Braves battle for final rotation spot heating up

MLB: JUN 09 Nationals at Braves

There were a lot of concerns about the Atlanta Braves rotation at the start of the offseason, but Spring Training is painting the picture of an incredibly deep bunch of starting pitchers.

Chris Sale has been lights out, striking out nine batters over 4.2 innings in two starts. Spencer Strider has been equally as dominant, and we all know what Max Fried and Charlie Morton bring to the table. However, it is the depth behind the top four that is really standing out early on this Spring.

Reynaldo Lopez is looking like he is more than prepared to take on a new role as a starting pitcher if the Braves need him to, allowing just four baserunners over five innings of work. For roster management purposes, Lopez should be viewed as a clear frontrunner because he would allow the Braves to hang onto another reliever. However, some of the young guns behind him have a shot to make this as difficult of a decision as possible for Brian Snitker and Alex Anthopoulos.

Hurston Waldrep has been the talk of Braves Spring Training, and he showed why in his debut over the weekend, tossing two scoreless innings with a couple of strikeouts. His fastball touched 99 and the split-finger is downright filthy, generating several whiffs. Waldrep pairs those offerings with a plus-slider and has frontline starter potential. I expect him to begin the season in Gwinnett, but the Braves have shown over the years they have no problem challenging their young prospects if they deem them ready. Waldrep has a legitimate opportunity to prove he’s ready over the next few weeks.

The other standout early on in Spring Training vying for that final spot in the Braves rotation is AJ Smith-Shawver. After a rocky first outing, he was outstanding on Monday, sitting 98-99 on the radar gun and showing off a refined changeup, which led to five strikeouts over just 2.2 innings.

Any three of Lopez, Waldrep, or Smith-Shawver could begin the year in the rotation, and the Braves should have plenty of confidence. They are all electric arms with plenty of upside, and that’s not even including Bryce Elder, who represented the NL All-Star team a year ago. Like the Braves offense a year ago, the depth of their starting pitching could really flex its muscles in 2024.

Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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