Opening-day roster projection: Here’s who could suit up for the Braves

NORTH PORT, Fla. — As the days have passed, the Braves’ equipment staff has emptied more and more lockers in the team’s home clubhouse at CoolToday Park.

We are a week from opening day. At this time next week, the Braves will be preparing to begin their title defense.

This means it’s a great time to predict the club’s opening-day roster. General manager Alex Anthopoulos has a few big decisions to make, even if the roster seems relatively set.

Credit: ArLuther Lee

Credit: ArLuther Lee

Here are the 28 players – rosters are expanding by two players through May 1 – who could suit up for the Braves on opening day against the Reds at Truist Park.

Catchers (2)

Travis d’Arnaud

Manny Piña

Explanation: This one was pretty easy. D’Arnaud would start, while Piña would be his backup. The Braves theoretically could carry three catchers, but their roster is perfectly set up for two. This way, William Contreras, who has only 173 big-league at-bats, can have some more time to develop in Triple-A.

Infielders (6)

Matt Olson

Ozzie Albies

Dansby Swanson

Austin Riley

Orlando Arcia

Phil Gosselin

Explanation: As of this writing, Arcia is the only backup infielder on the 40-man roster. Brock Holt had been in camp with the club, but the Braves granted him his release after they told him he would not make the team. This is the reason for Gosselin’s inclusion on this roster. The Braves also have Pat Valaika in camp, and he could be a depth piece. The starting infield is expected to be Olson (first base), Albies (second base), Swanson (shortstop) and Riley (third base).

Outfielders (5)

Adam Duvall

Eddie Rosario

Marcell Ozuna

Guillermo Heredia

Alex Dickerson

Explanation: If Ronald Acuña won’t be ready until May, he can open the season on the injured list to free an extra roster spot. That’s why Dickerson makes the roster in this projection. Brought in to compete for a spot, he’s a left-handed bat who is getting tons of opportunities in camp. He recently homered in a simulated game, then homered in a spring game. Dickerson provides the Braves with more balance in their lineup. Duvall seems like the starting center fielder, while Rosario will play the corners and Ozuna will be in left field when he isn’t the designated hitter.

Position-player recap: As you can count, there are 13 names on here. The Braves could handle their two extra roster spots in a number of ways, but it feels like most teams will use those on pitching. The shortened spring training means pitchers have had to ramp up much sooner. The catchers are pretty clear, and five of six infielders appear to be locks. (We’ll see if Gosselin makes the team). Time will tell if Dickerson makes the roster.

Starting rotation (5)

Max Fried

Charlie Morton

Ian Anderson

Huascar Ynoa

Kyle Wright

Explanation: The first three are clear, the next two seem to be the front-runners for those spots. The Braves have been leaning toward using a six-man rotation to begin the year, but I’ll add that to the bullpen because that person also could be an opener.

Credit: ArLuther Lee

Credit: ArLuther Lee

Bullpen (10)

Kenley Jansen

Will Smith

Tyler Matzek

Luke Jackson

A.J. Minter

Collin McHugh

Darren O’Day

Tyler Thornburg

Spencer Strider (sixth starter or opener or long reliever)

Tucker Davidson (sixth starter or opener or long reliever)

Explanation: Jackson on Wednesday told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he probably would be ready to pitch not long after opening day – maybe a few days after it – and that’s why he’s on here instead of someone projected to begin the year on the injured list. Strider has looked good in camp and throws gas, which is why he’s included. In Zoom calls announcing other bullpen signings, Anthopoulos has told reporters not to forget about O’Day. Davidson is another option to be a sixth starter or long reliever. It’s a toss-up between Strider, Davidson, Kyle Muller and Sean Newcomb.

Pitching recap: The Braves have tough decisions to make at the back end of the rotation and bullpen. They could go a number of ways with these areas. The front end of the rotation and most of the bullpen is set, which is a good sign for a club hoping to defend its World Series title. We’ll see how the rest plays out in the final few days of camp.

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