LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – When Emilio Bonifacio was called to the manager’s office Tuesday morning, the veteran infielder-outfielder knew what he hoped to hear, but wasn’t entirely sure what he would hear.
He had never made an opening-day roster after coming to spring training as a non-roster invitee, but now he has. The Braves added him to the 40-man roster Tuesday and told him he made the team after his solid performance in camp, after reporting in much-improved condition and displaying better speed on the bases and in the outfield.
“I hoped it (the message would be), I’m on the team,” Bonifacio said. “I hoped they’d say, yeah, everything’s good.”
That that was the gist of the message he got in the brief meeting with general manager John Coppolella and manager Brian Snitker, after which Bonifacio got congratulations from several early arriving teammates as soon as word spread around the clubhouse that the amiable veteran had made the team.
Teams faced a Tuesday deadline to add six-year minor league free agents such as Bonifacio to their rosters or pay them a $100,000 bonus if they sent them to the minors.
Bonifacio was 13-for-50 (.260) with a .315 OBP, two doubles, one home run and three stolen bases in 20 Grapefruit League games before Tuesday. He hit .286 with a .355 OBP in his first 12 games to thrust himself into contention for a roster spot.
The Braves are expected to go with a four-man bench and eight-man bullpen, though there’s still a chance they could opt for one more bench player and one fewer reliever. Barring a late trade or signing, the four-man bench would include Bonifacio, catcher Kurt Suzuki and infielders Jace Peterson and Chase d’Arnaud, but the Braves continue to scour the trade market and waiver wire and could make a move between now and Monday’s season opener.
Bonifacio was coming off the two worst seasons of his career, with a puny .181 and .420 OPS in a total of just 125 major league plate appearances during 2015-16, when he decided to upgrade his offseason workout regimen over the winter in Miami and play some winter ball in his native Dominican Republic.
He had been among the majors’ best base stealers when he had 40 steals for the Marlins in 2011, then 30 in just 33 attempts over 64 games in an injury-shortened 2012 season for Miami. But Bonifacio had just two stolen bases in six attempts over the past two major league seasons, and his 37 steals last year at Triple-A Gwinnett were probably more of a product of Bonifacio’s technique and base-stealing knowledge than speed.
Acknowledging that he had “started to get hefty” in recent seasons, Bonifacio lost eight pounds over the winter, redistributed some other weight through strength and speed training during the offseason, then signed a minor league deal with the Braves and came to camp determined to win a job.
Now that he has, he’s keeping the goals simple: “Hopefully continue what I’ve been doing to help the team win ballgames,” he said.
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