie Freeman's wrist?
  7. Will we be putting a rotation of fans in left field based on a lottery system?
  8. Is Bud Norris reallly the 2nd starter? Really?
  9. Which pitchers will actually end up in the rotation?
If you heard/watched the first spring training game, Mallex had two triples in one inning and was a single short of the cycle. Why a single? Because he's too damn fast for singles, son! Don't you know this?

Anyway, the hype around Mallex will likely hit a fever pitch if he continues to produce during the the spring training games. He's got a combination of hitting and speed that could make him one of the key players in the Braves outfield for a long time.

But we've heard this before. We heard it with Frenchy. We heard it with Jason Heyward. And despite your feelings on Heyward's value as a player, he's not here anymore and he never lived up to the top-billing potential that would have forced the Braves to sign him to a Freddie Freeman-like contract.

A player like Mallex Smith has a huge upside as a lead-off candidate for this team, because he's built for speed and hitting to all fields. He was a .281 hitter in Gwinnett last year with a .339 OBP. He stole 34 bases in 69 games and only struck out 44 times. When you add in his 24 walks, the kid actually had more stolen bases and walks combined than strikeouts. That's a vintage lead-off hitter.

But like all things in the majors nothing is simple. Hitters come out hot, and pitchers adjust, then the hitters adjust back, then the pitchers adjust, and it goes round and round. The best hitters in the world simply don't have major holes in their swings for pitchers to abuse, and they punish mistakes. With 4 years in the minors, I think we're getting close to seeing what kind of hitter Mallex can be. And I think the Braves are in the unique opportunity of not caring about results while they let younger players learn on the job.

It's shaping up to be a very interesting spring for Mallex Smith. Keep an eye on him if you aren't already.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

First Braves Spring Training Game in the Books

So we've played one game; the spring training opener that happened yesterday featured all the players you've grown to know and love. Guys like Freddie Freeman, AJ Pierzynski, Nick Markakis, and uhhhhhhh. Adonis Garcia? I think we traded everyone else. Let's not dwell on that. You'll have time to learn the new names, or they'll be gone before you care. TAKE HEART!

Now as you know I don't care what happened in the game in terms of scoring. We tied, which is stupid in any sport, but in the spring training games it's fine. Because results of spring training games are inherently stupid anyway. What I do care about is that Freddie Freeman in his first AB knocked in a ground rule double and his wrist looked fine. That's great news for worry-worts like myself who wonder if his long-term durability is a question. We'll know more the next time he swings the bat, which I doubt will be today. I think they'll work him back slowly in an every other day capacity.

It's too early to tell much from one spring training game, but I did like the fact that the Braves were hitting the ball as a group. They had 11 hits in the game, and most of them were spread out amongst a bunch of different young or new guys. Mallex Smith, Eric Aybar, Nick Markakis, Adonis Garcia, Rio Ruiz, Daniel Castro, Ryan Lavarnway, Hector Olivera, and Matt Tuiasosopo also had hits. For guys like Ruiz, Lavarnway and Tuiasosopo, that's a big deal because they are non-roster invitees, and they would have to knock the doors off spring training to make the club. However, if Tuiasosopo makes the team I'm going to have to blow up my spell checker between him, Pierzynski, and Foltynewicz.

As we go along, one of the things I'm going to do is evalutate the Braves at each position with the available people we have in flux, probably after about two weeks into the process. Then I'll make some predictions in my BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR THE SEASON post that we can laugh at later when I'm horribly wrong. All in all, it should be a good time for everyone involved. And the more free time I have the more I'll post information and snarky comments about how things are shaping up this season.