Braves prospect Bryce Elder is quickly climbing the ladder

Braves starting pitcher Bryce Elder delivers against the Twins during the third inning of a spring training game Friday in North Port, Fla. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

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Braves starting pitcher Bryce Elder delivers against the Twins during the third inning of a spring training game Friday in North Port, Fla. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

NORTH PORT, Fla. — As Bryce Elder rose through the minor leagues last season, he noticed something: The higher the level, the more hitters understood their plans at the plate. This allowed Elder to learn about batters’ swings and find the holes in them.

“If this is their hole (in Double-A), you can beat them there,” he said. “And the same thing in Triple-A. When they have that hole there, if you can get (the ball) there, not all the time but more often than not you can beat them.”

This, and everything else Elder has learned and applied, has put the right-hander on the cusp of something special: achieving his dream of playing in the big leagues.

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Elder said he expects to begin the season at Triple-A, which means he might not be far off from the big leagues. The Braves have 40-man roster candidates for the back end of their rotation, but with injuries and other circumstances, you never know who could impact the big league team in a given season.

“It means a lot,” Elder said of starting the season at Triple-A. “I think I put myself in a position to hopefully get the call this year, but I’m going to continue working every day and find a way to get better in some form or fashion.”

“The only thing I can control is getting better and making pitches consistently, and if I do that, that's their job to move me where they think I need to be."

- Braves pitcher Bryce Elder

To this point, Elder has built an outstanding case for himself. A fifth-round pick in the 2020 MLB draft, he went from High-A to Triple-A in his first full professional season. Elder, the organization’s No. 8 prospect on MLB pipeline, pitched three hitless innings in his spring debut Friday.

“I like how he goes about it,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said after that start. “He’s one of those guys that, even in the clubhouse, it’s all business and he’s focused on what he needs to do.”

In 2021, Elder pitched to a 2.60 ERA in High-A (nine starts), a 3.21 ERA in Double-A (nine starts) and a 2.21 ERA in Triple-A (seven starts). He struck out an impressive 27.7% of the batters he faced.

What is interesting: The higher the level, the less batters hit him. Opponents’ batting average against Elder, in order of where he pitched, went from .222 to .197 to .143 as he climbed the ladder.

Of course, the most impressive part of Elder’s season isn’t the numbers themselves but the journey. He pitched at three different levels at only 22 years old.

“You got to have a lot of confidence and composure (to do that),” said prospect Jesse Franklin, who said Elder is one of his better friends in the organization.

Franklin soon added: “He must really believe in himself and trust his stuff.”

Elder said he’s focused on attacking the zone this season. He feels he fell behind in counts more than he would have liked last year, so he’s trying to get ahead more in 2022.

As he went to each new level last season, Elder didn’t change anything. He simply went about his business and pitched the same way.

Now he has only one final step.

“It’s something that’s out of my control,” he said of making it to the bigs. “The only thing I can control is getting better and making pitches consistently, and if I do that, that’s their job to move me where they think I need to be.”

Kyle Muller eager to compete for rotation spot

Left-hander Kyle Muller watched his teammates’ postseason run from his home in Dallas, Texas. The Braves did not include him on their postseason roster or on the taxi squad at any point.

“That definitely added a little fuel to the fire,” Muller said Sunday.

He didn’t have hard feelings, but it served as motivation for him. Muller on Sunday tossed two scoreless innings in his spring debut. He allowed only one hit and struck out two Phillies.

Muller said he tried to do less. He’s coming off a season in which he pitched in nine games – eight of them starts – and posted a 4.17 ERA.

“I think a lot of it is another year older, what he experienced last year,” Snitker said. “He did kind of get out of whack. He’s firing the ball all over the place. Today, everything was under control.”

Muller is one of a few pitchers fighting for two rotation spots. It seems Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson are locks, but Snitker has said there will be an open competition for the back-end spots.

“I don’t want to say I’m not worried about it because that’s cocky,” Muller said. “We’ve got a lot of really, really good pitchers in this clubhouse. All I can control is how well I play, and I’ll trust them to make the right decision at the end of it. Whether that be me or somebody else, somebody’s going to earn it.”

Lots of love for Alex Anthopoulos

As Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos walked around behind the center field fence at CoolToday Park, near the backfields, fans began calling for him. They gathered on the overhang in center field and tossed him baseballs to sign.

“Thank you for all you’ve done!” one fan yelled.

“You’re a genius!” another exclaimed.

After the week he had, Anthopoulos is quite popular among fans. He traded for first baseman Matt Olson, then gave him a large contract extension. He then signed right-handed reliever Collin McHugh and outfielder Eddie Rosario before bringing in former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen.

The Braves are now well-positioned to defend their World Series title.

Drew Waters scratched from lineup

Outfielder Drew Waters was scratched from Sunday’s lineup because of right hamstring tightness. Franklin hit eighth and played right field in Waters’ absence.

“I think it’s just probably playing a couple of days, and when he worked out, it got a little tight,” Snitker said. “I told them the first meeting, ‘Don’t not say anything or you’ll end up missing time,’ so I’m glad he said something.”

Waters went 1-for-2 with a solo home run in Friday’s Grapefruit League opener versus the Twins.

Notes from 5-1 win over the Phillies

The Braves defeated the Phillies 5-1 on Sunday. Atlanta is 2-0 this spring.

Here are a few notes from Sunday afternoon:

  • Olson went 1-for-2, with his hit being a single the other way.
  • Michael Harris II went 0-for-2 with a walk and a stolen base. He’s stolen two bases this spring.
  • Lefties Sean Newcomb and Dylan Lee followed Muller by throwing a scoreless inning each.
  • Right-hander Touki Toussaint is scheduled to start for the Braves on Monday in Fort Myers versus Boston.

Braves bring in MLB veterans

According to the team’s transactions page, it has signed MLB veterans Brock Holt and Brad Brach to minor league deals with invitations to spring training. The Braves have also done the same with Pat Valaika.

Holt has posted a .694 on-base plus slugging percentage over a career that began in 2012. He can play second base, third base and the outfield.

Brach had a 6.30 ERA over 30 innings with the Reds last season. The veteran’s 3.55 career ERA suggests he might have some potential as a depth piece, though.

For the most part, Valaika has been a bench player and depth option throughout his career. He’s a career .221 hitter with a .642 OPS. He can play second base and shortstop.