Braves’ bullpen competition is starting to shape up

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The Braves’ bullpen competition became wide open last week after the team optioned Jacob Webb to AAA Gwinnett. This is still the case with two spots up for grabs, but after the roster moves and rumblings we have seen since, we are now able to pinpoint the final candidates.

On Monday, the Braves optioned A.J. Minter and Chad Sobotka to AAA, though both men were on the outside looking in for this competition. On Wednesday morning, the Braves sent Phil Pfeifer to AAA, who seemed to be a legitimate candidate for one of the final spots, and Tucker Davidson, who had an outside shot being a lefty in a southpaw-thin bullpen.

One of the best storylines in Braves camp has been the return to big league camp for Tyler Matzek, a former top prospect who suffered from the yips and had to work his way back through the independent leagues. Though he has been impressive, and there is a chance we see him at some point in 2020, according to Mark Bowman of, Matzek is a “longshot” to land an Opening Day spot with the big league club.

This narrows down the competition a bit as we try to predict who will occupy these two spots, though currently there are still six candidates who all have a legitimate shot.

Grant Dayton is far from guaranteed a place on the roster but seemed like the incumbent lefty option with Will Smith being the only other southpaw. However, he has been lit up in five outings this Spring Training. Dayton still has a chance, but the list of competitors has grown, and he hasn’t done himself any favors. If the Braves believe in his stuff and feel he is the best lefty option, he may very well end up on the roster, but if it boils down to performance, he’s in trouble

His competition as far as lefties are concerned is Chris Rusin, who was signed to a minor league deal this offseason but is making a push for a bullpen spot. He spent the majority of 2019 on the farm but is just a few years removed from posting a 2.65 ERA in 60 outings… with Coors Field as his home ballpark. The complete body of work is far from impressive, but Rusin has looked sharp this spring, giving up just two earned runs in 8.2 innings while striking out 12.

Perhaps the most likely to make the roster is Josh Tomlin, especially after his performance with Atlanta in 2019. Signed to a minor league deal right as camp began, Tomlin offers the Braves a long-relief option, and the Braves would at least have an idea of what they would be getting.

However — as an upside play — the guy who has blown me away, and I have been a fan of for a long time, is Patrick Weigel. If Atlanta’s usage of him this spring is any indicator, they may have big plans for him in 2020. He finally gave up a couple of runs yesterday, but it was mainly due to some unfortunate circumstances, and he still was able to close the game. His offspeed stuff is devastating, and Weigel likely would already be in Atlanta by now if not for undergoing Tommy John Surgery. With the way his stuff plays in relief, he’s a prime candidate for the bullpen in 2020.

Another arm who has looked very sharp is Touki Toussaint, and he could be trending up for a bullpen spot. However, considering he went four innings in his last outing, one would assume the Braves plan to use him as a starter down in Gwinnett. This is likely the proper course of action after a rough 2019, especially if that is the role they envision him assuming in the future. However, his performance is very promising, and we all know what “good Touki” is capable of doing on the mound.

There is always the possibility that Sean Newcomb could return to the ‘pen as well. But as of now, he seems favored for a rotation spot. However, Kyle Wright has been excellent. It is a tiny sample size, but if he can continue to dominate for the rest of March, he could force Atlanta’s hand to give him a shot on the Opening Day roster two years in a row. With Felix Hernandez a favorite to make the rotation, this would effectively make Newcomb a lock for a spot in the bullpen.

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