Braves outfielder Drew Waters lays down a bunt Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Braves Q&A: Drew Waters’ rise, the last rotation spot and what’s next

Here’s what we’ve got:

@JustinPorupski: What’s the most likely move the Braves make before opening day?

A: We received a variation of this question several times, so I’ll do my best to answer. I still think they’ll make a move before opening day. My guess is the bullpen, but they’ll look at starters and bench depth.

If Adam Duvall doesn’t justify a roster spot, their fourth bench bat could come from the outside. I sincerely doubt it’d be splashy, but everyone just wants something, so maybe that’d quench some desires.

That said, manager Brian Snitker, franchise star Freddie Freeman and others have repeatedly said they’re happy with the roster. There’s a much different vibe in the building than on Twitter – fans are dissatisfied with the offseason, while the players seem excited the team retained most everyone while adding Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann (yes, ‘what are they supposed to say,’ but you can tell it’s authentic).

General manager Alex Anthopoulos is constantly working to tweak the roster. I’d be surprised if they didn’t change anything before opening day, but I’m not sure the move will be anything that builds excitement. 

@Real_sjl19: Do you think (Austin) Riley breaks camp on the 25-man MLB roster with the Braves?

A: Barring changes in circumstance, Riley won’t make the opening-day roster. But he’s a solid start and perhaps an injury away from his big-league debut. Riley won’t work in the corner outfield until later this spring, and how he fares there could be important in his timeline.

Look, the Braves simply don’t have a spot for him right now, and it does neither side favors to bring him up in a bench capacity. I do believe he’ll be up much earlier than September. It just might need to be prompted by an injury that would allow him temporary regular playing time.

@keller13run: You or another Braves writer said Drew Waters is like (Ronald) Acuna. He ended last year in high-A ball and could be in Triple-A. Do you see him coming to the big leagues soon or waiting till September?

A: Waters has jumped out more than any other young player in camp, at least by my observation. His batting practices are something to behold. He already boasts a healthy bit of power, and his age (20) and frame suggest he’ll pack on more weight. 

Waters has a smooth swing and seems to effortlessly plant balls over the fence. The Braves are extremely excited about him, and to call him the most promising position-player prospect (or second-best behind Riley) in the system wouldn’t be far-fetched.

One Braves coach suggested he’s a candidate for a Ronald Acuna-style rise. Now, let’s be clear: He’s not Acuna. Very, very few are. But they could be comparable in the sense that Waters rises to the majors sometime in 2020. He’s already shown to be that advanced.

A debut this season feels a bit ambitious, but stranger things have happened. Keep an eye on how he develops physically, because as impressive as his trajectory already seems to be, he might unlock another level soon.

@JacobSuttles1: Who has a leg up at the moment to win the fifth spot (in the rotation?) And is the plan to have another revolving door at Triple-A with (Max) Fried, Touki (Toussaint), (Mike) Soroka, (Kyle) Wright and (Bryse) Wilson or are the guys who don’t land in the fifth spot gonna be coming out of the (bullpen)?

A: It’d be an upset if Toussaint doesn’t open the season as the Braves’ fifth starter. Soroka will be a bit behind after temporarily being shut down, but given that the Braves were going to be cautious with him anyway, this has always been Toussaint’s opportunity to lose.

Fried and Luiz Gohara are his chief competitors now. And even if they’re beat out, one or both might wind up in the bullpen. The fifth starter competition is more about guaranteed early chances than how the season will play out. We’ll see Toussaint, Soroka, Fried and Gohara make starts; their performance will determine with which consistency.

And then there’s Wright, Wilson and Kolby Allard. You’d expect them to get looks as starters and relievers as well, though there’s only so many reps to go around. The Braves’ pitching depth is not too shabby.

@aahuston: Would the Braves go with a (six-)man rotation(?) Have Touki and Fried split that fifth starter role with each throw about 4-1/3 innings. This would essentially give the other relievers a day off.

A: This ties into the last question. The Braves won’t declare a six-man rotation, but they’ll essentially employ one through parts of the season. We saw how effective Sean Newcomb was on an extra day’s rest last year, so why mess with what isn’t broken?

As for piggybacking, that’s not going to happen. But bumping guys back a day to squeeze in a Fried start, for instance, is expected. Just because the Braves are trying to win a division doesn’t mean evaluation isn’t still at the forefront.

@SkeltonDevin: How is the tone of our camp different this year than it was last year?

A: The Braves are carrying themselves with confidence they realistically couldn’t have had a year ago. They aren’t panicking about the NL East’s aggressiveness. Instead they’re viewing it as the other teams trying to catch them because they’re pretty damn good.

There’s something to be said for hoping you can win versus expecting to win. The Braves aren’t thinking about a potential dropoff or who’s improved in the East. They’re thinking about avenging their NLDS ousting. 

As Charlie Culberson said, their mindset is starting to resemble the Dodgers’ rather than a team trying to figure itself out. That’s an encouraging sign.

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