With baseball back, and a second spring training expected to begin next week, it’s fair to assume most of the roster battles we talked about when the first Spring Training started in March are still up for grabs. The season will be severely shortened, making it even more likely managers will be sticking with the hot hands because there is no time for a slow start. So whoever shows out in this second Spring Training, which will end in late July, expect them to begin the year as the starter. However, all fringe players should have a short lease. We will begin this series with the battle for the fifth and final spot in the Braves rotation.
When the Braves signed King Felix to a minor-league deal, I said it would be a longshot for him to make the roster unless the team rolled with six starters. In a shortened season, it’s highly unlikely they carry six starters; however, Hernandez was so good during the first stint of Spring Training that he might win the fifth spot in the rotation if his success continues before the start of the regular season.
In four starts (13.2 innings), King Felix allowed only three runs, good for a minuscule 1.98 ERA, while striking out 14. It’s a small sample size, but if the competition is close after a second spring training, the Braves may side with the veteran, considering there is little room for error.
Hernandez would have been a lock to make the roster if Kyle Wright wasn’t so damn fantastic as well. In four appearances (13.1 innings), the former 5th overall pick also only surrendered three earned runs while striking out 15. However, if you remember, Wright looked like this during Spring Training in 2019 and ended up having a miserable season, pitching in only 19.2 innings before struggling in Gwinnett. Wright has all the talent in the world, and the Braves have every right to believe in him. However, even if he wins the job out of camp, they should have a short leash on him if he begins to struggle.
If there’s a favorite to take over the final rotation spot, it’s Sean Newcomb. The former first-round pick that was acquired when the Braves traded Andrelton Simmons to the Angels has shown he has the talent to be a high-quality starting pitcher. However, inconsistencies with his control led to the Braves moving him to the bullpen last year, where he thrived.
Now, the organization is hoping Newcomb can translate that success back to the rotation. Early on in Spring Training 1.0, he was looking the part, allowing just two earned runs with eleven strikeouts over nine innings. This is his spot to lose, but he has two more than worthy candidates nipping at his heels if he slips up just a little bit.
Wilson wasn’t nearly as effective as the primary candidates in the first part of Spring Training, giving up five earned runs in 5.1 innings. He’s proven in his time at the major league level that he still needs to develop his secondary offerings to be successful. You can’t just throw a fastball and expect to be a starting pitcher in the bigs. Perhaps he shows signs his other pitches have improved over quarantine, but I would still consider him a longshot to make the Opening Day roster.
Like Wilson, Toussaint has struggled in his brief stints thus far in the majors. However, unlike Wilson, he looked sharp in Spring Training and has much better secondary stuff. The Braves optioned him to AAA Gwinnett before play was halted, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he found himself on the initial 30-man Opening Day roster.
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