Braves: Three Spring Training battles to watch

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The Super Bowl has passed, meaning baseball is a little over a month away from taking center stage. On Wednesday, Braves pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training, with exhibition games set to take place in just a couple of weeks.

This is a Braves roster that doesn’t have a lot of questions around it entering the 2024 campaign. The lineup will look very similar to last year’s, and the pitching staff has been bolstered from top to bottom. Brian Snitker won’t be forced to make a ton of gut-wrenching decisions this Spring, but there are a few competitions to keep an eye on ahead of Opening Day.

Braves Spring Training Battles

Left Field

As of now, the competition for the starting left field spot doesn’t appear to be in question. The Braves acquired Jarred Kelenic in a trade with Seattle, and they clearly believe they can help him find some more consistency at the plate. He looks like he’ll get the first crack, but I would be pretty surprised if the Braves didn’t bring in some more competition before the start of the season, so be on the lookout for that in the coming weeks.

Regardless, the battle behind Kelenic for one of the final outfield spots is wide open right now. The Braves have a few options in J.P. Martinez, Eli White, Jordan Luplow, and Forrest Wall — all of whom have major-league experience. However, there’s a possibility the Braves fourth outfielder isn’t currently on the roster.

Fifth Starter

The first four spots in the Braves rotation will go to Spencer Strider, Max Fried, Charlie Morton, and Chris Sale. The final spot will be an open competition, and Brian Snitker has several options to choose from.

Bryce Elder should be viewed as the favorite. He fell off at the end of the last season after making the All-Star game, but his entire body of work over the first 40 starts of his career is impressive, recording a 14-8 record with a 3.66 ERA. Elder is still just 24 years old and has had success at every level, from the collegiate ranks all the way up to the majors. His stuff may not be as flashy as some of the other younger arms in the organization, but Elder’s understanding of how to pitch is what has gotten him this far, and that will only improve with experience.

The stiffest competition for Elder this Spring is likely going to be AJ Smith-Shawver. The Braves top prospect in the organization rocketed through the minors last season, beginning in High-A Rome and reaching the majors in just a couple of months. There were growing pains once he reached Atlanta, but he did a nice job of limiting baserunners and recorded a 105 ERA+ (5% above league average) in six appearances (five starts).

At 21-years-old, there’s no need for the Braves to rush Smith-Shawver. He showed last season in Gwinnett and Atlanta that he could still benefit from some time in the minors to refine his secondary offerings. When that happens, expect him to be in the majors for good, but expecting him to be ready for Opening Day might be wishful thinking.

Elder and Smith-Shawver are the clear cut favorites to earn the fifth spot in the rotation out of camp, but there are also a couple of wild cards to watch out for. 2023 first-round pick Hurston Waldrep has one of the best repertoires in the entire organization and made a statement last year in his first taste of professional baseball, working his way up to AAA in just eight starts.

Huascar Ynoa is another candidate as he returns from Tommy John surgery. The Braves may decide Ynoa is better suited for a relief role with his high-90s heater and wipeout slide, but at 25-years-old, I wouldn’t count him out as a potential starter just yet.


The Braves most competitive battle this Spring Training will be for the final spots in the bullpen. Alex Anthopoulos didn’t play games this offseason, adding a plethora of high upside arms in free agency and trades. I would say six guys have a spot already locked up — Raisel Iglesias, A.J. Minter, Joe Jimenez, Pierce Johnson, Aaron Bummer, and Reynaldo Lopez. That leaves two spots up for grabs, and Brian Snitker will have a ton of options to choose from.

Most notably, Tyler Matzek is returning from Tommy John surgery and should be ready to go. Just imagine how dominant the Braves relief core could be if he looks like the guy he was a couple of years ago. Dylan Lee should also be healthy and ready to go, another arm that’s had a ton of success over the last several seasons.

If Matzek and Lee prove to be 100%, they should be viewed as favorites to make the Opening Day roster, but guys like Ray Kerr, Daysbel Hernandez, Jackson Stephens, and Ken Giles are more than worthwhile competition. Nobody should be surprised if any combination of those four pitchers shows enough during Spring Training to earn a spot.

Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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