Top five storylines as Braves begin spring training

File photo from the Braves spring training facility in North Port, Fla. Feb. 13 marks the report date for pitchers and catchers who are competing in the World Baseball Classic, though other Braves are already at the facility. (AJC file photo)

Credit: AJC file photo

Credit: AJC file photo

File photo from the Braves spring training facility in North Port, Fla. Feb. 13 marks the report date for pitchers and catchers who are competing in the World Baseball Classic, though other Braves are already at the facility. (AJC file photo)

NORTH PORT, Fla. – “Pitchers and catchers.”

Each year, the words elicit excitement from baseball fans who have waited months for the sport to return. Pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training is somewhat of a celebration among fans.

Is it the same as live baseball games? No. Is it the same as opening day? No.

But it’s baseball, and right now, that’s enough.

Monday marks the report date for pitchers and catchers who are competing in the World Baseball Classic, though other Braves are already at the facility. (Catcher Chadwick Tromp and minor-league righty Alan Rangel are the only two Braves pitchers and catchers playing in the WBC).

As the Braves begin spring training, here are the top five storylines.

Can Vaughn Grissom win the job?

Even as the signs point to Vaughn Grissom becoming Atlanta’s likely starting shortstop, he must still win the job over Orlando Arcia.

His superiors have lauded his offseason work, but have stopped short of crowning him.

At the winter meetings, Brian Snitker said he must still see Grissom play the position – and put his eyes on the situation as a whole – before making any determinations. And all offseason, Alex Anthopoulos has said nothing is set in stone.

When Dansby Swanson departed Atlanta for a lucrative deal with the Cubs, it opened the door for Grissom to win the starting shortstop job. Grissom’s moment is here.

Moves can be made at any time, but this is just a hunch: If Anthopoulos didn’t truly think Grissom could play the position, perhaps he would’ve brought in a free agent or traded for another shortstop to go along with Grissom and Arcia. Veterans Elvis Andrus and Jose Iglesias are still on the market.

And as it stands, Grissom and Arcia could even share time. We don’t know what’ll happen.

But it seems the Braves have put their faith in Grissom.

Now it’s time for the 22-year-old to validate it.

A battle for the fifth spot in the rotation

If you don’t think the final spot in the starting rotation is important, then you should go back to the first part of 2022, when the Braves shuffled options in and out as they struggled to find a solution.

This is one of the key battles in camp, and the two apparent frontrunners will be Mike Soroka and Ian Anderson – who also happen to be best friends. And don’t count out Bryce Elder just yet.

“I think it’s a good problem to have,” Austin Riley said of the multiple contenders for the fifth spot in the rotation. “It’s a long season and I imagine we’re gonna, at some point, need all those guys to help. That last spot will be a tough one. I know they’re all looking forward to it, getting into spring and getting rolling.”

Nonetheless, the Braves appear to be in a good spot with starting pitching. Not only do they have ace-level talent – Max Fried and Spencer Strider – but they have a quality starter in Kyle Wright, an experienced one in Charlie Morton and multiple depth options. Starting pitching should not be their issue.

Left field is up for grabs

Eddie Rosario? Jordan Luplow? Kevin Pillar? Sam Hilliard? Eli White?

The Braves have options in left field, and spring training could be when someone begins to separate himself.

“We’ll figure it out, and it’ll work and it’ll be fine,” Snitker said. “We got a lot of really good options, I think, right there. I think Eddie’s probably looking forward to getting going and starting out good again – because we’ve seen what he can do and what he can bring. But there’s a long list (of left field options).”

It could be Eddie Rosario’s job to lose, as he seems likely to be the starting left fielder if he returns to form. But watch out for Jordan Luplow, who plays great defense and might have more in his bat than he’s shown.

Pillar is a veteran who will be a non-roster invitee. Hilliard has tools, and White is fast with a good arm.

Months from now, we could look back and marvel at the amount of players who helped fill left field for the 2023 Braves. Or someone could be the primary starter.

Either way, we’ll start to get a look at it this spring.

Can Marcell Ozuna bounce back?

Marcell Ozuna has drawn self-inflicted criticism for his on-field struggles and off-field situations. The Braves, however, have stuck with him. They believe he could have a good year.

In 2023, Ozuna figures to be a designated hitter because the Braves have better defensive options for left field. Ozuna’s bat has always been his strength, and the Braves felt encouraged by his September performance last season, as well as some of his exit velocity figures.

Fans and media alike will be watching Ozuna in spring training to see if he begins to live up to his contract. The Braves still owe him $37 million through the rest of it (that’s if they don’t pick up the option for 2025).

If he bounces back, Atlanta’s lineup gains another dynamic.

Seeing how the bullpen shakes out

Barring injuries, Raisel Iglesias will be the Braves’ closer, and Joe Jiménez, A.J. Minter and Collin McHugh will also be in the bullpen.

It becomes intriguing after that.

The final four spots could go different ways.

If right-hander Nick Anderson pitches like he has in the past, he should earn a spot. So, too, should righty Kirby Yates, though he must show a return to his pre-Tommy John surgery form. Left-hander Dylan Lee, a part of last year’s bullpen, pitched really well in 2022. Lefty Lucas Luetge, acquired in December, had two great seasons for the Yankees before the Braves traded for him. The Braves believe Dennis Santana, acquired from Texas in November, has the stuff to be a late-inning reliever if he’s at his best.

Oh, and you also have Jesse Chavez, who is a non-roster invitee after signing a minor-league deal this offseason. He played a key role last year.

You can even throw Jackson Stephens, who is back on a split contract, into the mix.

Let’s see how the bullpen shakes out.