Who could start at left field and DH for the Braves? Here are some possibilities

Spring training often is a time to discuss, dissect and debate position battles, but there may not be many of them in North Port, Florida, over the next several years.

With one extension after another, the Braves have built an impressive core. It features tons of talent and youth. It is deep. It should make the Braves legitimate World Series contenders each year.

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This core means that, well, most positions are set in the Braves’ starting lineup.

One that seems up for grabs: left field. Along with that, designated hitter also will be interesting to follow because it could go numerous ways.

In here, we’ll break down a few different scenarios in left field, then do the same for the designated hitter spot in the lineup.

Left field

The Braves have Eddie Rosario, who will be in the final year of his contract (not including the 2024 club option). They also signed Jordan Luplow. Marcell Ozuna is on the roster, but he probably profiles more as a designated hitter because his defensive skills are limited.

Because of that, Rosario and Luplow seem like the front-runners to start in left field. It seems like the split in playing time could go either way.

Here are some possibilities …

Rosario proves 2022 was an outlier: Last year, Rosario experienced a weird season in which he underwent an eye procedure. That clearly disrupted his season. It’s not an excuse, but it’s a fair explanation for his struggles.

If the eye issues are behind him, he is a decent bounce-back candidate. His track record is strong. He usually can provide an OPS in the mid-.700s. He’s hit at least 24 home runs in three different seasons. He’s electric and exciting and can make something happen.

In the few years before last season, Rosario didn’t strike out a lot. His career exit velocity mark is around the MLB average. He doesn’t have the top-end exit velocity figures like some of his teammates, but he’s produced at the plate over most of his career.

There’s a reason to bet on Rosario returning to form.

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Rosario never had experienced a season like 2022, when he homered only five times and drove in 24 runs over 250 at-bats. The most obvious explanation: He suffered from issues with his eye, which hampered his ability to see the ball and, thus, perform. Then he couldn’t establish any momentum after the procedure.

Rosario will make $9 million in 2023, and that much again if the Braves eventually pick up his option for 2024.

Luplow seizes the opportunity: Don’t overlook Luplow, whom the Braves signed to a one-year deal worth $1.4 million.

Luplow comes to the Braves with an opportunity to again become what he once was: someone who could play every day.

Luplow is a good defender in the corner outfield spots. Other than 2019, when he posted a .923 OPS in Cleveland, he hasn’t been a force at the plate.

But this might be something to ponder: If Luplow plays outstanding defense and produces a bit at the plate, he might become the everyday left fielder. The Braves are loaded on offense, and their success might not totally depend on their left fielder having an incredible season batting. In that case, maybe the defense and Luplow’s offensive skill set, which includes plate discipline, is the Braves’ most valuable option.

Last season, Luplow had a chance to be Arizona’s everyday left fielder until he suffered an oblique injury that derailed him. He eventually served in a platoon role.

In 2021, Luplow notched a .780 OPS with Cleveland and Tampa Bay. His walk rates have, for the most part, been above the sport’s average. He might have some success at the plate, especially because the Braves are adept at developing players.

Part of his defensive profile: According to Baseball Savant, Luplow finished 2022 in the 96th percentile for arm strength. That would go well with the strong arms that Michael Harris and Ronald Acuña feature in the outfield.

A platoon: Rosario bats left-handed. Luplow bats right-handed.

If nothing else, the two could platoon.

The Braves did this with Rosario and Robbie Grossman down the stretch last season. It’s a way to maximize the potential and value of both players.

The possibility also exists that Ozuna starts in left field. The Braves put him there last season. Because of his defensive limitations, though, this might require an injury to one of the guys mentioned above.

The others: The Braves will have several outfielders battling to make the team in spring training.

The Braves signed veteran Kevin Pillar to a minor-league deal, a person familiar with the matter confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday. Pillar will make $3 million if he’s in the majors.

The Braves also acquired Sam Hilliard from the Rockies at the beginning of the offseason and Eli White from the Rangers at the end of December.

Pillar appeared in four games for the Dodgers last season and last played a full MLB season with the Mets in 2021. Hilliard has a .717 OPS over parts of four seasons in the majors, while White, who debuted in 2021, has a .556 OPS over 351 career at-bats.

All three likely would give the Braves solid defense and great speed. They might be able to provide the occasional offensive punch as well.

Nonetheless, depth is necessary, and they’ll provide it for the Braves. And maybe one of them surprises and becomes a major contributor.

The beauty of baseball is that we won’t know until the games are played.

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Designated hitter

The designated hitter accomplishes a few tasks for teams.

Need to get a player off his feet? Put him there.

Is there a player with a good bat but subpar defense? Put him there.

Is there a logjam somewhere? Use the odd man out as your DH.

The Braves’ designated hitter situation could go several ways. Ozuna is a likely candidate to appear there a lot, but the team has other options if he doesn’t hit. The Braves don’t appear to have a set DH like an American League team would have had before the universal DH.

Here’s a bit about a few of the possible options, even if it’s difficult to predict who might appear there a lot.

Ozuna: The Braves wouldn’t be surprised if he bounced back.

Ozuna finished 2022 with a .687 OPS, but the Braves’ in-house metric for expected OPS – “expected” statistics attempt to remove luck from the equation and account for factors a player can control – had Ozuna around a mid-.700s OPS. And despite a down season, he still launched 23 home runs.

Ozuna performed well in September. Plus, he’s still only 32, which isn’t viewed as old enough to be written off as “done.”

Ozuna is owed $37 million through the rest of a four-year contract that guarantees him $65 million total.

Travis d’Arnaud: No one expected this. The Braves had three catchers. They liked all of them.

Then they traded for – and extended – Sean Murphy, who is talented enough to be the starting catcher. But this doesn’t mean that d’Arnaud’s role will diminish significantly.

When he isn’t catching, he can help the Braves in the DH spot. D’Arnaud hit 18 homers and drove in 60 runs in an All-Star campaign in 2022. He can be a factor batting. And when d’Arnaud catches, Murphy sometimes could be an option for designated hitter, depending on how heavy his workload is at that time.

Vaughn Grissom: At the general managers meetings in Las Vegas in November, Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos first revealed that third base coach Ron Washington, who coaches the team’s infielders, would be working with Grissom three separate times this winter. Anthopoulos said Washington had professed belief in Grissom.

In this moment, it seemed that Grissom replacing Dansby Swanson could become a reality. Spring training still exists, and the Braves probably won’t anoint Grissom, so he’ll need to beat out Orlando Arcia.

The best-case scenario for the Braves might be that Grissom shines in spring training, shows defensive improvement and never lets go of the starting shortstop job. But what if he still needs more seasoning in the field? The Braves believe in his bat, and if he’s hitting, they could put him at DH and start Arcia at shortstop on occasion.

It’s likely the Braves would give Grissom some time at shortstop if he earns it out of spring training. Even still, his bat, which should only improve, would make him a good DH on the days he doesn’t start. He’s only 22 and can handle playing every day.

The Braves also could use anyone else at DH, from Rosario to Luplow to others on the roster. The DH spot always can go a ton of different ways if a team doesn’t have one clear option.

The Braves might have one (in Ozuna), but we’ll see if he hits.