Predicting the Braves’ Opening Day Roster

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It’s almost unfathomable, but two weeks from tomorrow, the Braves will take the field in Arizona on Opening Day, providing the seasons isn’t postponed due to the Coronavirus (unfortunately, that’s not a joke). We have reached the final two weeks of Spring Training, and there are currently 48 players remaining on the roster. By March 26th, that number will be down to 26, and while most of these are set in stone, there are still several openings to be won down the final stretch of spring.

Starting Rotation

  1. Mike Soroka
  2. Max Fried
  3. Mike Foltynewicz
  4. Sean Newcomb
  5. Felix Hernandez

With Cole Hamels out for at least a month of the regular season, two spots in the rotation are up for grabs, and three pitchers have been lights out in Spring Training. Sean Newcomb had the inside track from the start, and he’s done nothing to worsen his position as the season approaches. The tall lefty has allowed just two earned runs over nine innings while striking out eleven. The Braves didn’t trade him for Andrelton Simmons so he could become a full-time relief arm. If that’s what he turns out to be down the road, so be it, but at 26 years old, he deserves at least one more crack at the rotation.

The final spot comes down to Felix Hernandez and Kyle Wright. I might be the biggest Kyle Wright stan there is, and at some point, I believe this is the year the Braves need to give their former first-round pick significant time in the majors to see what they have. But after an up and down 2019, I understand the organization choosing not to rush him and allowing more time to develop in AAA. Eventually, he’s going to get his shot, but right now, Felix Hernandez has been too good to let go. In four starts (13.2 innings) this spring, King Felix has a minuscule 1.98 ERA.

Bullpen

  1. Will Smith
  2. Mark Melancon
  3. Shane Greene
  4. Chris Martin
  5. Luke Jackson
  6. Darren O’Day
  7. Josh Tomlin
  8. Patrick Weigel

The bullpen is undoubtedly the most challenging group to project as Opening Day approaches. The first six on this list are locks, but the Braves could go a few different ways with the last two spots. Josh Tomlin has continued to be reliable this spring after being an underrated contributor to Atlanta’s ‘pen in 2019. He’s done enough to earn the long relief role. And while the final spot in the bullpen probably should go to a lefty, nobody deserves it more than Patrick Weigel, who has been electric this spring. And with the MLB rule changes forcing every pitcher to face at least three batters unless the inning ends, the LOOGY is a dying breed. Perhaps the Braves decide to go with an arm like Chris Rusin, who has been fantastic this spring as well, or maybe they hang on to Grant Dayton in hopes his hiccups will go away once the regular season arrives, but for now, I’m giving the edge to Weigel.

Catchers

  1. Travis d’Arnaud
  2. Tyler Flowers

Nothing much to say here. There’s no reason for the Braves to carry more than two catchers, and these are the two obvious choices.

Infield

  1. Freddie Freeman
  2. Ozzie Albies
  3. Johan Camargo
  4. Dansby Swanson
  5. Adeiny Hechavarria

Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, and Dansby Swanson were always going to enter 2020 as the starters. Adeiny Hechavarria is on a major league contract, and the Braves loved what they saw out of him last year — not only defensively, but with the stick as well. His ability to play elite defense anywhere on the infield (besides first base) is especially attractive to them. The only question here is who will start at third base, which — at this point — is a toss-up. I could see it going either way, but with Austin Riley struggling so much to end last season, it makes more sense for him to start the year off in AAA and accumulate confidence while continuing to work on his mechanics. But at some point, the hot corner is going to be Riley’s to lose; it’s just a matter of time.

Outfield

  1. Ronald Acuña Jr.
  2. Ender Inciarte
  3. Marcell Ozuna
  4. Nick Markakis
  5. Adam Duvall
  6. Charlie Culberson

Ronald Acuña Jr., Ender Inciarte, and Marcell Ozuna will be the starting outfield on Opening Day, providing there are no injuries. Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall will be the two primary bats off the bench, and I gave the final spot on the now 26-man roster to Charlie Culberson. Charlie Clutch has proven to be a reliable pinch-hitter over the years, and his ability to play both the infield and the outfield is a plus. With that being said, by the end of the year, both Riley and Camargo should be on the roster, which will make it tough for Culberson to keep his spot.

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