Braves: Candidates for the last bullpen spot

Braves: Jeremy Walker dealing with shoulder issue

As things currently stand, it seems the Braves will opt to go with eight relievers in what projects to be one of the best bullpen units in baseball, and seven of those spots look to be locked up.

  1. Will Smith
  2. Mark Melancon
  3. Shane Greene
  4. Chris Martin
  5. Luke Jackson
  6. Darren O’Day
  7. Jacob Webb

This is an extraordinary group, but it will be an open competition for that final spot. And while it has the potential to turn into a revolving door, hopefully, it will not. So what will the Braves be looking for?

Well, rumor has it Will Smith may not be the closer — something I am not buying. Regardless, Smith is the only southpaw locked into the ‘pen. The Braves will likely try to plug in one more left-handed pitcher for situational pitching and working splits. They may also look to add an arm that is capable of eating multiple innings in long-relief situations.

Sean Newcomb

Chase Irle wrote on the Braves’ competition for the final rotation spot. He mentioned Newcomb as his favorite to take the fifth starter spot, and that surely seems to be the case. However, with youngsters such as Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson, and Bryse Wilson pushing him, along with veteran Felix Hernandez, who the Braves signed to a minor league deal, it is far from a lock. If he fails to make the rotation, you can go ahead and pencil him in the bullpen. He was fantastic in that role last season, but the Braves have not given up on him as a starter.

Grant Dayton

If Newcomb does, in fact, make the rotation, the favorite for this last spot will be Grant Dayton. A lefty, Dayton has excellent swing and miss stuff. The Braves seemed hesitant to unleash him in 2019, and then a freak injury while playing catch in warmups sidelined him for a big chunk of the season. For his career, he has limited lefty batters to a .170 average. Alex Anthopolous brought him over from Los Angeles when he got the job and tendered him for a reason: it is time for him to be a contributor. Now out of options, this is Dayton’s opportunity to show he can handle the workload of being a team’s primary lefty option.

A.J. Minter

It was tough going for A.J. Minter in 2019. But he is a year removed from appearing to be the closer of the future, and he is a lefty. If you looked at the discrepancy in his walk numbers between the minors and majors last season, this was a mental obstacle. The Braves should issue a vote of confidence in Minter, who has options left. If he looks like his old self in Spring Training, they should give him a legitimate shot to clean the slate and be a contributor to the major league club.

Chris Rusin

Rusin has had success in the major leagues but also has his fair share of warts. However, he would check a couple of boxes for the Braves: a southpaw who can pitch extended relief. Rusin will have to impress to make the club on his minor league deal, but there is a good chance we see him at some point in 2020.

Phil Pfeifer

Pfeifer is another lefty who bounced back after a tough 2018. He had a mixture of starts and relief appearances, so he is capable of pitching in long relief as well. If he has a good spring training, the Braves could give him a crack at a bullpen spot.

Tucker Davidson

Tucker is really a starter and one of the most underrated pitchers in the Braves organization. The team likely will want to see a larger sample size out of him as a starter in AAA, but he is a flamethrower lefty who could certainly help the Braves if needed. I would say it is a lock we will see him up at some point in 2020, and he could be a difference-maker… just not sure about Opening Day

Jeremy Walker

Walker may not be a southpaw, but he did impress in his first cup of tea in the big leagues and is a relatively safe option who can eat innings. Ultimately, it may take struggles, injuries, or the need for an extra arm for him to get his first crack at the ‘pen in 2020, but he has little left to prove in the minors.

Patrick Weigel

Weigel is another under the radar starter for the Braves, but given his injury history, they may end up making him a reliever. His debut should come in 2020, but the Braves may be looking for a lefty on Opening Day. He could be part of the starter competition as well. He is talented enough that, at some point, the Braves will use him in some capacity.

Honorable mention: Touki Toussaint

Touki is as talented as anyone on this list, but after his struggles in 2019, especially with his control, he should spend at least the first half of the season in a starting role for Gwinnett. Even if he pops in Spring Training, the Braves should have a cautious approach with him.

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